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Polyhacking

72 Post author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 08:35AM

This is a post about applied luminosity in action: how I hacked myself to become polyamorous over (admittedly weak) natural monogamous inclinations.  It is a case history about me and, given the specific topic, my love life, which means gooey self-disclosure ahoy.  As with the last time I did that, skip the post if it's not a thing you desire to read about.  Named partners of mine have given permission to be named.

1. In Which Motivation is Acquired

When one is monogamous, one can only date monogamous people.  When one is poly, one can only date poly people.1  Therefore, if one should find oneself with one's top romantic priority being to secure a relationship with a specific individual, it is only practical to adapt to the style of said individual, presuming that's something one can do.  I found myself in such a position when MBlume, then my ex, asked me from three time zones away if I might want to get back together.  Since the breakup he had become polyamorous and had a different girlfriend, who herself juggled multiple partners; I'd moved, twice, and on the way dated a handful of people to no satisfactory clicking/sparking/other sound effects associated with successful romances. So the idea was appealing, if only I could get around the annoying fact that I was not, at that time, wired to be poly.

Everything went according to plan: I can now comfortably describe myself and the primary relationship I have with MBlume as poly.  <bragging>Since moving back to the Bay Area I've been out with four other people too, one of whom he's also seeing; I've been in my primary's presence while he kissed one girl, and when he asked another for her phone number; I've gossiped with a secondary about other persons of romantic interest and accepted his offer to hint to a guy I like that this is the case; I hit on someone at a party right in front of my primary.  I haven't suffered a hiccup of drama or a twinge of jealousy to speak of and all evidence (including verbal confirmation) indicates that I've been managing my primary's feelings satisfactorily too.</bragging>  Does this sort of thing appeal to you?  Cross your fingers and hope your brain works enough like mine that you can swipe my procedure.

2. In Which I Vivisect a Specimen of Monogamy

It's easier to get several small things out of the way, or route around them, than to defeat one large thing embedded in several places.  Time to ask myself what I wanted.  A notable virtue of polyamory is that it's extremely customizable.  (Monogamy could be too, in theory, but comes with a strong cultural template that makes it uncomfortably non-default to implement and maintain nonstandard parameters.)  If I could take apart what I liked about monogamy, there seemed a good chance that I could get some of those desiderata in an open relationship too (by asking my cooperative would-be primary).  The remaining items - the ones that were actually standing between me and polyamory, not just my cached stereotype thereof - would be a more manageable hacking target.  I determined that I could, post-hack, keep and pursue the following desires:

  • I want to be someone's top romantic priority, ideally symmetrically.  [This is satisfied by me and MBlume having an explicitly primary relationship instead of each having a bunch of undifferentiated ones.]
  • I eventually want to get married.  (This one isn't in the works as of this time, but isn't precluded by anything I'm doing now.  Open marriages are a thing.)  Relatedly, I want to produce spawn within wedlock, and to have reproductive exclusivity (i.e. no generating half-siblings for said spawn on either side of the family).  [MBlume was fine with this mattering to me.]
  • I want to be able to secure attention on demand - even though I didn't anticipate needing this option routinely.  My model of myself indicated that I would feel more comfortable with my primary going off with other girls if I knew that I was entitled to keep him home, for status- and security-related reasons.  Actually requiring this of him in practice is rare.  [We invented the term "pairbonding" to refer to designated periods of time when we are not to be distracted from one another.]
  • I want to be suitably paranoid about STIs.  [We worked out acceptable standards for this well in advance.]

These things weren't the sole components of my monogamous inclinations, but what was left was a puny little thing made of ugh fields and aesthetic tastes and the least portions of the above.  (For example, the first bullet point, being someone's top romantic priority, is 95% of the whole wanting to be someone's exclusive romantic priority.  That last 5% is not that huge.)

The vivisection process also revealed that a lot of my monogamous inclinations were composed of the bare fact that monogamy had always been the specified arrangement.  Being presumed by the agreed-upon boundaries of my relationships to be monogamous meant that if either party went off and was non-monogamous, this was Breaking A Rule.  My brain does not like it when people (including me) Break Rules2 or try to change them too close to the time of the proposed would-be exception, generally speaking, but doesn't object to rules being different in different contexts.  If I entered a relationship where, from the get-go, poly was how it was supposed to work, this entire structure would be silent on the subject of monogamy.  Pre-vivisection I would have considered it more closely embedded than that.

3. In Which I Use My Imagination

Humans respond to incentives.  We do this even when it comes to major decisions that should be significant enough in themselves to swamp said incentives.  Encoding the switch to poly as a grand, dramatic sacrifice I was preparing to make for cinematic reasons (advance the plot, make soulful faces at the camera, establish my character to the rapt audience as some sort of long-suffering altruist giving up a Part Of Who I Am for True Love) was admittedly appealing.  But it wasn't appealing to the bits of my brain that were doing the heavy lifting, just to the part that generates fiction and applies the templates to real life whenever possible.  Better to find ways to cater to the selfish, practical crowd in my internal committee.

Polyamory has perks.

So I imagined a model of myself with one modification: the debris of my monogamous inclinations that were still left after I'd pared away the non-intrusive parts were not present in this model.  Imaginary Model Alicorn was already finished with her hack and comfortable with plugging into a poly network.  Contemplating how she went about her life, I noted the following:

  • She got to date MBlume.  (This one was important.)
  • When I considered who else besides MBlume I might want to date if I lived in the relevant area and was poly, I found that I had a list.  In several cases, the people on the list were folks I couldn't date if they were going to be 100% of my significant others or if I was going to be 100% of theirs - some had the wrong gametes or other features for hypothetical future spawn-production, some were already thoroughly poly and weren't about to abandon that (or, where applicable, other partner(s)) for me, some were incompletely satisfactory in other ways that I'd find frustrating if they were my sole partner but could overlook if they were supplemented appropriately.  Imaginary Model Alicorn could date these people and wouldn't have to rely on hypotheticals to learn what it would be like.
  • She acquired a certain level of status (respect for her mind-hacking skills and the approval that comes with having an approved-of "sensible" romantic orientation) within a relevant subculture.  She got to write this post to claim said status publicly, and accumulate delicious karma.  And she got to make this meta bullet point.
  • She had a way to live comfortably in the Bay Area within arm's reach of lots of her friends.
  • She had a non-destructive outlet for her appetite for social drama3.
  • She had firsthand information about both ways to orchestrate her love life, and even if she wanted to go back to monogamy eventually for some reason, she'd be making an informed decision.
  • She had to check fewer impulses and restrain fewer urges to remark on the attributes of people around her, because the consequences for being interpreted incorrectly (or correctly) as expressing romantic or sexual interest in arbitrary people weren't as big a deal.

So I spent some time thinking about Imaginary Model Alicorn.  When her life started seeming like a pleasant fantasy, instead of a far-out alternate universe, that was progress; when it sounded like a viable plan for the near future, instead of an implausible flight of fancy, that was progress too.

4. In Which I Put Some Brainbits in Mothballs

At this point my interest in being poly was thoroughly motivated and I already had a comfortably broken-in new self-model to move into - if and when I managed the hack.  It wasn't done.  I still had to get rid of:

  • My aesthetic keening for a perfect, pretty, self-contained monogamous setup4.
  • Resentment that I ought to have to self-modify to get some things I wanted, instead of the universe being set up so I could comfortably retain my factory settings.
  • The difference between "top priority" and "exclusive priority".
  • My impulse to retain the right to claim victim status if certain things went wrong (e.g. if I were faithful in a supposedly monogamous relationship, and then I wound up with an STI because my SO slept with someone else, I would be the wronged party and could tremble my lip at my faithless partner and demand the sympathy of my friends, instead of being a casualty of an accident yielded by allowable behaviors and entitled to nothing but a sigh of regret).
  • Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary.
  • Loss aversion, which wanted to restrain me from giving up the potential to date people who would consider ever having been poly a dealbreaker.  (Note: I implemented what I believe to be a reversible hack, so I didn't have to worry about not being able to enter a monogamous relationship if that ever seemed called for).

Respectively, here's what I did to get these brainbits to stop struggling long enough that I could box them up and put them into deep storage (forgive the metaphors in which I appear to make faces at myself.  I did not actually need a mirror for any of this; those bits are symbols for the attitudes associated with the mental actions):

  • Replacement.  Cultivated a new aesthetic according to which polyamory was the "prettier" style.  (Each aesthetic has the weakness of working primarily when the people around me are all doing the same thing, and I don't know how to fix that yet; but I was going to move into an area and subculture with lots of poly people anyway.)
  • Rolled my eyes at myself and listed prior self-modifications I'd undertaken, then asking if those goals were less important to me than getting the benefits of being poly or if I regretted those prior hacks.
  • Raised an eyebrow at myself and asked what, exactly, was the added value of exclusivity.  Question dissolved on sufficiently skeptical inspection.
  • Pointed out that victim status is not actually particularly valuable.  I have acquired a better caliber of friends than I had when this brainbit appears to have crystallized, and could reasonably expect sympathy from most of them whether or not I was technically the victim of someone else's wrongdoing.  And I can tremble my lip as much as I want, for all the good that will do.
  • Weighed the badness of losing an SO to someone vs. just plain losing one due to dissatisfaction; determined difference to be insignificant, at least without more detailed information about the "someone" which I could not generate ex hypothesi.  Noted that I would hardly improve my odds of retaining an SO by demanding a relationship style dispreferred by said SO.  And the relevant individual had indicated his preference to be polyamory.
  • "Who exactly are these people?  Do I know any of them?  Not any who I'd want to date in any recognizable scenario.  Okay then, the class as a whole is to be counted a less valuable opportunity than the class of poly people (which notably includes MBlume)."

5. In Which Everything Goes According To Plan And I Am Repeatedly Commended For Having Magical Powers

Field-testing has confirmed that I'm doing something right: I'm happy and comfortable.  (Also, spontaneously all kinds of popular.  If I'd known I could get this many people interested by hacking poly I might have done it sooner.)  I would reverse the hack if my primary decided he wanted to be monogamous with me, but otherwise don't see a likely reason to want to.

 

1I'm counting willingness that one's sole partner have other partners (e.g. being an arm of a V) to be a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy.  I think this is the more reasonable way to divide things up given a two-way division, but if you feel that I mischaracterize the highly simplified taxonomy, do tell.

2The details of what my brain considers to be Rules and how it protests when they are broken or self-servingly altered are mildly interesting but irrelevant to this post.

3I don't think I'd describe myself as enjoying drama, but it's interesting and I'm drawn to it, and if I don't keep track of this carefully enough I go around starting it without realizing what I'm doing until too late.  Generating actual drama is a good way to hurt people, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the same appetite appears to be indulged by working out the intricacies of relationship parameters, and keeping track of the structure of a polycule in which I am an atom, even if no drama per se exists.

4If the comments I linked when I first mentioned this aesthetic don't adequately explain it to you, perhaps listen to the song "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors.  The exact details in the lyrics thereof are not what I ever had in mind (it's designed to highlight and poke fun at the singing character's extremely modest ambitions) but the emotional context - minus the backstory where the character currently has an abusive boyfriend - is just right.

Comments (597)

Comment author: DysgraphicProgrammer 28 April 2013 06:15:58PM 18 points [-]

Since I first read this about a year ago, it had had an interesting side effect. I am less able to enjoy fiction where the plot requires a monogamous assumption to function. Plots and Tropes like "Love Triangle", "Who Will Zie Choose?", "Can't Date Them, Not the One", and some "Cheating Spouse" and "Jealous Spouse" now seem weird and artificial to me (unless the poly option is considered and discarded).

I was never a huge fan of romance or romantic comedy, so this is no great loss. It is an interesting minor memetic hazard though.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 April 2013 06:28:27PM 15 points [-]

By analogy with an Idiot Plot which dissolves in the presence of smart characters, a "Muggle Plot" is any plot which dissolves in the presence of transhumanism and polyamory.

Shortly after generalizing this abstraction, someone at a party told me the original tale of the Tin Woodsman, in which there are two men vying for the attention of a healer woman who gives them replacement metal body parts while constructing a whole new body out of the spares. In the end, she decides that the men she's been healing are mechanical and therefore unloveable, and goes off with the new man she's constructed.

"Ah," I said, "a Muggle Plot."

They're surprisingly common once you start looking. I originally generalized it while watching the romantic subplot in Madoka. Blah blah, not a real human, blah blah, love rival..

Comment author: fubarobfusco 25 August 2013 01:08:18AM 5 points [-]

http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Nimmie_Amee

The retconned version is a bit more of a transhumanist story. Nick Chopper abandoned Nimmie Amee after his series of cursed injuries deprived him of his heart — construed here as the seat of the emotions. He was (some time later) fitted with a new heart; but it was a kind heart, not a loving heart, and so he didn't return to her.

Aside from the anatomic specifics, it's a problem of maintaining goals under self-modification!

Comment author: Nate_Gabriel 25 August 2013 08:01:11AM 4 points [-]

As cool as that term sounds, I'm not sure I like it. I think it's too strongly reinforcing of ideas like superiority of rationalists over non-rationalists. Even in cases where rationalists are just better at things, it seems like it's encouraging thinking of Us and Them to an unnecessary degree.

Also, assuming there is a good enough reason to convince me that the term should be used, why is transhumanism-and-polyamory the set of powers defining the non-muggles? LessWrong isn't that overwhelmingly poly, is it?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 26 August 2013 05:05:49AM 4 points [-]

I don't really see the inherent superiority idea. Seems like there should be plenty of interesting ways to mess up everything with polyamory and transhumanism as well as with monogamy and bioconservatism, just like muggles and wizards both have failure modes, just different.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 August 2013 07:28:54PM 5 points [-]

Plots which are just about people not being rational are a subspecies of "Idiot Plots". Plots which are about people not behaving like SF con-goers are "Muggle Plots".

Comment author: TheOtherDave 29 April 2013 07:56:58PM 3 points [-]

Amusingly, I find I'm subject to this effect despite being happily in a monogamous relationship myself, simply by virtue of living in an increasingly poly-normative social environment. Culture-default handling of traditional gender roles often have this effect on me as well.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2013 06:25:32PM *  2 points [-]

Yeah, I have this problem too. I can still write mono characters, but I'm more thoughtful about it than I used to be. (I suspect I'd enjoy reading thoughtfully-written mono characters more.)

Comment author: Iabalka 28 August 2011 10:35:21AM *  11 points [-]

Alicorn would you have "hacked" yourself to be a secondary or n-th"ary " of MBlume?

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 05:16:18PM *  12 points [-]

That's a complicated question, in large part because it was practically necessary that MBlume subsidize my housing and living expenses. (I was previously living with a roommate who did not require of me rent or grocery money, and very much approved of this arrangement; I didn't want to take a gigantic financial kick in the teeth and have to job-hunt when I'm not especially employable and move across the country for something that could have failed to work out in practice.) It seems unlikely on the face of it that he'd have been up for doing that for a secondary or n-th*ary. If he was, my answer is "maybe" - it would have depended on the exact circumstances, probably. If I liked his primary and would have been interested in dating her too (assuming she liked me back) I think I could have lived with being a member of a triad without explicit rankings; other arrangements would have been progressively less appealing and at some point I would have been necessarily skeptical that there was enough interest for both the relationship and the subsidy to persist. (One can emit arbitrary numbers of words about how one has enough love for everyone. Introducing money demands prioritization.)

Comment author: MileyCyrus 23 October 2012 04:59:58AM 9 points [-]

Can we get a follow-up about how this working a year later?

Comment author: Alicorn 23 October 2012 05:53:56AM 9 points [-]

Works great! Primary relationship still strong, have also three other boyfriends (primary has two other girlfriends). I am well pleased :)

Comment author: Blueberry 23 October 2012 06:25:34AM 4 points [-]

Are you polysaturated yet? Most people seem to find 2-3 to be the practical limit.

Comment author: alexflint 29 August 2011 06:36:23PM 9 points [-]

Thank you for sharing this!

My own concern with being polyamorous is that having N times as many relationships seems like it will involve at least N times as much relationship drama, and the drama of one relationship seems to be about as much as I can handle. Much of the drama in long term relationships seems uncorrelated with jealousy, so it's far from obvious to me that poly relationships would involve systematically less drama.

Comment author: Kingreaper 29 August 2011 06:41:55PM 3 points [-]

Can you give some examples of the sort of drama to which you are referring? It may be that some of the poly people here will be able to shed some light on how/if they deal with such things.

Also, with the extra practise they get, some polyamorous people can offer excellent advice on relationship issues.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2011 08:56:54PM 2 points [-]

Alexflint is right, in a sense -- the more people involved in a romantic relationship, the more potential points of stress and failure there are. Not to mention, poly people are often operating without a net or a manual, so to speak -- there's little cached wisdom that might help us specifically, and a wide variety of possible configurations into which any poly group of N people might fall.

It has been my observation that there's also more potential (if not in direct symmetry with the increased failure modes) for coping strategies, supporting those in a difficult time and generally things that make a relationship robust. Some drama is harder ("you aren't spending enough time with me and all your other partners are getting your attention"), some is easier ("I have no interest in seeing/doing this with you"). Eliezer mentions the comfort he gets knowing that if he can't do something with his girlfriend, she has other paramours who are happy to do it instead.

Comment author: ciphergoth 30 August 2011 08:24:12AM 5 points [-]

It's my perception that poly does indeed involve more drama than monogamy.

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 27 August 2011 03:31:45AM *  17 points [-]

I find this very interesting. Polyamory is something that I've toyed with intellectually for a while, but I have several ugh fields around it. Namely, and this one has been borne out by this very post, that "going polyamorous" seems like the kind of thing monogamous females do in order to acquire polyamorous males. Perhaps if one was a sufficiently status-y female, one would be able to convert the polyamorous male to being monogamous. Of course, this comes with all sorts of issues (namely, making the polyamorous partner unhappy). I just haven't been sufficiently convinced that being polyamorous would make me happy for any reasons other than using that polyamory to attract a high-status mate that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to attract. I, like you Alicorn, have been too long seduced by the monogamy aesthetic.

Now, I will try to imagine the conditions sufficient in order for me to hack myself into being polyamorous. I imagine that they would be thus:

  • I would have to decide, for myself, that I wanted to be polyamorous before meeting some polyamorous male that I desired. That is the only way that I can reasonably trust myself to make a decision in my own best interest.
  • I would have to be convinced that there was no asymmetry. I believe this is my primary repulsion to polyamory. I envision myself in a situation where I want primary access to a partner who does not similarly wish primary access to me. I also envision lots of emotions and stress involved in deciding what "primary" even means.
  • I need to be convinced, for myself, that becoming polyamorous is not a status-lowering move.
  • I'm concerned about the exponential increase in exposure to STI's as well. Of course, I've had partners cheat on me in so-called monogamous relationships, so I'm aware that this is not something that a monogamous relationship necessarily shields me from.

As it stands, I haven't been in a monogamous relationship wherein I desired within that relationship that it was open so that I could date others. I also haven't yet desired someone who was (to my knowledge) polyamorous. I have already decided that I do not want the latter condition to be the catalyst for changing my worldview, so right now, I consider myself open to the possibility in the future, should I find myself in a situation where I wanted to date multiple partners. So thanks Alicorn, I am now significantly more luminous!

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 06:45:20AM *  6 points [-]

I would have to decide, for myself, that I wanted to be polyamorous before meeting some polyamorous male that I desired. That is the only way that I can reasonably trust myself to make a decision in my own best interest.

That sucks. A compatible partner that is successfully poly is some evidence that poly could also work for you, as well as being something that brings the possibility to your attention. Yet by meeting them you have instead cut off the whole possibility. You'd be better if you never laid eyes on them! :P

This is just the way I like to relate to myself but I'd decide I was allowed to switch to poly if it was a good idea but that I'm not allowed to date poly-inspiration-X. For at least as long as a limerance period could be expected to interfere with judgement and also long enough that I could see if poly worked for me without the interference. That way my infatuation biases don't get to subvert my decision making either by temptation or by defensive reaction.

I would have to be convinced that there was no asymmetry. I believe this is my primary repulsion to polyamory. I envision myself in a situation where I want primary access to a partner who does not similarly wish primary access to me. I also envision lots of emotions and stress involved in deciding what "primary" even means.

That's a massive deal to me too. I am far more careful with shielding myself from asymmetry when playing poly. My primary partner also has to be able to accept that us having other relationships means that she will get less of my attention. Bizarrely enough not everyone gets this. Seriously... being poly doesn't add extra hours to the day!

For myself I am also reluctant to get into situations where I'm seeing multiple people within the same social circle. Or, more to the point, where my partners are seeing other people within my social circle. Simply because it changes the nature of my interactions with my friends. Sex begets competition. It makes people more like humans (status hungry monkeys) and less like 'people'. It's hard enough balancing egos and rapport with potential rivals when you aren't fucking the same girl (or guy). That just isn't the kind of game I like to be playing with my own friends. I prefer Settlers of Catan.

Fortunately most of my core circle is made up of (awesome, open minded but sincere) Christians so there is no chance that we'll end up with love pentagons. Just lots of couples and me doing WTF I want. :)

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 28 August 2011 11:01:49AM 4 points [-]

This is just the way I like to relate to myself but I'd decide I was allowed to switch to poly if it was a good idea but that I'm not allowed to date poly-inspiration-X. For at least as long as a limerance period could be expected to interfere with judgement and also long enough that I could see if poly worked for me without the interference. That way my infatuation biases don't get to subvert my decision making either by temptation or by defensive reaction.

That's completely reasonable, I'll agree with that.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:43:23AM 10 points [-]

Seriously... being poly doesn't add extra hours to the day!

You know, I had assumed that Time-Turners were invented by a Hogwarts Headmaster who despaired of getting the school schedules straight and one day before deadline stayed up until 6AM inventing the Time-Turner, and that he (gender coinflip-generated) succeeded because he was the first person to try for time travel just to get extra time and not to change the past, and that the invention within Hogwarts is why they get a traditional free pass on using them. But some polyamorous past wizard would be just as reasonable an inventor.

I like love pentagons and poly chains within the community. It creates a familial feeling. Of course nothing's actually gone wrong in my immediate poly family yet. You can easily see how this could go wrong.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 10:08:20AM 5 points [-]

I like love pentagons and poly chains within the community. It creates a familial feeling. Of course nothing's actually gone wrong in my immediate poly family yet. You can easily see how this could go wrong.

And from my side I can see how it could go right. I visited Berkeley recently (bootcamp) and it was adorable.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 10:11:25AM 4 points [-]

I like love pentagons and poly chains within the community. It creates a familial feeling.

There aren't many places where people would be comfortable making that comparison! But I suppose if it wasn't for the inbreeding risk, Westermarck effect and massive potential for abuse incest would be the perfect family bonding activity. You're living with each other already!

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 04:29:51AM *  5 points [-]

Seconded. Seems like Alicorn's reasons for going poly are not good -- being head over heels for MBlume and him not being willing to go monogamous in return... meh.

Alicorn, other poly folks, a question: I don't get poly (aside from the simple "some folks are just different from me" unhelpfulness). Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners? Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness. How could you be special if you're so easily replaceable by others in the harem? Enlightenment me, please, for I am confused.

That said, if you're really happy, I'm happy for you, and I apologize for rocking the boat, if I have.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 07:12:04AM 14 points [-]

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes, but they don't need to have a monopoly in order to feel that their product is sufficiently differentiated.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 August 2011 07:49:31PM *  9 points [-]

As has been suggested by others: different people need different things to "feel special" in the sense you mean it here.

Some people have their sense of relationship-specialness diminished when their partner goes out to see a movie without them, or when their partner expresses the sense that someone else is attractive, or when their partner goes to the office instead of staying home with them, or when their partner chooses to spend holidays with his or her birth family, or when their partner socializes with someone other than them, or when their partner kisses someone other than them, or when their partner has sex with someone other than them, or when their partner establishes a long-term sexual or romantic relationship with someone other than them, or etc. or etc. or etc.

It's not particularly helpful to talk about what ought to diminish my sense of relationship-specialness. If I know what does in fact diminish it, and I can find a way of operating in the world that meets my needs given that (either by changing my preferences to suit my current environment, or changing my environment to suit my current preferences, or a combination), then I will feel more special than if I don't.

The idea that there's some particular way of expressing relationship-specialness that is privileged, and people for whom that mode of expression is necessary and sufficient are somehow more correct than people for whom it is not, is often a consequence of mistaking one's own personal state (or one's culture's preferred state) for an ineluctable human condition.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:44:57AM 11 points [-]

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes. Why would my being special to someone imply that they couldn't have sex and/or long-term relationships with people they found attractive?

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 12:41:13PM 4 points [-]

Why would my being special to someone imply that they couldn't have sex and/or long-term relationships with people they found attractive?

To quote Alicorn's original post:

I want to be someone's top romantic priority, ideally symmetrically. [This is satisfied by me and MBlume having an explicitly primary relationship instead of each having a bunch of undifferentiated ones.]

We are talking about a real need, a real issue here. While I consider the answer essentially correct, I also feel that dismissing the implied concern out of hand, as if it was not there to be considered, would be a mistake (after all, many of those considering polygamy are bound to feel that same way). Note that, as remarked, even here we have different levels, different shades, there is a difference between being someone's top romantic priorities and just a generic "one of the many".

I guess that what the original poster meant was "unique", "exclusive", rather than "special". Alicorn's post remaked that being the "top" romantic priority is 95% of the deal. The fact that the relationship is not "unique", but that you are just one of two, six, n romantic interests might make someone feel as if they were easily repleaceable, interchangeable like a car's wheel, whereas, in fact, the feelings of those involved are no less real or intense. Simply because there are others just like you does not mean that you don't matter to your partner. In other words, it does not make you "not special", only "not unique", which, to some people, might appear like the same thing, but it is not.

The problem lies in that remaining 5% that distinguish "top" from "exclusive" romantic interest. To some people, that uniqueness -the fact that the bond is unique, involved only you and your partner, and no one else- is something special and valuable in an of itself. The fact of the matter is that the value one places on exclusivity is highly subjective, everyone has to draw their own conclusions.

An unstated question that emerges in these two points is "can two people be fully satisfied with only each other?" -the original poster seemed to imply (I apologize if that was not the case) that the very need to have a relationship with other people besides the current partner means that said partner is not the "right" person, otherwise you wouldn't feel unsatisfied (as I heard in the past, essentially using artificial measures to keep up a relationship that should have ended ages ago)-.

While I don't completely agree with that, I must say that I would likely not consider polygamy simply because of some feeling of boredom I might end up feeling in the future. In general, in that respect, I must say that I don't see poly as the panacea to save a not completely satisfactory relationship. In my opinion, it would be entirely possible for two people to be satisfied with each other without resorting to outside partners. Communication is the real issue, here -without that, even with ten different partners one would never be able to have a functioning relationship-. So, I don't necessarily see polygamy as the answer to lack of interest in an existing relationship, nor as some sort of magical solution that would ensure the surivival of a future one.

To put it simply, you could very well feel lonely in a crowd.

If nothing else, the increased number of people involved would make it harder to cope with possible attritions/jealousies that might arise in the future. It's all to easy to imagine the potential problems: your partner having a fight with her partner, and being irritable when she is with you, her partner becoming jealous with her and your relationship,... the mere fact that there are more people, and more variables to consider, make the list of "things that could go wrong" that much longer, negating pretty much any perceived advantage one might think to gain from such an arrangement, simply because of the increasingly complex dynamics.

Again, to summarize, put enough people together, and you will most likely end up saying something that one of them disagrees with. It's all too easy hurting someone without meaning to, even if you know him very well, and that problem is magnified if you increase the number of people involved (at least in my experience).

In the end, the only point I disagree with is the fact that polygamy might necessarily be the best way to have a satisfactory, lasting relationship. In my experience, that had not been the case, and in general, I think that, as a possible arrangement, it's not without its own share of problems, albeit different ones. It's not necessarily superior to a monogamous relationship, just... different. I guess that what I am trying to say is, don't expect it to be a magical solution to all of your problems, without proper communication, it will fail, just like anything else.

Comment author: Kingreaper 29 August 2011 10:09:04AM *  4 points [-]

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Well, with my closer, romantic partners, yes.

But being in the top 4 is special enough for me. I don't need to be someone's world, I don't WANT to be someone's world, I just want to be one of the people they think of first.

Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness. How could you be special if you're so easily replaceable by others in the harem? Enlightenment me, please, for I am confused.

A) harem is the wrong term IMO. There are poly people who have harems (and are thereby members of harems, for poly is generally symmetrical) but most I know don't bother with such purely sexual relationships.

B) I am not easily replaced by any of my paramours. In one of my relationhips, I am the primary, the one who is lived with, and the one she comes home to. No other partner supplies that role. In the other relationship, I am her pet, her submissive, a perfect servant (a state I thoroughly enjoy on occasion, but could not live with 24/7). None of her other partners could adopt that role.

Poly people will rarely have two partners alike. Each partner provides something unique, that no-one else does.

And poly removes the big fear of monogamy: if one of my partners finds someone who supplies something I don't, they won't leave me for that person, because I supply something that person doesn't. The relationship will only end if it becomes a negative, rather than merely if it isn't the best available.

IOW: Poly makes me feel LESS replaceable. Because I fill a unique slot, that isn't just the "relationship" slot, I can't be replaced by anyone else.

That said, if you're really happy, I'm happy for you, and I apologize for rocking the boat, if I have.

If someone's poly situation is so vulnerable that your questions would knock them out of it, then it is probably a good thing that they be knocked out of it now; and have a chance to reconsider, before they get in any deeper.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 August 2011 09:32:37AM 10 points [-]

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes. Which is part of why I allow competition. Personally, I find it easier to feel special when I know that my partner has other options, but still chooses to spend most/all of her time with me. I want my partner to be spending time with the person (or people) she is best matched with, even if it's not me. But if it is me, then I feel great, especially when I see my partner dropping one of her other options in favor of spending more time with me, or telling me that she enjoys spending time with me more.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 03:09:21PM 7 points [-]

Yes. Which is part of why I allow competition. Personally, I find it easier to feel special when I know that my partner has other options, but still chooses to spend most/all of her time with me.

But the reality is that they always have other options.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 11:32:48AM 6 points [-]

To be perfecly fair, from my relatively brief poly experience, there is also the other half of the coin: the disappointment of not being the one said partner choses, the potential jealousy (irrational, but, undenyably not exactly an emotion that can be controlled at will), and, as Alicorn's post highlighted, the fear of losing said partner -breakups do happen, and, in relation to another post, the situation between a mother and her sons is quite different because that bond does not fit this particular requirement-.

Comment author: ChrisPine 28 August 2011 10:20:21AM 8 points [-]

Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness.

I don't know why you would say this, and I strongly disagree.

I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers?

I apologize for rocking the boat, if I have.

Interesting benefit of polyamory: there's a lot less that can rock the boat (or sink it)! We enjoy a stability we did not have before.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 05:20:45PM *  23 points [-]

I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers?

I didn't understand this line of argument before I was poly, and I don't understand it now. Yes. Of course if you have multiple children they're individually less special to you! You have less time and energy for each, less brain-space to store facts about each, and you aren't even culturally allowed to have a favorite! There's a sense in which you "love them all equally", sure, but I'd be willing to bet that something like 75% of parents would be unable to claim that under Veritaserum.

As for why it should be different for lovers, the psychology about lovers and children is very different. It's a conceit of our current sensibilities that we even use the same word to refer to how we feel about those, our siblings, our pets, and ice cream. There is no reason in principle why we couldn't have been hardwired for extreme strict romantic monogamy and still love lots of children.

Comment author: hwc 30 August 2011 12:33:07PM 5 points [-]

It's a conceit of our current sensibilities that we even use the same word to refer to how we feel about those, our siblings, our pets, and ice cream.

Which is why I sometimes taboo that word and try and explain exactly how I feel about my S.O. in other, more concrete, terms.

Comment author: ChrisPine 28 August 2011 06:37:38PM 3 points [-]

Yes. Of course if you have multiple children they're individually less special to you!

Hmm... perhaps we don't mean the same thing when we use the word "special". If I pretend that you used a word unfamiliar to me instead and had to work only on context, where you continue with:

You have less time and energy for each, less brain-space to store facts about each

...then I'd have to agree with you. Certainly, I have less time and energy to devote to each child.

and you aren't even culturally allowed to have a favorite!

For the record, I never claimed to love them all equally, or to not have a favorite. (They are all my favorites, in different realms, but even so... it would be absurd to claim that it just happens to all add up to be equal.)

But I don't see what point you are making here. My point is that my love for the first child was not diminished by the arrival of the second. For some other definition of special (importance in my life), I would say that the first is just as special to me.

The reason this is brought up (perhaps mostly by poly people with more than one child) is that one's capacity for love, for this "specialness" is not fixed! Another child comes along, and your capacity grows. Another long-term, committed partner, and your capacity grows.

That is the point of the argument: capacity is not fixed in size.

As for why it should be different for lovers, the psychology about lovers and children is very different.

Certainly, but the point about specialness-capacity-increase is fairly general. I would apply it to lovers, to children, to favorite movies, to desserts, to symphonies... the more things we love (or are special or meaningful to us), the more our capacity increases. These things, these experiences make us grow. (Well, maybe not desserts; that's a different kind of growth.)

And we accept that this is how we work in terms of children, movies, food, music... why make an exception for lovers?

There is no reason in principle why we couldn't have been hardwired for extreme strict romantic monogamy and still love lots of children.

Ok. I suppose not. I suppose we could have been hardwired for extreme preference for only one flavor of ice-cream... Do you just really not like the comparisons between different categories of things we like/love/enjoy? Of course our feelings for these different categories are all very, very different, but the generalization seems valid enough to me.

And especially: if they feel similar enough to me for the generalization to hold, then I'm really not going to be convinced that I must love only one by the argument "romantic love is different because it's different". (Which isn't what you were saying, but it's the message this line of argument addresses.)

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 11:23:47AM 4 points [-]

I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers?

Not the best example. Does it never happen that one child suffers because he feels that his sibling is "stealing" his parent's attention away from him? It's something I have seen it happen before, even when the mother does love her sons equally -while her love might remain, the same could no longer be said about her "undivided" attention, which is what causes the problem in young children, when they are informed that they are going to have "a little brother"-. While it is not a rationally sound stance, that kind of jealousy is certainly not an uncommon emotion.

Furthermore, does it never happen that one of the sibling feels slighted because he is constantly compared to his more successful brother? While the mother might, in theory, love them both equally, life is not always as it looks on paper. It's not uncommon to have a situation where there is a "preferred" child (maybe because he excells in sports, like the father, whereas the other brother doesn't even like football, and prefers classical music).

To put it clearly, it's also something Alicorn also underlined: # Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary. #. She later decided that the odds of that happening are lower than those that things might go wrong simply because of loss of interest. However, that does not mean that one should dimiss such concern out of hand with a "I don't know why you would say this", as if the fear of abandonment was not a real, "natural" emotion. Ultimately, the children in the example will always remain that mother's sons, no matter what. A romantic relationship is not like that. Breakups do exist, it's not as if the possibility that he/she might decide to pursue a monogamous relationship with a partner he/she met at a later date is might be a realistic concern. Not a concern that should necessarily stop you from pursuing a polygamous relationship, but certainly a concern to be considered.

I mean, I am just going off a tangent, here, but, first of all, we are comparing two very different kind of situations -the bond between a mother and a son, and the bond between two lovers-. While we might address the two bonds with the same words (love), that is, as Wittgensteing might have said, a mere problem of language -in practice, the romantic love between two people is different from what a child feels towards a parent, or a parent towards a child, or a sibling towards a brother-.

For example, take the bond between three siblings. If their parents were having another child, the relationship betweent he three children would not be affected -it's not as if what they feel towards each other would be changed by the arrival of a little brother-. On the other hand, in the case of a "best friend", it is implicitly assumed that the "position" is unique, exclusive. One cannot have many "best friends", one can have many "close friends". In and of itself, the position of "best friend" implies exclusivity, thought it might often be compared to the bond between brothers.

This is a fact that was also highligthed in the original post by Alcyon: she highlights the fact that there is a difference between being someone's "top" romantic priority and being someone's "exclusive" romantic priority. As she puts it, the first part is 95% of the deal. However, I ALSO agree with Eliezer_Yudkowsky's post:

Yes. Why would my being special to someone imply that they couldn't have sex and/or long-term relationships with people they found attractive?

The fact that he/she might be seeing other people does not automatically imply that you don't matter to her/him. Nor does it imply that what your share is any less real. However, it all boils down to how much value we attach to that last 5% that distinguishes "top romantic interest" from "exclusive romantic interest". Because "unique", "exclusive" obviously do not apply when the "position" is shared by two, six, n other people. At the same time, that does not mean that you should feel as if you were easily replaceable, like a car's wheel. You are still a person. Your partner chose to be with you because he/she feels something for you. You just have to decide how much value you place on the fact that the relationship you share should be truly "unique", "exclusive", keeping in mind that there is no right or wrong, best or worse decision here.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2011 04:15:09PM 2 points [-]

I don't know why you would say this, and I strongly disagree.

Have you ever felt jealousy? Romantic or otherwise? I don't feel it over my partner finding someone else attractive -- that's too distant and automatic to be a threat -- but a pursued relationship with someone else is too much of a threat to my relationship. I also don't see this as an unfounded insecurity that I should work on reducing; if you're more secure in your primary relationship than I would be in a poly scenario, I feel like you may not be updating sufficiently given available information about human relationships.

Why should it be so different for lovers?

Having multiple children doesn't threaten the loss of your previous children. That's why.

Interesting benefit of polyamory: [...]

I accept that this may be true for you. It does not appear to be true of most of the poly folks I've come across. I have seen a lot of drama and boat-rocking and boat-sinking. Hell, it just happened again, publicly, in Tortuga.

It is possible that I have not come across a proper representative sample of poly relationships and have an inaccurate view. But I remain skeptical of your claim to this benefit for poly.

Thank you for your perspective on the matter. I feel a bit like an anthropologist dropped into a foreign land.

Comment author: ChrisPine 29 August 2011 05:46:16PM 5 points [-]

Have you ever felt jealousy? Romantic or otherwise?

Yes, both. But I don't see jealousy as this big emotional dead-end. "If you see jealousy, run the other way! Only evil will you find here!" Jealousy is a response. Like a rash or something. It's an indication that something needs to be dealt with. It could be the emotional equivalent of skin cancer... but it's more likely that it's the equivalent of a need to use a different brand of soap. Upon further inspection, it's often not that big of a deal.

Having multiple children doesn't threaten the loss of your previous children. That's why.

See, I think we are just looking at this from very different perspectives. Why would your partner need to leave you for another if they could just have you both?? It seems to me that monogamy and its "all or nothing" treatment of partners is what causes people to leave. Monogamy is not immune to partners leaving, to which divorce statistics attest. No, I would say that monogamy encourages leaving! Sometimes even demands it.

if you're more secure in your primary relationship than I would be in a poly scenario, I feel like you may not be updating sufficiently given available information about human relationships.

I'm guessing we are updating on very different data. Monogamy is a disaster, contributing to tremendous misery and pain (not to mention waste of resources). And the polyamory I've seen has been largely positive. Not universally, but largely. On more than one occasion, I've even seen it save what monogamy threatened to destroy, with its insistence upon jealous, fear, and punishment.

I have no idea what you are talking about with Tortuga, so cannot reply to that (sorry).

But yes, it seems we have very different experiences with polyamory, and in both cases mostly anecdotal evidence. (Perhaps I have just been lucky!) But before you write off polyamory altogether, I would suggest that you take a harder look at monogamy and what it has left in its path.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 05:37:52AM *  5 points [-]

Seconded. Seems like Alicorn's reasons for going poly are not good -- being head over heels for MBlume and him not being willing to go monogamous in return... meh.

I wouldn't describe it as being "head over heels", at the time the decision was made. We'd dated before and I was very happy during that time, and I wanted it back. The universe is allowed to be set up so I have to make some changes to get things. It turned out to be set up that way. I wanted the gotten thing more than I wanted what I had to give up, and I had the power to make the trade.

Alicorn, other poly folks, a question: I don't get poly (aside from the simple "some folks are just different from me" unhelpfulness). Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners? Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness. How could you be special if you're so easily replaceable by others in the harem? Enlightenment me, please, for I am confused.

I will be better able to answer the question if you unpack the words "special" and "replaceable".

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 06:44:41AM 7 points [-]

I will be better able to answer the question if you unpack the words "special" and "replaceable".

I'll try. Not sure I'll succeed, though, as it screams obviousness to my brain, so it's hard to understand the outside perspective wherein it is not clear.

A partner stating he or she would rather not be with me than be with just me indicates that I am not particularly significant. Not special to him or her. Replaceable, pretty easily, considering how doable it is to not live like a swinger (the other side of poly, emotional & intellectual connection = good friends, no line-crossing necessary).

I enjoy feeling like I am more important to my partner than anyone/anything else. I am under the impression that this is normal in humans, and that it feeds the default human tendency toward monogamy. Do you not enjoy this / prefer this to being one-of-many?

From a different angle: If MBlume (or whoever your primary is at a given time) would be with you either way, monogamous or poly, which would you choose, given all the non-drama/non-jealousy & other apparent 'awesomeness' of your poly adjustment? Would you prefer to stay this way, or would you prefer an MBlume who was happy to give up all other men/women to be with just you forever?

Comment author: Spinning_Sandwich 11 September 2012 08:20:49AM *  4 points [-]

I've been making my way through this whole thread & haven't seen a few of the responses I would have made, so I'll just leave them here for posterity.

Also, I haven't tried the quote syntax yet, so we'll see if this works cleanly...

A partner stating he or she would rather not be with me than be with just me indicates that I am not particularly >significant. Not special to him or her. Replaceable, pretty easily, considering how doable it is to not live like a >swinger (the other side of poly, emotional & intellectual connection = good friends, no line-crossing necessary).

I enjoy feeling like I am more important to my partner than anyone/anything else. I am under the impression that >this is normal in humans, and that it feeds the default human tendency toward monogamy. Do you not enjoy this / >prefer this to being one-of-many?

There are a few things I would say here.

First, how does this really differ from monogamous relationships, other than in frequency? People get broken up with, neglected, and otherwise treated in bad ways in both kinds of relationships, not just the polyamorous ones.

If anything, I'd think that being dumped & seeing your ex with another partner would be far worse alone than with other people who still care. Or on the more trivial side, if my partner prefers to do something without me one night, I can't call another partner to do something if I'm monogamous, because I don't have one! (Which isn't to say that I'm not cheating, the possibility of which seems like a huge mark against monogamy, at least if we're just going to sit here & ask what could go wrong, and how badly.)

This is all to say that I feel just as replaceable & vulnerable in monogamous relationships as I do in polyamorous relationships.

But what about feeling special when you're not unique to your role (at a given time)?

I think the analogy (sometimes not an analogy at all) of friendships is better than the one about mothers loving their children that I'm seeing thrown around here. It also illustrates the point that some people do come up short. Some people are not the best friend of anyone, just as some people might not be a poly-primary for anyone, and who probably wouldn't have the easiest time finding a meaningful monogamous life partner either.

But let's assume things go well in your love life & friendships. Just because I have other friends doesn't mean I'm incapable of being exclusive best friends with just one person, or that that person can't change over time. (This is, in fact, something I have had more success in with friendships than with monogamous relationships, despite fewer social expectations to guide it.) This is where the analogy to monogamy ends, but the analogy to polyamory goes all the way down.

At times in life, I've been fortunate to have whole little groups of very close friends, each of whom I would describe as best friends & each with different or similar merits. I never thought any of them less than special to me, nor did it even occur to me that I should, since they were important in my life. (And similar to polyamory but dissimilar to monogamy, nothing kept these friendships together past their due date, which isn't to say that all of them have ended either.) I like to think that my friends got the same feeling from me, but certainly they made me feel special, lack of exclusivity & all.

I won't spell out the rest of the friend/poly analogy, since it's similar down through the other levels of closeness, but I will point out the one major thing I think it overlooks.

None of this can address the fact that monogamous people place a great deal of value on sexual exclusivity in a way that makes sex itself special. This is a fundamental difference which I think has something in common with orientation, though it seems more malleable than that. If you're poly, chances are you don't feel special because of the act of sex itself so much as the person sharing it with you. I don't mean to diminish the former, or to say that the latter isn't important to monogamous people, because it is; but I would say that there's a marked difference in emphasis, at least from my experience. (A better writer could get at this more accurately.) The point, anyhow, is that in switching to polyamory, I found that the sources of my feeling special were distinct from what they had been. Not better or worse, just different. So as far as feeling special goes, I can't say that I'm actually inspired to feel special by exclusivity, but there are other equally valid ways that I do.

And one last point not directly in reply to jmed's post. Jealousy is a common problem often brought up, and rightly so. It's destructive, powerful, involuntary, and difficult to manage, not unlike anger. I find it both interesting & odd that anger management is common, yet jealousy management is not.

With anger, there's a widespread public consciousness that it's possible (if difficult) to learn to move past it, even if that doesn't mean we're perfect at that; that there are plenty of programs & groups out there to help people do this; and that social expectations are so high in this regard that public outbursts of anger are hardly tolerated.

As for jealousy, there are small bubbles of consciousness (fortunately with a great deal of overlap with poly communities!) about similar control over one's emotions, insofar as possible, but it doesn't seem to be something many people work on, nor are they expected to do so. It is in this regard, and this only, that I view polyamory as preferable to monogamy, and not merely alternative to it. A cultural change would make it a moot point, but for now poly people seem to do a better job with it because, one, they're forced to, and two, they get more practice.

Hopefully someone reading through this thread a year from now will get to this post & think "Aha! I was just wondering why no one brought that up." Or maybe I'll be the only one who stirs up old news.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 07:10:16AM 9 points [-]

and that it feeds the default human tendency toward monogamy.

From what I understand the default human tendency is is medium term monogamy (with cheating) combined with extreme promiscuity, particularly by the highest status males. Some polygamy thrown in too.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 August 2011 12:22:06PM *  18 points [-]

I think that "humans tend towards monogamy" and "humans don't tend towards monogamy" are both misleading, as they lump together two things which don't necessarily go together: being monogamous, and requiring monogamy of others. Instead, I'm inclined towards thinking that there's a tendency to require sexual/romantic monogamy from one's partner while still wanting to have sexual/romantic relationships with others.

Though some people seem to be strongly monogamous (in both senses of the word) by nature, others seem to be strongly non-monogamous (in both senses of the word), and some fall in between. So if there is a strong genetic component, there's also the possibility that some kind of frequency-dependent selection might be going on instead of just a universal tendency towards one thing.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 07:05:12AM 15 points [-]

I just looked over my shoulder and asked. Turns out your question is a practical one - MBlume says he would go monogamous for me if I wanted. If he'd said this before I hacked poly, I wouldn't have hacked poly. (He wouldn't have said it then - he needed the information of how our relationship has gone for the past month.) Given that I'm now poly, and that we both have other partners/prospects who we'd be somewhat distressed to give up, I'm not planning to reverse the hack. It's a matter of hassle and loss aversion mostly. But I do find it meaningful that he would monogamize himself if I were not sufficiently superpowered to have rendered it unnecessary.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 August 2011 07:13:49AM 6 points [-]

But I do find it meaningful that he would monogamize himself if I were not sufficiently superpowered to have rendered it unnecessary.

Alternatively, he is able to offer this primarily because he knows it is unnecessary / your polyhack is an inseparable part of your value as a partner.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:47:30AM 6 points [-]

If he'd said this before I hacked poly, I wouldn't have hacked poly... Given that I'm now poly, and that we both have other partners/prospects who we'd be somewhat distressed to give up, I'm not planning to reverse the hack.

Sounds like a pretty definitive answer to the "You just went poly for the guy!" objection.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 09:48:25AM 8 points [-]

Sounds like a pretty definitive answer to the "You just went poly for the guy!" objection.

It does. Even though it doesn't refute the "You just went poly for the guy!" assertion at all. It could well fit with "I just went with poly for the guy and it is awesome! You should try it!"

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 05:24:40PM 24 points [-]

...I did just go poly for the guy. I just think that's okay.

Comment author: ciphergoth 30 August 2011 09:13:55AM 5 points [-]

People move city to be with people; is this necessarily any different? Especially when you know lots of people living in that city going "move here, we love it here!"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:35:30PM 4 points [-]

I find this oddly cheerful. Go for it, then!

Comment author: Kingreaper 29 August 2011 10:20:16AM *  5 points [-]

Replaceable, pretty easily, considering how doable it is to not live like a swinger (the other side of poly, emotional & intellectual connection = good friends, no line-crossing necessary).

To clarify: would you say that romantic love only differs from friendship in that you have sex with the one you love?

Because to me, there is a massive difference between the two. Friends with benefits doesn't become romantic love instantly, and romantic love without sex is entirely possible.

It's possible our brains are different, or possible you mean something else; or indeed, it's possible that you're wrong about yourself.

To narrow it down, I'll give you a hypothetical: Imagine your hypothetical partner agreed to give up the sexual side of poly, and only have sex with you (perhaps you're the best sexual partner they've ever had, and have just the right sex drive for them, so they're perfectly happy with that situation). However, they keep going out on dates with other partners, spending romantic nights in with other partners, etc. Would you feel comfortable with that situation?

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 August 2011 09:40:00PM *  6 points [-]

Read this with great interest.

Upvoted, despite some status signalling cluttering the transmission up with noise.

Comment author: lukeprog 29 August 2011 12:45:29AM *  35 points [-]

Thank you for writing this. I've been wanting to discuss rationality and relationships for some time now, but my first attempt had several problems with it you seem to have avoided or solved. For example, your intro paragraph disarms (for many people, hopefully) a few objections that my own post did not, for example "I don't like gooey personal details" and "You sound self-righteous, as though everyone should try to be like you."

Those who haven't tried polyamory may be curious to hear my own polyhacking story, told using a structure similar to the one Alicorn used. (Like Alicorn, I'm considering "willingness that one's sole partner have other partners" to be a "low-key flavor" of polyamory.)

Motivation

I grew up a sexually repressed evangelical Christian, and therefore didn't date until fairly late (19, I think). My first relationship was traditional and monogamous and a rollercoaster ride of drama. I felt attracted to other potential mates but fought to remain faithful, we both experienced sexual jealousy, I started to feel trapped… you know, the usual.

When the relationship ended I realized that that kind of relationship didn't suit me. I didn't like sexual jealousy, I didn't like being solely responsible for somebody else's needs, and I didn't like having a kind of ownership over somebody else's sex life.

Self-Examination

What did I want that I had originally thought I could only get from monogamy? Pretty much everything: intimate connection, sex, cuddling, protection from STIs, the social status of that comes with not being single, etc. All these, I rather quickly realized, could be had with polyamory. I didn't want marriage or children, so those weren't issues. Nor did I care much whether I was somebody's primary romantic interest or whether I could get attention on demand.

Perks

For me, some perks of polyamory are:

  • I don't have to constantly smother my attraction to many, many women.
  • I don't feel trapped by a relationship.
  • I don't need to be responsible for meeting all of a partner's needs for sex and intimacy. If she likes things I don't like, she can do those things with other partners.
  • I don't need to invest as much time in a relationship as would be expected in most monogamous relationships.
  • Every relationship starts off with the assumption that it will need to be customized, and thus a lot of direct, open communication occurs right at the beginning.

Modifcation

Really, the only thing I had to modify was my evolutionarily-programmed sexual jealousy. This turned out to be easier than I expected.

When somebody I was attracted to slept with someone else or kissed them in front of me or whatever, I tried to feel happy for them. This was easy to do, but it didn't actually remove my feeling of sexual jealousy.

What turned out to be most effective for me was a different technique: I trained myself to think of Sexually Jealous Guy as being Not In Agreement With My Values and Not As Admirably Progressive As My Ideal Self and Not Exhibiting As Much Self Control As My Ideal Self. I developed a kind of moral indignation around the idea that I could be sexually jealous. And, as I recall, it only took a couple weeks for my sexual jealousy to fade.

Success

My sexual jealousy is so thoroughly extinguished that I am forgetting what it is like to feel it.

I've seen my current primary partner kiss another partner of hers in front of me many times, and I haven't felt a twinge of jealousy. My primary's two other current major partners are good friends of mine; the four of us have traveled together, slept in a hotel room together, and eaten dinner together. I've kissed my primary goodnight so she can sleep with someone else for the night, and I'm friends with a few others with whom she has chosen to intimately connect. My primary has some preferences I don't share, so she has explored those things with others. And at no time during all this have I felt any sexual jealousy. It feels great to be able to fully support my primary in whichever connections and experiences she wants to have.

Meanwhile, I haven't contracted any STIs, I pursue other women at my leisure, I don't feel trapped, I don't need to fulfill all my primary's needs, and that relationship is highly customized to my (and her) preferences.

Oh, and like Eliezer I feel "vaguely guilty about not being bisexual, since immortal superbeings clearly would be." I tried to hack that once, it didn't work, it's not a priority, it has much higher costs than polyhacking, and I'm not pursuing it.

Comment author: christina 29 August 2011 06:45:27AM 6 points [-]

Upvoted since I feel this post significantly improves several aspects of your previous post including sounding less self-righteous. It also benefits from mentioning the idea of polyamory earlier and going into more details about it. I read a single article on polyamory four or five years ago and didn't really see it mentioned much at all again until I visited this site. A lot of people will have no idea what this is, and some might confuse the word with polygamy.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 August 2011 07:46:45AM 69 points [-]

(Also, spontaneously all kinds of popular. If I'd known I could get this many people interested by hacking poly I might have done it sooner.)

The following is a public service announcement to all women who naturally like at least some shy nerds.

If you are (1) polyamorous and (2) able to directly ask men you find attractive to sleep with you (instead of doing the sheep dance where you freeze motionless and wait for them to approach) - or if you can hack yourself to be like that without too much effort - it is vastly easier than you imagine to acquire an entire harem of high-status and/or handsome nerds.

(For some but not all nerds, this may require that you be reasonably attractive. Most nerd girls I know are reasonably attractive and think they are not. So if you think that you're overweight and hideous and yet oddly enough nerds spend a lot of time talking to you at nerd parties, this means you are pretty.)

This concludes the public service announcement.

Comment author: paper-machine 27 August 2011 05:06:38PM 21 points [-]

This remains true for gay male geeks, by the way.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 28 August 2011 12:34:05AM 5 points [-]

Is there a trick to identifying gay male geeks? I find that sometimes I can go to four or five nerd parties and still have no idea about the sex lives of half the people there -- the shy male nerds I know tend not to talk about dating unless they're forced to. Maybe I'm going to the wrong parties.

Comment author: paper-machine 28 August 2011 12:42:07AM *  5 points [-]

The studies I know of have found that while many people can identify orientation (EDIT: sorry, only gay/straight, don't know of any non-binary studies) based on facial appearance, voice, and other outward signs with better-than-average accuracy, participants tend to have a hard time identifying specific traits that led them to judge.

I also would be interested in any such result.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 August 2011 04:09:10AM 13 points [-]

Back when I was in the market, I found that asking male geeks whose sexual preference I didn't know on dates worked pretty well. Not, admittedly, the most efficient possible mechanism... and not entirely reliable, as it landed me a few dates with self-identified straight male geeks, which puzzled me... but still, it worked pretty well.

Of course, I only tried this for male geeks I was interested in dating, which may have introduced relevant selection biases.

Comment author: paper-machine 28 August 2011 04:12:38AM *  9 points [-]

as it landed me a few dates with self-identified straight male geeks, which puzzled me...

Isn't that just bizarre?! The same thing has happened to me.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 August 2011 07:31:43PM 23 points [-]

Is it conceivable that some of them thought it was an invitation to socialize rather than a date?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 January 2012 04:08:56AM 5 points [-]

In the cases I was thinking of, no, not really.

Comment author: katydee 28 August 2011 04:17:39AM 10 points [-]

Yeah, what? That's definitely not something I would have predicted. What were their detailed reactions?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 August 2011 05:55:52PM 18 points [-]

Mostly Kaj said what I was gonna say.

In terms of detailed reactions... well, I could summarize the common thread as "If I were going to hook up with a guy it would probably be you, and I'm not unattracted, which is surprising, and, hey, sure, why not?" followed some time later by "Nah, straight."

I generally took it roughly in the same spirit that I make a point of tasting foods that I don't like when someone who does like it identifies a good example of it, just to see whether I still don't like it... because, hey, sometimes I discover that my tastes have changed while I wasn't looking.

That said, I far preferred the ones who were clear about that being their state. (In their defense, most of them were.)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 August 2011 12:06:02PM *  22 points [-]

I don't find that surprising at all. We don't have full conscious access to all our preferences: we can just make guesses based on previous data. Realizing that there are men of the same sex that you might be attracted to doesn't seem any different from realizing that although you generally dislike science fiction, there are some sci-fi stories that you enjoy.

Straight/bi/gay is a classfication scheme that often works, but by collapsing a sliding scale into just three categories it necessarily loses information. A person who is only attracted to people of the opposite sex, and a person who is attracted to people of the opposite sex and to 0.1% of people of the same sex are usually both lumped in the category of "straight".

I have occasional fantasies of men and enjoy some varieties of shounen-ai/yaoi, but I'm almost never attracted to men in real life, though there have been a couple of exceptions. I can never figure out if I should call myself straight or bi, though straight is probably closer to the mark.

Also, sexual orientation is not a static thing, but something fluid that may change throughout life. This is particularly the case for women, though possibly also for men:

Starting in the mid-1990s, Diamond, a professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah, conducted a longitudinal study that tracked sexual attitudes among a cohort of non-heterosexual identified women from their late teens into their early thirties. From this work Diamond concluded that while a model of sexual orientation in which a person is unswervingly straight or gay may be appropriate for men, it is too rigid for women. Over the course of a few years, a typical woman in Diamond's study might move from being attracted to other women to being attracted to men, or vice versa, with the nature of the attraction dependent on an individual's circumstances and partner in ways that often rendered simple straight/lesiban/bisexual categorizations too coarse to be informative. This fluidity is not a matter of dilettantish sexual experimentation or repressed lesbianism in the face of homophobia. (Nor, contrary to the wishes of religious traditionalists, does it mean that sexuality is a conscious lifestyle choice that can be reset by bullying therapy.) Instead, Diamond contends, it is a natural course of many women's development which has been overlooked by both the general public and researchers into human sexuality.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 August 2011 05:33:31AM 21 points [-]

Worthwhile clarification: It is not necessary to ask them to sleep with you right off the bat. You could ask to snuggle.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:37:41AM 15 points [-]

Sure, and I also didn't mean to imply that this should happen on a first meeting, only at the point where you find yourself thinking, "Hm, I think I would prefer having sex with this person to not having sex with them," regardless of whether that takes a long or a short time.

Comment author: ChrisPine 28 August 2011 09:57:44AM 10 points [-]

While "acquire" and "harem" are words quite conflicting with the spirit of polyamory (and I know you were kidding), it's a good point.

Though, as a flirty poly nerdy guy, I have no personal interest in this message getting out. :-)

Comment author: katydee 27 August 2011 04:53:44PM 10 points [-]

This this this. I've spent quite some time watching with amused detachment as several of my female friends bluster around this type of interaction without ever really understanding. My advice that "hey, acquiring sexual partners is really not hard if that's what you want" generally goes unheeded, but those who do "get it" end up being shocked as how easy things really are.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 04 September 2011 03:19:53PM 4 points [-]

I've had the same experience with 'geeky' males (including myself) at college entry age. They discover its actually not especially hard to have casual sex once they get over the mental block at the idea of people finding them attractive (which seems quite common). Although 'serious' relationships seem more difficult and/or less learnable.

Comment author: pnrjulius 07 June 2012 02:46:54AM 5 points [-]

A lot of people say that it's easy. They never say how to do it. It's like they thought just saying "It's easy" constituted a viable explanation of the method.

Also, I'm not really interested in casual sex, so if you're right that serious relationships are much harder, that's a problem.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 August 2011 05:08:47PM *  10 points [-]

So if you think that you're overweight and hideous and yet oddly enough nerds spend a lot of time talking to you at nerd parties, this means you are pretty.

Are you saying that nerd males do not talk to non-pretty nerd females for other reasons (i.e. they are smart and funny or whatever), or simply that they don't do it a lot?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 August 2011 07:07:23PM 27 points [-]

That's a good question. I am hard pressed to think of any nerd females I've known well enough to observe them in any detail, who I would actually consider non-pretty. So to rephrase the test: If you go to nerd parties and male nerds who don't already know you seem to gravitate in your direction and then continue to be there despite not having an obvious personal stake in the ongoing conversation, this is because you are pretty.

Also, short of actually having half your face burned off a la Two-Face in the Batman series, being visibly smart and funny will boost your apparent prettiness by quite a lot.

Comment author: Jack 29 August 2011 02:00:57AM 20 points [-]

I am hard pressed to think of any nerd females I've known well enough to observe them in any detail, who I would actually consider non-pretty.

I'm torn about saying this because this kind of message probably good for everyone's self-esteem and I think nerdy girls on average should be more confident, but... what's with all these pretty nerds? Is your standard for pretty relatively low or are you just really lucky? In my experience and in common stereotype nerds of both genders are, on average, less physically attractive than the rest of the population, once you control for socio-economic conditions that influence things like diet, hygiene and exercise. Good looking people tend to end up on anti-nerd life paths earlier in life, less good looking people have less of their time taken up by socializing leaving them with more time for nerdy activities and more incentive to develop other aspects of themselves (since they can't coast on physical attractiveness). I've consistently found that less physically attractive people are more intellectually interesting.

This doesn't mean your advice is bad- nerdy girls are awesome and totally are capable of getting together with lots of nerdy guys. But I don't think we need to mythologize the nerdy female this way and it seems a bit patronizing to pretend the self-assessment of nerdy women has no grounding in reality. Just like how not everyone gets to be smart, not everyone gets to be physically attractive.

Comment author: roystgnr 30 August 2011 05:20:18PM 7 points [-]

I'd agree with your observations, except: is it wise to control for socio-economic conditions? "Well, [he/she] is gorgeous, brilliant and kind, but that's probably all because of being born within a family with positive attitudes toward physical and mental fitness, being given the free time and economic wherewithal to self-improve, and being placed in peer groups that would encourage such improvement, so I guess it doesn't really count."

Life doesn't work like a D&D stat Point Buy system - although you're right that it's sometimes similarly possible to trade INT for CHA or vice versa, that doesn't make them inversely correlated. Some people are lucky enough to have more of both to begin with, and many people are lucky enough to grow up with influences that increase both.

On the other hand, even physical beauty is partially subjective. Maybe Eliezer's perceptions of it are subject to some sort of halo effect? The "known well enough to observe them in any detail" caveat seems to suggest a factor in that direction. Aside from effects of fashion, lighting, etc., real physical beauty is a superficial thing that you can judge with a glance, not something that only becomes apparent after the more important characteristics have shown themselves.

Comment author: hairyfigment 29 August 2011 04:14:35PM 4 points [-]

Is your standard for pretty relatively low or are you just really lucky?

I see another, rather obvious interpretation given the clause "well enough to observe them in any detail".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 August 2011 08:01:28PM 15 points [-]

Your standards are probably higher than mine? As far as I can tell, most women are attractive. I can think of ones who aren't but they seem like exceptions. You can kinda see why it would work that way.

Comment author: army1987 07 September 2012 11:51:47PM *  5 points [-]

As far as I can tell, most women are attractive.

Did you actually mean ‘most women’, rather than (say) ‘most women of fertile age’?

Comment author: Solvent 31 August 2011 11:16:51AM 5 points [-]

Agreed. Also notable is that at least my mind conflates "funny/intelligent/interesting" with "attractive", entirely involuntarily.

Comment author: TraderJoe 27 April 2012 11:05:16AM *  2 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: katydee 27 August 2011 11:26:39PM 14 points [-]

Weirdly enough, I know someone who had their face seriously damaged (albeit not to the ludicrous extent shown by Two-Face) and he reported that it actually made him much more sexually successful, since it gave him an instant conversation starter with just about anyone and the story of how he got it painted him in a very good light.

Comment author: Prismattic 28 August 2011 02:23:02AM 14 points [-]

I think that even in the current cultural context one should still expect the impact of "battle scars" on physical attractiveness to depend strongly on the gender of the person displaying them.

Comment author: katydee 28 August 2011 03:03:29AM 16 points [-]

A good point; that said, a surprisingly large number of heterosexual or bisexual males I know are very much attracted to signs of "toughness" in females, including scars, fighting ability, etc.

Comment author: mdcaton 28 August 2011 07:34:31PM 8 points [-]

I always counsel young males with still-healing injuries that will leave scars to think of good stories. As for females, most straight men I know are attracted to signs of toughness that don't otherwise confound the usual health-and-fertility signs (skin and hair), so scars might not always work. But anecdotes from LW commenters are not likely to be representative of the general conversation. Many women I know in SoCal that have impressive degrees from awesome schools hide their credentials for fear of scaring off men, and are surprise than I am surprised. That's still the world we live in.

Comment author: Nisan 29 August 2011 02:09:10AM 2 points [-]

That's still the world we live in.

If I were feeling super snarky I'd say "That's SoCal". But your point is well-taken.

Comment author: michaelsullivan 30 August 2011 06:54:05PM *  12 points [-]

Even if you do have half your face burned off a la Two-Face in the Batman series, being visibly smart and funny will boost your apparent prettiness by quite a lot.

I find that most people have some things attractive about them. If they are interesting and kindly disposed toward me, it is not hard to focus on the attractive features, and blur out the less attractive features. It works very much like the affective death spiral, but with no real negative consequences.

Once you find enough things attractive about someone, you enter the spiral, and you begin to notice the very attractive square line of Harvey's non-burned jaw, and just don't even notice the scary skeletor burn face anymore, or you might even find little parts of it that start to look interesting to you.

Well, this all assumes a counter-fictional Harvey that doesn't go fully dark-side, or recovers at some point to something like his former moral and mental self.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 August 2011 09:27:41PM 25 points [-]

And no matter who you are, there's someone out there who thinks you're hot.

(while talking about the Harry Potter movies, before she'd started on MoR)

Erin: ...I did like the fluffy things, though.

Me: Fluffy things?

Erin: I forget what they're called.

Me: (thinks for a bit...)

Me: Dementors? The flying corpses in shrouds?

Erin: Yeah! Dementors are cute.

Me: Puppies are cute. Dementors are not cute.

Erin: Puppies are food.

Me: Help me, I've been shipped to Bellatrix.

Comment author: lessdazed 30 August 2011 09:47:13PM *  4 points [-]

In my experience, women generally much more naturally focus on good features and ignore average ones, though men do too. That said, I dated a hand model with a lazy eye...never saw nicer hands in my life! The eye was a bad feature from pretty much any human perspective, it's not logically impossible for a person to have all their features be such features.

Also, I think rats are adorable. Any other rat lovers out there?

There's possibly even someone out there who likes "<X" as a favicon more than "Lw". Outlandish, I know, but there's probably one person out there.

Comment author: thomblake 30 August 2011 10:17:47PM 5 points [-]

There's possibly even someone out there who likes "<X" as a favicon more than "Lw". Outlandish, I know, but there's probably one person out there.

I find this hard to believe.

Comment author: anonym 31 August 2011 04:35:16AM 2 points [-]

Rat lover here. They're adorable little creatures, and have distinct personalities and quirks. The only shortcoming of rats is that they don't live that long, so you're having to deal with the death of your cherished little friends every 2 or 3 years or so.

For anybody who likes rats or is just curious to learn more about them, I highly recommend the most awesome ratbehavior.org

Comment author: Clippy 30 August 2011 10:09:00PM 9 points [-]

Are there any paperclip-maximizer-lovers? How about paperclip-maximizer's-humanoid-robot-lovers?

Comment author: [deleted] 30 August 2011 07:03:04PM 3 points [-]

Seconding this from direct experience -- and I would also add that what people find attractive is much more subjective than is commonly taken for granted.

Comment author: Jack 28 August 2011 11:09:11PM *  8 points [-]

(instead of doing the sheep dance where you freeze motionless and wait for them to approach)

Actually, what's happening is they're giving the nerdy male 3-4 obvious body language signals telling him to approach. The nerdy male just misses them.

Fellow males, please learn to read body language so that all these hot nerdy girls stop feeling like they're ugly because nerdy men don't respond to their flirting.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 August 2011 01:10:19AM 6 points [-]

(instead of doing the sheep dance where you freeze motionless and wait for them to approach)

Actually, what's happening is they're giving the nerdy male 3-4 obvious body language signals telling them to approach. The nerdy male just misses them.

Sometimes. But since Eliezer mentioned girls who think they are unattractive some the signals are probably not nearly so clear.

Comment author: Wes_W 26 July 2013 03:37:05AM 5 points [-]

Fellow males, please learn to read body language

How would one go about doing this? It would be useful, but I don't know where to start.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2013 04:31:10AM *  2 points [-]

This is the best free, online resource I know of. But there are tons of books, even courses out there.

Comment author: mdcaton 28 August 2011 07:30:03PM *  28 points [-]

Valuable post. Self-revelation is hard! I commend your account in this kind of forum. There are many considerations here, first and foremost of which is that emotional makeup a) differs greatly between people and b) is more set than we care to admit; i.e. not subject to hacking. If Alicorn's is to this degree, more power to her. Before the rest of my comment (as a mono): this is most emphatically NOT a moral judgment about polyamory. Consenting adults, will defend to the death your right, etc.

Other considerations (for someone like me, which maybe you are or are not):

  • I'm often on the defensive when polys talk to me, because there is a good bit of evangelism and insistence that monos are morally inferior, emotionally immature, etc. I didn't get that at all from Alicorn's post but it's out there, perhaps as a counteroffensive to monos who do express moral judgment. (Smart polys, police this so we can all have a real discussion!)

  • In my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly! Polyamory is going to TEND to favor a) people who become less attached emotionally in relationships; b) people who are very outgoing and popular (i.e. attractive people); c) women at younger ages (mid 20s) and men at later ages (30s onward). Sure, if you're Brad Pitt, be poly! Why not! Think of the population dynamics if everyone was polyamorous. Captains of football teams and cheerleaders as the primaries. The rest of us, gazing adoringly upon them while we wait for our turn on Tuesday night. Then back to the romantic ghetto. That's a bit extreme, but it's a serious thought-experiment about an all-poly-world.

  • Marriage is in large part an economic institution focused on child-rearing. Polyamory is a better arrangement for young non child-producing couples than for people who want kids. Are primary poly relationships, even like Alicorn and MBlume, as stable over time as mono? As good for raising kids, if that choice is made? As happy? (I don't think we know. Data?) And the whole idea of wanting someone as the primary means that, given enough time, you WILL meet a more amazing person years down the road, and one of the primaries will lose when you're overcome by the temptation to upgrade. Because of the way human brains relate attractiveness to fertility differently for different genders, this is going to give men an advantage over time as in c. above. One of MBlume's secondaries is going to knock his socks off and 12 years from now Alicorn might get demoted or fired. Or vice versa, but happens less often that way - again, personal experience, and we need data, but it was Alicorn who changed her lifestyle to be with MBlume, so it seems MBlume is the one with the upper hand, and this will increase over time. (Note: this is the main long-term reason I'm not interested in polyamory, at least for even half-serious relationships.)

  • Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why. Maybe this is coincidence; maybe something has changed now that will be more conducive, but I think it's worth pointing out. For example, a higher prevalence of non-child-producing adults. More questions for actual studies.

  • So far I've been discussing polyamory as a hetero practice. I don't know any gay polys but it would certainly be informative to see what's different if anything about gay polys.

  • If you can do away with your emotional need for monogamy, why not do away with the need for mates and reproduction completely? I would frankly love to become asexual so I can think about other things for more than 2 minutes at a time! Not in the cards. (If you know a pill I can take or a meditative technique please hook me up. Then I can be nihilamorous.)

  • Finally, a lot of polys seem to be doing so partly because they get a buzz from being part of an alternative lifestyle community (affective death spiral, anyone?) While that was a bit of a low blow, I do think it's worth examining this in ourselves, especially with regard to whether choices we're presumably making for the rest of our lives are really sustainable. Kind of like diets, but even more important.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 August 2011 07:42:50AM *  19 points [-]

In my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly!

This is true. Poly requires excellent communication skills to pull off successfully, even more so than ordinary relationships. I keep emphasizing that poly is not for everyone: not only because you need to be emotionally suited for it, but also because it often takes much more work than a mono relationship. For most people, poly is hard.

Captains of football teams and cheerleaders as the primaries. The rest of us, gazing adoringly upon them while we wait for our turn on Tuesday night. Then back to the romantic ghetto.

I've heard this claim before, but I can't help feeling that it's still thinking in a mono pattern even while trying to think about a poly world. The whole point of poly is that X dating Y doesn't necessarily make either X or Y unavailable to others. If the captain of a football team has five women, that means that he only has one-fifth as much time for each of them, meaning that they're likely to be available to others as well. And perhaphs, since they're getting their desire for high-status übermasculinity satisfied from him, they'll also be more open to relationships with less masculine and lower-status men.

There are plenty of imbalances in dating-related gender ratios. A large fraction of men prefer women younger than themselves, so a straight man in his twenties faces competition from not only men his age, but men in their thirties as well. Add to this the fact that there are more men born than women, and we find that in a mono world a lot of young men will necessarily be left without the kind of a mate they'd prefer. In old age, the pattern reverses, so that it is the old women who have a hard time of finding a suitable partner. All of this is inevitable in a mono world, but in a poly world, there's at least the possibility that everyone will manage to date the kind of a person they want to be dating.

Polyamory is a better arrangement for young non child-producing couples than for people who want kids.

I'm not entirely sure about that one. Raising kids takes a lot of time and effort, often leaving the parents exhausted. It might be better for everyone involved if the kids have (say) three parents instead of just two.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 30 August 2011 01:40:06PM *  13 points [-]

If the captain of a football team has five women, that means that he only has one-fifth as much time for each of them, meaning that they're likely to be available to others as well.

At first sight it seems that those women are 4/5 available for other men in the group. But this assumes that men and women have the same sex drive on average. If we assume that men have stronger sex drive, or that their sex drive increases significantly when many women are sexually available to them (I am not a biologist, but I think both of this is true), then there is less than 4/5 availability of these women for the rest of group.

In other words, to make all members of a poly society equally sexually satisfied, this society must have more women than men. With the same number of women than men, less successful men will be frustrated, even if all women are satisfied. (Of course, if you are a woman, or if you are the most attractive man in your poly group, this is not your problem.)

EDIT: In essence, "one fifth of time" does not equal "one fifth of sex". A woman may spend one fifth of her time having hot sex with the captain, and the remaining time in just-friends mode, or 90% just-friends mode, with the remaining men.

And perhaphs, since they're getting their desire for high-status übermasculinity satisfied from him, they'll also be more open to relationships with less masculine and lower-status men.

Or perhaps, their demands will increase, and the remaining men will seem even more pathetic.

It seems to me that for most men monogamy is better. For women, two topics to think about: children and age above 40.

When the children are born, do you want to test paternity or not? (But even if you won't, some man will think that he is a father, and the others will think they are not. Or maybe, everyone will think that someone else was the father.) It seems like most men do not want to invest much resources into child that is not biologically theirs. Even if the man has one child with one woman, and three children with other woman, he may invest little into the first child.

If you are a young woman, it is important to note that the balance in "sex market" depends on the age. On average, younger women have higher sexual value than younger men, but older women have lower sexual value than older women. Thus we have so many young boys unable to find a girlfriend, and so many old women unable to find a partner (this imbalance is even worse because women on average live longer). Don't assume that your "sex market" value will stay constant.

Both monogamy and polygamy have their benefits and risks. The risks of monogamy are well known, therefore I wrote about the risks of polygamy. (Risks of monogamy: choosing the wrong partner and not having enough data to realize it; also if your partner dies or leaves you, you start from zero.)

Comment author: Violet 30 August 2011 02:42:02PM 7 points [-]

This is a little bit more complex.

Sexual desires are not a constant for each invidual person.

It seems (in the poly community) that awesome sexual experiences with one partner make one want more sexual things with the other partners rather than less.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 30 August 2011 04:50:49PM 6 points [-]

In other words, to make all members of a poly society equally sexually satisfied, this society must have more women than men. With the same number of women than men, less successful men will be frustrated, even if all women are satisfied.

This is possible, though I would note that sex is just one of the things one gets from a romantic relationship. Even if a poly society would leave more men without sex, it might provide more men with things such as close companionship. It is not obvious which one is more important. (Companionship is far more important than sex for me, though I'm probably atypical for a male in that regard.)

Comment author: Kingreaper 30 August 2011 04:55:31PM 6 points [-]

Another possibly atypical male here:

To me, sex is a craving I occasionally get, but is no more pleasurable than any other fun activity.

Companionship is a constant need. I don't always need someone there, but I always need to know that there would be someone with me if I needed them.

Comment author: handoflixue 09 September 2011 10:06:43PM 4 points [-]

In other words, to make all members of a poly society equally sexually satisfied, this society must have more women than men.

Or you could just adjust the bisexuality / homosexuality rates... I dare say an all-men all-homosexual polyamorous group would have to be entirely stable, at least so long as we're playing entirely to gender stereotypes.

(Is there any actual research about women being less interested in sex, by the way? I've heard that dismissed as a myth a few times, born primarily of cultural conditioning, but never with any actual research either way)

Comment author: [deleted] 09 September 2011 10:32:47PM *  20 points [-]

I find that my (female) sex drive is incredibly mutable; I've been perfectly happy going a year with no sex, and at other times, in other circumstances (and with different available partners), been motivated to have sex daily. I suspect that the female sex drive is much more situational and partner-dependent than the male, and to model women as like men, but less horny, is a mistake.

Now I will do the Subjective Speculation Dance of Shame.

(electric slide) I like to shake my butt, I like to make stuff up (electric slide) Is there published data? Maybe! Doesn't matta! I'll pull it out of my butt! (butt shake!)

Comment author: Jack 09 September 2011 10:57:29PM 12 points [-]

Please consider writing full lyrics and choreography and putting this on youtube.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 September 2011 02:08:00AM 11 points [-]

You guys I think I made the shame dance too fun.

Comment author: MixedNuts 08 November 2011 09:35:10AM 3 points [-]

I looked it up, but I still don't understand what the electric slide is. I second Jack's suggestion.

Comment author: MBlume 09 September 2011 10:55:27PM 5 points [-]

Now I will do the Subjective Speculation Dance of Shame.

(electric slide) I like to shake my butt, I like to make stuff up (electric slide) Is there published data? Maybe! Doesn't matta! I'll pull it out of my butt! (butt shake!)

This is awesome :D

Comment author: handoflixue 09 September 2011 11:00:49PM 3 points [-]

(electric slide) I like to shake my butt, I like to make stuff up (electric slide) Is there published data? Maybe! Doesn't matta! I'll pull it out of my butt! (butt shake!)

This is my new favorite comment. Thank you! ^_^

Comment author: Kingreaper 30 August 2011 04:49:03PM *  4 points [-]

Another, seperate point on biology:

The 5 women that are spending so much time with this alpha male will find their menstrual cycles becoming synchronised (assuming, of course, that they allow natural menstrual cycling). This will therefore mean that they are all at their most sexually active simultaneously.

Assuming that the peak sex drive of a woman is more than 1/5 of the constant male sex drive, this means that at least one of those 5 women will be unsatisfied during her days of peak sex-drive.

Which is an important fact in the context.

Comment author: dbaupp 31 August 2011 10:38:26AM 7 points [-]

Menstrual synchrony is controversial.

Comment author: mdcaton 29 August 2011 10:25:32PM 2 points [-]

I was unclear on this point. As clarified above, I think you're probably right that 3 parents are better than two, for the kids. But ultimately, it's whether the arrangement is serving the parents' interests that will determine if kids are produced. The same person who loves being in long-term, child-free poly relationships might not want to be in a child-ful poly relationship, and in fact my intuition is that a lower proportion of people who are emotionally cut out for polyamory would eventually want kids. Need data.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 30 August 2011 07:45:04AM 5 points [-]

If you're saying that the kinds of people who typically wish to be poly are the kinds of people who typically don't want children, that might be so, though I haven't seen any evidence for that hypothesis. Anecdotally, the "wants children" / "doesn't want children" ratio seems about the same as in the general population, or maybe as in the general high-IQ population. Your original comment seemed to talk about the suitability of poly for raising children, given that the people involved want children, though.

But I actually think that the main benefit of having three parents is for the adults, not the kids. Child-raising is typically really, really tiring, at least when the children are still young enough to need constant supervision. Having a third person around would really help make things easier. At the same time, there are all kinds of studies around saying that most of the things we'd expect to have an impact on the long-term outcomes of the children actually don't, and I'd guess that this would fall into the same category.

Comment author: kaseja 18 November 2011 06:26:59PM 3 points [-]

speaking as a parent (and someone who is poly) if it helps the parents, it helps the kids. And kids like having more adults around as resources.

Comment author: Strange7 28 August 2011 08:18:54PM *  16 points [-]

Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why. Maybe this is coincidence; maybe something has changed now that will be more conducive, but I think it's worth pointing out.

Primates (including humans) raised in stable, supportive environments are more friendly, trusting, willing to take risks. Those who grew up desperately alone, or with only a few allies-of-convenience who might run off as soon as costs outweighed benefits or better prospects appeared elsewhere, are less friendly, trusting, and willing to take risks. This mechanism evolved because using either strategy in the opposite environment means being isolated from the support of your peers and/or murdered at a young age, which is strongly selected against. Polyamory requires a large population of friendly, trusting-and-trustworthy potential partners; modern economic and political developments have produced an environment (in some parts of the world, anyway) sufficiently stable and prosperous that such a population can emerge and thrive.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2011 08:36:54PM 16 points [-]

(Smart polys, police this so we can all have a real discussion!)

Telling members of a social minority you're not part of what every member of that minority must do to be worthy of your time and consderation as a member of the social majority, is neither reasonable, rational or realistic. Just FYI. It's like asking "smart" queers to police the tendency of certain (stereotyped) gay men you have in mind to flame it up, or come to that, asking atheists not to be so militant...

Yes, many poly folks do think they're more evolved. Yes, this is just embarrassing at best, and sanctimonious and preachy at worst. No, the rest of us are not accountable to shut them down so you don't feel squicked by the whole thing.

n my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly!

This is a perspective some poly types share, that jealousy and polyamory are not compatible. I've never quite understood it; I experience jealousy sometimes (and I'm in five serious relationships; each of the people involved is seeing two of the others in some capacity), yet it never quite occurred to me that experiencing jealousy meant that the situation had to change...unless that jealousy was functioning as sort of an early-warning threat detection (I've been in situations I was clearly not going to be happy or functional in, with specific arrangements of other people given their own needs, wants and behaviors -- my interests were not being looked after by anyone else, and after interrogating my own emotions and their cause for long enough I realized that I wasn't comfortable with that).

Suffice it to say there is a diversity of actual opinions about this within polyamory and nonmonogamists generally -- some people experience jealousy, some don't; some experience compersion, some don't; some think these feelings should be primary drivers of their actions and communication, and some don't.

Are primary poly relationships, even like Alicorn and MBlume, as stable over time as mono?

Given the divorce rate, should we care about this in a statistical sense? I mean, unless we're talking about your own children, the odds for or against a given family's long-term stability are not your business...

(I will note that what little research has been done suggests that polyamorous relationships are less stable, but should that really be surprising? They are more complicated arrangements of complex parts; as the number of people goes up, the number of failure modes AND success modes will increase, and the failures will probably outnumber the successes. My question is, why does this matter? You seem to be arguing against polyamory in general with it, and I can see no sense in that.)

As to the question of children's welfare, there's very little data because it's difficult to get funding for it -- what researchers are interested in asking the questions are finding it very difficult to secure the backing needed to perform studies. Speaking anecdotally, I've known plenty of people who were monogamous parents, openly-polyamorous parents, and closeted-polyamorous parents (meaning their kids aren't told). The welfare of the children seemed to have much more to do with their parents' social and economic standing than their relationships.

Because of the way human brains relate attractiveness to fertility differently for different genders, this is going to give men an advantage over time as in c. above. One of MBlume's secondaries is going to knock his socks off and 12 years from now Alicorn might get demoted or fired.

I think your theoretical understanding of human sexuality has left you ill-prepared for making predictions about real-world cases like this.

So far I've been discussing polyamory as a hetero practice. I don't know any gay polys but it would certainly be informative to see what's different if anything about gay polys.

Having lots of experience with both hetero and queer poly dating and living: the differences seem to be much more down to the cultural influences on the people involved, and their individual personalities, than anything else.

Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far.

Tell that to the people of Laguna Pueblo, prior to Christian missionaries. They'd be vastly amused to find out they never existed.

Finally, a lot of polys seem to be doing so partly because they get a buzz from being part of an alternative lifestyle community (affective death spiral, anyone?)

I think you're seeing what you want to see, there. Do people choose an "alternative lifestyle" because they get a buzz from being altie? Or do they get a buzz from finding someplace they suddenly feel like they fit? Having spent most of my life socially-isolated and largely unable to fit into mainstream society, I was much more stoked about finding a social "fit", which I stumbled onto just while going about my life.

Comment author: mdcaton 29 August 2011 10:21:56PM 6 points [-]

Thanks for reading my (long) comment. RE the Laguna Pueblo, I will read up. Certainly it's not something that we've seen often. Whether this is because "things are different than they were before" or something else less plastic is another question.

To be clear, my argument about the correlation between polyamory and child-rearing is not about how effective a poly environment might be at child-rearing. On the contrary, I'd be that a stable poly family would provide access to consistent capital and caretakers that a mono family cannot. However, the question remains of how it's in the individual parents' interests to enter into a given family arrangement. When it's not, they won't have kids, and the eventual parenting outcome remains moot; if moms and dads don't want to do it, it won't happen. My suspicion is that among those individuals so constituted that polyamory is a good match, having kids might not be part of their plan. (Again, early days, data needed, though this could be done with surveymonkey.)

My objections to your comments: my "hey smart poly people, round up the jerks" comment was intended as a humorous way to point out the sanctimoniousness that you also recognize, and which damages the discussion. It wasn't intended as a serious proposal for the Grand High Poly Council to take up. (Note: I also don't really think there's a Grand High Poly Council, but I think we understand each other by now.)

My second objection is to your statement that "[my] theoretical understanding of human sexuality has left [me] ill-prepared for making predictions about real-world cases like this". A less charitable person than myself might react to this as a personal attack. Suffice it to say, I must sadly report that I have a good track record of looking at relationships and identifying tensions that later end them. My predictions aren't based on personality clashes, but rather fundamental supply-demand tensions that would seem to be constant across any kind of arrangement where a person can be happier with one person than another. Maybe I hang out with awful people who act this way, or maybe I've just been around the block enough times to know where cynicism is warranted.

Comment author: JoeW 30 August 2011 10:50:58PM 4 points [-]

Yes, many poly folks do think they're more evolved. Yes, this is just embarrassing at best, and sanctimonious and preachy at worst. No, the rest of us are not accountable to shut them down so you don't feel squicked by the whole thing.

I'll call people on the offensive tropes not because I feel responsible on behalf of the Poly Conspiracy to do so, but because they are offensive tropes.

This is a perspective some poly types share, that jealousy and polyamory are not compatible. I've never quite understood it;

We're almost playing Poly Trope Bingo now! (Although they don't actually seem to have the "poly = no jealousy" meme there, oh well.)

I have said that poly doesn't mean no jealousy; poly means additional tools in the repertoire with which to deal with jealousy. Perhaps I can draw a long bow and say just as some bi people might describe themselves as gender-oblivious while others might self-ID as gender-aware-and-interested-in-more-than-one gender, my experience has been that some poly people self-ID as "did not install the jealousy patch" while others can be jealous but don't regard that as fatal to poly. I cannot find any research on this.

As to the question of children's welfare, there's very little data because it's difficult to get funding for it

Custody has been (successfully) awarded and children removed from parents in some (USA) areas simply by referencing open poly or revealing closeted poly. There are a lot of cultural and privilege challenges in poly for families with children.

Comment author: Nornagest 10 November 2011 07:51:37PM *  2 points [-]

Tell that to the people of Laguna Pueblo, prior to Christian missionaries. They'd be vastly amused to find out they never existed.

What's your source for this? Not trying to challenge you factually (it's a reasonable enough claim given the diversity of cultures out there), but I've found non-romanticized sources on all but a few pre-contact cultures fantastically difficult to find short of asking actual anthropology departments, and it's an area I'd like to know more of.

Comment author: MBlume 28 August 2011 07:53:01PM 14 points [-]

Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why.

As far as I know, explicit symmetrical anything hasn't existed for very long...

Comment author: mdcaton 29 August 2011 10:26:56PM 3 points [-]

Right, that's the noise in these questions. Some things have changed since the paleolithic, so are we talking about conventions that fit with old social norms and economic systems, or something less plastic. I don't know that we know yet.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 September 2011 12:06:08AM 3 points [-]

Captains of football teams and cheerleaders as the primaries.

More likely they would end up a LOT of peolple's secondaries. Possibly with a mostly political 'primary' alliance with each other.

Comment author: MBlume 26 August 2011 08:43:17PM 29 points [-]

She got to date MBlume. (This one was important.)

blushes furiously

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 August 2011 09:45:34PM *  32 points [-]

/old shouting half deaf man/: Stop cluttering the comment section useless content! When I was young people didn't have emotions, and the ones that did didn't show them.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 26 August 2011 10:35:53PM *  18 points [-]

Still, if we ever need a counter example to the idea of rationalists as emotionless robots we can wheel them out.

[Edit, Clarification: meant that affectionately/positively, but seem to have got downvotes so that may not have come across, sorry.]

Comment author: falenas108 27 August 2011 07:17:19PM 14 points [-]

I have the feeling that this may not be the best post to show people who are predisposed to dislike rationality.

Comment author: gjm 26 August 2011 09:07:21PM 9 points [-]

Awwwwwwwww.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 August 2011 09:53:15PM *  7 points [-]

Loss aversion, which wanted to restrain me from giving up the potential to date people who would consider ever having been poly a dealbreaker. (Note: I implemented what I believe to be a reversible hack, so I didn't have to worry about not being able to enter a monogamous relationship if that ever seemed called for).

"Who exactly are these people? Do I know any of them? Not any who I'd want to date in any recognizable scenario. Okay then, the class as a whole is to be counted a less valuable opportunity than the class of poly people (which notably includes MBlume)."

Past behaviour is an excellent predictor of future behaviour as Roissy/CR would love to point out and I would agree. If one prefers monogamy it is not that irrational to seek people who lean towards it. Though in practice most people won't bother so I think your thinking is solid on this point.

Comment author: Michelle_Z 13 February 2013 09:50:24PM *  3 points [-]

I'm considering it, but I do have some concerns. Mainly, the community that I reside in would probably find it low-status, since the majority aren't interested in that. I'm wondering if anyone else encountered this and how they handled it.

Comment author: CronoDAS 13 February 2013 10:22:37PM *  3 points [-]

I'm reminded of this.

If you don't like something about your community, you can put up with it, you can change your community, or you can... change your community.

Comment author: Strange7 27 August 2011 11:12:37AM 3 points [-]

The details of what my brain considers to be Rules and how it protests when they are broken or self-servingly altered are mildly interesting but irrelevant to this post.

Have you explained those details in another post, and if not, why not? I have some similar feelings, comparable by metaphor to thixotropic clay, and am curious as to the extent of the similarity.

I don't think I'd describe myself as enjoying drama, but it's interesting and I'm drawn to it, and if I don't keep track of this carefully enough I go around starting it without realizing what I'm doing until too late. Generating actual drama is a good way to hurt people, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the same appetite appears to be indulged by working out the intricacies of relationship parameters, and keeping track of the structure of a polycule in which I am an atom, even if no drama per se exists.

Could it be said that you are simply interested in exploring social dynamics, and tend to stir them up when you're bored as a means of gathering information from the increased contrast? After all, many systems are best studied when at their most chaotic. Polycules seem to have a certain unavoidable degree of ongoing turbulence, and include more explicit communication besides, so it would not surprise me at all that such a thing scratches the same itch.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 August 2011 05:20:30PM 4 points [-]

I don't think I'd describe myself as enjoying drama, but it's interesting and I'm drawn to it, and if I don't keep track of this carefully enough I go around starting it without realizing what I'm doing until too late. Generating actual drama is a good way to hurt people, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the same appetite appears to be indulged by working out the intricacies of relationship parameters, and keeping track of the structure of a polycule in which I am an atom, even if no drama per se exists.

Could it be said that you are simply interested in exploring social dynamics, and tend to stir them up when you're bored as a means of gathering information from the increased contrast? After all, many systems are best studied when at their most chaotic. Polycules seem to have a certain unavoidable degree of ongoing turbulence, and include more explicit communication besides, so it would not surprise me at all that such a thing scratches the same itch.

I think it's more along the lines of finding modeling complex social objects, with lots of belief states and preferences and dispositions and personalities and interrelationships and history and predictions for the future to keep track of, being an interesting sort of challenge that feels more weighty and meaningful than juggling similar fictional things.

Comment author: Solvent 27 August 2011 01:35:17AM 3 points [-]

Fascinating, and well written. I can't imagine ever being able to do this myself, but perhaps you might have convinced me it's possible.

Of course, with the current complete lack of poly people I know, it may not be much of a problem.

Comment author: shokwave 27 August 2011 03:32:23AM 6 points [-]

the current complete lack of poly people I know

On that note, if someone knowledgeable could chime in? I know precisely zero poly people; I know of precisely zero poly people (excluding Bay Area because that's not in my country). In fact I can confidently say I've never heard the lifestyle choice discussed, ever, where I live. Is it possible there simply aren't any poly people in Melbourne? Or is there likely to be poly people somewhere, and they've kept it quiet for social reasons? If so, how does one go about non-invasively finding such people?

Comment author: wedrifid 27 August 2011 03:48:34AM *  5 points [-]

Is it possible there simply aren't any poly people in Melbourne?

I've met polyamorous people in Melbourne. In fact I've had relationships with a few of them. At once. ;)

I can say with some confidence that it is not possible that there are no poly people in Melbourne.

Comment author: MBlume 27 August 2011 05:24:48AM *  6 points [-]

OKCupid is pretty good. If you're poly, and answer lots of match questions, you'll soon find yourself only seeing poly/poly-friendly folk.

Comment author: JoeW 27 August 2011 10:14:54PM 7 points [-]

Their latest round of algorithm tweaks seems to have broken that. I now regularly match 95+% with people who are very insistent about only wanting single monogamous people.

Comment author: malthrin 27 August 2011 07:34:33PM 4 points [-]

Dan Savage has coined the term "monogamish" to describe relationships that appear monogamous on the surface, but actually aren't, and speculates that there are a lot more of them than you'd think.

Last question here: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=9125045 . NSFW language.

Comment author: MinibearRex 27 August 2011 01:04:38AM 3 points [-]

By the way, this footnote made me very curious.

The details of what my brain considers to be Rules and how it protests when they are broken or self-servingly altered are mildly interesting but irrelevant to this post.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 27 August 2011 09:07:42AM 11 points [-]

Since moving back to the Bay Area I've been out with four other people too, one of whom he's also seeing; I've been in my primary's presence while he kissed one girl, and when he asked another for her phone number; I've gossiped with a secondary about other persons of romantic interest and accepted his offer to hint to a guy I like that this is the case; I hit on someone at a party right in front of my primary. I haven't suffered a hiccup of drama or a twinge of jealousy to speak of and all evidence (including verbal confirmation) indicates that I've been managing my primary's feelings satisfactorily too.</bragging> Does this sort of thing appeal to you?

No.

But I do expect that if humans become immortal superbeings, then given enough time, most people currently in fairytale monogamous relationships will switch to poly. (Though when people are immortal superbeings, I also expect it to become common that they'll spend a very long time if necessary searching for an instance of fairytale monogamy to be their first relationship.)

I guess my philosophy is that fairytale monogamy is optimal for the young (say under 200 years or so), while poly and other non-traditional arrangements are the choice of the adult.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 August 2011 10:17:13AM 16 points [-]

Though when people are immortal superbeings, I also expect it to become common that they'll spend a very long time if necessary searching for an instance of fairytale monogamy to be their first relationship.

I volunteer to be the evil villain who goes about poisoning damsels and locking them up in towers so that they role play rescues by knights in shining armor. I'll turn a few guys into beasts too in case they are feeling left out.

Comment author: MBlume 28 August 2011 03:47:58PM 3 points [-]

Thank you for volunteering this invaluable service ^_^

Comment author: kpreid 01 September 2011 09:50:20PM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2011 02:24:09AM *  4 points [-]

Oh, these damsels are going to be real damsels. No catgirl delivery for me. I'm actually kidnapping real people and locking them up in towers. That's why I'm Evil.

Comment author: JoeW 27 August 2011 10:09:01PM 10 points [-]

I note that this treads close to a well-established poly fail: the notion that poly is More Highly Evolved.

Comment author: Pavitra 28 August 2011 12:33:34AM 3 points [-]

I'd expect it to go in cycles.

Comment author: calcsam 27 August 2011 03:16:21PM 6 points [-]

Interesting. Very vivid insight into how the hacking was accomplished. A question I have from the outside looking in is about motivation, what makes people want to be poly in the first place?

Alicorn, you said that your primary motivation was MBlume. (Or generalized, 'a specific person.') MBlume, what was your primary motivation?

Other poly people please feel free to reply also.

Comment author: JoeW 27 August 2011 10:06:50PM 18 points [-]

I and my partner sat down as very earnest 16 year olds (23.5 years ago and yes we're still together) because we both agreed we were annoyed by unexamined defaults inherited from society and upbringing. We said we were fine with being monogamous if after careful consideration we decided we wanted it, but we didn't want to just drift into it.

Thus we sat down and spent quite some time cataloging what we thought monogamy would provide us, and how much we valued those things. Week after week we seemed to keep coming back to the conclusion that we didn't actually think we needed or even greatly wanted those things, and so we started considering whether that meant we wanted explicitly to not be monogamous. It remained an ongoing (low-key, non-fatiguing) discussion for a few months, and then we said, ok, non-monogamous. (This was really before "poly" had gained much traction as a term.)

It remained a theoretical construct for maybe another six months until there was a convergence of opportunity and interest for one of us, and we took some first steps. In hindsight we made a lot of rookie mistakes that I think people would avoid more easily today given there are now many poly resources and communities online and in realspace. (For example I helped vote for the creation of the alt.polyamory newsgroup which I think was very important in its day for developing poly discourse.)

I guess I've answered the "how" but not the "why". Our motivation was actually not what it gained for ourselves but how we felt about the other. No doubt this will sound hopelessly idealistic but a quick summary is that we wanted someone to have more opportunities in their live due to us loving them, rather than fewer. I had trouble reconciling what it meant to me to love someone with actively preventing other good relationships in their lives.

(This by the way is why "being untroubled by one's partner(s) being with others" is more critical to my concept of poly than "being involved with more than one person". Consider that monogamous cheating satisfies the latter.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 August 2011 07:58:07PM 9 points [-]

Were there other social defaults you examined? If so, with what results?

Comment author: JoeW 30 August 2011 07:20:52PM *  3 points [-]

We were adorably earnest at 16. We also poked at our attitudes towards having children, and to materialism/wealth/possessions. I'm not recalling anything else that we discussed up-front like that. Maybe home ownership.

Results: we identified discrepancies in our desires for some of these things and flagged them as something to be extra careful in figuring out, and also identified some congruences which meant less conflict than expected, but we also flagged them explicitly as something to re-examine every five years.

We've been together 23 years and have toggled our position on one of the points; the others have (EDIT) not changed substantially.

Comment author: MBlume 27 August 2011 04:25:20PM 3 points [-]

Here's a response to roughly that question from when I was just starting out, though I should add that I am now much happier practicing polyamory under a "committed primary" model as described in Alicorn's first and third bullet points in section two.

Comment author: WrongBot 28 August 2011 12:17:17AM 3 points [-]

I sort of stumbled into poly when I was 17, but I was motivated to continue with it because I frequently found myself dating one person while also being attracted to others. Why deny myself people I want when I could be dating them? If I had to be dishonest or hurt people's feelings or otherwise act unethically to do so, I wouldn't; this is why I'm generally opposed to cheating. Being poly lets me have the relationships I want to have, and it lets the people I love have the relationships they want to have, too.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 02:45:02PM *  14 points [-]

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications of a greater adoption of polyamory in the sight of a much more important instinct than jealousy. Naturally I speak of female hypergamy and its effect on the distribution of losers and winners on the sexual marketplace among men.

Comment author: HughRistik 29 August 2011 09:12:47AM 11 points [-]

Within the sort of of communities where polyamory is popular, I don't think it will be a big problem for the mating market. There is some evidence that highly intelligent people are more androgynous. If so, then sex differences may be less sharp between intelligent people, which anecdotally makes sense. If intelligent people are less gender-differentiated in general, then perhaps their sexual preferences are more similar, too. If there are less sex differences in mating preferences, then there is probably less sex differences in selectiveness and less hypergamy.

In poly nerd communities, I don't know if there is a winner-take all situation for men, but it's hard to tell, since the gender ratio is so skewed. Let's imagine a community with 10 men and 2 women. Under monogamy, woman #2 dates man #10, and woman #1 dates man #9. What happens under polyamory? Do both women date man #10? Or do they both date men #9 and #10? Or #8, #9, and #10? Those all seem like plausible scenarios, and in the last case, there are actually less male losers than under monogamy. With a high male:female ratio, the women have their pick of 80+ percentile men.

Of course, outside this particular androgynous phenotype, the differences between monogamy and polyamory are likely to be more stark. Average people are already doing plenty of non-monogamous mating, so we can consider how well it's going for them.

Comment author: Jack 29 August 2011 09:53:53AM *  8 points [-]

When you put it this way it sort of sounds like poly nerd communities are/could be a coping strategy for the 'losers' of female hypergamous mainstream dating. Like, if we're worried about negative externalities from male losers in an increasingly non-monogamous (i.e. deregulated) sexual marketplace then a poly community where men outnumber women and women correspondingly have more partners than men seems like a decent idea.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 28 August 2011 07:09:14PM *  13 points [-]

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications

Well, for one thing, its a piece on polyhacking and luminosity -- trying to understand the degree to which one can successfully change one's preferences, and to the extent to which this is individually worthwhile. It's not an advocacy piece on polyamory.

That said, polyamory (and queerness in general) really does offer opportunities for people to step outside many kinds of sexual status competitions. If there is a standard relationship 'package' that most people will have with exactly one person, and if there is social pressure to conform to and excel at that kind of relationship, then I can make an intelligent guess about your status by seeing how well your partner fits the stereotypes. E.g., if your boyfriend has two left feet and works at Blockbuster, you must not be very good at attracting the rich, suave type that 'everybody' wants, and so I'm probably doing 'better' than you are.

By contrast, if there are several different acceptable types of relationships, and any given person will usually have multiple such relationships, then the math gets too fuzzy -- it may not even be obvious to me exactly who you're dating, let alone what you're doing with them or how much fun you're having or how much support you're getting. The fact that you're seen in public with the Blockbuster guy who can't dance doesn't really say anything about your status. You obviously find something about him vaguely attractive, but you're not 'settling' for dating only him, so the fact that you're dating him doesn't imply that you can't or won't attract a conventionally successful dude. Thus, by making interpersonal status comparisons difficult or impossible, polyamory has a tendency to reduce the stupider kinds of status competitions.

Finally, even assuming that there are lots of women out there who are 'marginal hypergamists,' i.e., who would sleep with only the 'best' men if they were allowed to do so, but who would have sex (almost) exclusively with one low-status man if they were shamed into doing that, it's not clear that women prefer exclusive commitments to permanent commitments. In other words, a low-status man who credibly pledged to be permanently available to a woman for very large amounts of romance, sex, financial support, and child-rearing, while giving both parties the option of having occasional flings, would probably be at least as attractive as a low-status man who pledged (somewhat less credibly) to permanently and exclusively devote all of his romantic, sexual, financial, and parenting energy to his wife while requiring the wife not to engage in affairs.

I believe this answers Robin Hanson's concern that polyamory will just leave ordinary women free to sleep with even more high-status men. High-status men can't credibly commit to devote most of their energy to more than one woman; only one partner can receive 'most' of your attention. But if 'most' of your attention, delivered on a permanent basis, is valuable even if you are low- or medium-status, then you'll have something to offer in the romantic marketplace.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 August 2011 01:24:40AM 19 points [-]

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications...

Having seen a number of previous LW discussions about sex, gender, and related matters, I have given up attempts to participate in any future ones. I suspect most other people who would have been likely to open such discussions in the past have reached similar conclusions. Whatever the exact reasons might be, this is one cluster of topics where this forum just doesn't seem capable of approaching reality closer than what one reads in mainstream venues, or of rational discussion that won't be smothered by ideological preconceptions, moralizing, and internet drama.

On occasions, when I see some particularly egregious nonsensical claims about these topics that go unchallenged (and perhaps even get strongly upvoted), I am strongly tempted to respond, but given the past record, I try hard to resist the temptation.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 28 August 2011 05:53:11PM *  6 points [-]

One particular study found no statistical difference in the number of women or men "marrying-up" in a sample of 1109 first-time married couples in the United States.

For citizens of rural India, hypergamy is an opportunity to modernize. Marriages in rural India are increasingly examples of hypergamy.

-- Wikipedia

Seems pretty obvious that hypergamy is what poor women do in societies that only let them gain control of resources through marriage. It's a rational adjustment to a sexist, unequal society, not some sort of instinct.

Polyamory, especially the "open mesh" kind, dissolves the question of whether there exists a better match, or (most of) the fear of losing a partner to someone better. It's no longer necessary to consider whether this match outranks alternatives you haven't yet encountered, for both of you. It's sufficient to consider whether it works in itself.

Comment author: HughRistik 29 August 2011 08:45:39AM 18 points [-]

JulianMorrison:

Seems pretty obvious that hypergamy is what poor women do in societies that only let them gain control of resources through marriage. It's a rational adjustment to a sexist, unequal society, not some sort of instinct.

This is a hypothesis worth investigating, but how much data seems to support it? The research I've read supports the existence of hypergamy in both modern societies, and in pre-agricultural societies without high levels of gender inequality.

The Dalmia study cited on Wikipedia supposedly doesn't find women "marrying up," but since I can't read the full text I'm not sure how they were operationalizing "marries up." For instance, perhaps the study found that women don't marry up in wealth. But that doesn't mean they don't marry up in education, which is what this study found:

Contrary to popular beliefs, the increased concentration of women at the top of the education distribution has not resulted in a worsening of the marriage market prospects of more educated women. The “success gap” declined substantially in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The marriage market accommodated the shift through a decline in hypergamy at the upper end of the education distribution.

On the other hand, the declining economic prospects of men at the bottom of the education distribution have rendered many below the threshold of marriagiability. The likelihood of a 40-44 year old man with 11 years of education being married fell by over 20 percentage points over the 20-year period, a greater decline than that for women of the same education level. There was no decline in hypergamy at this end of the spectrum; in fact, some measures indicate an increase in hypergamy for this group, as women have increasingly been reaching upward in the education distribution for husbands.

In short, education hypergamy exists, but it’s getting weaker at the top (presumably because there is a shortage of higher-education men to date up to), and may be getting stronger at the bottom.

For women of high socioeconomic status, hypergamy does appear to decrease. For instance, women in some college samples tend to not care about men's wealth very much. Though this could also be partly because those women are more oriented towards short-term mating.

Even in a modern, short-term mating context, it's not clear that hypergamy disappears. In a speed dating study, Asendorpf & Penke found

The key finding for popularity was that both men and women’s popularity was largely based on easily perceivable physical attributes such as facial and vocal attractiveness, height and weight. This was already the full story for women’s popularity in speed-dating, that is, men used only physical cues for their choices. In contrast, women included more criteria, namely men’s sociosexuality and shyness as well as cues for current or future resource providing potential, such as education, income, and openness to experience (but not cues of steady resource striving like conscientiousness).

Note how eduction and income mattered to women, but not to men. Those are elements of hypergamy. Avoiding shy men is also hypergamy because shyness is low-status in Western men.

For another example of modern hypergamy, observe the attraction of women to rockstars and actors. Yet do women become groupies of rockstars merely in hope of gaining their resources through marriage, as a rational adjustment to a sexist society? I doubt it.

Is modern hypergamy merely a hold-over due to outdated norms? No. In pre-agricultural societies where women don't economically depend on men, hypergamy still exists. Anthropologists used to be bamboozled by the discovery that the lioness' share of calories in some cultures is supplied by the women. So why were the men hunting, if it was so inefficient? Anthroplogists eventually came up with the hypothesis that male hunting isn't (just) about providing meat.

Hawkes and Bird argue that a large function of men’s hunting isn’t putting food on the table for their families, but rather showing off to gain social status and mating success. The researchers observe that competent male Ache hunters have greater mating success:

The families of better hunters end up with no more meat than other families. Hill and Hurtado’s demographic data show little difference in survival risk for the children of better hunters. But men rated as better hunters had much higher fertility. In a smaller data set, better Ache hunters were more often named by women as lovers and as secondary fathers of more children. (Secondary fathers are men other than a mother’s husband who were sexually involved with her at the time of her pregnancy). Ache women did not nominate hunting skill as a criterion for choosing a mate, but men emphasized its importance for success with women.

Since the hunter's skill doesn't translate into more provisioning for his family, the it's difficult to explain women's preference for hunters as a response to economic deprivation. Women don't have to date good hunters to feed their children, but they do anyway.

In other ethnographic cases, hunting success is also associated with advantages in male competition. Hadza men foraging in northern Tanzania are big game specialists (Fig. 1). As among the Ache, hunters do not control the distribution of meat. In this case, the wives and children of better hunters do have more positive weight gains, and those wives have surviving children faster. But these differences are directly associated with the foraging effort of the women themselves. , As with the Ache, the wide sharing of meat means that Hadza women and children receive little of their meat from kills by their husband and father. Consistent with this, a father’s death or parental divorce has no effect on child survival. However, better Hadza hunters tend to be married to harder-working wives. Older men who are better hunters have younger wives, suggesting they are more likely to leave an older wife to raise a second family—another way they have increased success in competing for paternity. Meriam turtle hunters also have higher age-specific reproductive success than do nonhunters and, as with the Hadza, this seems due to assortative mating: hunters claim more fertile wives than do nonhunters.

Successful hunters gain high status, have more partners, and experience greater reproductive success. That's hypergamy.

The "economic inequality" hypothesis does not explain this pattern of women "dating up" in terms of <insert culturally valued pursuit/trait here>. It does seem plausible that women start caring less about men's economic status in prosperous societies, but that doesn't mean that women have stopped being hypergamous.

Without the need to mate with good providers to put roofs over their heads, women are free to go after the men they are attracted to, which seems to mean dating up on other dimensions they care about such as personality traits, education, status, intelligence, and accomplishments (some of these traits have been discussed in this comment, and others will have to wait for another time). This appears to be a generalized phenomenon; for instance, women care more about humor in their partners than men do, another culturally-valued trait.

As far as I can tell, this pattern of evidence looks a lot more like some sort of instinct on the part of women than merely a response to economic inequality (those as I've mentioned above, economic inequality is a factor in how hypergamy is expressed). The other problem with the sociocultural inequality hypothesis is that it can't explain how gender inequality came about in the first place: clearly there are some pre-cultural forces in play. It's difficult to make any sense out of this data without invoking evolutionary theories like sexual selection.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 06:45:13PM *  9 points [-]

Polyamory, especially the "open mesh" kind, dissolves the question of whether there exists a better match, or (most of) the fear of losing a partner to someone better. It's no longer necessary to consider whether this match outranks alternatives you haven't yet encountered, for both of you. It's sufficient to consider whether it works in itself.

If the hypergamy hypothesis is correct this isn't so at all.

Also consider these stats from the CDC:

Percent of all women 15-44 years of age who have had three or more male partners in the last 12 months, 2002: 6.8%

Percent of all men 15-44 years of age who have had three or more female partners in the last 12 months, 2002: 10.4%”

“Median number of female sexual partners in lifetime, for men 25-44 years of age, 2002: 6.7 Percent of men 25-44 years of age who have had 15 or more female sexual partners, 2002: 29.2%

Median number of male sexual partners in lifetime, for women 25-44 years of age, 2002: 3.8 Percent of women 25-44 years of age who have had 15 or more male sexual partners, 2002: 11.4%

Comment author: wnoise 28 August 2011 06:57:38PM *  4 points [-]

Something's wrong with those numbers. Medians of integer-valued quantities are always integers or half-integers.

EDIT: I've taken a look at the report, and it doesn't say anything about how they calculate medians, so I don't know how they're fudging their numbers to get these out.

EDIT 2: I should also say "good job for looking at the research and getting numbers", even if I'd like these researchers to be more transparent as to what they're actually reporting.

Comment author: TraderJoe 27 April 2012 10:41:35AM *  2 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: TraderJoe 27 April 2012 10:43:34AM *  2 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: SusanBrennan 27 April 2012 01:17:04PM 2 points [-]

every time a male has sex with a female, both of their opposite-sex partners rise by one.

Just to ensure clarity, you meant to say; "every time a male has sex with a new female [partner], their opposite-sex partners rise by one. Correct?

One other thing which could skew the statistics is the fact that people that have had many sexual relationships can die, and the dead are not often counted in statistical surveys, while some of their partners might be.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 28 August 2011 07:05:32PM 5 points [-]

You forgot to follow that with "...in a sexist culture with a very strong monogamy taboo and a tendency to punish women unequally for behavior considered slutty".

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 07:14:49PM *  9 points [-]

I'm struggling to come up with a reason why female and male average tendencies wouldn't differ from each other on this.

Women's unavoidable investment in reproduction for most of our history is something that rewards very different strategies between women and men in nearly any sexual marketplace conditions that I've so far thought of.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 28 August 2011 07:19:21PM 5 points [-]

You need to read "Evolution's Rainbow" and to a lesser extent, "Sex at Dawn". Neither are perfect but they are strong antidotes to this kind of "sexual strategies" thinking, which is heavily contaminated with cultural assumptions.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 07:34:55PM *  7 points [-]

In the last post I'm just wondering why the attraction hardware would differ in predisposing us for desiring different physical types but not behavioural types (independent of the question if hypergamy is or isn't such an adaptation).

As to the recommendation, that has been on my to read list for a while now, I guess I'll bump it up. :) The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature was the last book with a similar subject if not conclusion that caught my interest.

Comment author: ewbrownv 29 August 2011 06:17:40PM 3 points [-]

Why do you implicitly assume that mating behavior is determined by culture, rather than vice versa? Humans had mating strategies long before we had language, let alone anything resembling modern societies. A priori is seems a lot more plausible that human cultures evolve to fit our natural behaviors, or perhaps that mating behaviors and traditional cultures co-evolved for long enough to become inextricable.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 06:09:01PM *  11 points [-]

I'm not necessarily talking about marriage or women seeking material comfort here. I'm referring to the mechanisms of female and male sexual desire and how they on average differ in more than just the parameters of the physical attributes the sexes seek in mates.

For most women their sexual attraction is in itself partially dependant on how desirable she thinks other women find the male in question. It also depends heavily on his status. And status as we know is basically zero sum.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 August 2011 08:40:57PM 3 points [-]

My impression is that men are also influenced by how attractive other men think a woman is.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 August 2011 06:01:23AM 2 points [-]

Semi-Anecdotal evidence of this: Tina Fey reports that she was never seen as "hot" until after she became famous.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 August 2011 07:13:39AM 7 points [-]

Evidence that I suspect says more about Tina Fey's past insecurities than about scarcity bias. She is hot enough that she would have been seen as such even in school. Unless American high schools really are like they appear in movies. The hot girl isn't hot until she has a makeover involving taking off her glasses and letting her hair down!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 August 2011 07:58:13AM 7 points [-]

It's plausible that people weren't talking about in public where she could hear it about how good she looked until she became famous.

Also, excuse me if I'm mistaken about this, but there's something about your phrasing which leaves me thinking that there's something weird about a woman who's attractive to you being insecure about her looks. There seems to be huge cultural pressure in the US for women to think they don't look good enough, and what's surprising to me is immunity to it.

Comment author: Jack 29 August 2011 09:33:27AM 6 points [-]

Tina Fey lost a bunch of weight just before she got on TV. Given that there isn't really anything else to explain.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 August 2011 07:36:37AM 11 points [-]

When I was in high school, most of the girls around me seemed to me to be as beautiful as anyone I ever saw on television or in the movies. Most high school girls are significantly hotter than the woman of median hotness in the population as a whole (getting older tends to make women less beautiful), so they would have to be even hotter than that in order to stand out.

Comment author: CharlieSheen 28 August 2011 06:17:43PM *  5 points [-]

I think a PUA would say: 5 minutes of alpha is worth more than 5 years of beta.

Comment author: lionhearted 27 August 2011 09:15:53AM 8 points [-]

This post is magnificent. So much candid introspection on an area most people are very private about, and so much clear analysis instead of just going with emotions/aesthetics/cultural preferences. Wow.

On this -

When one is monogamous, one can only date monogamous people. When one is poly, one can only date poly people. ... 1I'm counting willingness that one's sole partner have other partners (e.g. being an arm of a V) to be a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy. I think this is the more reasonable way to divide things up given a two-way division, but if you feel that I mischaracterize the highly simplified taxonomy, do tell.

I could weigh in on this. It's worth looking at the word normative -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normative

"Normative standards" basically mean whatever is the baseline for comparison. So the taxonomy you set up is "21st century Western-style monogamy" vs. "not 21st century Western-style monogamy" - and by 21st century Western-style monogamy, I mean a single partner, choosing relationships individually through social exploration, choosing long term partners on the basis primarily of emotion rather than purely pragmatic concerns (the pragmatic concerns become more of a baseline filter, as opposed to the whole consideration) - etc, etc.

There's other things that move outside the taxonomy you set up. 18th century American monogamy, for instance, was highly pragmatic and about specialization of labor. George and Martha Washington often advised younger friends, colleagues, young army officers, and the daughters of their friends to marry purely "checklist style" - good character, good family person, solid income or housekeeping skills, good family, etc. Love/lust/affection came last on the checklist, if at all.

I mention that, because it's kind of subtly buried in the post the assumption that 21st century Western-style monogamy is the normative standard. Maybe not. Maybe 18th century American monogamy would be recognizable in the taxonomy as "monogamy" - but there are things outside of it.

Going a little further, "polyamory" - from my limited understanding - conveys "-amory" - love, emotion, etc. - not, say, a purely pragmatic arrangement of having multiple partners to the end of some objective. Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan and his family ruled the island 250 years. He had 19 wives and concubines. The historical record isn't completely accurate, but one gets the impression that he had serious genuine affectionate with 3-4 of his wives in his life, and the rest were political arrangements or for having children and paternity.

You could say Tokugawa 19 wives/concubines (who almost certainly would have been exclusive to him under serious penalty if caught doing otherwise) were "a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy" - but I think that looks at the 21st century Western-style monogamy as the normative standard, notes that Tokugawa's wives don't fall into the cateogry, and puts them in the poly category. But that doesn't seem quite right...

I agree that there's "monogamy" and "everything else" in Western culture right now, but it hasn't always been the case, might not always be the case, and I don't think polyamory is the only alternative to monogamy. One dichotomy worth looking at is whether partners are picked more coldly and dispassionately, or with warmth and affection and emotion. Both polyamory and 21st C Western-style monogamy both tend to assume the emotional connection there, which I get the impression actually still isn't the case everywhere in the world, like Africa or the Middle East, and times might be changing elsewhere in the world. In fact, I'd strongly suspect that there will be a trend towards more Tokugawa-style dispassionate choosing of non-monogamous partners for political, economic, and hereditary reasons going forwards. It still will be a small minority of the population, but probably a larger small minority than now. And it probably doesn't make sense to add that in with any "-amory" grouping, being that those arrangements are chosen not for the warmth and connection, but for other reasons.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 August 2011 02:26:52PM *  3 points [-]

In fact, I'd strongly suspect that there will be a trend towards more Tokugawa-style dispassionate choosing of non-monogamous partners for political, economic, and hereditary reasons going forwards. It still will be a small minority of the population, but probably a larger small minority than now. And it probably doesn't make sense to add that in with any "-amory" grouping, being that those arrangements are chosen not for the warmth and connection, but for other reasons.

This was rather surprising for me to read, since after some thought I realized that I may be pretty close to this style, since I use some of the criteria you mentioned for screening and am not currently monogamous.

I find your speculation intriguing. I could imagine strategies like that becoming more widespread due to different tactics people will use to deal with the sexual marketplace. Greater knowledge of heredity, and perhaps even its acceptance, will mean that those hoping for upward social mobility will need to think long and hard about the lifestyle and mates that will be best for achieving their goals. Also I expect that some strategies will gain simply because children will tend to emulate parents, but in which way this will be working will depend on their fertility.

Comment author: JoeW 27 August 2011 03:59:05AM 8 points [-]

Congratulations on the hack. I would have expressed doubt that this could work, and am correspondingly updating my priors.

[1] I'm counting willingness that one's sole partner have other partners (e.g. being an arm of a V) to be a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy. I think this is the more reasonable way to divide things up given a two-way division, but if you feel that I mischaracterize the highly simplified taxonomy, do tell.

It happens that I agree with you on this, in fact I think tolerance of another's multiple entanglements is more important component of poly than the desire to oneself have multiple entanglements. In the poly circles I am aware of, there is no broad agreement on either of these points though. I thought I should mention that there are a non-trivial proportion of couples who self-ID as "one of us is poly and the other is not" where the poly one is involved with other people.

This is similar to the labeling disputes that occur when (say) two bisexual women are said to be in a "lesbian relationship". They might reasonably object that people will hear "lesbian relationship" and assume they are lesbians - "only lesbians can be in a lesbian relationship" is something I've heard some bi women say; but then again I can think of as many counter-examples where two bi women deliberately identify as being in a lesbian relationship.

So perhaps there is a similar scope issue with "poly person" vs. "poly relationship"; I was certainly startled to see you assert a poly person can only be involved with a poly person. I know many poly people currently involved in monogamous relationships with monogamous people, so perhaps this should be "one can only have a poly relationship with a poly person"?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 August 2011 08:54:55AM 25 points [-]

I think tolerance of another's multiple entanglements is more important component of poly than the desire to oneself have multiple entanglements.

Never mind tolerance, to me it feels better for its own sake to not be my girlfriends' only boyfriend. It was a surprisingly large weight off my mind to know that if I can't take her to Yosemite, or escort her to BENT SF, then she has other paramours who can do so. I know that I'm not personally responsible for matching every one of her sexual facets, just some of them, and that she won't be forever sexually unsatisfied if there's something I happen not to enjoy. If you asked me "Is it more important to your happiness that that your girlfriend be able to have more than one boyfriend or that you be able to have more than one girlfriend?" I might well reply "The former."

Comment author: [deleted] 28 August 2011 11:50:50AM 3 points [-]

Decidedly a very admirable and selfless position. I guess that with tolerance the other poster wanted to highlight that many people in such a situation would feel a certain amound of jealousy, or, as Alicorn put it, fear of being abandoned.

An objection I could see coming is "doesn't it feel weird to be so easily repleaceable?" I guess that most people see this as being treated like a car's wheel, when the fact that the relationship is not "unique" or "exclusive" does not imply that the feelings of those involved are any less real or intense.

An objection that I often encountered in the past was something akin to "if you are not feeling completely satisfied by your current relationship maybe she isn't the right person". I often got the feeling that people thought that, simply because I was unable, or didn't feel like, catering to EVERY one of my partner's needs (i.e. she because of difference of interests, etc.), I was artificually sustaining a relationship that should have ended months ago due to incompatibility.

A more convincing objection was that certain acts, situations, gestures (not only sexual) acquired a particular importance and meaning simply because they were intimate, shared only among the two of us (i.e. a restaurant, a particular food, watching a movie I despised with her, and being happy all the same because it was something we shared with no other). Sexually, I have never had any problems in trying to accomodate my partner, I simply asked what she liked and proceeded to accomodate her, and she did the same... well, then again maybe I was never in a situation where I was asked to do something particularly strange or uncomfortable...

Comment author: Strange7 28 August 2011 07:54:13PM 4 points [-]

"doesn't it feel weird to be so easily repleaceable?"

If anything I would imagine someone in a well-integrated poly is /less/ replaceable than either half of a typical monogamous pair. In the latter case, when one spouse dies, the survivor may well be expected to mourn for a while, get over it, and find a new one to fulfil the same duties; in the former, everyone still has to deal with individual feelings of loss, and then the whole highly-optimized system has to be refactored according to new comparative advantages.

Comment author: Solvent 28 August 2011 10:23:32AM 2 points [-]

...I would never have thought of that in a million years. That's fascinating.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 28 August 2011 07:38:23PM 3 points [-]

Mono-poly pairs strike me as a recipe for bad drama.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 August 2011 01:10:49PM 4 points [-]

My experience supports that.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 29 August 2011 10:44:03PM 2 points [-]

Ditto. (The relevant experience is secondhand, but played out essentially as you said in the other thread.)

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 August 2011 09:34:40AM 2 points [-]

Why?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 August 2011 01:15:18PM 5 points [-]

The poly partner can agree to be monogamous, or the mono partner can agree to allow the poly partner to have multiple relationships. Either solution is fine if it works, but in practice one of the partners often isn't fully comfortable with the scheme. This can easily lead to stuff like a partner saying that thing X is okay but then changing his mind afterwards. Possibly worse, they may change their mind but not have the guts to say it (since they did, after all, already say it was okay) and get resentful and passive-aggressive. Or they may not really be comfortable with it in the first place, but go along with it because they don't want to destroy the relationship. Et cetera.

I'm not saying that this stuff is unavoidable: there do exist perfectly happy mono-poly pairs. But my experience suggests that such issues are pretty common for m-p pairs. (Not that my experience would be anywhere near a representative sample.)

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 29 August 2011 01:41:44PM 4 points [-]

there do exist perfectly happy mono-poly pairs.

You actually know this for a fact, or is it just a nice thing to say?

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2011 09:22:31PM 5 points [-]

I know this for a fact, so I'll back Kaj here.

It is very challenging, but not all such pairs are doomed. I know one that's immensely stable and has been for over a decade; I knew another where the poly partner eventually couldn't take it (and got involved with me months after the breakup).

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 August 2011 08:11:47PM *  2 points [-]

It's been my general impression. Though obviously this is the kind of a conflict that's usually kept private, so the conflict may be more common (and the perfect happiness about this issue more rare) than I think.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 28 August 2011 07:30:35PM *  9 points [-]

I'm skeptical because of the huge differences in male and female dominant strategies for mating*. I think poly can work, but that a lot of people who consider themselves poly just haven't run into a highly frictional situation yet or have put their fingers in their ear and are shouting "lalalala".

*I should note that I'm also extremely skeptical of monogamy. The situation that makes men and women happiest seems to involve some (sometimes a lot) of unhappiness in their partners.

Comment author: Iabalka 28 August 2011 09:57:02AM 5 points [-]

Alicorn is describing here a specific type of polyamorous relationship (classified on wikipedia as having Sub-relationships) . There are other types polyamory for example - "Group relationships, ... in which all consider themselves associated to one another, popularized to some extent by Robert A. Heinlein (in novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, Friday" -Triad :Three people romantically involved. (Commonly initiated by an established couple jointly dating a third person; however, there are many possible configurations.) -Quads : Relationships between a couple and another couple

Comment author: smk 28 August 2011 08:15:30PM 4 points [-]

What if you're wired in such a way that, when you strike up a romance with someone, the New Relationship Energy wipes out your romantic feelings for everyone else, and only when the NRE has run its course do romantic feelings for other people return? Is that something you can self-modify out of, or otherwise deal with in a polyamorous context?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 August 2011 08:11:05AM *  11 points [-]

I like The Ferrett's take on it:

New Relationship Energy always reminds me of the way Cosmic Power is handled in comic books. Everyone wants it. Everyone thinks they can handle it. But once they start fooling around with Phenomenal Cosmic Power, everyone either goes on a rampage or goes completely insane, or both.

NRE is potent stuff, man. It's that intoxicating feeling at the beginning of the relationship where your new lover is so sparkly and neat and everything they say is funny and even their bad habits are cute and OMG I DO THAT TOO! And you fall in love with this wonderful person because everything is a new discovery, and if you're not careful you disappear from sight because sure, you have friends, but are they as cool as Schmoopie over here? I think not.

[...]

Thing is, the long-term stable poly relationships are often much stronger than monogamous relationships - and that's because used properly, NRE can fix problems you didn't know you had. Because in any long-term relationship, you tend to just go numb to the things your partner's bad at providing. Not that you didn't try earlier, but you've come to accept that your lover isn't particularly romantic, or they can't take criticism without flying off the handle, or they're bad about being there for you at the end of a long work day. You tried enough times, and now that's a dead space.

You know what, though? New Lover's good at that. New Lover's reawakening parts of you you never knew you had. New Lover is connecting with you on emotional channels you'd flipped off.

The trick is not to switch all those channels over to New Lover.

If you're an old hand at NRE, that's when you go to your partner, without comparing, and say, "Look. I've been dating Jamie, and she's been really good about giving me lots of cuddles when I'm down. I can get it with her... But I want it from you."

If you're lucky and open in your communications (and careful not to pass judgment), you can make your old partner realize that these are things you really need, and hopefully s/he will try once again to open up a channel you'd closed a long time ago. You don't want to do that with everything, but used properly, NRE can have you recognize what's missing in your old relationships - and then try to make that happen.

...which doesn't negate the new partner. Chances are, if Jamie's all good at cuddling, s/he's going to be better at it than Old Partner simply because it's in her nature. Some people are just more inclined to do certain things. But just because Jessie's a soppy romantic doesn't mean that your old-and-stiff partner can't learn to bring home flowers once in a while. In a way, it means more from your older partner because it's not their nature, and when they do it it's a purer expression of love.

In this way you can come to realize what's critical to your well-being, because a lack is never sharper than when it's being fulfilled elsewhere. The trick is not to see new partner as an escape, but a lesson in "What makes you truly satisfied" that can be put to use elsewhere.

Also, his clarification in the comments:

If you go about it in the sense of "X does Y, you don't," then yeah, you've fucked up. But to say that "X gives me Y, and I've really missed getting that from you" is an entirely different thing.

If you bring it up as "You're inferior to X," then yeah, you're a dope. But saying, "I love you, and it hurts me that this is a lack in our lives, because X can do it, but I'd rather have it from you," is something that, I've found, is often both flattering and revealing.

Of course, every partner reacts differently to things. But trying not to frame it in the context of a new relationship makes it seem much closer to lying to me, because it's blatantly apparent to everyone that it is.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 29 August 2011 01:35:21AM 4 points [-]

Many polyfolk deal with this sort of thing, much as people in monogamous relationships deal with their partners becoming absorbed by a new interest, being assigned to six-month deployments overseas, driving trucks for weeks at a time across the country, having crushing deadlines at work, or otherwise having things come up in their lives that force their partnership to take second priority for a while.

The common thread in my experience is an acceptance that they are not the absolute top priority in their partner's life (partners' lives) 100% of the time, and that's OK, and the relationship is still positive and valuable.

So, yes, that is something that some poly folk can deal with in a polyamorous context.

Whether it's something you can self-modify out of (second person used advisedly), I don't know.

Comment author: DeevGrape 02 November 2011 07:54:20PM 4 points [-]

This article had a big impact on me! I had never even considered the idea that mono vs. poly was a setting you could change, and I discovered that I didn't have nearly as much of an attachment to monogamy as I had thought.

One problem I'm having is getting started with polyamory in practice. I'm worried that adding another constraint on top of other requirements (i.e. women interested in men, around my age, in Tucson, looking for a romantic relationship, who are rational) will make it hard or impossible to find someone. Any tips?

Comment author: Alicorn 02 November 2011 08:58:22PM 4 points [-]

Assuming you haven't gone and made irreversible deep hacks in your brain, you could add it as an option instead of a constraint. Find someone you like without paying attention to whether she's poly or mono; then, find that out, and be whichever she is and carry on from there. Or, if you strongly wish to be poly, look for polyamory groups in your area or something. (I don't actually know if Tucson has any. But it might.)