The alt.polyamory Faq
Table of Contents:
1). What's alt.polyamory? 2). What's polyamory, then? 3). But isn't that "cheating"? 4). Primaries, secondaries, vees and triads: polyjargon and polygeometry 5). What about jealousy? 6). Are there rules for being polyamorous? 7). How do you decide who sleeps where when? 8). Why do some posts talk about Hot Bi Babes? (and where can I get one?) 9). Are all polyfolk bisexual? 10). Do polyamorous relationships last? 11). How can I tell if I am polyamorous? 12). What about living together and commitment and marriage and all that? 13). What will the children think? 14). How does a person start (or continue) a poly relationship? 15). How do I explain this to people? 16). Is there a secret alt.polyamory handshake?
Subject: 1). What's alt.polyamory?
alt.polyamory is a USENET newsgroup more or less full of people interested in talking about polyamory and related topics. alt.polyamory was founded by Jennifer Wesp on May 29, 1992.
Subject: 2). What's polyamory, then?
(Glad you asked that. ;-) ) Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.
Subject: 3). But isn't that "cheating"?
Nope. Oh, you wanted a longer answer. Okay. According to the OED, cheating means "fraud, deceit, swindling." There's a nice quote from 1532: "The first...ground of Chetinge is...a studdy to seme to be, and not to be in deede." In other words, cheating is to convey through deliberate action the impression that one is of a particular nature while one is, in fact, something quite different. What this boils down to with polyamory is that polyamorous people do not tell partners, lovers, or prospective members of those groups that they are monogamous when in fact they are not -- nor do they allow these people to assume they are monogamous, regardless of how convenient or personally advantageous such assumptions might be. The words "honest", "negotiate", "communication" and "being out" occur frequently in discussions of how polyamory usually works. As Stef puts it: "I think the key in defining polyamory is openness, that is, having multiple relationships with the knowledge and consent of your partner(s) rather than by deceit. (How much openness, how many details are shared, of course varies widely.) A great many people have secret affairs while they're in a supposedly monogamous relationship. I think those people might have the potential to be polyamorous, but I do not think they are practicing polyamory. Another key in defining polyamory, IMO, is that it need not involve sex (although it often does)." Generally speaking, if someone openly practices "more than one love" and calls themself polyamorous, they probably are; if they practice "more than one love" and call themself monogamous, do not adjust your television: the problem is not in your receiver.
Subject: 4). Primaries, secondaries, vees and triads: polyjargon and polygeometry
Since there are lots of different ways to organize (or not organize, if one is blessed by the Goddess of Chaos, or has a taste for happy anarchy, or is a principled egalitarian) relationships, it follows that there are ways of describing these various arrangements. This polyjargon has evolved in the newsgroup over time, and the words are merely descriptives. No approval or disapproval of any particular arrangement is to be expressed or implied. Primary - word often used in a hierarchal multi-person relationship to denote the person with whom one is most strongly bonded. In some cases this bond or commitment takes the form of legal marriage. As bigamy is not legal, the option of having two (or more) legally wedded primaries simultaneously is not currently practicable, though non-legal ceremonies may certainly be performed. In some cases "primary" refers to the lover with the most seniority. Secondary - follows from primary, in a hierarchal relationship, denotes a person with whom one is involved without the emotional, legal, or economic complexities and commitments of primary bonding. Yes, some people talk about tertiaries and so on. Some people also don't like the terms primaries and secondaries or the concepts behind the terms, preferring to have "a circle of equals" as one poly person called it. Stef contributed the term "Non-hierarchical Polyamory" for this kind of arrangement. Triads - three people involved in some way. Often used in a fairly committed sense, in some cases involving ceremonies of commitment, but also used simply to mean "three people who are connected". Example: "Jodine, Mischa and Mickey are a FMM triad living in Excelsior." Vee - Three people, where the structure puts one person at the bottom, or "hinge" of the vee, also called the pivot point. In a vee, the arm partners are not as commonly close to each other as each is to the pivot. Triangle (or equilateral triangle) - relationship where three people are each involved with both of the others. Sometimes also called a triad. Line Marriage - term from the works of Robert A. Heinlein, science fiction writer, meaning a marriage that from time to time adds younger members, eventually establishing an equilibrium population (spouses dying off at the same rate as new ones are added). This is a different form of familial immortality than the traditional one of successive generations of children. (Definition courtesy of M. Schafer, and yes, there are people who are in situations like this who use the term to describe their family.) Polyfidelity: Relationship involving more than two people who have made a commitment to keep the sexual activity within the group and not have outside partners. (Rumor has it that this term was coined by the group Kerista.) Quads, pentacles, sextets and more: There are polyfolk who exist in multiple arrangements with more than three members. Geometry can get complicated, and creative nomenclature abounds. As in every other aspect of polyamory, the precise bonds of intimacy vary from group to group and from member to member within groups.
Subject: 5). What about jealousy?
Some people seem to have no jealousy; it's as if they didn't get that piece installed at the factory. Others, including some long-term polyamorists, feel jealousy, which they regard as a signal that something needs investigation and care, much as they would regard depression or pain. Jealousy is neither a proof of love (and this is where polyamory differs from possessive or insecure monogamy) nor a moral failing (and this is where polyamory differs from emotionally manipulating one's partner(s) into relationships for which they are not ready).
Subject: 6). Are there rules for being polyamorous?
Nobody has a trademark on How It's Done, if that's what you mean. The best anyone can do is tell how it works for them, and as with most other things, YMMV. (That means "Your Mileage May Vary.") Some people have "rules of thumb". Elf and Omaha: "I will play safe. I will come home." Joe and Kat: "Your needs come first. We'll talk about everything. What they said."
Elise: "Since a certain 'learning experience' I have felt strongly that I should never allow my relationship with a new person to be a tool used to avoid dealing with a 'broken' other relationship. In fact, one of the things I am most careful about is 'emotional spillover'; I have a policy of not spending intense time with otherloves when there is something out of balance with one love. Naturally this tends to speed up the opening of negotiations about the difficulty. ;-) I think it's unfair to my loves to use the time I spend with them as a palliative when there's trouble elsewhere; it keeps me from doing the work I need to do, the work I agreed to do when I took on the reality of the relationship." If you want rules of thumb, you get to make them up yourself. No warranty expressed or implied, and keep checking the instrument panel throughout your flight.
Subject: 7). How do you decide who sleeps where when?
This is the most often asked question in panel discussions of polyamory, making some polyfolk wonder why sex is more interesting than the emotional and other intimacies of polyamorous life. The answer is that the people involved decide, and they decide how they decide, too. Some people have conferences and divide up the week, some people all pile happily into one big bed, and for all I know some people spin a big wheel with blinking lights on it each evening....and some people can love one another, have no sex, and choose to live in separate homes if that is most comfortable for them. The answer usually evolves out of discussion, empathy and practice, which makes it a lot like good lovemaking. As jack says: "The thing to remember is that the sexuality of a relationship is not the most important aspect of it. The best thing I can do for either of my partners is meet them at the door with a buttered biscuit and a smile."
Subject: 8). Why do some posts talk about Hot Bi Babes?
It's a newsgroup joke referring to the occasional post from someone, almost always identifying himself as a straight male, who is seeking "hot" (i.e. sexually arousing) bisexual female partners to save him from the monotonies of the back rack at his local video rental shop. The term Hot Bi Babe is almost always used sarcastically, occasionally by those of us who really are hot bi babes, to lampoon those who regard our sexual preferences as a spectator sport. (Our crankiness has more to do with the frequency and ineptitude of clueless approaches than it does with the acceptability of fantasies or anything like that.) (and where can I get some?) Posting personal ads to alt.flame is usually a good strategy; alt.dev.null is another good bet. Best of luck, and keep those cards and letters.
Subject: 9). Are all polyfolk bisexual?
No. There are many polyamorous people who are also bisexual, and many who are monosexual (i.e. relating only to one gender as potential or actual sexual/romantic partners; straight or gay/lesbian). There are also lots of folks who don't do sexual preference/orientation labels at all. One doesn't always know until one asks, as with so many other things. Avoiding assumptions is usually worth the exercise.
Subject: 10). Do polyamorous relationships last?
Some do, some don't, just like any other kind of relationships. Some folks on the newsgroup have been together for many years; some own houses and have children together. Being polyamorous is no guarantee that relationships will be easier, though there can be advantages to shared joys and shared sorrows, as the old saying goes.
Subject: 11). How can I tell if I am polyamorous?
I'm not sure; only you will know, and according to the philosophy of some folks, people aren't polyamorous, although behavior can be. Some people find that approach useful, and others prefer to think of "polyamorous people". Some polyfolk tend to recognize themselves in the descriptions, and can only be restrained with difficulty from jumping up and down and screeching, "See! See! I knew it wasn't just me! Hooray!" If you aren't sure you're poly, the best practice is probably to act kindly and responsibly, and to communicate clearly to the best of your ability as you learn; come to think of it, that's the best practice for polyfolk, too, so you'll be one of the crowd anyhow. Besides, being polyamorous is not inherently "better" than being monogamous, so there's no need to feel like you have to pledge allegiance or anything like that just to hang out and look at the questions. Another thing to consider is that the word "polyamorous" is, like all labels, just a tool. What you do and how you treat the people you love is probably more important to them, in the long run, than whether you fit a particular descriptive term, so don't sweat it, okay? And take good care of each other. Andy Latto took issue with the concept of "being polyamorous," and what he had to say was pretty interesting: "There aren't polyamorous and monogamous people; there are polyamorous and monogamous relationships. The same person may at various times be happy in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships at various times in his/her life. What is right depends on you and your feelings, and the feelings of those you are involved in relationships with. You may at some times be involved in a relationship that is monogamous, and that may be the right thing for the people in that relationship; at other times, you may be in a relationship which works better as part of a polyamorous network of relationships. In any case, the important thing is probably to act kindly and responsibly, and to communicate clearly with intimate partners and potential partners about these issues. Don't deny your feelings or the feelings of those that you care about. Get in touch with how you and those you care about really feel, rather than how society wants you to feel, or how you think it would be logical to feel, or how you've been told polyamorous people (or monogamous people) should feel. Then behave in ways which are honest, and which make you, and the people you care about, and the people they care about, happy and fulfilled. If this results in you having more than one intimate relationship at the same time, or being involved in a relationship with more than two people, those who are big on categorizing and labeling people will label you a 'poly person'."
Subject: 12). What about living together and commitment and marriage and all that?
Good question. Ask it; there are many many approaches among the people on the newsgroup. From cohousing to communal living to group marriage to things-undreamed, there are a multitude of ways. Design a new one and see how it works. Unlearn assumptions about an old arrangement. Ask questions, and practice empathy. Most of all, polyamory seems to be about building new configurations of relationships rather than trading people in and out like baseball cards. As amanda r. clark says: "Poly is being open to the opportunity if it comes along, not refusing commitments because something better might come loping down the path."
Subject: 13). What will the children think?
As Martin Schafer says: "If you don't think you are doing anything wrong, and can honestly explain that, they'll probably think it's pretty neat. For some of us having more people involved in child rearing is a big practical benefit of our lifestyle. The details of how this works is a fertile topic for discussion, both here and among the individuals involved."
Subject: 14). How does a person start (or continue) a poly relationship?
First, there are no rules. Nobody owns the copyright on polyamory. You get to build your own to fit you and your dearloves. One thing that comes up in every conversation about polyamory is communication. If there is any basic building block, this is probably it. If you can talk about your hopes, you're on the way to realizing them. If you're in a relationship already, and have not talked about how you feel and what you want, and you're asking the question "How do I start doing this poly stuff?", you may have some qualms about talking to your partner. What you do will have to be determined by your own ethics and your own situation; chances are that if you ask on the newsgroup, many polyfolk will suggest you talk it over with your partner, and they may point out that even if you two do not decide to live polyamorously, you may very well increase the intimacy level in your monogamous dyad by having the discussion. On the other hand, it may all go blooey, and this is why people hesitate. On the third hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. On the fourth hand, it might be useful to increase the intimacy level in the existing relationship and address any outstanding difficult issues there before having this particular discussion. Four more hands and you've got a nice statue of Kwan Yin there, and seeing as how she's the Goddess of Mercy, she might come in handy at a time like this. Joe Avins feels that it's not a good idea to try to force a relationship into an attractive model; he favors the "relax, be open, and see what happens" approach, and quotes Pete Seeger: "Take it easy, but take it." If you're already in more than one relationship and haven't disclosed this yet, you will find people on the newsgroup who have experienced similar things - from all three sides - and are willing to discuss their perceptions and the actions they took.
Subject: 15). How do I explain this to people?
David Rostcheck says: "You don't have to explain yourself at all, or answer to anyone. You're happy. Your feelings require no justification. It's a mistake to try to reconcile what you feel with a social classification, because the classification may not really suit you. You start with your feelings, understand them and be comfortable with them. You, your feeling, and the people you care about are the important things. You're getting in this unnatural, inverted position of trying to explain yourself. You don't have to explain yourself to the world. You just are, and your relationship just is. If other people want to understand it, then you try to explain to them in basic terms what you feel, and that you're happy. "Here's how I'd deal with some specific questions: ":Are you seeing my daughter or this other girl? I'm seeing them both. ":So you're cheating on her? No. They both know; we're all friends and we're happy that way. ":Well, which do you love? I love them both. ":Which do you love more? I don't understand the question. They're different people. How do you measure? ":Why don't you commit to one of them? Why can't I commit to both of them? "See? You don't have to bend over backwards to express yourself in their terms. They may have to learn your terms to understand you. You're not the one who doesn't understand; they have to put in the work to comprehend you. Remember, the bunch of you have something that comes naturally and feels right for you; whether or not other people get it is a secondary issue. As long as you do what you want you'll be happy. "Does that help any?"
Subject: 16). Is there a secret alt.polyamory handshake?
Not that I know of. ;-) There are several proposed symbols, of which the most common seems to be the parrot. As parrot pins and other ornaments are relatively easy to find, this symbol seems likely to catch on over the others. It also has the advantage of being humorous, which is a needed quality in such a staid, conservative group as alt.polyamory. (Joke, folks! Set irony filters on stun.)
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