Little Miss Shy …Goes Online Dating part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my existential musings about relationships and the ways we ‘meet and mate’ nowadays. For the backstory, read part 1. To jolt your memory, here’s where I left off:

But if I didn’t want marriage or monogamous partnership, what other choices did I have? What was there in the multifarious, shady world between casual sex and marriage?

Mr Men

Polyamory – poly what?

Polyamory is much more widely known now, but a couple of years ago it wasn’t, at least in my social circles and life experience. Until Week 2 of chatting on dating sites, I remained ignorant of the term, when I stumbled across a captivating young guy on OK Cupid.

It’s not that he was ‘good looking’; it’s that he was unusual and proud of it. Andrew’s profile announced his ‘poly’ status right from the get-go and his photo enthralled me. He was wearing funky sunglasses and black lipstick, a nerdy guy dressed in a pink tutu in a crowded festival setting. I fired off a jaunty message and not long afterwards he replied. Fantasy Mind loved the idea of developing a friendship with someone so openly rebellious, which felt like a breath of fresh air from my defiant past.

And so began my introduction to polyamory – ‘poly’ or ‘polyam’ for short. If you think you already know about poly, bear with me – it’s not all about the ‘hipsters’ and fucking around, although in certain circles there can be a very high level of promiscuity. The way I see it, behind polyamory there’s a genuine notion of questioning the status quo – and I’m all for that.

Let’s look at what it’s not: It’s not religious; it’s not polygamy; it’s not sexist or favouring men or women (poly can be adopted by any adult); it’s not ‘swinging’ and certainly it’s not just having casual sex with whoever takes your fancy.

According to the ‘bible’ of poly, Morethantwo, polyamory is:

“…the fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, especially in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.”

You might not know that the fabulous French early feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, spent a lifelong polyamorous relationship with philosopher John Paul Sartre that she termed “the one undoubted success in my life”.

The Guardian writer, Laura Smith says that, “in terms of longevity, they had about half of us beat: their relationship, which allowed for affairs while they remained essential partners, lasted 51 years until Sartre’s death in 1980.”

Emer O’Toole, also in The Guardian, adds to the list of what poly is not, “It isn’t a disregard for the agreements you share with people you love. And it certainly isn’t positioning monogamous people as more blindly traditional or less emotionally evolved than you.”

Boy, did I have a lot of questions for Andrew. My mind was buzzing with excitement.

Ethical non-monogamy – is there such a thing?

Andrew was 30 at the time, and had been living as a bisexual poly guy for a decade. It wasn’t something he’d decided on lightly and it certainly wasn’t an easy path. During our first two-hour meeting under a shady canopy in my city’s public gardens, I politely drilled him for information.

I was fascinated by poly and its potential as a viable alternative to monogamy. Andrew patiently explained the basics and directed me to some very useful reading (The Ethical Slut is a great starter). Although he’d had short periods of monogamy, Andrew identified most strongly with poly. His deepest emotional relationships were with women but supplemented by those with men. He had a long-term female partner of two years, as well as regular male and female ‘playmates’. Andrew felt it was important to be open about poly, even in his workplaces.

This brings me to the common topic of jealousy. Yes, invariably people raise it, and yes, dealing with it takes a lot of time and energy. The problems of and solutions to jealousy were, I discovered, a good way to think about poly.

Taking care of everyone’s feelings and being open, fair and inclusive was complex; mind-bogglingly difficult for a lot of people to comprehend.

As I listened to Andrew recounting his previous decade of countless romantic experiences with both women and men, older and younger than he, I marveled at his maturity, ethics and empathy.

In fact to me, poly almost seemed beyond the grasp of your average emotionally ravaged, insecure, volatile human.

Andrew described to me a common insecurity – being left out – that lonely feeling when your lovers are all busy with their other lovers but you’re sitting home alone nursing a hot chocolate in front of the TV. There is no easy fix; poly takes guts and honesty to make it work. It’s about freedom and giving people you care about respect.

But is it for me?

I started to think deeply about poly, given my new lease on life after marriage and questioning of all things ‘relationship’. I began to wonder whether I could do this poly thing and make it work for me.

Around me, all over the western world people were starting to feel the same way. A 2016 study in the US revealed that 21% of adults had been in an open relationship, and over in the UK, a 2015 survey revealed that 48% of British men and 30% of women were interested in one. (Michael Baggs, Does anyone believe in monogamy or should we have open relationships? BBC Newsbeat 17 Feb 2017) Apparently at least 5% of Americans are now involved in polyamorous relationships.

Ongoing discussions with Andrew were fuelled by my years of pent-up qualms and frustrations. My mind was buzzing with ‘what if’s. But poly, he admitted, was certainly not for everyone.

Peak interest in poly seems to be late 20s-early 30s although when I joined a couple of poly Facebook groups in my city, I saw that a handful of people in their 40s and 50s also identified as poly. It was a depressingly small ‘community’ in my small city. There were several of couples looking for a third, poly solos and people with established ‘polycules’ (or harems).

I discovered terms like unicorn hunting, traid and hinge. I learned a lot about the politics of polyamory, but best of all, I stumbled upon RA – relationship anarchy. The key axiom for RA is that ‘love is abundant and every relationship is unique’.

RA questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple.

People who follow RA do not rank and compare people and relationships. They consider each relationship to be independent, between autonomous individuals. Then and now, I relate to all of these statements! I have come to view RA as the relationship philosophy that best aligns with my conscience and my desires.

The myth of love’s scarcity or finite nature is something we are raised to believe in our (Western) society. I think of this as a miserly approach to love and certainly I can’t imagine anyone saying to a parent of multiple children, “how could you possibly love more than one?”

We take it for granted that, as mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, we have enough love to go around, that we can love more than one child or friend at a time, that the human heart has an infinite capacity for love.

Can we take non-monogamous relationships seriously?

So why, then, do some people question the authenticity of non-monogamous relationships? Why is a poly relationship considered not quite ‘real’ or ‘serious’?

Carrie Jenkins argues that non-monogamy isn’t considered ‘romantic’ – “what gets called ‘romantic’ isn’t just about classification, it’s about marking out those relationships and lives we value most.”

Author of Morethantwo, Franklin Veaux, challenges the notion that ‘if you love someone, you shouldn’t want anyone else’.

“Many people believe that a person who has multiple loves can’t give their ‘whole heart’ to any person. The belief goes that if you love one person, you can express your love wholeheartedly, but if you love multiple people, your love is divided up and is therefore not as deep… Don’t think of the contents of your heart the way you think of the contents of your wallet; it doesn’t work like that.”

Learning about poly and RA finally gave me the vocabulary and ideas to challenge all those notions and judgements that had filtered down to me for decades.

It was everywhere I looked; the value-judgement that monogamy was the only way to live, the only system under which a relationship could be conducted.

Esther Perel writes at length about monogamy and relationships, and she offers boundless wise counsel. She says so succinctly of conventional monogamy that it’s this very model of love and sex that’s behind the exponential rise of infidelity and divorce. (More on this topic coming soon!)

“We ask one person to give us what an entire community once provided – and we live twice as long. It’s a tall order for a party of two.”

Elf Lyons in The Guardian/Observer says that “polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have… I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.” Elf Lyons, A New Way to Love: In Praise of Polyamory, 23 July 2017

Autonomy is good – yes? And boundless opportunities to love and be loved? But is life really like that, I wonder. In Part 3 of this series, I will raise the uncomfortable topic of ‘the double standard’. (Oh, and I’ll reveal how that wonderful little book Little Miss Shy Goes Online Dating ends!)

21 thoughts on “Little Miss Shy …Goes Online Dating part 2

  1. To me there is a big difference between poly and consensual or ethical non monogamy. I have no interest in someone else’s partners beyond everyone practicing safe sex. The idea of being a chummy group turns me off completely. It probably stems from my issues with jealousy in the past (currently) but also that I don’t really invest emotionally at the moment so I don’t need things to work on that level. Good article. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I agree, which is why I practice poly solo and RA and operate best as an autonomous individual. The clichés of the happy breakfast with everyone’s partners round the kitchen table fills me with apathy/revulsion – not sure why, but it’s not for me either. That being said, polyamory is a lot more than just a couple-centric model based on everyone knowing everyone’s business. The main point with ethical non-monogamy as an overall banner is that all parties involve consent to ‘romantic’ (including sexual) activity. This obviously does not include partners of people who are ‘playing away’ without their knowledge.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I would prefer a monogamous relationship. Having said that I place a lot of importance on honesty and trust so the idea that these might actually be easier to achieve it a poly amorous setting is interesting

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AT the moment the ideal of monogamy appeals but I see it as a fundamentally flawed model because a certain percentage of people (often, but not always men) will never be monogamous and forcing them into that box leads to deceit and loss of trust. I think entering the online dating world has seriously eroded my trust in monogamy, and so right now I am quite content being exclusive, I’m realistic enough not to even think of ‘forever’ and I definitely don’t support the institution of marriage. The thing I like most about discussions of relationship models is that people are talking about this, rather than assuming there is only one way to do it. Changing times indeed.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Distance has put me in a situation of polyamory!!
    Mon Capitaine and I had not really delved into it much before I left America but we both knew at some point no just sexual needs but a humans basic instant to be touched, held, kissed would necessitate seeking that level of companionship elsewhere.
    Initially it was hard to resolve the emotion that comes with it and I first thought what I felt was jealousy but I have since been able to work through those emotions and realized what I experienced was more envy than jealousy..typically jealous comes with a feeling of mistrust and betrayal and there were none of those feelings….It was more a feeling of wishing it was me. I still have those feelings as does Mon Capitaine but we are working through it.
    Thanks for this post, it was certainly good to read it from a lot of different angles

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the compliment 🙂 I think I will be working through possible models (eg poly solo and RA being the highest contenders) for a long time yet. I strongly believe that the human heart has infinite capacity for love and so many people are living examples of that, yourself included.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The older we get I have no time for anyone claiming not to have any baggage. A few friends use tinder and it sounds like how I lived as a teenager. I have zero interest in reliving what I did well then. Since the mid 90’s I have found that the internet has assisted liars in all areas of life. Because of what my choice in ‘career’ did to me and because of the selfishness of health ‘professionals’ I will never have kids and my parents will never have grandchildren. Perhaps that is why I consider my actions and often take no action… Because I respect what others have more than they do themselves.
    Male cheats have always bored me because they are like emotional woman bashers wishing they could have the same tools as women. They are all through machismo cultures and I have never been beat by one or his gang in a locker room because I am honest in staying single and won’t join the boys in the same shit that saw me conscientiously object to my 3rd head of the river and anything more than a year 10 pass in high school.
    On the streets I met people with guts

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for having me on your blog and kindly conversing. I always find your views worthwhile stopping to consider.
        Autumn equinox today. One of the best days of the year in the southern states. 🖤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Brilliant. Sew are you 🐏🐑I love Autumn and the vernal equinox. I always feel very grateful at this time even in years when I had just been through hell again.
        My cat is like a seasonal barometer…. I could almost sell a TAFE course on studying her sleeping locations and the patterns. I figure there are heaps of other pointless education opportunities.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good post on a topic that I started exploring a couple of years ago. I never thought that I would even consider being in a poly relationship. After the divorce, I figured I might find someone to spend my life with but so far have had no luck. There is one man that I met when out with my kid that I just hit it off with. Turns out he was married but in an open marriage. We see each other occasionally. He is there for me emotionally as well as physically. I wish I could see him more often but I expect him to always put his wife first and he has a busy job. I have met her many times. She and I get along well. If we could find more time together, I may quit trying to date others. We both know that I may find someone and end things with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes life is complicated, especially as you get older and your options are more limited, when so many peers are already paired up or in relationships. Poly gives many possibilities and I like that it accepts (rather than is at odds with) the notion that the human heart has an infinite capacity for love.

      Liked by 1 person

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