Paulie asked in…

Paulie asked in comments:

"Ive been a fan for a while, and I think what really did it for me was the underlying message in your work that its okay to live a polyamorous lifestyle. This bold message is in your erotica (some might argue it can even be found in your visual art), and the same message is on your blog: . Im a huge fan of your work, and Im wondering how your seemingly monogamous, family oriented lifestyle plays out in your philosophy regarding polyamory (I mean philosophically speakingnot to pry into your personal life)? Will you continue to promote a polyamorous lifestyle, and if so, are you still polyamorous under the circumstances? I dont mean this to sound like a challenge; I just hate the thought of losing an outspoken champion of polyamory! (There arent many of us, sister.) Is saying youre polyamorous while practicing a monogamous heterosexual relationship like saying youre queer and dating the opposite sex?"

There are a lot of ideas and a few assumptions in there, so to try to answer the questions, I'm going to have to break it down a little into various parts. Here goes:

1) The questions make it sound like I'm not currently practicing poly, and in fact, I currently am. I have two long-term serious relationships going; one is with Kevin, whom I live with and am having a child with, the other is with Jed, which is currently long-distance, since he lives in California. Kev and I have been together almost fifteen years now; Jed and I a little over nine. (If I'm counting right for both of those; sometimes I get confused about dates.) I can understand how it might seem like I'm practicing monogamous, especially if you're newly-come to the journal or other pages of mine, but I think for those who stick around for a while, Jed's presence in my life becomes more clear. Our relationship is stated explicitly in my bio on these pages, for example.

2) Occasionally, I may have a romantic encounter which I don't talk about publically; if that's the case, it's not because I'm repudiating poly, but simply because I'm respecting the privacy of the other party involved. Just because I spill all the details of my private life to the world doesn't mean everyone else wants to. So it's probably safer to assume that there are occasional other relationships (flings, one-night-stands, etc. :-) going on that you might not hear about. There was one last year, for example, and if the other party ever feels like talking about it, he's welcome to, but until he does, no details for y'all, I'm afraid.

3) For what it's worth, both Kevin and I are at least theoretically open to other relationships at the moment. (Jed, of course, has multiple ongoing other relationships, which are too complex for even me to keep proper track of, aside from his long-term relationship with Kam.) In practical terms, neither Kev nor I is actively looking, and we don't meet nearly so many potential partners as we used to. Most of the people we meet these days are already paired up in monogamous relationships -- I'd attribute that to a) we're older and our friends tend to be older too and more settled, and b) we aren't hanging out in college/etc. poly/bi support groups anymore, and c) I don't spend as much time going to sf/f conventions as I used to. The last two people I crushed out on were already in committed monogamous relationships. Ah well. I continue to crush on them from afar, which thankfully doesn't seem to impede our friendships any.

4) So there's less opportunity than there used to be, but to be honest, there's also less inclination. Every romantic relationship takes time and energy, and I have much less of that to go around than I used to (back in the days where I was dating four different guys in the same math department :-). Over the last fifteen years, my work has become more and more important to me, which leaves less time for decadent weekends of fun threesome sex and the like. I mean, it sounds nice in theory, but in practice, I really want to finish drafting the next chapter of my book. :-) Or possibly reorganizing my closets. My sex drive is not what it was in college! And did I mention that big stack of papers I have to grade? That's going to eat up all day Saturday...

5) Perhaps more importantly, maintaining my current relationships now takes huge priority over forming new ones. That wasn't always true, back in the early days of my poly dating (which led to some drama). But at this point, it's definitely true for me. So if I'm offered the choice between snuggling with Kevin on the couch and watching Battlestar Galactica or going to a local poly mixer (which happens right down the street at a local coffeeshop, once a month) where I might meet someone interesting, I'll pick Kev and tv, pretty much every time.

6) So all that deals with current practice to date. But that said, I'd argue that even if I were practicing monogamous (if Jed dumped me, for example, or Kevin did), or if I were completely single, I'd still think of myself as poly. It's a preference; it's how I generally choose to live, given the option.

7) I'm not sure I put it in quite the same category as sexual orientation, though. For many people, being gay seems more of an inherent orientation, to the extent that they simply don't find members of the opposite sex attractive. And for me, my bi-ness means that even when it's been (sadly) many years since I was involved with a woman, I do continue to notice women and am turned on by them. I expect that to continue for the rest of my life, to greater or lesser degree, so in that case, I'd argue that I will always be bi, regardless of what my practice is.

8) Whereas for me (and I emphasize that because I really don't want to speak for anyone else), poly is not that quite that ingrained. It's my preference at the moment, but if I had a serious partner who wanted me to be monogamous, and it was important to them, I'd be willing to at least attempt to practice monogamy for them. (After considering the status of my relationships with any other current partners and talking it over with them.) I don't know how well my attempting monogamy would work, honestly. The last time I tried, it didn't work well at all, but I was fifteen years younger and had a lot less self-discipline than I do now. Also a higher sex drive, and less work to get done. (This might be a useful point at which to pause and consider that 'poly' is generally composed of both sexual practice and feelings of romantic love, and that while how much sex you engage in is under your control, how much you love someone(s) generally isn't so much. In my experience, anyway.)

9) All of which goes to say that while I do plan to keep writing and talking about poly, and in some sense advocating it as an acceptable, interesting, and enjoyable way to manage your love life, I don't have any desire or plans to be a poly poster child for the rest of my life. I think you have to be careful not to let your politics (sexual or otherwise) take over your actual life.

10) There may come a time where for a variety of reasons it makes more sense for me to practice monogamy for a time. I have no idea, for example, how Kev and Jed and I will handle poly and a kid; we'll figure that out when the kid's a bit older, I imagine. But even if I'm not practicing poly at the moment, or practicing bi, or practicing dating outside my own ethnicity and race, these are all cultural practices that I plan to continue to support. And at this point, even if I went celibate and single for the rest of my life, I'd still have fifteen solid and well-documented years of poly/bi/etc. to serve witness to my investment in those practices.

Whew! That took a while. Any questions?

3 thoughts on “Paulie asked in…”

  1. I very strongly identify with a lot of what you write here. You asked me back in December whether I was active in the polyamory movement.

    If going to conferences, reading whatever looks interesting on the subject, and being fairly open about being poly constitute being “active” then the answer is yes. I also think I will always self-identify as polyamorous, no matter what my current relationship status is. I will never make a pledge of monogamy, even if de facto I am monogamous for periods of time.

  2. Well said.

    I would add one side note to your points 7 and 8, about orientations: my understanding is that for some people, poly really is an orientation — they consider themselves inherently poly, couldn’t do monogamy if they wanted to — while for others it’s more of a choice or a preference. And for some people it depends on the relationship — over time, they might have some monogamous relationships and some poly relationships. And I imagine there’s a lot of middle ground and variations, too. I know you (M) know all that; this is just for readers who may be wondering about other people’s experience.

    Re my relationships being too complex to keep track of: 🙂 By my definitions, I don’t currently have any other Ongoing Relationships per se, but it’s true that I do have various friends who I occasionally play with, time and circumstances and location and interest permitting.

  3. I particularly like the analogy of dating outside you ethnicity. Just because you advocate the right/ability to do so, doesn’t mean that if you fell in love with someone of the same ethnicity you would refuse to be invovled with them. And yet for other people, while they may be okay with it in theory, they just don’t find themselves attracted to those outside their ethnicity (or inside, depending on the person). I have to confess, I have been curous as to how the poly will play out in parenting. I guess I will have to stay tuned to find out! 🙂

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