10 – Polyamory (part 2)

The second half of our conversation on polyamory, because we talked and talked and the episode went long. As with Part 1, positions of other parties, including current and former partners, are very likely misrepresented in this episode.


More Than Two – An excellent online resource to ethical non-monogamy. It is also the title of a book by the creator of the website, Franklin Veaux along with Eve Rickert.

Researcher Elisabeth Sheff has written several books on polyamory and has an ongoing blog on Psychology Today. Along with More Than Two, this is a great resource for detailed information on polyamory. For example, how do children fare with poly parents? How do people navigate relationships in which one partner is poly and the other is mono?

Scarlet Teen: With Pleasure: A whole view of sexual anatomy for every body Because sex is about more than genitals.

Journal of Sexual Medicine – Cheaters in monogamous relationships use less protection and transmit more STIs than openly non-monogamous people.

Robin Hanson’s review of Sex at Dusk on Overcoming Bias

Child custody battles do not favor the polyamorous.

The Scarborough family – 8 adults and 3 kids in one huge house, being evicted for no good reason.
[note: these articles are from late 2014. Eneasz contacted the person who organized their legal defense fund crowdsource, and learned that this is still ongoing. To quote:

Unfortunately the court case(s) are still in process, which is stressful for the family. The city sued in court to enforce the zoning and the family had to counter with a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of the narrow definition of family.

The Planning and Zoning Commission in Hartford is currently considering adopting a functional family definition. Public support (and outreach to that commission) and media pressure / articles are helpful right now. Director of Planning – Jamie.Bratt@hartford.gov

Fortunately the Scarborough family is still living in their home. They actually just installed an urban bee hive to complement their large garden and flower beds! They’re doing their best to live their normal lives despite the stress and uncertainty.


Do you like space operas featuring diverse characters and poly relationships? Try Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi


Myer-Briggs – a fun self-sorting test. You’ve likely seen some pop-culture comparisons, such as Which Harry Potter Character Are You, but Scott Alexander says it’s not totally useless and we should stop hating on it.

The Relationship Bill of Rights: no matter your relationship position (monogamous, anarchist, primary, secondary, hate all these dumb labels), this is super important. Read it!

Kimchi Cuddles online comics about polyamorous relationships

Are You Dating Your Species? Solid advice on choosing partners by Reid Mihalko

The Relationship Escalator

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26 Responses to 10 – Polyamory (part 2)

  1. Peter says:

    Obviously people have a right to run their relationships however they want, and I’m glad some people are trying this out.

    But boy, does it sound unappealing to me. The proposed benefits just seem so meek. I won’t have to repress my desire to have sex with close friends? I won’t have to repress my desire to have sex with strangers? I won’t have to worry about always satisfying my partner’s needs? My partner won’t have to worry about always satisfying my needs? I’ll be able to try out partners I would normally consider not worthy? People who would normally not consider myself worthy might be more willing to try me out? I won’t have to settle for just having a single deep romantic connection?

    All of those sound like they might make life a bit easier and less stressful, I’ll grant that. It might even increase the number of enjoyable experiences I can have, as I’ll be able to have full-on romantic relationships with all the people that I like, rather than just deep friendships.

    But what I’d have to give up is far too valuable. Going poly would be the end of romantic love as I know it. No more falling madly in love with someone to the exclusion of all others. I’d have to dismiss everything from marriage vows to the plot of Scott Pilgrim as monogamous propaganda. Sure, if I can successfully poly-hack my brain, I’ll no longer have to worry about the pain of finding out my partner has fallen in love with another person. But if that happens, I *want* it to hurt. If I meet someone I love more than the person I swore to be faithful to, I don’t want that to be okay. To be okay with that would just feel wrong, like if I found a way to make the pain of grieving go away. Even if I could successfully hack my brain and make the pain go away, I wouldn’t want to. It messes with love (as I know it), an extremely important value of mine.

    If there’s any chance at all that adding secondary partners would devalue the bond with my primary partner, it’s just not worth it. The costs are too deep and the benefits too shallow. Maybe when I’m older I’ll realize that these guys are right, society’s notion of love is bullshit, and so I should leave it behind and accept the increased number of positive experiences polyamory brings. But until then, I’m going to stick with monogamy.

    • Good lord do I love Scott Pilgrim!! *Fantastic* movie! Even if it is mono-normative. 🙂

      Yeah, it sounds like poly definitely is not for you! I’m happy we can coexist even with such different emotional architectures. The one thing I would advise is to make sure your partner feels the same way. In much of the country monogamy is still compulsory, and so people who are not naturally monogamous (as you sound you are) often pose as monogamous to fit in. This can lead to bad matches. It’s like the straight people who married gay people back when everyone had to be closeted. No one was happy in that situation, because society disallowed people finding their true matches. 🙁

    • I was mostly nodding along until I reached your last paragraph. Don’t agree mys, but makes sense as a monogamous perspective and you have to do what works or you.

      “If there’s any chance at all that adding secondary partners would devalue the bond with my primary partner, it’s just not worth it.”

      This sounds like you are seeing love and relationships as a zero sum game. Would having a second child devalue your relationship with your first child? Would we have better relationships with our parent if we only had one parent?

      If not, why would having a second romantic love take away from your first? Why is romantic love, and romantic love only, a zero-sum game?

      That’s not to say that you “should” be poly-hacking your brain. If monogamy is the right thing for you, more power to you. But this zero-sum game thing gets brought up a lot by mono-folk, and I’ve never understood it. (When I was young, my aunt told me re: a new baby “Love isn’t like a chocolate bar, you can give all your love to someone, and still have all your love to give to someone else. That same aunt cut me off when I came out as poly for the unnaturalness of my relationships. Does not compute)

      Speaking personally, I am polyamorous because I love many people. This isn’t something I chose, it’s who I am. What I did choose was to embrace my loves rather than picking between them. The things you see as reasons for being poly are, for me, side benefits.

      • Peter says:

        >This sounds like you are seeing love and relationships as a zero sum game.

        Not quite. I’m not defending the strong claim, “adding secondary partners weakens your primary bond”. I’m defending the weaker claim “if there’s any chance adding secondary partners will weaken my primary bond, it’s not worth it”. So I’m not saying that it’s necessarily zero-sum, only that it’s possible. (Also, it doesn’t even have to be zero-sum, there just needs to some sort of exhaustibility factor. Obviously there is some limit to the amount of love you can give, as no one would argue in favour of having a hundred romantic partners.)

        So that said, is there any chance that adding more partners weakens the bond with one’s primary partner? I think there is definitely a chance of this being the case. There is also definitely a chance that the bond is weakened in way for non-familial (romantic) love that does not occur in familial (parental) love. Further, I think it is quite likely that the bond is weakened at least by some amount.

        I can think of a few ways to argue for this. I’ll just lay out an evolutionary argument here. One possible reason for romantic love to have evolved is that if couples rely on each other for support and reproduction, then their interests are aligned (eg. having your partner die would be as harmful reproductively as dying yourself.) It therefore makes sense for an organism to be just as happy to see something good happen to one’s partner as one’s self. But if an organism finds itself not in a penguin mate-for-life environment, but instead a bonobo style mate-with-anyone environment, there is no individual whose interests are closely aligned with yours. There are multiple partners to reproduce with or be supported by, no single one must be relied upon. Bonds will form, but I can’t imagine them looking the same as the bonds that form in monogamous environments.

        • Personally I’ve found that that having one additional partner actually makes my bond with my primary partner stronger, to a significant degree. Dunno if this is the case for everyone. /shrug. I could theoretically see how having very many partners starts to take it’s toll, and decrease bonds with others, but I’ve never had more than two relationships at a time, so I can’t speak to that. Most people do reach a saturation point in the low single digits, so there’s that.

    • Peter, have you considered that you are just rationalizing your adhesion to compulsory monogamy?

      Why should falling in love to the exclusion of others be a good and necessary thing?

      When I was 18 and started pre-med, I fell in love with to older students. I loved both of them, fell in love with both at the same time, and it was confusing as hell. I relatively quickly realized that the only confusion was coming from my cultural norms, though.

      This is actually a frequent bullshit argument in life and romantic comedies: someone falls in love with two or three people, and friends force him to think that is not possible.

      To us rationalists, that situation should be a pretty important trigger.

  2. I have sensory processing issues, so I’m not getting everything you guys are saying but really enjoying what I do get. first podcast that’s been worth the effort in over a year. Gonna need to dig into the archives later.

    • Katrina Stanton says:

      Hi Jessica, thank you so much for stopping by! I’m glad that you liked listening. Heads up, I think this conversation (released as two episodes) is all we’ll delve into poly-wise. After all, we have game theory to talk about! But I’m happy we could take a step towards exposing people to the idea of ethical non-monogamy.

  3. Just a Memer says:

    The woman (idk any of your names) said that she had a romantic relationship with someone but no sexual relationship with them. Clarifications please. What do you mean by romantic relationship? Or preferrably just taboo the word romantic. I don’t understand the term.

    • Katrina Stanton says:

      If you had to chose a definition, what goes into a romantic relationship?

      • Just a Memer says:

        It seems to me that a romantic relationship = close friendship + sexy things.

        • Just a Memer says:

          Also there is a kinda recursive definition: if two or more people say that they are in a romantic relationship, then they are in one. If not, then it depends on how similar their relationship is to typical romantic relationships.

  4. Patrick Walker says:

    I discovered your podcast a few days ago and I’ve been voraciously consuming it. I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover that the most recent episodes were about polyamory and that I had them to look forward to (I listen to podcast from the oldest first unless they are about current events).

    I myself am in a polyamorous relationship and have been poly since around 2011. My fiancee and I have been poly for the entirety of our relationship, but I will spare you the boring details of mapping out my extended poly network. I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot because of it, and was happy to find out that I still have things to learn. I really appreciated Katrina bringing up non-hierarchical poly because that approach has always strongly resonated with me. I find it very difficult to arrange the people I care about on a ladder and say that one individual is more important in my life than another.

    One thing I wish you had discussed more in the podcast was jealousy and how to process it. I’ve found, from evidence I must admit is mostly anecdotal, that jealousy seems to be a unifying force in *some* monogamous relationships but tends to only ever be a force that splits apart poly relationships. To clarify, I’ve found that a couple may find it gratifying and uniting to guard their opposite from the affection of others and try to be sure they fill that role. Some level of claiming first priority in your partner’s want for attention from others exists, sometimes to the degree of claims of ownership. To be clear I am not saying all monogamous relationships operate this way but that it seems to me to be a thread, at minimum, common in popular culture worldwide.

    This same behavior in a poly relationship results in unsurprisingly disastrous results. Did you have any tips or general advice on the matter? I am one of those people Eneasz would describe as naturally poly and have an extremely high threshold before I experience jealousy. It has made it difficult for me to empathize assist partners and metamours who are experiencing it so that I can help them work through it. The best I’ve been able to do is describe to them the structural difference between envy and jealousy and to try to realign their feelings towards envy.

    Thank you all for the podcast, and your time if you choose to respond to this. 🙂

  5. Mark Plus says:

    Re: 11:10 and following.

    Jesus, I can’t believe you just said that, and online as well. Many sexually evicted men are not like the stereotype you pulled out of your ass AT ALL.

    And there are a lot more of them out there than surveys of sexual behavior show, because these studies have a methodological flaw where they don’t differentiate between men who get sexual experience voluntarily from girlfriends, versus men who have had to turn to escorts for this experience out of desperation because all the women have rejected them.

    And these men are lucky if the escorts don’t reject them as well. Prostitutes don’t come from some alternate reality where the women operate according to different rules.

    And what adolescent boy, when he thinks about the adult man’s life ahead of him, looks forward to having sex with prostitutes any way? This is not a normal or healthy outcome for any boy’s life.

    My point being that the low incidence of male virginity in sex surveys is an artifact caused by the existence of prostitution. For some reason sexologists show little to no interest in this phenomenon.

    • Katrina Stanton says:

      There are certainly good people who haven’t found sexual partners but want them. And within that set, there are certainly people for whom the lack of a mate is intensely painful on multiple levels. I don’t know the best ways to support someone in this category, but telling them to “take a shower,” and “exercise more,” seems low on the helpfulness scale.

      • Mark Plus says:

        I was especially pissed off at the comment that violent men can’t attract women.

        What kind of sheltered world do you people live in? Violent men readily attract women, and attractive ones at that. We’ve seen this in recent terrorist incidents where rough, violent immigrants from Islamic warrior cultures, namely Chechens and Pashtuns, had somewhat better looking than average wives.

        And I’ve seen this in Old Stock Americans. I live in rural Arizona near Prescott, and I’ve noticed that the men who have cycled through the prison system in this state don’t seem to have trouble finding girlfriends when they get out.

        • To clarify, I meant “are violent to their partners.” While obviously this isn’t always enough to make someone leave their partner, it’s almost universally a thing that makes someone less desirable to their current partner.

    • I apologize for my careless words. We’d been recording for well over an hour and a half at this point, I was getting tired, and I flailed around searching for descriptors that would commonly be associated with people “at the very lowest levels of desirability.” I did not at all intend this to include ALL men who are involuntarily celibate. I have read both Scott Alexander’s and Scott Aaronson’s essays on this, and I sympathize very strongly. There are many men who are *not* awful and undesirable, who still have immense trouble finding a partner for a number of other reasons.

      I meant only to say that the most unlikable people don’t do any better under monogamy than they do under polyamory, and trying to force a solution of “Every woman must be paired with one man, so that even the least desirable man is assured of a woman” does not work, as often people will prefer to stay single rather than the alternative. In addition to not working, it is reprehensible, because it again treats women as objects to satisfy men, rather than self-directed agents. A systemic solution is untenable, while a personal solution is viable, if potentially extremely difficult. My tone was crass when trying to convey this. 🙁

      • StereoFriedHawk says:

        >I have read both Scott Alexander’s and Scott Aaronson’s essays on this, and I sympathize very strongly.
        Can I have links or titles please?

        • BayesianAdmin says:

          Here’s the link to Slate Star Codex (Scott Alexander’s blog). If you’re not familiar with his writing style, I strongly encourage you to check out some of his other essays as well.

          This one is the Scott Aaronson essay, I think. I haven’t actually read this one. Eneasz, correct me if I’m wrong here.

          – Steven

          • StereoFriedHawk says:

            Thanks, both of you. I’ve already found and read Scott Alexander’s essay and and now I have both of them. 😘

        • Yes, Steven’s links, and also Scott Aaronson’s Comment 171. Comment 171 is actually the Aaronson essay I was referring to. His follow-up “What I Believe” is more of a reaction to the attacks he received after 171, but probably also worth reading.

  6. Another argument I heard is that, if you really love someone, you are ready to die for him/her. And you can’t die twice. Since you can’t die twice, you can’t save both, ergo can’t love both.

  7. Tepid Gruel says:

    These polyamory episodes made me feel lonely, but it does brighten my outlook to think that people already in relationships could theoretically be attracted to me.

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