Thursday, September 1, 2011

Poly Overview & Commentary

Introduction

On the first of January of this year, I retired from the real estate business.  This represents a significant life change, but oddly enough, it took me several months to figure out how to be retired.  Oh, I stayed busy doing routine stuff, but I was not creating, producing, contributing to society or otherwise making myself useful.  I found this troubling. 

Thirteen years ago, I made another significant life change by leaving the corporate world.  For the first time, I was able to escape the pressures of corporate life and manage my own time, while still making a few bucks selling real estate.  Self-employment turned out to be a bad financial endeavor, but a wonderfully enriching life change.  A couple of months ago, it finally dawned on me that I now have an even greater opportunity for self-enrichment, creativity and contribution.

I am interested in all things sexual.  As such, soon after leaving the corporate world, I embarked upon the study of tantra.  This discipline can of course be very esoteric, and after a time, I lost interest in pursuing it further.  But happily, it awakened my spirituality and taught me much about love and life.  It also became the genesis of my sensual touch practice. 

After a time, I became interested in the swing lifestyle.  I began reading about it and eventually convinced my wife, Connie, to accompany me to the Trapeze Club, a well known Atlanta swing club.  This marked the beginning of our open marriage.  Like many couples before us, this path has been both rewarding and at times very challenging.  However, more than anything I have ever done before or since, non-monogamy has forced me to grow in ways I never thought possible.  It is certainly not for the faint of heart, but for those couples who succeed, the rewards can be great. 

Somewhere along the way, I began writing erotic short stories, and a few years ago, self-published a book of them.  Now that I am retired, one of my goals is to expand the book and publish a second edition.  I’m not sure how enlightening this aspect of sexual pursuit has been, but it has certainly been fun! 

I acquired an interest in BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) several years ago.  To many, this discipline is viewed as weird and bizarre, practiced only by weird and bizarre people.  Even practitioners routinely refer to themselves as kinky.  But there is more to it than meets the eye.  BDSM involves what can be a complex power exchange, and especially for the submissive player, BDSM play can result in an emotionally powerful and profoundly erotic experience.  As a dominate player, I have witnessed this often and I always take pride in the knowledge that I have played a role in helping another achieve so much pleasure. 

In summary, my path of learning about human sexuality has thus far taken me into the realms of tantra, sensual touch, swinging, erotic short story authorship and BDSM.  Around the first of June, I finally figured out how to be retired: I started reading.  I had previously decided that my next course of study would be polyamory and I am now reading everything I can get my hands on about this subject.  Since I have more time than most of my readers, it is my mission to condense what I have learned so far into something that can be consumed in a reasonably short period of time without omitting the meat and potatoes.  The more I have read, the more knowledge I have gleaned, the more I have come to realize that this will not be an easy task. – Stan Powers 


Polyamory Defined
 
Derived from the Greek word poly (many) and the Latin word amor (love), polyamory is a new word, believed to have been coined in the late nineteen eighties. It can be translated to mean “many loves”.  While the word is new, the practice is not; people have been practicing polyamory in one form or another since the beginning of human history.

In my reading, I have come across many definitions of polyamory that share the same meaning with only minor variations in wording.  There are always two components: multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships and consensual agreement.  Consensual agreement is probably the more important defining characteristic, since romantic loving can be, and often is, broadly interpreted.  Consensual agreement demands that everyone involved knows about and consents to your relationship.  A typical definition goes something like this: a romantic relationship that involves more than two people with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

Triston Taormino in her book Opening Up puts it a little differently: “I would define polyamory as the desire for or the practice of maintaining multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously.”* Ms. Taormino’s use of the word intimate raises some interesting questions: By intimate, does she mean sexual? And can a strictly sexual relationship be polyamorous? She explains, "To distinguish polyamory from swinging and partnered non-monogamy, poly relationships are usually characterized as sexual and loving, a shorthand way of saying that polyamory involves not just sex, but emotional relationships.”*

Regarding the ethical component of polyamory, Franklin Veaux on his web site, xeromag.com, says, "The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else's involvement.

“If you are married, and you have a girlfriend that your wife doesn't know about, or that your wife suspects but isn't sure about, or that your wife knows about but isn't happy with, you're not poly, you're cheating. Similarly, if you're banging the milkman while your husband is out of town, you're not poly, you're cheating.

“Polyamory is defined by informed consent of all the participants. Without it, it ain't poly. If you can't invite your lover over to Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of your family because you don't want anyone to know what you're doing, it probably ain't poly."**

All of the authors differentiated, in one way or another, polyamory from swinging and other forms of casual sex.  Each agreed the distinction between casual sexual relationships and polyamory is a continuum, not a dichotomy.  Swing partners can develop close relationships and poly-folk can form hierarchical relationships.

Hierarchical terms, such as primary, secondary and tertiary, are sometimes used by poly folks and can be useful in defining relationships in terms of the commitment and the time and energy devoted to the relationship.  My point being, if a poly person considers a relationship tertiary, it is likely to be at least somewhat casual.  Having said this, it is worth noting that many poly folks disdain the use of hierarchies because polyamory is very equalitarian.  I will discuss more about this later. 

Another question comes to mind: Can a romantic, non-sexual relationship be polyamorous? All of the authors who address this question agree that a poly relationship, while likely to be sexual, need not be.  There is nothing that requires people who are even deeply in love to be sexual and some are not.  This is true either inside or outside of a poly relationship.  In fact, a poly person need not be in a poly relationship at all.  Polyamory has more to do with the desire and acceptance of polyamory than the actual practice of polyamory. 

Another characteristic that distinguishes polyamory from swinging has to do with the relationship structure.  Swinging typically involves a couple, often with boundaries negotiated for the express purpose of protecting the couple relationship and preventing romantic involvements with others.  Polyamory, by definition, is about romantic involvement in a myriad array of relationship structures. 

*Tristan Taormino. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (p. 71). Kindle Edition.
**Franklin Veaux, Polyamory?, http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html
 



Poly Configurations

The most common poly configuration is the pair (dyad in poly-speak), or more accurately, plural pairs.  Connie and I form a dyad.  If I enter into a relationship with Sue, I am paired with Connie and also with Sue.  If Connie and Sue are not romantically involved with each other, our plural pair configuration is called a v-triad or “vee”, graphically depicted as the letter “v”, with me at the bottom of the letter.

If Connie develops a romance with Bill, and Bill and I are not romantically involved, a second v-triad is formed by Bill, Connie, and me, with Connie the connecting point at the bottom of the “v”.  Taking it one step further, a “w” is a five-some with two connected “v’s”.  It goes like this: Bill and Connie, Connie and Stan, Stan and Sue, and Sue and Paul.

If I enter into a third romantic relationship, say with Patty, a “y” configuration is formed by way of my relationships with Connie, Sue and Patty.  If each of my three lovers form “y’s” with two other lovers and their lovers and their lovers’ lovers form more “y’s”, and so on, a large tribe, web or network can evolve, perhaps covering a broad geographical area.  The members not romantically involved with each other may or may not know one another, although some tribes of this type are known to hold periodic family reunions.

The second form of a three-some is referred to as a triad, loving triad or triangle.  This involves three people, all of whom have love, and probably sexual, relationships with each other.  A triad can consist of any combination of male and female, all male or all female configurations.  It is worth noting that gay folks, while often polyamorous, do not identify as poly.  They have enough issues to deal with just being gay.  Also, most polyamorists are not as negative about male-male bisexuality as the swing community.  This is due in part to a live-and-let-live attitude and to a relatively high percentage of bisexuals in the poly community. 

Quads, like triads, are a common configuration, and like triads, all of the members may or may not be romantic or sexual with each other.  A quad might consist of two male and female dyads or any other combination of men and women.  Quads made up of two men and two women are most commonly configured in one of three ways: only the men and women are romantic with each other; the women are romantic with the men and with each other; or everyone is romantic with each other.  I won’t go any further with this.  Suffice it to say, the possibilities increase dynamically with each increase in the number of people involved. 

Several authors pointed out that many poly folks around the world are ecologically minded and poly household formations are a means of conserving natural resources.  I also think that poly household formations are sometimes spawned by economic necessity.  It seems inevitable that economic forces will drive the formation of poly households now and into the future, especially triads and quads.

In the fifties, Ozzie went off to work every day, while Harriet stayed home and attended to childrearing and household chores.  Today, unless wealthy, families require two wage earners just to meet basic needs and enjoy a nice home.  As expenses continue to outstrip earnings, who do we send to work next? The nuclear family is a thing of the past, so I think we will see more and more friends and friendly couples forming combined households and many of these formations, if not romantic when first formed, are likely to eventually become so in a shared environment. 

In summary, a poly-family can be of any size and configuration; a poly family can be hierarchical or non-hierarchical, meaning the relationships can be identified as primary, secondary or equal.  A poly family may or may not live together and form a single household, or may or may not be polyfidelitous.  (Polyfidelity is similar to monogamy in that each member of the family agrees to abstain from sex with anyone outside of the family. This can be for emotional or safer sex or both reasons.)  The possibilities seem endless. 

If you are interested in poly configurations, What Does Polyamory Look Like? by Mim Chapman, is mostly about the wide range of poly configurations and the issues surrounding them.  However, this is only of minor interest to me.  I very much like Deborah Anapol’s thoughts about polyamory: “I use the word polyamory to describe the whole range of lovestyles that arise from an understanding that love cannot be forced to flow or be prevented from flowing in any particular direction.  Love, which is allowed to expand, often grows to include a number of people.  But to me, polyamory has more to do with an internal attitude of letting love evolve without expectations or demands that it look a particular way than it does with the number of partners involved.”* 

To paraphrase, love cannot be forced to flow or be prevented from flowing in any particular direction; love should be allowed to evolve without any expectation that it look a particular way or that it involve a particular number of people. This, to me, is the essence of polyamory.

*Anapol, Deborah (2010-08-16). Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (p. 1). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.



Hierarchical vs. Non-hierarchical Relationships 

“The ways in which people practice polyamory are unique and entirely specific to them. There is no formula for polyamory. But poly people generally adhere to one of two models: hierarchical and nonhierarchical. Consider which style feels more appropriate for you or fits with your goals. Some poly people structure their relationships hierarchically, and they consider one relationship primary.  A primary partner can be considered primary for a variety of reasons: the relationship is more central or significant than others; you live together; you make major life decisions together; you share resources and finances; you jointly own property or a business; you raise children together; you have made a formal commitment, such as marriage, domestic partnership, or handfasting; you are fluid-bonded (you share bodily fluids with each other without barriers); or you have been together longer than your other relationships.”*

“In nonhierarchical polyamory, no single relationship is considered primary. Each relationship is different and unique. They may all be equally important or they may vary greatly in terms of time, energy, commitment, and significance, but they are not ordered by priority. For poly people who intentionally choose not to create a hierarchy, a nonhierarchical approach is usually part of their overall personal philosophy.” **

The above quotes from Opening Up generally speak for themselves.  Clearly, if both or all of your relationships are considered primary and are of equal importance to you, you are practicing non-hierarchical polyamory.  But I am left a little confused by the statement that relationships may vary greatly in terms of commitment and significance, yet not be ordered by priority; in other words, they are still considered non-hierarchical.  Taormino gives us a clue when she states that this is usually part of an overall personal philosophy.  I believe she is saying that these relationships really are hierarchical, but the partners prefer not to use hierarchical language.  A number of authors alluded to the use of hierarchical terms as demeaning, inferring that secondary and tertiary partners are somehow inferior.  I understand this point of view, but I also believe hierarchical terms add clarity. 

Connie is and forever will be my number one, my primary; also, our children were not raised in a poly household by multiple poly parents.  We are a traditional family and our children know nothing about their parents’ plural relationships.  We want to keep it that way, at least until they are adults.  Thus, I am only interested in having a secondary and in being a secondary, and this in no way offends me.  On the other hand, in a poly family household, for example, I can see where it would be important not to rank relationships.  Again, there is very little right or wrong about poly; it’s whatever works for the people involved.

*Tristan Taormino. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (pp. 74-75). Kindle Edition. 
**Tristan Taormino. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (pp. 78-79). Kindle Edition.   


Equity 

Polyamory is sometimes confused with polygamy, especially religious polygamy.  Patriarchal polygamy is called polygyny; matriarchal polygamy, which is much less common, is called polyandry.  However, polyamory is none of these things.  Polyamory is secular, having nothing to do with religious practices having differentiating privileges for men and women.  Polyamory respects children and has nothing to do with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse, such as the case with a religious cult frequently in the news lately.  Polyamory can be abused, just as monogamy can be abused, but this has to do with the individuals involved, not the fact of loving more than one. 

Deborah Anapol provides this perspective: “Where equity is present, one person may still assume more leadership than the other(s), or different people may assume leadership in different arenas or decide to rotate responsibilities, but the process of making decisions is one that is mutually agreed on as beneficial for everyone. This style has sometimes been described as power with rather than power over, or mutually empowering.”*

The most common cause of conjugal murder in our society is sexual jealousy.  Francoise Simpere in her book, The Art and Ettiquette of Polyamory, addresses crimes of passion and relationship equity in this insightful quote: “Polyamory sees sexuality as a privilege, a joyful means of communication, unlike the guilt-provoking prudishness and constraints of standardized sexuality. It advocates peaceful and responsible romantic relationships in societies where dramatic breakups and crimes of passion have become commonplace. In addition, it creates perfect equality between men and women.”** 

*Anapol, Deborah (2010-08-16). Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (pp. 81-82). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

**Simpere, Francoise (2011-02-10). The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory (p. 38). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition. 
 


Jealousy 

I believe there are many people today who are curious about relationship alternatives, people who intuitively understand that life-long monogamy may not be the best relationship choice for them.  There is now a whole generation of young people who have enjoyed friends with benefits and who are not anxious to give up the pleasures of plural sexing after marriage.  Some people try non-monogamy and ultimately revert to the comfort and security of monogamy, or at least the appearance of monogamy, due to cultural conditioning and all of the social pressures that go with it.  Some people know themselves too well to try non-monogamy, knowing they would be too jealous or too insecure.  However, most people just default to monogamy, not giving any alternatives a second thought.

For those who attempt non-monogamy and fail, the most common reason is the emotion we call jealousy.  Jealousy is really an umbrella term for an array of feelings, including envy, competitiveness, insecurity, rejection fear, abandonment fear or fear of feeling left out, unloved or inadequate.  It is different things for different people at different times.  As such, when feeling jealous, it is important to drill down and come to an understanding of the root source.

Once the root emotion is recognized and acknowledged, some of the authors set forth various exercises for deconstructing feelings of fear or insecurity.  This is not an easy task because the feelings are valid and very real, even if not founded in truth.  These worthwhile exercises may be life changing for some people; however, much has already been written about managing jealousy and the specifics are beyond the scope of this writing.  If you are interested in knowing more, my reading list is a good starting point. 

There is a truth I will share with you:  in order to manage jealousy, you must face it head-on and give yourself permission to feel it.  Too often, non-monogamous folks employ diversion or other tactics to avoid feeling jealous.  Staying busy to take your mind off of whatever your partner is doing is okay, but only after jealousy has been fully experienced and reduced to a manageable level.  Running away from painful feelings of jealousy is counter-productive, because you can’t manage what you don’t know and understand. Conversely, by confronting jealousy, you are training yourself to understand that the feelings, although painful, are survivable and not the end of the world.  In the grand scheme of things, there are far worse things than feeling jealous.

There is another truth I will share with you.  It concerns a poly acronym known as NRE, meaning new relationship energy.  It can cause your partner to behave like a teenager with her first crush, and in turn, cause you to easily become possessive, jealous and insecure.  Connie and I have been through this and it is not fun.  And the really bad news: there’s nothing that can be done about it.  And the really good news: it will eventually go away.  My second truth: NRE is temporary, so don’t overreact.

When I am feeling jealous, I will find a quiet space, turn on new age music, close my eyes and do absolutely nothing, except soak-up and even embrace the feelings coming over me.  This exercise has taught me that feelings of jealousy are not only survivable, but can rather easily be reduced to manageable levels.  On each occasion I have done this, my negative feelings eventually dissipated, displaced by a degree of satisfaction knowing I was able to convert painful feelings to something perhaps mildly unpleasant, but tolerable; on each occasion, compersion (defined below) eventually displaced jealousy; and on each occasion, I learned something about myself and grew a little more. 

Each author on my reading list addresses the subject of jealousy.  Jealousy management is clearly a vital aspect of successful plural loving.  The authors write competently, and at times eloquently, about jealousy and managing jealousy.  However, both editions of The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, are my favorite works addressing the emotional aspects of non-monogamy, including the handling of jealousy.  They tackle complex subjects with humor and an easy to read style.  If you have not already read one of these works, I highly recommend that you do so.

 I will conclude this section with a wonderful quote by Deborah Anapol, which is a lead-in to the Chapter dealing with jealousy in each of the two editions of The Ethical Slut: “Let jealousy be your teacher.  Jealousy can lead you to the very places where you most need healing.  It can be your guide into your own dark side and show you the way to total self-realization.  Jealousy can teach you how to live in peace with yourself and with the whole world if you let it. —Deborah Anapol, Love without Limits”* 

*Easton, Dossie; Hardy, Janet W. (2011-04-20). Ethical Slut (Kindle Locations 1844-1847). Celestial Arts. Kindle Edition.



Compersion

Jealousy is based in part on a belief in scarcity, known as starvation economies.  It is learned in childhood: If your sibling gets a big piece of pie, there is less left over for you.  In adulthood, this carries over to romantic love and the feeling that love is scarce and can be lost or taken away.  If she loves Bill, there will be less love for me.

For some, the process of conquering this fear of loss can be daunting.  It means letting go.  In the movies, you let her go, and if she eventually returns, it is meant to be.  It is stated much better in The Ethical Slut: “Getting over past fears of starvation can be one of the biggest challenges of ethical sluthood. It requires an enormous leap of faith: you have to let go of some of what feels like yours, trusting that it will be replaced in abundance by a generous world. You need to get clear that you deserve love and nurturance and warmth and sex. If the world hasn’t been all that generous to you in the past, this may be very difficult.”*

Compersion is the opposite of jealousy.  You won’t find this word in Webster, but it is an important poly concept.  It is the joy one experiences from the pleasure a beloved receives from another.  Compersion is based on abundance, not scarcity.  Love is not scarce, so there is no need to compete for it.  If you believe the world will be generous to you, you can not only let her go, but you can be happy for her – happy for the emotional and sexual pleasure she receives from another.

Mim Chapman in her book, What does polyamory Look Like?, explains it very well: “Some people describe compersion as the opposite of jealousy. Jealousy is based, in part, on a belief in scarcity—I was given only one cup of love, and if I give a spoon of it to him, I have one less spoonful for you! This sense of scarcity breeds envy, fear of loss, and competitiveness. It leads to worrying that if a new love is more attractive, sexier, brighter, or more fun than I am, my primary may leave me for that person, and I’ll be all alone once more. Literature and television reinforce this model of scarcity, and sometimes go so far as to see jealousy as an evidence of love! Compersion, on the other hand, is based on a belief in abundance, in which there is no need to compete for the supposedly scarce commodity of love. It holds that love breeds more love, and that when I see someone I love experiencing joy from the love of someone else, this brings me joy as well.”**

The application of starvation economies to love is both false and dangerous.  For example, if a parent has a second child, the first child is unlikely to be loved less.  Love is boundless, limited only by real world constraints, the most limiting of which is time.

I Googled Buddha love quotes and found this gem: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”  The very same can be said of love: love never decreases by being shared.  It is true that the number of relationships that can be successfully maintained is finite due to time and energy constraints; however, love is never a limiting factor.  You will never run out of it.

*Easton, Dossie; Hardy, Janet W. (2011-04-20). Ethical Slut (Kindle Locations 1007-1010). Celestial Arts. Kindle Edition.
**Chapman PhD, Mim (2010-08-10). What Does Polyamory Look Like? (Kindle Locations 360-366). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.
 


Agreements

Agreements are an especially important matter in poly relationships, since marriage and the benefits and protections legal marriage affords, is only possible with one of your beloveds.  Especially, in a non-hierarchical poly family household, legal contracts covering matters such as estate, medical and child custody issues can take on a great deal of significance for all concerned.  Even so, there is still no guarantee the courts will follow your wishes, but it is much more likely when they are set forth in writing.   If you are in, or contemplating being in, a relationship which can benefit from legal agreements, retain a good lawyer who is sympathetic to and knowledgeable about alternative relationships.

Another type of agreement, one setting forth romantic and sexual boundaries, is very important in any non-monogamous relationship.  Without clear boundaries, conflicts and misunderstandings are inevitable.  It is equally important to avoid an agreement of “don’t ask and don’t tell”, which has a proven track record of detachment over time.  In hierarchical relationships, it is common for primary partners to negotiate some limits on romantic and sexual activities with secondary partners.  Also, the sharing of some agreed upon amount of information with your primary about these activities builds intimacy and trust.

Each author touches upon the various aspects of relationship negotiations and contracts, some in great detail.  A few discuss legal contracts in some depth.  For detailed information regarding these topics, turn to my reading list.


Safer Sex Practices

The importance of maintaining good sexual health cannot be stressed enough.  A couple authors tackle this subject in detail, covering specifics of safer sex practices, such as the types of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, as well as preventative measures.  Also, to some extent, most of the authors discuss polyfidelity and fluid bonding as positive strategies for emotional bonding and sexual health.  Some opined that the incidence of infection for poly folks is no greater than the population at large due to greater diligence.  I hope this is the case; poly folks have more at stake because they have more lovers to protect.

Taormino says, “Every sexual encounter we have with another person carries physical and emotional risks, responsibilities, and rewards. While you may not be able to anticipate or guard against feelings or psychological issues that arise from an erotic experience, you can do your best to protect your body from infection and disease. It's important to know what STIs are, how they are transmitted, and how to protect yourself from them. It's equally important for you and your partner(s) to get tested regularly for STIs.”*

And I really like this quote: “Remember: fucking without anxiety and doubt is sexy.”**

*Tristan Taormino. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (p. 264). Kindle Edition.
**Tristan Taormino. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (p. 263). Kindle Edition.



The State of Marriage 

While life-long monogamy is the sole cultural norm for sexual relating in our society, the two most common relationship choices are serial monogamy and cheating.  Both are forms of non-monogamy.  Serial monogamy means having multiple partners, but having only one partner for a limited period time before moving on to the next.  Sadly, this often manifests itself by way of marriage and divorce, remarriage and divorce, and so on.  This is commonly known as the grass is greener syndrome.  The root cause is found in an important underlying principle of polyamory: it is impossible for one person to satisfy all of our physical and emotional needs.  So in our sex-negative culture, instead of adding a complementary partner or complementary partners, we leave one primary relationship for another, which over time will likely also result in some level of dissatisfaction.  Thus, the cycle repeats itself.

Regarding the ever popular form of non-monogamy known as cheating, Jenny Block in her book Open quotes Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Dealing with Affairs: “The reality is that monogamy is not the norm, not by today’s standards, anyway. Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair.” Vaughan also says that the statistics become “even more significant when we consider the total number of marriages involved, since it’s unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men not included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages.”*

Deborah Anapol adds this perspective: “Is infidelity monogamy? What about serial monogamy? These may sound like silly questions, but with as many as 70 percent of all couples experiencing extramarital affairs, monogamy has been redefined. Most of these couples consider themselves to be monogamous, as do couples who divorce and remarry others. Clearly, their behavior does not match their identities.”**

Of course, the percentage of non-monogamous marriages becomes even higher when we account for ethical, meaning consensual, non-monogamous marriages.  I won’t speculate what that percentage might be, but it is safe to say that the percentage of truly monogamous marriages is relatively small.  This is not surprising.  Studies have shown that most primates are not monogamous and the human animal is no exception.

Deborah Anapol has this to say on the state of marriage in our society: “Most observers agree that traditional marriage is floundering. While some couples still manage to thrive, they are in the minority. Rising divorce rates, declining marriage rates, and the skyrocketing incidence of infidelity on the one hand and sexless marriage on the other have many people concerned about their prospects for marital bliss and newly curious about alternatives.”*** 

In conclusion, the current marriage paradigm in our society is one of social monogamy and sexual non-monogamy. In other words, we put up a monogamous fa├žade, showing the world how merrily happy we are as a faithful couple, while one or both persons in the majority of marriages behaves much differently.  This confusing disconnect often has tragic consequences.  When the truth of a cheating spouse becomes known, many people suffer a sense of betrayal often described as more painful than the suffering resulting from the death of a loved one.  Of course divorce, if that should result, can be terribly traumatic, especially if children are involved. 

All of this leads me to believe there must be a better way, a more honest and ethical paradigm than the singular cultural norm of life-long monogamy.  And I believe a better way is no one way, but many ways.  The ways in which people relate sexually and romantically should be based on individual needs and desires, and free from the burdens of religious and cultural dogma.  It can be conscious monogamy, tribal polyamory or anything in between.  The key is giving people the freedom to make their own choices in life without fear of condemnation or retribution.  Remember the wonderful quotation, taken from Polyamory in the 21st Century, I shared with you earlier: “love cannot be forced to flow or be prevented from flowing in any particular direction.” And love for each of us can flow to none, one, more than one, or many, and this is how it should be.

*Jenny Block (2009-02-01). Open (p. 115). Seal Press. Kindle Edition.
**Anapol, Deborah (2010-08-16). Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (p. 12). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
***Anapol, Deborah (2010-08-16). Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (p. 2). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


The Seven Natural Laws of Love 

Polyamory is about love and reading about love wetted my appetite for more knowledge.  Specifically, I wanted to know how love’s nature might plug into polyamory concepts.  I found what I was looking for on Deborah Anapol’s website: a short book titled, The Seven Natural Laws of Love.  She devotes a whole chapter to each law, which is really a principle, and summarizes the seven laws at the end of the book. 

Anapol points out the fallacy of searching for the love we seek from others.  We try to find the perfect partner or change the one we have to better satisfy our emotional and physical needs.  Yet, contrary to popular belief, there is no perfect partner, nor can we change an imperfect partner.  A more true understanding tells us that love comes from within and can only be shared; it cannot be given, received or lost, nor can it be found outside of ourselves.  Further, love is boundless and inclusive; there is plenty of love to share with others.

An understanding that love comes from within frees us from the tendency to possess and control those we love and frees us from dependency on others for the love we seek.  Anapol says, “Any desire to find in the other a solution to your needs, or an escape from confronting your own sense of separation, your own fears and anxieties, translates into attachment, dependency, and manipulation, not love.”*

Polyamorists are strong individualists who refuse to claim ownership of the people they love.  Instead, they look within for their sense of security.  They realize love is abundant and there is plenty to share with others.  Poly folks never worry about running out of love.  Compersion is said to be the opposite of jealousy, but I can make an argument that compersion is really love in its purest sense.  And after reading the book, I am convinced that “loving many” and loves nature complement each other perfectly. 

While certainly not a substitute for reading the book, the following summary presented at the conclusion of The Seven Natural Laws of Love will impart some understanding of the seven laws: 

“1. Love is its own law. Let love be your guiding principle. When in doubt, listen to your heart. Don’t allow mental concepts, beliefs, or assumptions that are not based on love to dictate your behavior.

 “2. The law of source. You are the source of love. The love inside you is abundant and eternal. You don’t need to beg, control, or compromise in order to be loved. 

“3. The law of attraction. The more you focus on love and gratitude, the more you will be surrounded by love. If you complain, blame, and dwell on fear, you’ll attract others who are also resentful, angry, and fearful. 

“4. The law of unity. Love knows no borders and no boundaries. Love includes everyone and everything. Love takes no position, rising above separation. Find unity within by resolving the conflicts inside yourself and you won’t have to act them out with another. 

“5. The law of truth. Let telling the truth about who you are and what you are feeling and thinking be your foundation. Vulnerable self-disclosure allows for empathy and understanding. The more truth is shared the more love grows. 

“6. The law of consciousness. Love is a state of consciousness available only when you’re willing to relinquish your defenses. Protection is a barrier to love. Love cannot be given or taken but it can be shared. The vibration of love in you is often stimulated when you come into contact with one who carries it. 

“7. The law of forgiveness. It’s ok to make mistakes. Very few humans are able to love perfectly. Forgive yourself and others generously and you’ll always have a second chance. Focus more on giving than getting and you’ll have much less forgiving to do.”** 

*Anapol, Deborah Taj (2005-08-29). The Seven Natural Laws of Love (p. 7). Cumberland House Publishing. Kindle Edition.

**Anapol, Deborah Taj (2005-08-29). The Seven Natural Laws of Love (p. 120). Cumberland House Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 


Conclusion

My reading sources cover many more topics than those I have overviewed, or overviewed only briefly.  Many of these topics are directed toward the management of active poly relationships, covering such practical matters as coming out, being outed, safer sex, agreements and legal matters, conflict resolution, division of labor in poly households and raising children.  Political activism and other topics tackled by the authors have world-wide historical, cultural and statistical significance, and while interesting, are far beyond the scope of this writing.  My focus has been limited to sharing the basics of what I have learned for general information purposes.  If this writing helps even one poly-curious person make an important life decision, my effort will be well rewarded.

Most authors concede that successful polyamory is difficult at best.  As the number of partners increase, it becomes exponentially more difficult managing multiple relationships.  Managing only one romantic relationship is hard enough; imagine loving more than one and devoting enough time and energy to satisfy the emotional and physical needs of each!  This becomes especially challenging if you have multiple co-primaries who have no other relationships.

Also, polyamory is counter-cultural with potentially severe consequences if neighbors, teachers and employers learn of your poly nature.  Some poly folks have lost jobs and have even lost custody of their children for no reason other than loving more than one person. Chapman states, “There are currently no laws protecting poly individuals or families from discrimination in work, housing, or child custody issues. So even though you might like to be out of the closet as poly, and to make political statements about your poly status, it is wise to consider the implications if you have children or a job that might be at risk.”*

As to the matter of fucked up priorities, leave it to a French woman to say it best: “It is hard to believe that a war built on the lies of one country, the pillaging of poor countries, the job losses of millions of workers, the failure of the financial system, or cases of tax evasion produce less of a scandal than the statement, ‘We each have simultaneous, multiple relationships, and we’re happy about it.’”**

It should be noted that all of the authors are polyamorous, and as such, have a built-in bias favoring the practice of polyamory.  However, all admit that monogamy is a perfectly fine relationship choice, if it is in fact a conscious choice and not a cultural default.  They believe the couple will remain the primary relationship form and each couple should be free to choose the number of additional partners, if any, that works best for them.  Their view and mine is that monogamy works for many, but certainly not most, couples.

On a personal note, prior to embarking on the study of polyamory, I had given no thought to the notion that my own relationship orientation might be poly.  I now believe that it is.  I am accepting of polyamory and would welcome a secondary relationship if love should flow in that direction. While my primary is my sole love at this time, I have no doubt I am capable of loving more, as we all are.

I believe my primary is actively poly, although she does not identify as such.  Connie has a relationship with at least one other man that is ethical and, I believe, romantic.  She would say that she is not madly in love with him, but I think there is a broad spectrum of what most people would call romantic love.  We know by definition that there must be more to a poly relationship than sex, and in Connie’s case, I think there is.

As mentioned earlier, the difference between polyamory and casual sex relationships, such as swinging, is a continuum, not a dichotomy.  However, while this is true in a behavioral sense, I believe polyamory and swinging are  worlds apart culturally.  I have come to realize that polyamory has, or can have, a spiritual aspect, aligning much more closely with tantra than swinging.  In tantric belief, when genitals come together, energy is generated having the potential to enlighten the couple, but also to spread out across the globe, making the world a better place.  Similarly, if I broadcast my love, which comes from within, out to the world and someone tunes in to my frequency, making a love/sex connection, the world becomes a better place.    
 
I cannot express my feelings about life, love and sex more eloquently than the words of Easton and Hardy at the close of The Ethical Slut:

“We dream of a world where no one is driven by desires they have no hope of fulfilling, where no one suffers from shame for their desires, or embarrassment about their dreams, where no one is starving from lack of sex.  We dream of a world where no one is limited by rules that dictate that they must be less of a person, and less of a sexual person, than they have the capacity to be.

“We dream of a world where nobody gets to vote on your life choices, or who you choose to love, or how you choose to express that love, except yourself and your lovers. We dream of a time and a place where we will all be free to publicly declare our love, for whoever we love, however we love them. 

"And may we all look forward to a lifetime of dreams come true."*** 


*Chapman PhD, Mim (2010-08-10). What Does Polyamory Look Like? (Kindle Locations 1468-1471). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

**Simpere, Francoise (2011-02-10). The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory (pp. 83-84). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

***Easton, Dossie; Hardy, Janet W. (2011-04-20). Ethical Slut (Kindle Locations 4669-4675). Celestial Arts. Kindle Edition.
 


My Reading List

Thus far, I have read these works: 

The Ethical Slut
A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities
Dossie Easton & Catherine A. Liszt (Janet W. Hardy)

The Ethical Slut
A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures
Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy

Opening Up
A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships

Tristan Taormino

Polyamory in the 21st Century
Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners

Deborah Anapol, PhD

What does Polyamory Look Like?
Polydiverse Patterns of Loving and Living in Modern Polyamorous Relationships
Mim Chapman, PhD

Open
L
ove, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage
Jenny Block

The Art & Etiquette of Polyamory
Francoise Simpere

The Seven Natural Laws of Love
Deborah Anapol, PhD


I have viewed these and other online resources:


Polyamory?
Franklin Veaux
http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html

Polyamorous Percolations
by Alan
http://polyamoryonline.org/

Loving More
Supporting Polyamory and Relationship Choice
http://www.lovemore.com