The Inconvenient Truth About Polyamory

Monogamy is not “natural,” I argued in a recent post.

It’s a perfectly legitimate and sometimes admirable choice, but a huge challenge for most of us, as it goes against our animal urges and instincts.

After reading the book Sex at Dawn three years ago, the most “natural” solution to the “problem of monogamy” seemed to be polyamory — loving and making love to more than one person.

But, to my dismay, I’ve discovered “becoming” polyamorous isn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  To the same degree monogamy is not natural, polyamory is not normal.

As tough as it is, many of us choose to fight, deny and suppress our nature rather than go against the grain of our culture… because the fear of being labeled “weird” or “not normal” or made a social outcast is stronger than the fear of not being true to one’s self.

It’s not normal

I for one have been feeling this fear lately and I know my partner Brad has too.

We opened up our now 7-year relationship almost 3 years ago.  For every amazing, erotic adventure we’ve had, we’ve had a period of monogamish recoiling afterward, and haven’t been able to hang onto any of our new romances for very long.

The truth is we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We’re making it up as we go along.

Sure, we read the instruction manuals — The Ethical Slut and More Than Two — and we even found a TV show called Polyamory: Married and Dating. But that’s it. That’s all we had to go off.

No poly parents or teachers, no poly neighbors or friends growing up. No poly Disney movies, sitcoms or music. Nothing.

All the information we’d subconsciously downloaded about relationships from the time we were babies indicated that the most important things about them were that they be monogamous and that they last forever… or at least until you absolutely couldn’t stand the other person anymore.

When I decided to open our relationship three years ago, I had no idea how much trouble that subconscious programming would cause until it came bubbling to the surface.

Not only did I have to struggle with my own false beliefs about Brad’s attraction to and desire to have sex with other women — “I must not be attractive or sexually desirable” — I had to deal with unsolicited sympathy and pity from others — “this girl is deluding herself … he doesn’t love her … he’s cheating on her and calling it polyamory … she’s going to regret letting him do this when he leaves he for someone younger and more attractive woman … you deserve better…”

Brad has had a similar experience. He’s admitted that in addition to his own fears of inadequacy over my desire to date and have sex with other men, he’s often felt embarrassment and shame over what he imagines other people think about him — “he’s a cuckhold … can’t keep his woman satisfied … she’s just using him for economic security…”

Countless family members and friends have advised us to split up “if you just don’t want to be together”… because desiring to connect with more than one person sexually and romantically obviously means “we just don’t want to be together.”

Part of why we moved to Asheville (aside from loving it and wanting to start a food truck here) was to get a fresh start away from old friends in the more socially conservative Raleigh, where we met. We knew Asheville was more progressive and appeared to have a large poly community.

But even here, people who openly identify as poly are among a tiny minority.

One of my biggest fears since going public about poly is that my kid wouldn’t have any friends. For a long time, it kept me from reaching out to  other parents (even though many of them have since confided their secret interest in polyamory).

If I’d had to rely on the public school system for friends, I might’ve had a harder time, but as luck would have it, my poly friends started a private school right down the road from my house, and my daughter’s best friend’s mom is the author of a famous poly web comic, who also lives right down the road.

Our culture is too busy for multiple relationships

More recently, Brad and I have identified another obstacle to modern polyamory (as opposed to the kind that occurred when we lived in gatherer-hunter tribes) — long work hours keep us too busy for maintaining multiple relationships.

Brad complains he simply doesn’t have enough time to process all of the tough emotions that come up when I connect with another man. In addition to the normal fears of abandonment and replacement, he experienced resentment every time I had sex with our roommate Ben while he was out working. From his perspective, he was hard at work to pay the bills while I was literally “screwing” around.

So, to keep things simple, I quit. It’s been 3 months since I last had sex with Ben. The previous time was 3 months before that, and the time before that was 3 months before that. (Looks like I’m due for another quarterly fall to temptation).

In conclusion, I feel trapped — trapped in the monogamous paradigm we’ve co-created. I want out, but I’m still not sure how to get out without making a big mess and hurting the ones I love. (To clarify, I want out of the monogamy trap, not out of my primary relationship.)

I know there are many, many more people out there like me — people who are unsatisfied with the one option society’s given us for romantic relationship — one at a time. I sense that we are on verge of awakening and realizing we are free to relate to and connect with as many people as we want/need to.

I believe as more and more of us learn to be honest with ourselves and others and follow our hearts, it will encourage others to do the same, one by one, until there’s a tipping point… until we arrive at a day when we look back and think how silly it was that we trapped ourselves in the monogamy box for millennia.

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  1. Gary

    I think the institution of marriage was developed for one purpose: to insure paternity. If you have more than one mate then it could become difficult to identify who the father is when you become pregnant. That’s biological, evolutionary behavior. What you are up against is psychological. Instead of Brad getting excited and fulfilled why you get filled by Ben, he’s jealous and hurt. Sounds like he’s also selfish. You get yours so he needs to get his. He seems to be keeping a rather strict scorecard.

  2. Nancy

    I have heard so many comments like all the ones you expressed. We started doing weekly classes on polyamorous basics, jealousy, sexuality vs intimacy, communication and sexual etiquette.
    The feedback is people are glad there are others to help mentor and explain things as they explore this new lifestyle.

    Your feelings are so common. You are not alone. Time helps to smooth some of it over. Keep communication and look for different ways to communicate and understand each other’s needs.

  3. Jon

    My wife often sees a combination of old lovers and new friends, and I think it’s great. I am out much less but the situations for a new or returning lover comes up occasionally.

    Early in our poly-ness, there was one woman for whom my wife had a nagative reaction. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was uncomfortable. I said some version of “let me take that one off the table, no big deal.” To my surprise – amazement really – she said some version of “this is my shit. ‘I appreciate the offer, but I need these feelings to be able to process through them.”

    We’ve talked and talked for hours about our love, relationship and everything else – including what the rub was with that one woman. But looking back, that moment was beyond powerful and (IMO) it’s at the heart of poly.

    You’re trying to solve your husband/primary’s challenges. When does he own his shit? Do you ever get to live poly and follow your own authentic voice? Will you ever be able to have romantic friends, lovers, fwb’s?

    More than any other, I believe poly requires (insists on!) higher-level communication, emotional intelligence and processing. Until you two have very tough, open, direct and honest discussion you may not be ready for poly.

  4. Husband needs to deconstruct his feelings about her screwing around while he is at work. It has NO PLACE in polyamorous relationships. Compersion does sometimes take practice, but it can be achieved fairly quickly through repetition and support.

  5. StrategyKing

    Well along with our sex drive we also have the capacity to pair bond. The pair bond takes on a different quality if we are monogamous or we are polygamous.

    Humans aren’t the only species who pair bond. For example, puffin birds pair bond for life.

    If you are feeling you aren’t ‘normal’, that could be due to societal expectations ingrained in you for sure, or it could be just your own response to the nature of your pair bond. It is perfectly reasonable to want it to be one-directed. Just go with the flow!

  6. Bill

    Yet another liberal wack job. Like you said “when I decided…”.
    The dude should leave you to your own affairs and find a stable partner.

  7. Dena

    As Gary mentioned above, there is a biological component with men that is different than that with women. I think it needs to be addressed more comprehensively in the ‘poly’ community. One notable aspect of this is paternity. Women have no concern about this because passing on their genes is a given. As reproductive rights are largely ours, we have power and thus responsibility to consider this about our partners. Painting them as insecure, wounded, etc. misses the mark and denies them the very vulnerability that we often want them to own. Honoring that is in order, and is healthy for our families in the long run. It isn’t all about individual or even compersion between two people, but among a larger family unit.

  8. Bog

    I have no idea why any man would want a woman who screws other men, unless their self worth is so low it’s all they think they can get.

    A cuck is a cuck is a cuck.

  9. daniel

    its clear from reading this blog post that sara burrows is a terribly lost person. message for the dad: break up this crazy chick. give your child a safe stable environment to grow up in!

  10. Marchelle

    Hmmm… with all of this talk about “human nature” and how monogamy goes against it, perhaps we need to consider these upsetting, negative emotions that come with the practice of Polyamory. People get insecure. People question if they are good enough. People get territorial of their loved ones. All these emotions are just like the ones we experience in monogamous relationships. The only difference is, unless someone is actually cheating, those emotions are just fears. In Polyamorous relationships, there really is no telling if the people involved are doing it because it genuinely fits their lifestyle or because they are unsatisfied with their partners and just don’t want to end it all.

    We like to talk about human and animal nature like they determine how we to live, how we behave (even though we are all truly different), and what that means through our thought processes. Some animals fuck their kids. Some humans fuck their kids and go to jail. Are they wrong for exploring their “animalistic” nature? Should they be held accountable because they know that what they are doing is traumatizing and detrimental to another beings health? Is it even bad that someone fucks their 4 year old? Why are we able to just pick and choose what “animalistic” traits we accept?
    Truth is, we are all just figuring out what works best for us individually and how to best interact with our peers.

    Let’s stop grouping everyone together, and just focus on our own lives. Not everyone wants to fuck around. Not everyone wants to be mono. Not everyone is some place in between. People are always trying to convince others to adopt their ideals. Psshh. We are already preoccupied with figuring out our own.

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