Polyamory: Intensifying The Living Experience?

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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. 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.

  2. 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”.

  3. 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.  

  4. 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.  
      

  5. 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.

  6. 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.
      
      
      
      

  7. 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.  

  8. 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.  

  9. 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.

    1. 29.1
      Purple Supernova

      Yes. Polyamory can be worse. Polyamory is worse. You know that. You just want to justify it. If it workex, people be doing it. The overwhelming reports are as it is extremely difficult and rarely works. You know that. Don’t act like you don’t know this. I’m not buying it dude. You’re busted. Even though monogamy has a high failure rate in the long run, it’s a lot more successful than polyamory. Face up to reality.

  10. 30
    Ria

    as l said…:)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.
      

  13. 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.

    1. 33.1
      Jess

      I completely agree with you Steve! Men and women would have separate issues with this lifestyle. That would make it hard to make everyone equally happy. My grandma always told me that there’s always one person who is chasing the other person in a relationship. I believe that this is true even after ten years of marriage. This changes depending on a lot if factors …how would that work when adding someone else to the mix? I don’t think the primary relationship could ever last in a polyamory relationship. If you are OK with having several close relationships throughout your lifetime than this lifestyle is for you. But I do not believe a primary relationship would be sustained forever because you are essentially not able to give as much to that person…so either lifestyle you choose you are missing out on something. To me it sounds like so much work. Keeping each relationship healthy would be difficult. I would be fine with it if it’s just about sex but life is busy enough without adding more to it. …maybe after the kids grow up and our careers slow down? I mean my husband and I barely have time for eachother as it is. Do any of these couples have children? I would honestly like to know how they juggle everything. I’m also an introvert so being around people drains my energy. I wonder how many people living this lifestyle are extroverts?

      I won’t even try to say that I know anything about this lifestyle. I would live to be proven wrong as I think monogamy is not the most suitable answer. I love my husband unconditionally and would like nothing more than to find a way to meet all his needs. I wish I could justify that this option would not lessen or destroy our relationship.

      Evan has mentioned several times that men desire a variety iof sexual partners while woman look for the best they can get in one partner. I believe this to be true sexually and as a maternal protective instinct. But what if I said women desire a variety of emotional partners and other woman who are friends just don’t fill this void? No woman can ever fulfill a man sexual but no man can ever fulfill a woman emotionally.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.  

    1. 35.1
      Oneironaut

      Why must it only be one person? Is it so hard to believe that it could make someone happy to have two or more partners who can be there for them in times of need?

      And just as in monogamous relationships, STDs aren’t a problem if things are done safely and responsibly.  

  16. 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.

  17. 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!!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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