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. 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).

  2. 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!     

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.  

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 48
    Sparkling Emerald

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

  9. 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.].)

  10. 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.

    1. 50.1
      letsthink

      Sparkling Emerald – is that the same fire that burns the many divorced, separated, cheated on or unhappy couples or indeed single people? or is there a different fire for cool ‘poly-a’ people and their sidekicks?

      1. 50.1.1
        Adenine

        So, your point is that relationships are complicated even restricted to two individuals, yes? “Couples” who have parted on bad terms? His point was your exact point, except it becomes exponentially more complicated as you add poly individuals coupling with their partners who have partners who have partners… it doesn’t stop until you get to a monogamous person who is likely to not accept the arrangement for long. My poly partner described his partners as having a “shelf life,” meaning it is a temporary arrangement because someone inevitably moves on to new partners and new arrangements. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as long as everyone’s honest with their disclosures. .. mostly it seems like everybody’s looking for *something and not many people communicate their intentions sincerely or effectively or without manipulations.

  11. 51
    Erinwd

    The combination of the article, personal experience and comments helped me form my own conclusions about polyamory.

    Polyamory is “very evolved thinking” that doesn’t commonly work in our society as of yet.

    I tried to be cool in a polyamorous situation and it’s just like Steve in comment #25 says, the formula is usually intelligent girl + wimp.

    I suspect around 10% of the population could forge a sustainable polyamorous relationship. I’ve also found those people to have a superiority complex.

    I personally need a woman to devote my entirety to, because I personally feel the sacrifice of fidelity is a powerful bonding agent.

    Polyamory didn’t work for me because sooner or later you feel like a plan b. I congratulate the the forever evolved people who can pull this off. I’d say I bet it’s so lonely at the top but I’m pretty sure you’re covered…

    Moral of the story is find out what works for you and your partner and screw whatever society thinks.

      

  12. 52
    UmIAmPoly

    Hi, I’m Polly, and I’m poly. 🙂

    I happened back on Evan’s site (was a client awhile back) and happened on this column. For those of you who are truly interested in this topic, I’d like to recommend a great book: More Than Two, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. It really explains the full range of possibilities, and contains a great deal of great advice for being a happy, healthy partner in ANY relationship, monogamous or polyamorous.

    For singles (especially women) who are interesting in poly, I also recommend this very insightful column: solopoly.net.

  13. 53
    judy

    At the grand age of 22, I realized that it was possible to love two men at the same time.   One I was married to, and the other, was a man I found excruciatingly attractive.

    Had I permitted myself to do so, having sex with the other guy would have been fun – except…..that I know that I loved him too.

    Polyamory? Having sex with different folks and then going home to your official partner? No thanks.   It just sounds so…………screwed up (literally).

  14. 54
    Bee

    Evan I’m so disappointed with your post given that you’re a dating coach and I have really respected many of your articles. I’m a mature woman who has been both poly and mono and I really take issue with people making extreme statements such as mono isn’t natural. Sexuality is a spectrum there are individuals who are nothing but poly and then there are those who are hard core mono and then there are the many people who at different stages of their lives may shift from one mode to another.   ‘Sex at Dawn’ is a book written for financial gain, a bit of notoriety and a whole lot of attention seeking, fifteen minutes of fame sort of rubbish. Any intelligent person with a good deal of life experience has seen pain in all sorts of relationships. The authors of that rubbish go as far as to adduce   dubious biological evidence to show that humans are poly per se. What rubbish! We are manifestations of the the DNA that we carry and gene expression is far more diverse and adaptable than we have previously known. There are many males out there whose DNA is a product of their forefathers successfully putting it around. There are many women whose insistence on an emotionally close primary   relationship is a product of their DNA , their ancestors having survived and prospered as a consequence of their ability to form and maintain a mono relationship. Ther are many men who are mono and women like me that are poly. That’s before we even get to the gay or straight debate.   There is huge and wonderful variety in human sexuality, for example sapiosexuality etc etc. Please don’t quote that rubbish book as some sort of authority. Grow a brain and think about the motivations of the authors, fame, fortune and social dominance. I am being really terse here   not because of a morally proscriptive point of view but rather because of the terrible trouble I’ve seen people get into trying to engage in a relationship that was wrong for them at that phase of their life… Including two suicides. Evan you’re meant   to give   young people good advice. Pull your socks up and stop generalising. Relationships are vital in terms of their mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical and social   functioning.    I am so disappointed having really respected so many of your articles. Please stop generalising.

     

    1. 54.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sorry. I’m going to keep generalizing. Because generalizing is the only way to talk to large swaths of people. If you can never say, “Men do X” or “Women do Y”, it becomes next to impossible to be an advice columnist. I understand that there is variety in sexuality. I understand the Kinsey scale. I also believe that, for whatever reason, you choose to believe Sex at Dawn is some cynical cash grab as opposed to 350 pages of meticulous research… all because you don’t like the conclusion it drew.

      You think it’s a sign of your intelligence that you question the conclusion. I think it’s a sign of your confirmation bias – you heard something you didn’t like and tried to dismiss it.

      Back to the generalization thing: if I say that men are taller and stronger than women, I think you know what I’m talking about. On average, men ARE taller and stronger than women. That doesn’t mean ALL men are stronger than ALL women. You know? So stop playing word police with me. You have every right to choose not to believe what Ryan says. You have every right to point out that not ALL people are polygnous by nature. Hell, some are even asexual. I acknowledge that. But I would suspect that most folks like sexual variety – and they choose not to exercise it because it destabilizes their relationships.

  15. 55
    Adenine

    My current partner was in a poly relationship when he and I began our intimate relationship. I am monogamous myself and considered him a temporary “dating” partner. He began calling me his girlfriend, though. His other girlfriend got angry, behaved badly and subsequently left the relationship. She had had multiple random sexual partners, while he preferred to keep his relationships closer. He was truly polyamorous and was able to love and respect each of his partners. She wanted to be his only focus of attention,   even while she was unavailable to him for weekends that she was engaged in her parenting responsibilities. When she left, I posed to him the possibility of being monogamous with me and he wanted that also. Otherwise, I would have had to eventually leave in favor of a partner that was able to be exclusive with me.   We have been together for approximately six months. It’s still early on and there was some backlash from some of his other “occasional” partners who don’t believe in his capacity for monogamy, and possibly one who still thinks she can coerce him. I believe that ultimately the relationship will maintain or dissolve depending on whether our needs are being met or not. It’s not a trap. If at any time he – or I, for that matter – feels like the relationship terms are unacceptable, it will dissolve. There is no choice but to respect my partner’s needs, and vice versa. I do believe that polyamorous relationships are possible for some people. It is not possible for me. I know that I am not emotionally able to accept a third or fourth partner into my relationship, especially not one that considers herself dominant and preferred. If a group of people can manage to keep the drama under control, maybe they can manage a successful relationship. But the revolving door of partners to me seems very stressful and bs seems utterly inevitable.

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