During the most recent months of my blog-scouring and self-reflection, I’ve been honing in on a lot of material about the polyamorous community and all the wonderful growth and learning experiences that living in a poly relationship can bring. So here’s my list (and a number of awesome articles to go with it!) about what polyamory can bring to the table for personal improvement and interpersonal intimacy
1. Living in a poly or open relationship forces you to be an amazing communicator.
The top priority for every poly person is to love while doing no harm. Just because people are in open relationships doesn’t mean jealousy doesn’t happen, feelings aren’t going to be hurt, or problems won’t arise. Because it does, they are, they will. Polyamory has so many pitfalls if you aren’t being completely, 100% honest with your partner. They need to know what you are thinking and feeling and needing not only in regards to their relationship with you, but in regards to their relationship as it relates to your OTHER relationships. Tricky stuff.
One of the biggest aspects of polyamory among couples that date separately is the question of “negotiating permissions.” For an illustration of how this works, but also why it can be tricky, I direct you to The Ferret, a blog on polyamory, and his explanation of “The Butterfinger Metaphor.”
“Look,” I said. “Imagine that we’re going out to see a movie. You know I love movies, because movies are awesome. But imagine, if you will, that there was a chance that at this movie theater, on any given night, the cashier might also give me free Butterfingers. …[But] you care about the Butterfingers so much that I have to make sure you’re aware of every Butterfinger I eat. So every time I head to the movies, I’m all like, ‘Hell, if there’s a chance at Butterfingers, I’d better clear it with Gini – because if it turned out there was someone willing to give me Butterfingers and you would have been okay with that, I’d hate to miss out.’”
…“So we spend a lot of time discussing Butterfingers,” I boldly continued, “But the actual amount of time I spend getting Butterfingers, or even deeply caring about Butterfingers, is pretty damned slim. I just want to make sure that if Butterfingers are available, it’s okay with you.”
Maybe the metaphor is terrible, but it’s also an adorable way of illustrating the importance and difficulties of negotiating permissions. If you want to spend time with another partner, but not hurt your primary partner, you end up asking a lot more often that you end up receiving, which can in turn, irritate your primary partner because you spend so much time asking to sleep with other people.
HOWEVER, I would argue that the hyper-developed communication skills which led to the Butterfingers problem also allowed it to be solved, because both partners were able to talk about why there was a disconnect in the way they were interacting and feeling. And creative, constructive dialogue is awesome!
2. Being in a poly/open relationship allows you to experience things sexually that another partner is unable to give, and/or offer the variety you feel like you’ve been missing.
One of the major boons about poly life in the kink community is that it combines the emotional commitment and trust that many kinky people need in their sex lives without needing to put all your eggs in one basket, as it were. Many kinky people have a variety of practices that interest them, but have a life partner that is either not kinky at all, or that is drawn to different varieties of kinks than them. For example, a male/female couple may both like domination and submission play, but the man also likes fire play or other practices too extreme for his partner. Likewise, the woman may like to switch and play with other women in the opposite role from when she plays with her husband. This kind of variability is incredibly useful to kinky people, and is much safer- physically and emotionally- than playing with strangers at parties or in the club scene (not that there’s anything wrong with that- but it is more dangerous).
This is equally true for vanilla relationships and single people who fear “getting tied down by true love” before they’ve experimented and satisfied their curiosity with people who aren’t “the one.” Dan Savage talks about this brilliantly in “What Does Marriage Mean,” where a young couple with three children ends up separating because they realized that they hadn’t had enough sexual experiences of their own before settling down with each other. But because they were unprepared to acknowledge the potential for a non-monogamous, yet committed relationship, they had to leave each other, which I think is a frustrating and un-productive endgame.
3. Poly/open relationships take the stress of dependency off of a diadic partner relationship.
The swinger’s blog, Life on the Swingset, provides a great explanation of this in their post, ”All Things Re-Considered.”
“In every aspect of a modern life, we’ve become interconnected and interdependent with others. Every aspect except sex, that is. Most still expect themselves to be everything for their partners in the bedroom….And with all of those expectations comes pressure. And feeling insufficient, which may just be the root of all jealousy….All of us in different open relationships, whether swinger, poly, or in some custom-built arrangement, share a comfort level in having another human being provide for our partners. In purely sexual terms, there are certain types of orgasms that [G] can’t have with me. “
4. Poly/open relationships give us the opportunity to explore ourselves emotionally- to better understand why we feel the way we feel about certain things, and to make us better people in general.
Being with more than one person at a time, and having to negotiate the complex cultural baggage and your own mental hoops about what it means to care for multiple people IS HARD. But it’s also rewarding. You find different kinds of intimacy from different people; they uncover new aspects of your personality and push you to learn more about your own limits and expectations. There’s a reason Zachary Karabell refers to open relationships as “Sex as an extreme sport.”
5. So that’s a lot of articles I just threw at you, but here’s one more- “Where We Are” by Lust and Confused. They explain my favoritereason why poly relationships are awesome: because it means more love for everyone. <3
Stay cool, queer kids.