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?)

 

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Comments:

  1. 31
    Stacey

    These comments are all very interesting and I am happy to see so much discussion on the topic. I am sad to hear that most people’s exposure to Polyamory has not been very positive. I personally know Kendra Holliday and I can say that her relationship with her partner is considerably better than most people that I know. I am personally polyamorous and have practiced the lifestyle for the past 16 years. Here are a few additional thoughts on the topic from the other side of the aisle.  :)

    1.) To me, Polyamory does not mean getting to have sex with other people that I am attracted to. It means not being restricted in the connections that I have with other people, even though I am in a stable and loving relationship with a primary partner. I deeply love the individuals that I have a close bond and sexual relationship with, but sex is not the main draw for me in those relationship (though it IS important to me). I could see myself happily being in a monogamous relationship with each of the people that I love, but long-term, I don’t think that would make me happy. My primary partner fulfills me on all levels, but having other close and sexual relationships in my life helps me value all that he even more, while also adding some additional connections that enrich my life. I joked with him just yesterday that I feel like I don’t have to make tradeoff with him, like I would if I was monogamous. For us, it is easy and we are immensely close. I realize it is not easy for everyone though.
    2.) Giving examples of couples who are polyamorous and have broken up does not mean that polyamory is unnatural, too hard or not as good as monogamy. The vast majority of monogamous relationships fail too. It has to do with the people involved, not the practice…. and just being human being that evolve, change and grow. That is not something that for us to bemoan… it is something positive. The more we learn to live in the moment and to still invest in what matters to us, the less the fear of losing something will haunt us. I love my primary partner truly, madly and deeply. I also know that at some point there is the possibility that we will grow apart and/or not want to be in a sexual relationship anymore. It is hard for me to fathom at the moment, but I know that it is possible. I don’t dwell on that though. Forever is not as important as living a healthy and happy life right now and becoming a better and happier person.
    3.) I have moments of jealousy, but talking to my partners about it makes me feel closer to them, not the other way around. It is not a problem for me, even though I might sometimes feel jealousy. I do admit to probably feeling it less than some other people though. The reason why is that jealousy stems from the fear of loss. Losing affection, losing your lover or losing something else. I choose instead to be happy for my lovers in that they feel and experience love and other experiences outside of me (this did however take time, practice and confidence in myself)… but I also feel so confident in my connection with them, that I don’t fear the introduction of a new person in their life will make them feel or experience less with me.  

    I am a happy, healthy person who polyamory works for. I have stable, loving relationships with multiple people. I don’t think that polyamory should be prescriptive, but it works really well for me and so it is how I choose to live my life. Humans are capable of loving more than one person in a healthy and positive way and benefits everyone. Oh, and I have had 3 different primary partners over 16 years. I again, don’t see that as a ‘failure’ of polyamory. I prefer long-term connections and love that deepens over time, but I also recognize that what I need now is different than what I needed a decade ago. Hope this helps some people see polyamory in a different way.

  2. 32
    Tara

    @29 funny
     
    “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.”
     
    Since when does staying single and out of love relationships guarantee drama-free, conflict free life with everything going exactly your way?
     
    It’s a choice to minimize drama and conflict whether in or outside of relationship.
     
    Many ‘love’ relationships, from the starting gate, are based on one or both partners’ dishonesty and mutual convenience for getting certain needs met, not to really LOVE another person. That is the bigger problem in those relationships that is at the root of disharmony,  like “If your needs are coinciding with my needs, ensuring that my needs keep getting met, and I’ll even lie and play games to keep getting those needs met, then we’re good to go.  If you call me on my shit, I’m outta there.”  No wonder they can’t sustain, the relationship was inherently dishonest and based on false pretenses.
     
    Not to say they are ‘bad’ people, because a lot of this can be largely subconscious.
     
    Me, I’m aiming for a higher love, one where monogamy, polyamory are non-issues.  It involves a lot of sacrifice and inner work, but to me, it is worth it.
     

  3. 33
    Steve

    It seems to me, in general, that men are more threatened with their women getting sexual with someone else and that women are more threatened by their men getting emotionally intimate with someone else.   I wonder how those things play out in a polyamorous relationship and/or simple swinging.

  4. 34
    Janice

    I don’t understand how this is different from dating more than one person at a time and being honest about it, or having an open marriage, or just not committing to one person, however it plays out.

  5. 35
    AQ

    To me, this would be okay if HIV/AIDS and herpes did not exist. Also, the challenge is to have a wonderful longterm relationship. I can’t imagine this would bring more happiness in the end. Which of these partners is going to go to the hospital with you or help you bury your relatives and do the hard things? I want one forever person who I can build a whole world with. 

  6. 36
    Saint Stephen

    AQ Said:
    Which of these partners is going to go to the hospital with you or help you bury your relatives and do the hard things?
    Your primary partner.

  7. 37
    Matthew AC

    Hello Everyone!!  This is an interesting discussion. There are some very valid points, alongside some very in-valid ones (which is what a great discussion is all about, right?) Rather than try to retort to them all in a long comment that would be better suited as a blog post, I’ll throw this thought in for the chewing:
    There are many different types of relationships out there. However, there is only one thing that makes any of them successful…Mutual Respect. Mutual Respect is a large achievement, takes work and is relatively rare, but without it…failure is inevitable.
    Mr. Katz- Great article!!

  8. 38
    Kendra Holliday

    Full disclosure: “Matthew AC” who commented above is my primary partner. I’m the woman who wrote the original article Mr. Katz so kindly featured. I’m hugely honored anytime my message travels beyond the congregation, so thank you for that. I, too, highly recommend the book Sex at Dawn.
    I’m excited to see all these comments, as it lends me insight into what others are thinking about outside my cozy polyamorous world. From the looks of the comments, it can be harsh and ignorant out there! Clearly the thoughts I shared in my article fell on insecure ears. (Note: the words “ignorant” and “insecure” carry negative connotations, but I don’t mean them in that way. Please see the dictionary for an unbiased definition.)
    I feel so respected and secure in my relationship, I can celebrate my partner’s desire to be with other women, which is a passion we both share – I desire women as well. It’s clear most people do, or why else would the female image be obsessively used in the media? 
    I also desire emotionally mature men on occasion (few men in our society have a chance to fully mature – they are still boys in adult bodies doing the best they can) and I’m grateful my partner doesn’t hold me to a different standard. I get to be with the men of my choosing, on my own terms.
    If our relationship continues to evolve the way it has the past few years, he will most certainly be at my death bed (I am older!) giving succor to me in my end of life stage.
    But in the meantime, we are living life spectacularly. Next month we’re going to our annual cabin retreat in the woods, where we get to immerse ourselves in each other, surrounded by a hot tub, fireplace, and good food and drink.
    Then New Year’s Weekend we will celebrate in style with a dear girlfriend of ours who visits us every year to be part of a worship triangle. We will make many of our fantasies come true. Love will flow.
    I’d like to close with this stunning fact – even thought I have been sexual with hundreds of people, I have never had a sexually transmitted infection. In my early sex career this can be chalked up to luck, but for the past ten years, I have made wise sex choices and practiced safer sex.
    Thank you to everyone who has weighed in on this important topic.
    REPLACE THE FEAR WITH LOVE.

  9. 39
    Katherine

    I have seen this kind of relationship first hand and if you can keep it just to sex than it can work, but feelings usually develop and then the couple gets freaked. In my opinion, maybe as a romantic, it turns a marriage into a business arrangement. I think this is one of the main reasons you need to feel white hot for your partner at least in the beginning stages of a relationship. Sure, lust fades a bit, sometimes more than a bit, but you can get it back if it once was there. Flirt with someone else, but then take it to the bedroom with your spouse. Get creative, go to unchartered territories, travel somewhere new–share a new experience together. Everyone fantasizes (usually) but committing to having sex with another person-giving your body to someone not your spouse-just cheapens the sex you have with your life partner. Sharing your life with someone, making those vows, means sharing all of yourself with them. Otherwise, just live together and don’t pretend you are interested in the marital commitment. Otherwise, in my opinion, you are married so you can better fit into society and get a tax break.

  10. 40
    Tara

    Matthew AC,
    I like your comment very much
    because you didn’t find it necessary to defend your lifestyle.
    That’s very sexy.  Hey, what are you doing later ?
    Mutual respect…you got it…that’s what it’s all about.

  11. 41
    Saint Stephen

    @Sharon (#19)
    What if the man just wants more access to sex void of emotional attachment? Is pretty clear that the woman will be the one getting more and more sex, while the man struggles and gets nothing (Except he’s a celebrity or she’s a bisexual who brings her friends home).

  12. 42
    Suzanna

    EMK, I am SO glad you are writing about this — I’ve been waiting for someone in the dating industry to bring this subject up! It feels like a bit of a minefield, so kudos for having the courage to “go there!”

    But I do think it’s an important discussion and I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this topic because I’m considering opening up my coaching practice to polyamorous individuals as well as traditional singles. I really have a heart for people who are a bit contrarian when it comes to marriage and monogamy! LOL 

    Given how critical it is to have honest and sensitive communication if polyamory is going to succeed, I can see a real need for poly couples to seek out some coaching and guidance along the way!   

  13. 43
    Dana

    I personaly do not believe that two consenting adults can love each other unconditionally while having sex with other people and still have wonderfull relationship while the exlusivity is kind of gone as I view sex as something special which I would do only with that one special person I love and who loves me. It would not work for me but maybe there are people out there who are ok with not having anything special together which they wouldn’t do with anyone else and give themselves freeley to other people. I was married to a man who tried (unsuccessfuly) to force me into that kind of life and I am very glad I am no longer with him as it is not for me. I don’t really understand how can people do that as (call me old fashioned) but I prefer monogamy and being faithful to each other.

  14. 44
    justme

    I know for me personally, the a polyamorous life style isn’t something I want.  I choose other ways besides sex to show people my love – sex is something I share with only a significant other.

    I don’t have an issue with others who practice polyamorous as long as everyone is ok with it

  15. 45
    Soul

    I find this topic interesting and I, like EMK, have always found that concept interesting.

    I practice sth a little bit different with my significant other (although we have only experienced it very recently). We go together to see other women (in different countries) and I let him be sexual with them (one at a time or more, as he wishes). We have not done it very often, but I am fully open to the idea and so far, I have not felt any resentment (however, we have both agreed to stop if any of us does not feel like it anymore).

    I believe some people (male or female) are intrinsically monogamous, while others are intrinsically polygamous. By nature and maybe also by culture.

    I am a truly monogamous person. I am absolutely not attracted by the idea of having a man touching me without love. I have never been. I have never had a one night stand (i am 35, and mind you, I have been fully single for 5 years, without sex at all). I have never had sex with a man without an emotional commitment on both sides. I am not attracted to women either. However, I intellectually understand that my man IS A POLYGAMOUS INDIVIDUAL.

    I don’t think I would be ready to accept that he cheats on me (I have ended my previous 4-year relationship for that reason); but I think what I dislike about cheating is more the lying and the deceiving part of it. I value integrity over everything in a person (male or female), and cheating/not keeping a moral commitment is one of my non-negotiable (although I know nobody is perfect and everybody can fail from time to time). I feel at peace with the idea of men (or women) being attracted to sexual diversity. Polyamorous is a different version that might not work for me (because my feelings will get hurt if my man has a strong emotional bond with another female/sexual partner), but I understand why it works for some people and why this is an appealing concept. 

  16. 46
    NonExist

    I can roll with monogamy or polyamory.
    As long as we are both honest in what is going on and options are the same for both of us.
    If my ex wife told me openly that she wanted to see other men instead of going behind my back I may have agreed with it if she agreed that I would also not be restricted in seeing only her.

    Just all about being honest, direct, and having mutual respect.

  17. 47
    poly

    I think the problem is that people think polyamory is simply about having multiple sex partners, although there are many people who identify as poly who think that, too, sadly.  Poly, as opposed to swinging or simply open relationships, is about having multiple *loving* relationships with other people.  I love my husband, but I also love the other man that I’m having a relationship with.  However, I want to live with my husband and just have the opportunity to spend time with my other partner because, as much as I love him, I don’t imagine we’d do well living together.  (I’m very social, and he needs a lot of alone time.)  Not every loving relationship has to end in getting married and spending the rest of your life being solely committed to someone.  It is possible to love multiple people at the same time, but I think it requires being realistic in your expectations: not every relationship, including your primary one, is going to progress like a fairy tale.  Falling in love with someone else doesn’t mean you no longer love your primary partner.  It doesn’t have to be either/or.  Being poly, for me, is simply allowing relationship to become as deep as you feel you need them to be, being able to openly express how you feel for someone, and not have to give up the relationships you already have in order to do so.

  18. 48
    Sparkling Emerald

    I think polyamory usually sounds good on paper, but doesn’t work out well in reality.

  19. 49
    Marnen Laibow-Koser

    can two consenting adults still love each other unconditionally and have sex with other people?”

    Absolutely. My primary partner and I have been making this work for 10 years. Not only can we love each other unconditionally and have sex with others, we can even (gasp!) love those others too. 
    IMHO, people make this out to be a lot more difficult than it turns out to be in practice. If you love and respect each other, and if you don’t have the expectation that commitment equals exclusivity, then the rest just seems to work itself out. 
    (To the people who claim that it doesn’t work well in practice, I’d say: I don’t know what you’re talking about. It works very well in practice, at least for me and my partners [and their partners, etc.].)

  20. 50
    Sparkling Emerald

    There’s a slight problem with the whole theory that “polyamory works”  if BOTH partners are OK with it.  Trying to find TWO people who wouldn’t have a jealous bone in their body about it, is difficult enough.  (I came of age in the 70′s, and yes, I’ve known couples who tried this, and it was usually only ONE person in the pairing that was cool with it) 
    So in theory, let’s say you found TWO people who had nary a jealous, possessive streak in them, who were BOTH totally cool with this arrangement.  So they each find another sexual partner on the side.  And one of those side partners has a primary relationship with someone else in a poly-a relationship.  So right there you have 2 people who are the cool poly-a couple, and their 2 side kicks, that’s 4 people, and one of those side kicks is also in a primary relationship, so now we are up to FIVE people.  And that’s not even figuring if the side kick that is also in a primary relationship, has a partner with a side-kick, who’s married to someone in a poly-a relationship.  I seriously doubt that you could you have a web of lovers containing FIVE or more people, and that every one of those people would be totally cool with the arrangement.   Sooner or later,  someone in this tangled web of five and counting, lovers, SOMEONE is going to catch feelings, no matter what was agreed to.  Play with fire, and sooner or later, someone is going to get burned.

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