“Polyamorous” Problems Are Relationship Problems

Not long ago, thanks to awesome friends of mine, I became aware of Kat Blaque. I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything that I’ve seen from her so far, so this is me using something she said as a jumping-off point.

Recently, an older video that Kat made on polyamory was captioned. The type of polyamorous relationship she talks about the most in the video is the kind where the relationship starts out monogamous, one partner wants to be non-monogamous, and the other person reluctantly goes along with it because they want to retain the relationship. The issue, she says, is the changing of terms in the contract of the relationship.

Kat’s mention of how difficult it can be when one partner wants to change the terms of the relationship but the other doesn’t rang true for me…. except that my pain came from going poly to mono rather than the other way around.

Early on in the relationship, a former partner brought up non-monogamy and said that he was okay with it. Later, he said that he had only mentioned it because he wanted me badly but knew that I wouldn’t have agreed to a monogamous relationship. At that point, I had fallen deeply in love with him and very much wanted to stay with him, so I agreed to close the relationship until further notice so that I wouldn’t lose him. We yo-yoed a while, opening and then closing our relationship more times than I can remember. When we were monogamous, I was resentful that he had gotten me to be with him through what I thought of as false pretenses; when we opened up, he was resentful that I couldn’t content myself with being with just him.

The problem wasn’t polyamory or monogamy or changes in the terms of the relationship. The problem was that he agreed to start a relationship based on terms he didn’t truly want, I agreed to changes in the terms of the relationship that I definitely didn’t want in order to appease him when he grew unhappy, and then we took turns cycling between being resentful of the other and being the cause of resentment in the other. Not exactly a recipe for anything approximating loving bliss.

What didn’t help were people’s perceptions and assumptions about polyamory, the most harmful of which is that poly is a male idea that, by design, optimizes male benefit. I’ve heard otherwise progressive people from sex-positive feminists to gay rights activists make this argument, ignoring the rich history of female-led and -driven activism within polyamory and buying into the myth of female frigidity.

The stock photo used as the still for Kat’s video, while I’m sure was not chosen for malicious reasons, depicts a stereotypical Lothario type, a playboy fantasy for straight men, where one man is surrounded by many women. The idea that becoming poly automatically means scoring many sexytimes with endlesss hawt babez is what attracts some misguided hetero men to poly — the same men who then run screaming from it when they realize that their partner is also going to have sexytimes with lots of hawt babez.

The flip side of male disapproval or disappointment with the realities of polyamory is the shaming of polyamorous women. Implicit in the idea that poly benefits only men is that any women who are poly are either coerced, dishonest with themselves, or broken in some way. Since it was obvious to those around me that I was definitely into being poly, the latter was the option assumed of me by those hostile to my relationship style, including my boyfriend at times. “Why couldn’t I just be a normal, nice girl and be content with my boyfriend?” was the message.

Yet that wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a message. My first relationship was monogamous. Sex was supposed to be this thing that men pursued and women gave, but I somehow wanted more sex than my first boyfriend did. I felt ashamed of how much and how often I wanted sex. I wondered to myself why I couldn’t just be a nice, normal girl and be content with the sex I was getting.

Discomfort with changes in a relationship, lack of accurate self-knowledge and communication, and friction based on gender stereotypes are issues that can be found with monogamous as well as polyamorous relationships. Poly tends to get singled out because there is more in the way of changes, the need for communication and self-reflection, and confrontation of gender stereotypes. The more relationships you have and the further you stray from the monogamous societal ideal, the more you have to deal with such issues. Though it lessens the chances, being monogamous won’t entirely save you from them — if at all.

Update: Kat had responded very graciously and I have corrected the information on her video accordingly.

“Polyamorous” Problems Are Relationship Problems

8 thoughts on ““Polyamorous” Problems Are Relationship Problems

  1. 1

    Some time ago my girlfriend started feeling attracted to some other guy and got very anxious about it. The feeling of insecurity about her loving that other person did creep up on me, but I decided to give her the (I don’t know if it’s the proper way to say it) permission (?) to open the relationship if she so desired.

    She refused and felt very guilty about the way she reacted when things were the other way around. The thing is that just the year prior I had been in the same place, being attracted and chatting with someone other than her and she got very upset about it. She said she felt very hypocritical expecting me to be 100% hers but having these thoughts about people other than me.

    I try to make sense of my life through priorities, so that I don’t regret anything when two outcomes I want come into conflict. I decided that I’d rather be with her than to be “free”. I also decided that -morally- it wouldn’t be acceptable for me to cheat* on her because it would hurt her, and that it would be acceptable for her to cheat* on me because I wouldn’t get hurt from it.

    Freaking relationships are complicated. Mono, poly, gay, whatever. I think discussing all these things (open or closed relationship, who does the dishes, what do all of the people involved want from life, what they find unacceptable) at the very outset of the relationship is the best way to go, as long as it’s with honesty.

    *cheating as in ‘getting physical with someone else’, not necessarily behind the other one’s back.

  2. AMM

    FWIW, the one poly family I know consists of two men and one woman (plus two daughters and one son.) Since the oldest child is 12, I’m guessing they’ve been together for a while. If any of the three is unhappy with the arrangement, I haven’t heard. (I’ve noticed that having 3 adults makes kid-wrangling a _lot_ easier!)

    1. 2.1

      I grew up with a large extended family and I think that’s part of why I want to raise my kid in a more poly setting. Life is so much easier when there are more people over the age of 12 in any given setting than under.

    2. 2.2

      Yeah, having a lot of adults around does make childcare a whole lot easier. My family has 3 adults in the house plus me part-time with one kid (and 3 dogs, 4 chickens). I’m not really sure HOW people raise kids with only one or two adults. Big families really helps.

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