Alt.polyamory FAQ


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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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