In the online poly world there are a few figures that come to the fore. Most of those – unsurprisingly – have websites. Others have written books (or are about to!). I caught up with Franklin Veaux of More Than Two fame to talk about jealousy, game-changing relationships…and more.
Many people believe that polyamory is a choice – a conscious choice – as is monogamy. Others believe it’s an inclination – but you believe it’s both. Is this a deduction, a belief or empirical evidence?
Answering questions like this is a tough call, because the interaction of genes and behavior is complicated and there’s not a lot of science going on in this area. For me, it’s a deduction based on observation and anecdotal information.
I’ve heard a lot of folks compare polyamory to sexual orientation. I think the comparison is apt; inclination toward monogamous or polyamorous relationships aren’t simple, just like sexual orientation isn’t simple.
A lot of people talk about homosexuality being genetic. It certainly seems quite likely that it is, but that doesn’t mean there is a “gay gene” and if you have it, you’re gay. Genetics is complicated. For example, one of my partners raises standard poodles. Poodles have nine genes that control what color their coat it. Nine genes! So it seems unlikely that there is just a single gene that controls human sexual behavior; on and you’re gay, off and you’re straight. Sexual orientation is way more complex than that.
We see when we look at people that some folks are asexual, some folks are straight, some are (to varying degrees and under varying circumstances) capable of sexual attraction to people of the same or different sexes, and some people are gay. It seems likely that this behavior is both genetic and environmental; genetic in that there are a number of genes that influence how and to what extent we are attracted to members of different sexes, and environmental in that our behavior is also influenced by our environment. People on the extreme ends of the spectrum are probably less likely to be affected by environmental factors and less likely to be able to arbitrarily choose an orientation than folks somewhere in the great expanse between.
I suspect it’s the same for monogamy or non-monogamy. I’ve met folks who can only be happy in monogamous relationships, and feel not the slightest interest in non-monogamy. I’ve met folks who are only happy being non-monogamous; in fact, I’m one of them. And I’ve met quite a few people who, under the right circumstances and with the right partner(s), can be happy in monogamous or varying degrees of non-monogamous relationships.
It’s important to consider that polyamory is not the only form of non-monogamy, too. A person may have a genetically influenced inclination toward non-monogamy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she is “born polyamorous.” That inclination might be expressed via swinging, for example, or other forms of non-monogamous behavior. Just like people who are “born straight” won’t necessarily end up being married, people who are “born non-monogamous” won’t necessarily end up in poly relationships!
You’ve written a lot about polyamory especially jealousy and I’ve followed your advice myself. What prompted your wealth of writing?
I’ve never been monogamous, and I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship. Even as a kid, monogamy made no sense to me.
When I first started dating, I didn’t have the language to describe what I wanted, and I didn’t have a community of people like me. So, as you might guess, I made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t know there were other people who also wanted non-monogamous relationships, I had no models for what those relationships could look like…hell, I didn’t even know what words to use! I made mistakes and I hurt people I loved because of it.
In the 1990s, when the word “polyamory” started being used and people started forming poly communities, I had an incredible “aha” moment. It really blew my mind that there were other people like me out there. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in what I wanted.
So I started writing about polyamory. I wrote the things I wish the younger version of me had known. In a sense, I was writing for myself, ten years earlier–the me who made mistakes, who didn’t have a model of what non-monogamous relationships could look like, who didn’t know there were other polyamorous people out there.
One of the most gratifying things about writing my Web site about polyamory is the number of emails I receive that say “Wow, I never knew this was possible! I’ve always struggled with not fitting into the standard mold of monogamous relationships, and your Web site helps me understand why.”
One of the tenets of eradicating jealousy is to examine the underlying assumptions held to see whether they hold water. But for example insecurity caused simply by the fear of being alone, is a common human sentiment some say driven by biology/reptilian mind designed for our protection. What purpose does it serve to overcome such a mechanism?
When I was a kid, I was terrified of sharks.
Fear serves an important survival function, no doubt about it. It helped keep our ancestors alive. We are social animals; few of us like the thought of being alone. In that sense, we can see some similarities between fear and desiring not to be alone.
Fear is useful, but fear of sharks when you’re living in the middle of Nebraska is not. Especially if that fear of sharks keeps you up at night!
So one day I decided I didn’t want to be afraid of sharks any more. I got a poster of a Great White coming straight at me with its mouth open and I hung it on my bedroom wall, because dammit, I wasn’t going to let being scared of sharks keep reducing the quality of my life. I was going to confront that fear and see what happened on the other side of it.
Fear of sharks when you’re living in Nebraska is silly, but fear of being alone can be paralyzing. Nobody likes the thought of being alone, but if you’re driven by fear of it–if you’re so afraid of being alone that you think losing your partner will destroy you–it’s almost impossible to have a healthy relationship.
When we are driven by fear of being alone, it’s almost impossible to set good boundaries or make reasoned choices about a relationship. If we’re held hostage by our fear, it becomes almost impossible to feel empowered in our relationships, because the fear of losing the relationship fear keeps us from making choices that might risk losing the relationship. It’s okay to not want to be alone, but when we believe we CAN’T be alone, things can run off the rails.
Relationships seem to thrive when we are moving toward something rather than running away from something. I have found that my relationships make me much happier when I move toward forming intimacy with people who bring out the best in me, who help me to create, and whose life I enrich, rather than when I’m simply moving away from being alone.
In poly relationships, it’s particularly important to come to terms with the fear of being alone. It’s almost impossible to be compassionate to your partner’s other partners if all you feel is fear of loss.
I don’t argue in favor of losing all fear, or in favor of wanting to be alone. I do advocate for letting go of the fears that don’t serve us, and for not letting our fears drive our lives.
The article on game changing relationships rings true for many. It might be theoretically possible – but have you even seen a relationship ‘downgraded’ and have it survive romantically?
I have! In fact, I’ve had a relationship with someone I love very much change to become less entwined and we are still life partners.
This is, I think, a part of good expectation management skills. Feelings on my part are not obligations on someone else’s. If I love someone, the fact that I love her doesn’t obligate her to love me back, or to do what I want her to do. People aren’t need-fulfilment machines, compelled by our feelings to give us what we want.
There is a social trope that says ex-partners are never supposed to like each other, as though once you’re in a relationship, you either remain in that relationship or become bitterly detested enemies. I actually find it a little bizarre. My love is not conditional on the person I love giving me whatever I want from her. In fact, just loving someone doesn’t even necessarily make us compatible with each other as romantic partners. If it turns out that we are, by circumstance or personality or goals or whatever else, not available to be partners, that doesn’t mean I suddenly stop loving her.
I’ve heard folks say “Well, if you break up with someone, there’s a reason for it.” That’s true; but on the other hand, if I love someone, there’s a reason for that, too. And that reason doesn’t go away just because we aren’t in the same kind of relationship we used to be in. She’s still the same person she was, and she’s still the same person I love.
My relationship with one of my partners changed when she moved to pursue her Ph.D. Her intelligence, her drive, her ambition, her determination to make a mark on the world–these are all things I love about her. Why would I stop loving her because she’s moved away for grad school? Her choice to do that is an expression of the things I love about her! Yes, it’s a game changer, but that doesn’t mean that now suddenly we can’t still be partners because we don’t have the same kind of relationship we did before.
Game changers come in all sorts of forms. A new job, a sudden illness, a baby, money problems, a car crash–all these things can forever change a relationship. It hardly seems a good use of time to spend our days worrying about them, though.
And now you’re writing a book on polyamory too. How is it different to the existing literature? Tell us more!
Indeed! My partner Eve and I are working on a book called More Than Two, named after my poly web site.
Polyamory is receiving a lot of mainstream attention right now. Quite a few poly books have been released in the last few years, some of them quite good. Where More Than Two is different, though, is it’s not intended to be a personal memoir or an overview of different poly relationships. Instead, what we’re creating is a practical, hands-on guidebook to making poly relationships work: problems you may encounter, tools that work to help overcome those problems, relationship skills-building for managing more than one romantic relationship.
We want our book to be pragmatic and useful, filled with tips and tricks for building healthy, happy polyamorous relationships.
A lot has changed in the poly community in the years since I first started working on my poly Web site. The book isn’t a repackaging of the Web site; it’s entirely new, with all kinds of good stuff in it. One of our goals in this book is to keep our conversations away from abstract “poly theorizing” and firmly grounded in real-world relationships. For example, we’re using only real-life examples to illustrate the ideas we present.
We’re launching a crowdfunding project on August 22nd so that people in the poly community can help make this book a reality. You can read more at http://www.morethantwo.com/book/