Polyamory: Intensifying The Living Experience?

Writer Kendra Holliday has been with her partner for four years. They’re in a long-term relationship but aren’t married. They don’t live together – they keep their households, finances, and families separate. Why?

Her goal is not to have a healthy relationship. It’s to “intensify the living experience.”

How?

Through polyamory. Not to be confused with polygamy, polyamory refers to the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

In Love Like an Ocean: Diving Deep into Polyamory, she writes that “love is like an ocean, not a bathtub. One person doesn’t need to get out in order for another to get in.”

Her relationship is open, allowing her and her partner to experience intimate relationships with other people, such as dating, loving, and exploring sexually. Sometimes they do it together; other times, separately.

She argues that “it’s endearing for a woman to run a cupcake blog and bake a different cupcake recipe every day of the year. It’s admirable for a couple to grow prized orchids or breed teacup Chihuahuas. But to love Peggy AND Sue at the same time? That’s scary.”

Regardless of the relationship style, she lists the following traits are desirable for ANY healthy relationship: agreeableness, confidence, conscientiousness, and, the “trickiest” one – being emotionally stable.

You can read the full article here.

I’ve never experimented with polyamory myself, but I do find the concept interesting.

Since monogamy isn’t natural, but rather a choice that couples make to preserve a union, it is certainly compelling if a couple can pull it off.

What makes the concept of polyamory interesting is that it’s not cheating. It’s sanctioned within the relationship, by both parties, because sexual variety is appealing, and it doesn’t pose an existential threat to the relationship. That’s highly evolved thinking, if you ask me. I’ve always said that if my wife cheated on me, I wouldn’t break up with her. What I don’t know is how comfortable I’d be if this were a regular (and sanctioned) occurrence. I’d like to think I’d be big enough to handle it, but maybe not.

And perhaps that’s why most relationships involve only two people: our basic, gut-level jealousy and insecurity about what sex with others means.

Why should a joyful sex act, intended to hurt no one, invalidate a perfectly happy relationship? I’m not quite sure.

And yet, it does…unless you’re both polyamorous.

Please, discuss.

(Oh, and when you do discuss, two requests: please don’t claim that I want to cheat on my wife. I’m a dating coach who’s forced to publicly think about my honest, unbiased take on dating and relationships. It’s not a crime to admit that while I’d never cheat because I have integrity, there are still many women who are physically desirable in the universe. Show me a man who says that his wife is the only woman he finds attractive and I’ll show you a liar. And please don’t argue with me about biology. The same way that homosexuality is not a choice, monogamy IS one. Billions of men override this biological imperative every day, but it doesn’t mean that they always want to. Read “Sex at Dawn” and then consider all of the men who cheat and refuse to commit for further evidence that men want sexual variety. So with those facts on the table, what is YOUR take – can two consenting adults still love each other unconditionally and have sex with other people?)

 

1
0

Join 7 Million Readers

And the thousands of women I've helped find true love. Sign up for weekly updates for help understanding men.

I hate spam as much as you do, therefore I will never sell, rent, or give away your email address.

Join our conversation (58 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.

Comments:

  1. 1
    AnnieC

    Out of all the relationship types I have considered that may work, monogamy, and polyamory are the only 2 that I think are possible.

    I have since concluded that at this point in human society, that only monogamy will work. Sex is very powerful, and what ends up happening in polyamorous community is major strife.

    Here’s a few things to consider:

    1. When we base sex on Lust, not love, people end up playing games to “invite” lust, which means basically they lie
    2. When sex is based on lust and not love, people fight for those that are naturally more sexually desirable, beautiful females, and powerful handsome men. These leads to dreadful competition between men, and between women, jealousies, betrayals and manipulation.
    3. When sex is polyamorous a huge portion of the population miss out on sex entirely.
    4. Sex has emotional consequences
    5. Sex results in STD’s
    6. Sex results in pregnancies
    7. A truly intimate marriage is one built on sacrifice, and one of the biggest sacrifices is fidelity. But…if this is done right, it causes a phenomenal bond between man and woman, and keeps them together, so they raise their children safely.

    That’s just a few points. Polyarmory has been tried before, and it doesn’t work. Too many people get too out of control , fight, compete, and quite frankly our society is not mature enough to deal with it.

    Monogamy for now, is the only safe social bet, in terms of relationships imo. The only societies that have successfully navigated polyarmory, are matriachal.

    1. 1.1
      Oneironaut

      With a 50% divorce rate, I wouldn’t call monogamy a very safe bet at all. I notice that a lot of people’s opinions about polyamory are based on “some people I knew who tried it and it didn’t work”. Aside from the fact that the same could be said for many monogamous relationships, poly people who have long-lasting relationships (20+ years) are often discreet about it. 

      You also seem a bit preoccupied with  the sexual element when love is a bigger part of it. Lust, betrayal and manipulations are not about love, whether in a monogamous relationship or a poly one. 

  2. 2
    Mikko Kemppe

    “And perhaps that’s why most relationships involve only two people: our basic, gut-level jealousy and insecurity about what sex with others means.”
    I think another reason why relationships can involve only two people is that we hold our sexual union special and sacred and desire to share it with only one person.

    “What makes the concept of polyamory interesting is that it’s not cheating. It’s sanctioned within the relationship, by both parties, because sexual variety is appealing, and it doesn’t pose an existential threat to the relationship. That’s highly evolved thinking, if you ask me.”

    “Since monogamy isn’t natural, but rather a choice that couples make to preserve a union”

    Taking in consideration our biology, could not monogomy and holding one sexual relationship as a sacred and special one be even more “highly evolved” thinking? 

     

    1. 2.1
      Oneironaut

      I think the high divorce rate pretty much answers that question. 

  3. 3
    my honest answer

    “It’s not a crime to admit that while I’d never cheat because I have integrity, there are still many women who are physically desirable in the universe. Show me a man who says that his wife is the only woman he finds attractive and I’ll show you a liar.”
     
    Show me a women who says that her husband is the only man she finds attractive and I’ll show you a liar too. It’s got nothing to do with gender. People find other people attractive, whether they are married or not.

  4. 4
    Jen

    Many coupes these days are alternative in their sexual habits mainly because they dont want to become bored with each other . Most partners become swingers , and this way they are aware of what they each are doing. A man chooses to be faithful to one woman as it is in his biology to spread his seed . A woman searches for the best mate to have children with .

    I think couples must do whatever they feel most comfortable with …..

  5. 5
    Dan

     
    I think this is happening a lot more than we believe, just not exactly the way described in the posting. People don’t call it polyamory and they don’t necessarily admit to the their partners that it is happening. Sometimes, the partners are aware of it, and are okay with it. Here are some examples:
     
    My friend Rob is a 30-something electrical engineer. He is articulate, attractive, suave, wealthy, well spoken, polite and he actually enjoys things like artistic and cultural events. Women swoon over him. But he is very picky. For the last 15 or so years, he’s been dating up to 5 women at the same time, for anywhere between a few days to over a year. They are definitely not in a relationship. The women don’t know about the other women he is dating, but he makes it clear to them that he is still dating. And he is sleeping with them. Some of these women are hoping a serious relationship will happen, but some of them are also doing the same thing he is doing but dating multiple men.
     
    I also have a few 40-something guy friends. They’ve been through marriages and that has made them leery of commitment again. They are still dating. I know that they are seeing women over a length of time, though not in a committed relationship. They do things together, including sex. It sounds like they and the women are perfectly good with booty calls with each other.
     
    So I think this is already happening, and is becoming even more prevalent. It’s just that calling it polyamorous sounds too esoteric and alternative. Call it something else, and a lot more people will fess up.

    1. 5.1
      Oneironaut

      The thing is that it’s nothing to “fess up” to because polyamory is about honesty and consent from all involved. What you’re describing here is not really polyamory. 

  6. 6
    lawyerette

    While this is interesting and I certainly admire Evan’s honesty, I think the idea that it’s just a “joyful sex act” is incorrect. And this whole concept is predicated on the idea that sex is just a physical act. But it isn’t. I think a great illustration of this is how sexual abuse of children messes them up in ways that physical abuse alone does not. That rape has a different psychological trauma than being beat up. All this said, if folks can live this way and be happy, then more power to them.

  7. 7
    Walt

    I find polyamory fascinating too. I completely understand the thought process behind it and the ability to love more than one person intimately. However, it is that “gut level jealousy” that you spoke of that would never make polyamory an option for me.
    I’m not to sure if we will ever figure out the mystery of our biology and if we are meant to be monogamous creatures or not.  It seems we have opposing traits built into us.  We can be in a secure relationship and still have lust for others. Yet if my wife were intimate with another man I would be insanely jealous.
    No matter which path you follow it is true that emotional stability is the key.
    Thanks for your fantastic blog Evan. Good exercise for the brain! 

  8. 8
    Lisa

    To all men, women are feeling your pain too!
    I am certainly what you’d call a sweet, nurturing woman, but I have been questioning monogamy multiple times. A part of me has a hard time believing that I could be in a lasting, monogamous relationship. My longest relationship lasted 2.5 years. During this relationship, I had the desire to cheat but didn’t act on it. Women are not that different to men in many ways, if we could get that out of the way first, please, to be able to have an honest discussion!
    Anyway, I really don’t know what it’s like to be married for 5, 10, 15 years and I don’t think I would break up with my partner because he strayed once.
    I also think love shouldn’t be about possesiveness and if I really love someone I want him to be happy. Why would I try to make him stay faithful if he has the strong desire to feel another woman’s body again before he dies :)? If I truly love him I want him to be perfectly content with his life, nothing else.
    However, I fear that having an open relationship will at the same time prevent me from creating a strong and deep bond with a male individual. Let us be honest, no man I date is the only possible partner for me. And the other way round. As sex with other people makes us get closer to the other people automatically, I consider an open relationship a serious threat to the original couple. I just can’t see how I could prevent myself from developing certain feelings for someone I sleep with while having a primary relationship. Maybe I want to spend a few weeks with the “new guy” because he’s more exciting for the time being? What would my real boyfriend do in that case? Be by himself? Look for somebody else, what if he can’t find anyone at that time?
    To sum it up, I still can’t see an open relationship as an option as I am looking for a strong emotional bond. It’s one of those dilemmas we probably will never be able to solve. You got to choose your priority, I guess. Never forget what you already have, a loving wife or husband. You are probably far happier than ever single person out there, and most single nights are just boring ;).

  9. 9
    Tara

    I find sex without mutual love and caring and specialness, to be empty, and ultimately unfulfilling and unsatisfying, even if the chemistry is pretty hot. 
     
    The joyful sex act has special symbolic significance to me that is reserved for one special person, at a time.  ‘Serial monogamy’ is an inappropriate descriptor, imo, it reminds me of ‘serial killer’ or something.
     
      My feeling is that when a man is truly in love with a woman, he will not have a very strong desire to act out any lust he may have for another woman, which lust is perfectly normal and fine.
     
    Creative couples who truly care for each other can find ways to have novelty AND stability, at the same time.
     
    There are a lot of very hot, attractive, intelligent people out there, you don’t have to sleep with them outside of your marriage for variety.  Harmless flirting within full knowledge and intention that you don’t intend to take it to consummation, is fun and actually helps the primary relationship, because you bring that fun, flirty, sexy energy back to your partner.  Emotionally mature people can delay gratification, even in this instant gratification, yes, you can have it all culture that we live in now.
     
    So far, my other opinions on this matter most closely align with AnnieC and lawyerette, and
    Dan, it’s not polyamory if both of them are not in full agreement and knowledge — it’s just plain old cheating.  Lack of honesty and integrity.

  10. 10
    Suheil

    Can you love two people at the same time in the same way? I believe that love is something that is time dependent and every good relationship takes time and effort, knowledge of eachother and that’s what ultimately makes sex even more interesting and enjoyable. 

    To have various partners, is completely against the point of “knowing eachother truly” and appreciating all of what your partner is… good and bad.  I don’t know… it’s like… if I already love somebody and care for somebody, why would I look around for more?

  11. 11
    Marisa

    I’ve seen polyamory in practice through some friends of mine. What inevitably seems to end up happening is that one person in the primary couple is into the idea, and the other one, well, not so much, but they begrudgingly go along with it to try and make their partner happy. That means swallowing resentment on a day to day basis, no matter how mature you are.

    The person who ends up being the “third wheel” so to speak has always ended up developing feelings for the polyamorous man or woman. They end up wanting more, but of course, the relationship can’t advance further because there’s a roadblock in place due to the fact that there’s already a pre-existing primary relationship. Once this person’s feelings get too intense, the polyamorous person breaks it off with the third wheel, leaving him or her frustrated and heartbroken. A huge emotional fallout and a cluster eff of an experience.

    I guess I wouldn’t say that it can’t work out. I mean, whatever floats your boner. But in practice it always seems to be a mess. Feelings and egos get in the way. With some things in life, you just can’t have your cake and eat it too. 

    1. 11.1
      Jessica

      This exact thing happened and it lead to the death of my marriage. Intellectually everyone was on board and everyone was in agreement, but then things fell apart because people are more complicated than a set of beliefs and ideas. It’s hard enough to have a relationship with one person! And then you just can’t predict what will happen and the damage that will be done. It was a traumatic experience on many levels that scarred all parties involved. 
      So while I would agree that biologically we are wired to experience sex with multiple partners, I also believe we are wired to choose one partner with whom to build a life and raise children. There are many species that mate for life so it’s not unique to humans. This is based on my own experience with trying polyamory and the lessons that came along with it.   
      I do agree that we have an infinite capacity for love, but those people that I love outside of a sexual relationship are called my friends and family. My erotic love is pledged to one person, my partner, and that’s the way we both like it.  

  12. 12
    BC

    LOL!  I love your  quote “show me a man who is only attracted to his wife, and I’ll show you a liar”…it works both ways, Evan…married women or women in LTRs are also attracted to other men.  I don’t know about the whole polyamory thing…I may occasionally think nostalgically about an old ex boyfriend or two or definitely find other guys attractive, but it just seems like human decency to not instigate (or welcome) the advaces of another if you are serious about your primary relationshio with your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend…I believe there are VERY few people for whom this polyamory stuff would work in reality.

  13. 13
    JoAnn

    In general, I think it does not work out because of the eventual emotional conflicts that come up, as enumerated in the other responses. I’ve known friends that have tried various multi-partner relationships, and the fun seems to always fizzle, leaving a sad loneliness.    
    That said, now that I’m 70 and the m/f ratios are astonishingly out of balance, I can see the appeal – especially when one is past child rearing.  I’ve heard that a lot of this goes on sub rosa in senior living residences — thank heavens for Viagra! — but that may just be hearsay. 

  14. 14
    Lynn

    The good thing about the concept of “polyamory” becoming mainstream is that people who identify with and choose this style of life are owning it.  A man once told me (on a third date +/_) that he considered himself polyamorous, and while he wanted to continue dating me and get intimate, he did not foresee himself changing his lifestyle.  Better to know this up front, especially if you are “monoamorous”, than to date someone who had every intention of “playing the field” and find out after the falling in love part.

  15. 15
    Ria

    l might be wrong, so its just my thinking,but its good in theory, but in practice, might not be as expected. Just ask Demi Moore and Aston Kutcher

    1. 15.1
      Oneironaut

      Cheating is not polyamory. 

  16. 16
    Steve

    I read “Sex At Dawn” too.   I found it compelling, though I am not educated in the areas discussed in the book and I have no way of knowing how solid the points the authors made are.
    Based on some small encounters with polyamorous people,  I don’t think they have anything going on better than the rest of us.    They don’t have less drama and they don’t have less of a need to continuously work on their relationships.
    I think what most people don’t want to admit, if they think about these things at all, is that our biological natures are not predisposed toward making us happy.  There is going to be conflict no matter what.   The best we can hope for is a better “emotional education” and eventually a more flexible culture to fit our natures better and make the inevitable sorrow/conflict built into being alive easier to handle.
     
     
     
     

  17. 17
    Saint Stephen

    Polyamory gives a woman a greater variety of available sexual partners to choose from than their male partner.
    It is also usually much easier for women to find available and willing male partners/participants than it is for men to find females of the same persuasion. The very basic issue of numbers gives the women proportionally more power than men. Thus the “numbers game” can create an unhealthy sexual dynamics and brew resentment overtime.

  18. 18
    Goldie

    Apparently, Steve Pavlina and his wife were big proponents of polyamory, and tried practicing it. Recently, they broke up. Separation, divorce proceedings, custody arrangements, the whole nine yards. They’re very amicable still. Now this is something I’d never say on Steve’s forum, but, if they are both so big on polyamory, then why the breakup? couldn’t they just stay together and keep seeing other people? To me, their story is an illustration of polyamory not working in a real world with real people, even when they’re highly intelligent people and are hellbent on making it work. I guess polyamory might be more than our human nature can handle. It’s all good in theory, but imagine sharing your spouse with another person in real life.

    1. 18.1
      Oneironaut

      If people are so big on monogamy, why do 50% of marriages end in divorce. Being poly doesn’t make you immune to many of the same problems that other people have. There are many reasons why people break up; their feelings fade, their lives take different directions, there may be some sort of dishonesty that has nothing to do with sex. 

       I share my loves and it’s been wonderful. It can be challenging to balance three relationships, but it has been worth it to me. I’ve never had a relationship like this before but aside from some drama in the beginning three years ago, this has been the smoothest relationship I’ve had in years. 

  19. 19
    sharon

    @ Stephen

    Except that once the man finds a woman willing to have sex with him she will probably want a relationship with him. Which than means the woman in the primary relationship has more access to sex and the man has more access for emotional relationship. 

    It’s just too damn complicated for me.  

  20. 20
    sofka

    No one has yet mentioned what I see as being the main problem with monogamy; this being that even when a union is as successful as it can possibly be (it is happy, loving, fulfilling and lasts until “death do us part”), one person is inevitably left completely alone at the end of it; left alone to contemplate and deal with a devastating and unbearable bereavement knowing that they may never again be held, or comforted while they cry, by a lover and an equal.  If you have only built one intense romantic and sexual relationship in your life then there’s a 50% chance (probably higher if you’re a woman given women live longer and also tend to be the younger member of a couple) that you’ll end up with nothing other than memories in the final part of your life, the part in which you probably most desperately need companionship, affection and physical tenderness.  

    It always astounds me to hear about people going on about wanting to find their soulmate so they don’t die alone, but if you’ve chosen to have a single romantic relationship then chances are you will anyway.  When you’re alone in your old age because your spouse is dead will you feel any less lonely than all the people who never found anyone?

    If you have built up a number of genuine emotional connections with people you have had a physical relationship with on some level though, it’s unlikely you will outlive all of them.    I feel this would stand you in better stead for the future, as we all need love and physical affection until the day we die, not until the day our only partner dies.

    All this is theoretical however, I am currently pursuing a monogamous relationship, although I sometimes think there are better models of how society should function.  I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve had several friends with benefits at a time (as did these men),  and there were no jealousy issues.  It actually worked remarkably well.

  21. 21
    Craig

    This would surely only end badly for couples. I can see jealousy, one side or even both sides of the relationship feeling that they are missing something if they decided not to participate in it anymore. I feel it takes away the value of a committed relationship.

  22. 22
    chelsey king

    I think the only good thing about ” POLYAMORY” is you can seek for new friends or partner and maybe eventually find the one you really love. 
    The concept of ” POLYAMORY” is basically focus on the variety of sexual partner without “LOVE”.

  23. 23
    Maia

    Oh God. I try to figure out sometimes if this is the “right”, the “enlightened” kind of love – to let your partner be with whomever he wants and be cool about it and then I understand it could hardly ever work out for me. That is, I believe, because i’m too emotionally invested in my relationships with people in general and that’s why I only have a few close friends. Maybe it’s all about the insecurity issues I’ll never get rid of. Maybe it’s because i’ve been a girlfriend of a man who  never stopped sleeping around and i felt deprived of his attention. Maybe, even at 24, i’m a horrible moralist.

    But one thing I know for sure: the examples Ms Kendra sites are totally invalid. People are not cupcakes. People are not sport hobbies. You can’t juggle them since they are HUMANS. 

  24. 24
    morgan

    I was pretty sold by the thesis Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha present in Sex at Dawn.
    It just seems to make more sense than the biological imperative argument of traditional evolutionary theories.  It explains why so many people have sexual attraction to their own gender, why so many struggle to remain monogamous. 

    Personally I don’t know how well I’d deal with a polyamorous relationship, but that’s got more to do with my own insecurities than anything else. 
     

  25. 25
    Steve

    @ Saint Stephen #17
     
    How do you figure those things?
     
    My ancedotal experience with poly people has been limited to a few “couples”.  Aside from a few lesbian couples, it has usually been a situation with a _slightly_ below average looking head strong, intelligent woman and a wimpy, shy, low self confidence guy as the primary who isn’t 100% happy with the deal but tolerates it.

  26. 26
    Steve

    @Goldie #18.
     
    Interesting post.   I last read Pavlina’s blog/forum years ago.  He was just beginning to write about polyamory then.   I remember having the thought “yah, I wonder how his wife feels about it”.  
     
    I’m guessing that the same rules that apply to a FWB relationship also apply to a poly relationship.   Everyone involved has to have good confidence, good self acceptance and be actively getting their own dates for the relationship to thrive.
     
    I would also guess that such a relationship would be less likely to thrive if an existing LTR is converted to it instead of things being poly from the get go.
     
     
     
     

  27. 27
    Erinlee

    I’ve never known a couple that was Polyamorous and seemed happier than any other couple with more traditional values.  I suppose though, that the majority of couples that participate in this type of behavior, don’t go around telling people about it.  Personally, I know this would not work for me.  Yes, I understand that both men and women are not going to stop being attracted to other members of the opposite sex just because they are in a committed relationship.  Admiring the opposite sex and acting on a sexual desire with someone outside your relationship are two completely different things.  I agree with Tara #9, that it’s best to bring home that flirtatious nature to your partner.  It is very nice to be admired by the opposite sex but I would never want to act on it.  Part of what makes me feel sexy and wanted is knowing that I’m just for him and he’s just for me, no sharing here.  It’s not a lack of attraction for other men, it’s how being close with this one man is so much more important.
    Sofka #20 I can see what you mean but I would not give up a loving relationship with one for many.  My answer is yes, it is worth it to love one person dearly for a lifetime, and go through the pain of losing them than having never loved at all. 

  28. 28
    Ruby

    As Morgan (#24) said, “Personally I don’t know how well I’d deal with a polyamorous relationship, but that’s got more to do with my own insecurities than anything else.”

    Well, Morgan and just about everyone else, right?

    If polyamory worked, don’t you think we’d all be out there doing it? It’s one of those “sounds good in theory, not so good in practice” ideologies.

    1. 28.1
      Oneironaut

      Feelings are not ideologies. More people are interested in polyamory than you think, but only end up cheating because of the idea that monogamy is the only kind of relationship that’s viable in society. 

  29. 29
    funny

    It’s funny how many people claim that polyamory doesn’t work even though marriage has a 50% divorce rate, not to mention how many non-married monogamous relationships fail.  Clearly, statistically, monogamy doesn’t work. Could polyamory be any worse?

    At the end of the day, any type of relationship takes work, acceptance, and compromise, yet offers rich rewards. Just pick your poison according to which trade-offs you are willing to make.

    If you really want a life that’s drama-free, conflict-free, and goes exactly your way, then stay single and out of amorous relationships. Simple.

  30. 30
    Ria

    as l said…:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>