Why not poly?

Frankly, at the moment, I’m a bit blissy. Things are going well, and my gal is relatively accessible. In fact, I’ll see her tomorrow, which at three days will mark the fastest turnaround time after parting in our relationship thus far. The pressures I’ve been talking about aren’t eliminated, but they’re minimized to the extent that’s possible right now. I’m just happy, and things are going well; I don’t even have that sense of foreboding that I often do in times of plenty. It’s good.

However, this time of plenty makes poor harvest for a blog about my problems. I’m not really feeling much that I need to hash out publicly. There are a couple of things, of course, but I’m feeling none of them particularly strongly right now.

So, this makes for a good time to get into particulars that I’ve skipped over before. I thought I’d start with polyamory, what I think about it, and why I’m not doing it. As I’ve said a couple of times, I’m “open”, but not “poly”. I have a couple of objections to the word itself, and a couple of reasons that I don’t think it applies.

First and least of all, the word bothers me because it is a Greek prefix attached to a Latin root. The word, if fully Latinate, should be multiamory. However, even more than that I’d prefer a fully Greek construction, as Greek affords us many more words for love: eros, agape, philia and storge, each of which has a very different connotation. A lot of the difficulty in describing one’s relationships would be resolved better, in my opinion, by words like polyerotic, monoagapic, or, polyphiliac than by things like primary/secondary dichotomies.

Second, “polyamory” implies a level of definition and rules-laying that I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t want “veto power”, I don’t want to talk about my “metamours” or “OSOs”, and any time someone describes my current relationship as having “NRE” my teeth itch. Polamory is like relationship nerdery, and while I approve of it in the way that I approve of many geekeries that I don’t share, I don’t want to be held part of it any more than I want to be called a Trekkie/er. I get offended easily when anyone tries to boil me down into a specific grouping. Also, listening to two polies argue over relationship models is like listening to two comic book nerds fight over whether Superman or Obi-wan would win in a fight.

Aside from the geekery above, I’m also just uncomfortable with placing rules on a partner, and reciprocally uncomfortable about having them laid on me because of that. If I won’t set something as out of bounds–and I generally won’t–I wouldn’t want to be told something was out of bounds for me. I have a relationship. I’m in love, but I may see other people. That’s all the definition that I care for.

Additionally, it’s just not really applicable, at least not yet. I’ve at no time in my life had multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships, or multiple physically intimate relationships, or multiples of any of the things that get wrapped up in the “amory” half of the word. My interest in doing so is currently minimal, although probably not nonexistent. Nor am I convinced that I ever will; I think I’d like to, but I’m not sure the option is open to me. We’ll see. For the moment, the distinction is immaterial.

These shouldn’t (aside from the first one) be taken as indictments of polyamory qua polyamory. I’m not only tolerant of the subculture, but expansively approving of it. But, as I’ve just laid out, I have some very specific reasons to feel that it doesn’t and won’t apply to me. At the same time, the word “monogamous” is also inapplicable, except in the temporary-and-technical sense. Frankly, I’d be uncomfortable applying any of these terms to myself, as opposed to my relationship. Carrie and I have an open relationship, and it’s as simple as that.

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11 thoughts on “Why not poly?

  1. You realize, of course, that you have just opened the door for a horde of polyamorists to charge in and insist that the definition and rules of polyamory don’t require any definitions or rules and therefore non-hierarchical relationships would so defeat Obi-wan in a fight.

  2. I concur with the objections to the Greek/Latinate construction of the word (though to quote Morning Glory Zell, “polyphilia sounds like a disease”), and it also seems very appropriate to reject use of the term in light of not actually having multiple concurrent loves.

    But it seems like the rest of your objections have to do with the community rather than the notion of polyamory. It’s like people who are otherwise passionate about their favorite science fiction saying “I’m not a fan” to distinguish themselves from those who would learn Klingon and build full-scale Dalek models, or like a man who has relationships with other men rejecting the term “gay” because he doesn’t fit the “flaming” stereotypes. Nothing about polyamory requires any particular rule structure, and it certainly doesn’t require any particular level of relationship geekery.

    This reminds me of projection, in Jungian analysis – the parts of your chosen relationship structure that you’re uncomfortable with, you project onto the “polyamorous community”, and then you proceed to stereotype that community rather harshly while denying that any of it is of you. What pisses me off about this (a fine clue that my own projections and denials are in some way activated right now, something to think about later) is that people can find groups that they have a lot in common with, actually, but then they go through this sort of process and wind up choosing separation and alienation instead.

  3. Wow. Good call, Wbd.

    Steve, not everyone who has multiple, simultaneous, romantic relationships can reasonably be called “polyamorous”. It is a specific community with its own social norms and rules, and I’m not part of it.

    In what ways do I “stereotype that community rather harshly” above? Granted, there’s a bit of stereotyping, but none of it is harsh and all of it is quite obviously tongue-in-cheek.

  4. I really disagree with the “specific community with its own social norms and rules” part. Polyamorous means multiple loves; it doesn’t mean veto power, or these rules or those rules, or a particular lingo. I’ve been poly for over 10 years, and I’ve never heard the word “metamours” before. (What does it mean? Linguistically it suggests beyond love…)

    Of course lingo can be useful – in our household, we came up with the acronym “sooso” (“Significant other’s other significant other”), which is just a convenient way to say things to others who know the lingo. Other terms are an attempt to map a largely unmapped phenemenology that comes with new relationship structures. This is a natural part of human exploration – we discover or invent something new, we need a name for it, we call it something silly like a “dodo” or a “social networking site” or “new relationship energy”. And eventually that’s language.

    Looking back at “harshly” – I get the image of myself standing somewhere with a bit of a stick up my ass saying “You mock me sir!” in a faux British accent. So perhaps the harshness is a matter of perspective, and I need to loosen up. (Fun image, though. I should have a black cloak wrapped around me.)

    Fundamentally, I really dislike attaching all this extra baggage to the term “polyamory”, because it artificially creates an orthodoxy that goes far beyond the simple definition of “multiple loves”. This orthodoxy, like any orthodoxy, can be used very harmfully, for instance by calling someone “not poly” because of perceived violations of it. I think we’re in agreement on the inappropriateness of this orthodoxy as applied to individual lives, but you want to reject it by rejecting the term polyamory, while I reject its necessary association with that term.

  5. Whoops, ok, there is one part of the definition that’s extremely well-established in common usage, but not covered in Webster’s, or in my simple “multiple loves” definition above – honest disclosure of those multiple relationships to all the people you’re in relationship with.

    Odd that that’s not in the dictionary definition, actually…

    “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am infinite, I contain multitudes.” – Emerson.

  6. Well, okay, but by the time you get to “honest disclosure”, you’re already adding new layers to the thing. What’s “honest”? How much “disclosure”?

    Beyond that, though, what does “multiple loves” mean? Multiple people with whom I am “in love”? Multiple people that I love as friends? Multiple people to whom I “make love”? I don’t know if the former would ever apply to me, the latter certainly doesn’t, and the middle option clearly applies to almost everyone.

  7. Hallo,

    Interesting how tricky it is to talk about labels without running into challenges to identity. I’ve gotten into trouble saying “I’m not a swinger because…”, and then swingers don’t like how I characterize swinging. How it goes, I guess. I still think the labels are helpful constructions.

    Anyway, there’s one piece I left out of all this that I’ve been meaning to say. I think you’ve got an excellent approach to relationship. Keeping things simple – there is love, and that doesn’t require anything else – is really admirable. And likely to be “successful”, except again that’s a word that suggests attachment to a particular outcome, and that’s not what I’m getting from your approach. It’s skillful means, is what it is.

    You might like to read Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Mastery of Love” if you haven’t already. It’s short and effective, and I think very much in alignment with your relationship orientation.

  8. I may check out the Ruiz book.

    Treating relationships in terms of “success” has always been a pet peeve of mine. That may be a good subject for another post in the future. I hate the idea that a relationship is supposed to have a win condition.

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