ITT Poly: Pro #8

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

You often hear people say things like “one year of Spanish taught me more about English than 10 years of English classes.” I believe polyamory is superior to monogamy because it promotes this kind of learning. If you care about your relationships, you can improve them by exploring other ones!

Like most everyone else, I was brought up to revere monogamy. Stability is good, growing up with just one parent is difficult, yada yada yada. But assumptions ought to be examined.

First of all, polyamory doesn’t imply instability or kid-unfriendliness. Many poly relationships last for decades! And isn’t having a small community of people that care about each other exactly what traditionalists say they want for children?

Second of all, monogamy doesn’t imply stability or kid-friendliness. In some poor communities (think Appalachia or parts of Chicago), the default relationship style is basically “serial monogamy.” But polyamory’s opponents rarely extol the virtues of such places.

What would change my mind: a lot of people trying polyamory and then switching back to monogamy of their own accord.

2. A monogamous person has a crush on someone other than their partner. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

This question illustrates the fragility of monogamous relationships. If one partner develops a crush – the most natural thing in the world – many would no longer consider the relationship “healthy!” Let’s call the monogamous person A, their partner B, and the target of A’s crush C.

What usually happens: A endures psychic torture for weeks, months or years, whether they act on their desire or not. There is either skulking around and self-loathing, or low-level heartbreak and similar self-loathing.

What should happen: A lets B know what’s going on. B gives enthusiastic consent for the crush to be explored. A and B agree on terms and conditions, e.g. regarding discretion, STI prevention, contraceptives. A pursues the relationship with C. In doing so, A becomes a better partner for B.

This is barely polyamory at all, but it’s certainly more “healthy” than the monogamy-approved alternative.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous?

Let’s compare a society with 90% monogamy to an alternate world where the same society has 90% polyamory. I think they would be about the same in the long run.

I don’t think things would be very different overall because by assumption it’s the same people in both scenarios. In the majority-poly world those people might be a bit more relaxed, a bit less insecure about relationships, a bit less prone to domestic conflict. But overall I think they’d feel like polyamory was natural and sort of boring.

And that’s what we ought to want! Polyamory isn’t a program for achieving utopia. It’s a program for being less hung up about relationships, having better partnerships, and not accepting society’s default assumptions uncritically. Let’s realize those benefits!

ITT Poly: Pro #7

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

In general I think the onus of proof is on showing some activity is unacceptable rather than on showing that it’s acceptable, and nobody has ever given me convincing reasons to think dating more than one person falls into the former category rather than the latter.

There are, of course, any number of unconvincing reasons that get trotted out. It’s claimed that it will inevitably lead to destructive jealousy, or that human beings are psychologically incapable of being in love with more than one person at a time, or that it incentivises dating market structures that force widespread dissatisfaction. But these claims, on examination, either fit poorly with empirical data or seem to draw exclusively from cases of formerly monogamous couples “opening up” their relationships to disastrous consequences rather than being openly polyamorous from the outset. My actual experience of poly people accords very poorly with these usual allegations against polyamory as a concept—and so, on the heuristic that of good arguments against a widely known position have yet to be discovered they probably don’t exist, I accept that there is nothing impermissible in dating more than one person at a time.

I don’t mean to suggest I have no positive reasons for thinking polyamory is good: it helpfully resolves notoriously intractable questions about “what counts as cheating” in a very straightforward way (nothing does), it allows for larger family units and alloparenting without requiring reliance on families of origin, it removes a common source of anxiety about partner abandonment (since their falling in love with another person no longer forces in principle a choice between you and your rival), and it offers a range of distinctive pleasant experiences otherwise impossible (helping your boyfriend with his dating profile, polycule cuddle piles, etc.).

I always find “what would change your mind” questions puzzling, just because my usual experience of discarding old convictions is not of witnessing evidence I specifically predicted would not exist, but in general I would be willing to revise my views if someone could offer non-speculative evidence polyamory tended to diminish human happiness, either among its practitioners or in society at large.

2. A polyamorous person hates their partner’s other partner (their metamour); in a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

This clearly depends very heavily on the metamour and the basis for the hatred.

This becomes obvious if you ask the same question about a friend of your partner’s. Do you hate them because they hum incessantly and uncontrollably in a way you find intolerably grating? Then invest in some ear plugs or noise canceling headphones, or just politely vacate yourself when they come to hang out. Do you hate them because they’re of a race or culture you despise? Then learn not to be a bigot. Do you hate them because they try and control things like when your partner can eat or sleep and who they can hang out with? Then [insert advice about helping someone who is being abused]. Romantic relationships are human relationships and don’t exist apart as some sui generis association with its own inner logic and norms.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous? (You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different styles.)

This feels like a worldbuilding prompt, and worldbuilding tends to bifurcate into perfunctory snippets and encyclopedias, so given space constraints against wikis this will be short.

It’s hard for me to imagine such a society not being massively less lonely than our currently existing one. Polyamory is an especially robust guard against isolated (fractured) nuclear families as the standard living unit, and those go along under almost all circumstances with great strain during childrearing and impoverished social lives more generally. Such denuclearisation would provide more windows looking in to serve as checks against abuse, and more avenues for escape from particular toxic relationships than the alternative. One suspects, indeed, that these are among the very reasons many people react to the thought of such a society with horror.

ITT Poly: Pro #6

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

Probably mainly the fact that a lot of people are poly and say they enjoy being poly, and can speak in detail about how they deal with a lot of what people would think of as the potential pitfalls of being polyam. Also the fact that so many of our ideas about how relationships should function seem to have questionable historical pedigrees via religion etc, that my prior would be on it being a positive thing for people to try crafting new forms of relationships that they think work for them. As many people point out, we have no issue with having multiple close friends, and I’m not convinced that we all have such a strong biological drive to see things differently with relationships that it can’t change, seeing as in general a lot of our ways of relating to other seem culturally shaped and flexible.

To be honest though it’s probably mainly because I like the idea of letting people work out what works for themselves and shape specific things (in this case relationships) to fit what works for them, and I don’t see much reason to think that this is monogamy in all or almost all cases.

What would change my mind would be: Getting to know a lot more polyam people a lot better, seeing that they were attempting to do the kinds of things I think of as ‘best practice’ and were still having terrible relationship times, much worse that the monogamous couples I know, and that there wasn’t much of a positive trend of this improving over time. Also, large studies looking at important indicators of wellbeing and people who (attempt to) follow polyam ‘best practise’, and again, that there wasn’t much of a positive trend over time. (The trend seems important because polyamory doesn’t yet have the massive store of cultural knowledge around how to do it, like monogamy has).

2. A polyamorous person has a date scheduled with their primary partner, but their secondary partner is in the hospital with an emergency and needs support. in a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

The person would tell their primary partner that their secondary partner is in hospital and needs support, and ask to reschedule the date to another time. The primary partner would say, “Of course, I’ll get on the Gcal to find another time, but more importantly how is [name of secondary partner] doing, what happened?’

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous? (You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different styles.)

Hm to be totally honest it’s just really hard to know. I think probably people would be happier, though, as probably it would mean people would be spending a lot more time crafting the specific relationship structures that worked for them rather than following the single monogamous template. Less focus on finding ‘the one’ would probably also have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. I would imagine that in a wider sense the categories of relationship types would become less rigid and/or multiple (beyond just ‘friend’, ‘partner’, say), which I see as a positive thing as people can find what works more for them personally. Children would probably have a greater number of adults involved in raising them, which would likely be positive both for the adults being able to share labour and for the children being exposed to a wider range of influences. I’m sure there would be wider changes as well beyond this personal level, but to be honest I find it hard to think of likely ideas of what specifically they would bee.

ITT Poly: Pro #5

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

Vicarious enjoyment of your partner’s happiness and well-being is a major component of romantic attraction. When they get an unexpected bonus at work, succeed at a difficult project, or tell you how much fun it was to reconnect with their old friend, you’re happy for them, which makes those events good for you even when they don’t affect you directly. In a relationship, there are many opportunities to make a partner better or worse off, and because you care about them, the latter should give you significant pause.

One way you can make them worse off is by preventing them from engaging in something good for them. For example, if your partner loves home improvement and wants to remodel the basement, but you hate the sounds of drilling, hammering, and sawing, you could unilaterally impose that preference, claiming a right to live in peace and quiet, and maybe they’d agree, disappointed. That’s a solution that many people will intuitively reach for, but it’s unsatisfying if you think about it – you care about them and want them to be able to do stuff they like. Instead, think about their experience of liking it and focus on it, then compare that to how much the noise would bother you. This won’t necessarily change your mind, but you may find that your considered preference is less restrictive.

What does all of this have to do with polyamory? The same principles apply.

Monogamy is a total restriction on having other partners for the duration of the relationship. Being a restriction, it should give us pause as we scrutinize it – do I really want to make my partner worse off by removing their option of having multiple simultaneous relationships? If being with someone else at the same time would be good for them, that’d be a significant positive for me because I care about them. So I have a strong reason to let them do what’s good for themselves here.

But, as in the home improvement case, this reason isn’t necessarily decisive – maybe the costs of polyamory outweigh this benefit. What kinds of costs does polyamory have?

You might feel that it’s disrespectful for your partner to have or seek out other partners, to the point of it being a betrayal. Since we live in a predominantly monogamous culture, the concept of romantic partnership has become associated with strong forms of exclusivity. But whether it’s actually disrespectful within a particular relationship depends on whether it’s monogamous. Not everyone follows the same norms about how to express respect. For example, some couples address each other in ways that on the surface seem rude and insulting, but they mean and understand it affectionately; but if another couple used that language it would be interpreted as hostile. Similarly, if you honestly express that you’d be fine with your partner dating others, it wouldn’t be disrespectful for them to do so. It’s bad in a monogamous relationship because it involves violating a serious agreement, but the absence of that agreement is part of the premise of polyamory.

You might be worried that dating others gives your partner more opportunities to leave you. It does, but on the other hand, they have less reason to leave. When you’re monogamous, all possible romantic relationships are in a high-stakes competition against each other, and if your partner wants to pursue another opportunity, they’ll break up with you. But in polyamory, you can continue the relationship as long as you both deem it worthwhile and good in its own right. There are still trade-offs in allocating time and energy to relationships (just like relationships in general compete with work and hobbies), but the stakes are much lower.

More importantly, while you hope your partner won’t want to end your relationship, you also don’t want them to stay if leaving would be better for them. If you prevent them from making friends, or keep them locked up in your basement, they’ll definitely have to stay, but that’s very much contrary to caring about what’s good for them.

You might be envious that your partner is getting more attention from others than you are. To feel this way is a genuine character flaw. If you care about your partner, it’s good when things go well for them, so it’s just as wrong to be envious of their romantic success as it is of their successes in their career or hobbies. It’s fine to want more people to be interested in you, but you shouldn’t feel better about it if your partner’s romantic life gets worse. A romantic relationship should be the ultimate harmony of interests, and this is the opposite of that.

A different kind of cost is that polyamory might seem incompatible with your preferences or circumstances. For example, you might want a lot of attention from your partner, or you might have a young child who’s occupying much of your energy and you want to make sure you make time for each other. Initially, these might seem like reasons to be monogamous, but monogamy is more than that – it’s a restriction on having other partners at all, at any point in the relationship. So as long as you’re getting enough attention, that’s not a reason to object to your partner having brief flings; or you might resume having other partners more seriously once the child is older and more independent.

Similarly, polyamory is perfectly compatible with getting married and having children, not liking orgies, and even with not being interested in having multiple partners yourself. All that it requires is being okay with your partner having other romantic partners.

While the most important benefit of polyamory is freeing your partner to pursue their good, it has other upsides as well. To list a few examples, it’s an opportunity to learn from multiple relationships at the same time – if you learn something (e.g. communication techniques, ways of addressing some problem) through interaction with one partner, the others benefit as well. It enables greater openness within a couple – monogamous culture tends to discourage the discussion of attraction to others and anything related to it. And it’s a good way to make friends – since your partner is interested in you, they’re probably interested in people similar to you, and will want to have them around.

There are probably some people with a deep-seated fundamental preference against their partner having other partners. They should actually be monogamous. But I doubt that’s as common as it seems. Monogamy is very much the norm and most people don’t seriously consider violating social norms even when it’d be good for them. In a world where something as trivial as “talk to your partner” is actually useful problem-solving advice, how people actually conduct their romantic relationships is often far from optimal.

I understand if all of this sounds pushy or preachy. To some degree, that’s inevitable for any view that questions common personal practices. But in all of this, I’m ultimately appealing to your self-interest. Your relationship isn’t some altruistic self-sacrifice, but a joint venture for mutual benefit – you like your partner and are made happier by their happiness. If there’s a good opportunity to benefit yourself via this channel, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Just speaking personally, I would feel foolish if an excessive adherence to social norms made me refuse this kind of $100 on the sidewalk.

I’m not sure what would change my mind. If fundamentally monogamous people are the vast majority, there’s less to be gained from making polyamory socially acceptable, but on an individual level it’s still worth considering – just like it’s worth considering whether you’re bisexual even though most people are straight. The costs of thinking about it are low, and the benefits potentially high.

It’s certainly possible that if polyamory became widespread, some people would practice it poorly, and find new ways to make themselves and their partners miserable, so it could be bad for society in that sense. But I think that’s the wrong standard. You can misuse a good tool in a way that makes you worse off, but even if the misuse is common, the right moral is not “the tool is bad”, but “don’t be a misuser”. The frequency of bad relationships doesn’t make me condemn romance, so I wouldn’t condemn polyamory for the misbehavior of some of its practitioners.

2. A polyamorous person hates their partner’s other partner (their metamour). In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

It depends on the closeness and commitment level of your relationship, and how seriously you hate your metamour. If you genuinely think they’re a bad person, the appropriate response is different from something lighter, like if their mannerisms just annoy you. If you think they’re fine and just don’t like being around them, you can probably talk to your partner and arrange to never be in the same room, which would solve most or all of your problem.

If you hate your metamour for serious reasons, you should talk about it with your partner, probably asking them to keep what you say in confidence. Maybe your partner will show that you’re wrong to hate them – you might misunderstand your metamour, maybe you’ve heard something bad about them that’s actually not true, etc. Or you might persuade your partner and they’ll decide to break up with your metamour. If you don’t know your partner that well (maybe you’ve only recently started dating), this is a good opportunity to learn more about them, and maybe you’ll learn that they like your metamour because they’re bad too, in which case you’ll probably want to break up.

The hardest case – fortunately, the least likely – is if your primary partner is also in a close and highly-committed relationship with a seriously bad metamour, neither of you can change the other’s mind, but you still want to stay together. In that case, you should think about how much the metamour can harm you directly, and distance yourself from them as much as you can. Throughout that process, be sure to explain to your partner what you’re doing and why, so you don’t look crazy and your motivations aren’t mistaken for envy. Then be supportive of your partner and watch for anything bad happening in their relationship – but don’t be overbearing, so they’ll be open with you and tell you if anything happens.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous?

Currently, there are many people who are terrible at relationships. Between abuse, lack of communication, dragging on the relationship despite great incompatibility, etc, they make miserable what could be wonderful. We disallow children from having relationships because they’re incapable of reliably reasoning about their interests and/or are emotionally immature. Adults are generally rightly independent and their associations are up to them, and I’m not questioning their right to choose, but when it comes to relationships, otherwise competent adults sometimes act little better than children. I don’t expect polyamory to change that. Where now a dysfunctional couple mutually abuses each other, they’d get to share that with more unlucky partners, and receive it from them in return. Some say that normal people can’t handle polyamory – I say they can’t handle monogamy either.

A mostly polyamorous society would have some marginal improvements over the current one. Sexual and romantic envy would likely be less socially acceptable. People wouldn’t be able to tell their significant other that they can’t spend one-on-one time with friends of the opposite gender, as some do now. There would no longer be the expectation that extramarital relationships are betrayals that should lead to divorce. And one of the worst media tropes, “I saw you with a member of the opposite sex doing something innocent that I misinterpreted as sexual and now I’m mad at you and won’t talk”, would be banished from this earth.

But unreasonable people would just be mad at their partners about something else. Many relationships currently suffer from romance being treated as a reason-free zone, and if that changed, I expect polyamory would be more common, but merely swapping it in for monogamy wouldn’t solve the root of the problem.

As for problems like STDs or unwanted pregnancies, I think they’d be less of an issue that one might expect. We already have norms about safe sex within hookup culture, and that could easily be extended to relationships. Still, some impulsive people would continue to suffer the consequences of their decisions, and each additional partner would be another opportunity for things to go wrong for them. But while this might lead some to write “Polyamory has been a disaster for [insert group here]”, the right conclusion would be “[insert group here] has been a disaster for themselves”.

ITT Poly: Pro #4

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

I believe what I believe due to a mix of direct personal experience, secondhand accounts from people in my broad social circle, and theoretical this-makes-sense-ness.

I’m polyamorous, and this has led to me being far happier than monogamy would have forced me to be, with no negative externalities on society that I’ve noticed. My girlfriend, my plausible future girlfriend, and various other friends of mine are similarly happy-without-negative-externality as a result of being polyamorous, to the best of my knowledge. And then, on a pure theoretical basis, I see no reason to expect things to be different for people further afield from my personal social circles; fundamentally, there’s just no obvious-to-me reason to think that letting people date more than one person at once, or be married to more than one person at once, should go any worse than letting people be friends with more than one person at once, which is widely acknowledged to be not only unobjectionable but actively good.

It’s very unlikely that anyone would be able to change my mind about my personal positive experiences with polyamory; but my mind could be changed about other people’s positive experiences with it if they were to report that actually I’d been misreading them and their experiences were in fact negative all along (although I don’t at all expect that to happen), and my mind could be changed about the lack of negative externalities if people could point out the presence of any such externalities. (Ideally not ones which come down more to personal not-getting-along than to anything inherent to polyamory, as seems to be common in attempts to do so.) And, of course, I’m open to theoretical arguments about why I actually should expect it to go badly, although none that I’ve encountered so far have seemed at all plausible to me.

2. A polyamorous person has a date scheduled with their primary partner, but their secondary partner is in the hospital with an emergency and needs support. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

The person goes to support their secondary partner, with all parties involved being understanding, in the same way that I’d expect people to be pretty understanding if someone in a married couple had to cancel a date in order to visit a close friend who’d just landed in the hospital, except moreso.

Or, alternatively, the person goes to their date with their primary partner, since keeping up that relationship is important to them, but they make sure that someone else is there to take care of their secondary partner until the date is over and they can come themselves; because, after all, one of the great virtues of polyamory is that one doesn’t have to be stuck with just a single partner as one’s sole source of partnerly support.

Or some other thing entirely, although I’m going to stop with the examples after two. People are sufficiently varied that there’s no single Obvious Right Thing To Do which applies to all trios of people-in-healthy-relationships-of-the-described-configuration; ultimately, the right thing to do is dependent on the people involved and the details of the relationships between them.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous? (You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different styles.)

Well, probably some obligate-monogamous people would be pretty miserable, at least if my naive guess is right that they comprise more than 10% of the population. (I’m not aware of any rigorous statistics on the matter, although I’d be interested to see any that in fact exist.) Excessive social pressure against monogamy would be bad for all the same reasons that excessive social pressure for it currently is bad.

But, if we assume that it’s more “everyone is polyamorous except for those who specifically prefer to be otherwise”, with the 90% number a shorthand? I’d expect people to be happier, for all the same reasons that reducing societal restrictiveness makes people happier in general. More options will be open to them, relationship-wise. Huge numbers of happy relationships will get to form which, against the backdrop of modern-America-style social pressure towards monogamy, would have stayed unformed. People will get to bask in the happy feeling of their partners living happier lives, and will get to bestow the same feeling back onto their partners. Child-rearing will be less of a horribly exhausting activity, due to the likely presence of extra people able to pick up the slack.

On the flip side, a lot of the negative effects of modern-America-style restrictiveness will vanish, or at least drastically reduce. There won’t be any need to worry about what to do if one gets a crush on someone other than one’s partner, or about exactly where the boundaries of what does or doesn’t count as an overly-close relationship lie. People won’t need to be anxious about their inability to fill every possible want their partner might have from a relationship, if their partner dating them doesn’t prevent their partner from also dating other people who fill other wants. Et cetera.

On a separate front, I’d expect society to end up forming some sort of new Default Relationship Model, rather than taking on the “negotiate your own details” approach currently common in polyamory, given the thing where many people like having easy relationship defaults to fall back on. (Conversely, I’d expect the remaining monogamous people to become more detail-negotiation-inclined, since their preferences would no longer be compatible with the society-wide default.) The new default might or might not end up becoming as restrictively enforced as the current default is; I’d hope it wouldn’t, but even if it did (which I can’t at all write off as a possiblity), it would be restricting people into a less-restrictive default rather than a more-restrictive default, which would still be a net improvement over the current status quo, even if one with plenty of room for further improvement of its own.

ITT Polyamory: Pro #3

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

My beliefs are based on the simple and fundamental right of self-determination– people should be in the kind of relationship that they want to be in.  Don’t want to be poly? Then don’t join a poly relationship. If people are happy limiting themselves to a single partner at a time, then they should do that.  If people want multiples, then they should do that.  As long as all parties are consenting, what is the problem?  Poly people aren’t trying to stop mono relationships from happening, any more than gay people are trying to prevent straight people from marrying. The existence of poly relationships doesn’t hurt any other kind of relationships.  However the permissibility of poly relationships means that people have the option if they want it.  Nobody has to feel trapped or tied down to a mono relationship.

If there was some kind of AI that could measure everybody’s compatibility and assign each person their own soulmate, then there wouldn’t be a need for polyamory. It would be outmoded. But barring any major advances in romance technology, meeting the right person may lead me to choose monoamory for myself, but it will never lead me to ban polyamory for everyone else.

2. A monogamous person has a crush on someone other than their partner. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

In a truly healthy relationship, nothing.  But then again, if it was truly healthy, their partner would be enough for them right?  So there’s a good chance that their feelings will grow and they will become increasingly dissatisfied with their current relationship–eventually leading to a breakup or an affair. That’s not the legal only outcome but it happens even to healthy relationships.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous? (You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different styles.)

The whole idea of being “trapped” in a bad relationship would go away.  Instead of the default assumption that anyone in a long term relationship is unhappy and everyone telling the same old “ball and chain” jokes, the default assumption would be that everyone is with whomever they want to be with.  If a person is in a relationship with any other, it’s because they want to be.  No one would feel like they have to maintain a bad relationship for its own sake.  Societywise, the rates of abuse and other domestic problems would go way down…because people would have alternative options where otherwise they would just be victims.

Polyamory ITT Pro #2

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

Monogamy is a social construct borrowed from the Romans, and is a
vestige of the idea that a man owns a woman. Historically most
societies have been poly in some form or other, and as we accept fewer
religious and political restrictions on romantic or sexual
relationships, it makes less and less sense to privilege monogamy.
Jealousy is natural in human relationships, but we are able to deal
with it appropriately in all sorts of contexts. We are simply less
mature in general when it comes to sex. This is not a new observation.
Kohlberg (and later Rest, et al) have looked extensively at moral
reasoning and its development. Moral reasoning can be categorized in
stages, (analogous to Piaget’s stages of reasoning in childhood
development), where people are first able to understand morality in
terms of self-interest, authority, and punishment and later are able
to think in terms of reciprocity, fairness and (hopefully) eventually
higher stages. Consistently, people prefer arguments written at the
highest level they can produce or one level higher. Just as
consistently, people’s moral reasoning when it comes to romantic
relationships lags a bit behind their reasoning in general. Thus it
should not be surprising that people mature enough to handle jealousy
when their best friend hangs out with someone else instead of them are
often not mature enough to handle jealousy when their significant
other finds someone else appealing too. But this is subject to
practice. With practice we learn to deal with our emotions maturely.
When people are able to deal with these emotions maturely, there is no
need for monogamy for most people. We do not have to be controlling of
our partners, forcing them to see only us. We do not have to try to be
our partners’ everything – they can get different emotional needs met
in different social contexts, with multiple people. While of course
this does not work for literally everyone, a lot of people would
benefit from more flexibility than a one-size-fits-all monogamy
permits. This is not just theoretical. Over 40% of marriages end in
divorce, which should be enough in and of itself to abandon the key
legal role marriage plays in society. What’s more, about a third of
those divorces are due to infidelity; presumably even more are due to
other flaws in monogamy such as their preferred partner being good for
them but not enough as a sole partner. Given that so many of these
failed marriages are due to a structural flaw with monogamy, it makes
sense that a whole lot of people currently invested in monogamy would
be doing way better without it. My mind could certainly be changed, we
just need to give polyamory more of a try. Which is happening as we
speak – if it turns out we see way more poly weddings than poly five
year anniversaries, or that kids raised by poly families do worse in
some way, then I would update my beliefs.

2a. A monogamous person is jealous of their partner (for example, because
they’re afraid their partner has a romantic interest in someone else).
In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

In a healthy monogamous relationship, they’ve agreed about this
beforehand. They’ve surely thought about the possibility that one
might get jealous of the other’s social life, and in a healthy
relationship they communicate before and during. So the jealous one
asks their partner straight up about the extent of the romantic
interest, and gets accurate information. If the answer is “yeah, we’re
just friends”, they can trust that. They can certainly discuss ways to
better deal with it in the future – there has to be a place between
“please don’t tickle your hot bodybuilder friend” and “you can’t have
hot friends” – and they find that compromise. But it’s also possible
the answer is “you are right to be jealous, I do have romantic
feelings”. And ultimately it’s possible that they really should break
up or divorce over those feelings. Even so, honesty is best during
that process.

2b. A polyamorous person has a date scheduled with their primary partner,
but their secondary partner is in the hospital with an emergency and
needs support. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

A hospital emergency is important, and takes precedence over a date.
That is true whether it’s a relative, a significant other, or just a
friend. If someone needs your support, you give it. Your primary
partner understands. However, two issues arise. First, cancelling a
date deserves an explanation, while someone in the hospital deserves
privacy if they want it. The answer there, I think, is that your
secondary partner has to understand that you had a date with your
primary partner and that having you come that evening means you will
tell your primary partner that they’re in the hospital if not the
precise details of why. If they aren’t okay with that, they’ll need a
different support person. Second, of course they are going to feel a
little bit miffed at some level that you’ve cancelled their date for
another partner. Intellectually they understand. Subconsciously there
is going to be a bit of emotional labor here, some reassurance.
Emotional labor you may not be in a position to provide after having
just spent the evening performing emotional labor. There should be an
understanding that you’ll debrief a different day.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous?
(You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different
styles.)

If 90% of people in a society were polyamorous, polyamory would be the
default. This would impact monogamous people today less than monogamy
being the default impacts poly people. After all, people can always
happen to have only one partner and need not be interested in any
given other person, so there would not be significant stigma
associated with people who have precisely one partner. Whereas today
there is significant stigma associated with polyamory as it’s seen as
reflecting an inability to commit. There might be a bit of stigma
associated with an inability to handle jealousy, but that should be
quite minor. Besides, monogamous people being able to learn to handle
jealousy better should be a benefit for monogamous people under
default polyamory that outweighs the small possibility of a small
stigma. I think some people may be concerned that polyamory would tend
to exacerbate the issue of women dating wealthier men than
themselves/men dating less wealthy women than themselves. That it
would lead to wealthier men having harems while poorer men becoming
incels. I do not think this is likely. After all the studies that look
at this issue appear to suggest that women are in fact okay with
dating less wealthy men while it is men who become insecure when their
female partners make more than themselves. Given this, I think the
problem is invented. In reality, men can and will get over their
social conditioning about being the primary providers.

Polyamory ITT Pro #1

[Please note that there’s a poll at the end of the post! You may need to turn off tracking protection to see it.]

1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?

I think that frowning on people who have more than one concurrent sex partner, while accepting as normal that people may have multiple relationships of a different kind (e.g. multiple friends), implicitely demands that one single person should be able to sexually fulfill (and achieve fulfilment from )   a single person, even if they do have sexual desires that do not completely match. We do not require one single friend to be the ultimate games companion, a good conversationalist, a good listener, etc. and we take it as normal that different friends have their roles and that does not make them competitors.  Why not with sex? Demanding one single sexual partner ends up  exagerating the importance of sex in the relationship, since that partner has to be the sole recipient or purveyor of all the myriad romantic and sexual expectations one has,  and paradoxically leads to a more sex-obsessed society. I would change my mind if a proper study showed that, on average, polyamorous people are significantly less pleased (romantically/sexually) with their situation than properly matched (social economic status, etc.) monogamic controls.

2a. A polyamorous person hates their partner’s other partner (their metamour). In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

Not a big problem: they would arrange their schedules so that the conflicting members of the relationship did not have to meet.

2b. A polyamorous person has a date scheduled with their primary partner, but their secondary partner is in the hospital with an emergency and needs support. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?

The same that happens when some other emergency (an unexpected work meeting, a parent falling sick, etc.) happens to a monogamous couple: the emergency takes precedence, but care must be taken to ensure that this is a one-time thing and that the primary partner doe snot end up being repeatedly neglected due to freuqent “emergencies”. If “emergencies” become frequent enough to derail commitments with the partner, that is a sign that something is wrong with the time-management or with the worth that the person assigns to the relationship. This is the same regardless of the nature of the relationship or of the “emergency”.

3. What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous?

Hollywood/TV dramas would either (on the lower end) focus on exaggerated tales of jealousy or (on the higher end) stop being focussed on romantic triangles,etc. and would probably start focussing on less-escapist, but more socially relevant storylines regarding care for people-as-people rather than people-as-“wish-fulfilment-romantic-fantasies”.  I expect the circle-of-concern of most people would also expand and lead to a more caring society.

Marriage law would lose its underpinnings and be substituted by flexible contracts involving domestic partnerships with no limits regarding number of people, gender, etc. This would be a good thing because it would decouple the state from people’s most intimate decisions and would definitely get governments out of people’s bedrooms.

PSA: WordPress Emails And Anonymity

When you submit a comment on my blog (or any WordPress blog), you have to leave an email. I can see the emails people use.

Some people have left comments as “anon” or “anonymous” or similar, but continued to use the email they post under most of the time. That means I know who left the comment. Obviously, I would never publicly connect an anon’s identity to their main pseudonym; I will hold any information I get this way in confidence. But it’s very legitimate to not trust me, and if you don’t I would suggest using a fake email. (This works fine with WordPress.)