Until a year or so ago – when I first realised I’m asexual – I had never even heard of polyamory. I was aware that people had open relationships, and understood a little of how they worked, because 2 of my friends on FaceBook were trying to navigate an open relationship where only one of them was really into it (the other was just trying it to please him). It ended with them splitting up because – ironically – although she could handle him having sex with other people, she wasn’t comfortable doing it herself, and he couldn’t handle being in a relationship where only one side of it was open because he felt that the ‘benefits’ were weighted unfairly in his direction.
I realised very quickly that relationships involving more than 2 people can quickly become very complicated, especially when everyone isn’t totally on the same page. Watching their relationship troubles play out publicly on FaceBook did interest me, though – in a purely ‘academic’ way (as an asexual, I have no interest in a relationship where I am allowed to have sex with other people) – and it reminded me of something I thought about when I was with my ex.
I can recall my own sadness at knowing I couldn’t satisfy her sexually, and I realised I would be happy if I found out she was having an affair. (This kind of thinking isn’t common to all asexuals, by the way. While I think one-sided open relationships and polyamory may both be more common among asexuals than in the wider population, there are also many asexuals who are only interested in monogamy, and many of those only want non-sexual monogamous relationships.)
When I discovered there was an alternative to the open relationship that made a lot more sense from my own point of view, my interest in polyamory was born. My thoughts on polyamory can be condensed into a single sentence:
“I think it’s unrealistic to expect one person to satisfy all your relationship needs, while at the same time you satisfy all of theirs.”
A lot of people would probably call that selfish, which it may be. But honestly, why shouldn’t I expect to get all my relationship needs met? And isn’t it just a touch arrogant to assume I could meet every one of my partners needs?
The reality is that most monogamous relationships require compromise. One partner, or – more likely – both partners, accept that some of their needs will never be satisfied by this relationship, but that’s OK because they love each other and it’s worth making sacrifices for the sake of the relationship.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s also nothing wrong with having multiple relationships that each satisfy some of your needs and some of the other person’s needs, so that ultimately, everyone gets all their needs satisfied. As long as everyone involved is totally on board with polyamory, and no-one is hiding anything, it can result in increased happiness for all.
Of course, poly relationships tend to be more complex than their monogamous equivalent simply because there are more people involved. There are also many different ways of being poly, which I won’t go into in too much depth here. I really want to talk about what poly means to me, and why I think I could be very happy being poly.
The OKCupid factor
Yesterday evening, I got a message from a man on OKCupid, asking me if I’d be happy in a relationship where I had one male partner – specifically him – but I was allowed to have sex with other women by negotiation.
The holes in his logic were big enough to drive a bus through, and … oh, hang on. I have a photo of a really big bus just for occasions like this.
His question demonstrated a few things that he hadn’t taken time to research and understand:
- The vast majority of asexuals aren’t interested in relationships where they can have sex with other people because the vast majority of asexuals aren’t that interested in sex … and even if they are, having a partner to have sex with usually eliminates the need to look elsewhere.
- Polyamory is not just about having sex with other people, but about having multiple relationships that may or may not include sex.
- I make it very clear that equality is a huge deal for me, so the suggestion that I’d limit my connection options to one specific gender was never going to go down well.
- And as for being ‘allowed’ … You arrive in my inbox – a total stranger – saying you’d be interested in a relationship with me, and then start telling me what I’d be allowed? My hackles started rising immediately, and he was lucky to get a polite response instead of a simple, “Fuck you!”
What he wanted is generally known as a ‘one penis policy’, and it isn’t that uncommon in D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationships where the dominant partner is the male. He is allowed to have sex/relationships with as many women as he likes, but she isn’t allowed to have sex or relationships with other men. (This certainly isn’t the case in all D/s relationships – some are monogamous, some are poly, or open, and many D/s relationships are not sexual at all – but it happens often enough that I think it’s reasonable to describe it as ‘not that uncommon’.)
The conversation continued, somewhat to my surprise – he was either happy to chat or he didn’t get the message right away – and he went on to explain that he’d be happy for me to have other relationships, but he would want to be the only man ‘in me’.
If you’ve read this post, you will already know how I’m likely to react if someone tries to initiate sexual contact when we haven’t discussed it, and agreed it’s going to happen, in advance. Similarly, if you’re a stranger, and you say things that lead me to imagine sex between us, my reaction isn’t going to be positive. The conversation ended, and we went our separate ways. (What’s particularly frustrating is that he only lived about 20 minutes from me. In my case, distance always seems to be directly related to compatibility.)
Anyway, one of the reasons I find the one penis policy so offensive is because it reeks of narcissism.
“My penis is so special that no woman would ever need another penis to satisfy her.”
Or (and I find this even more creepy):
“I want to own you by being the only man who gets to stick his penis inside you.”
Now, I know there are some people (typically those who identify as the slave in a Master/slave relationship) who want to be owned. The sense of being another person’s possession gives them good feelings. But that isn’t me. While I might be willing to go a long way into a D/s lifestyle, becoming someone’s possession by selling – or gifting – myself into slavery is something I will never do.
(But I have cats … Yes, that is worthy of some consideration!)
For me, one of the most important things in life is obtaining as much freedom as possible – which I’ve done a pretty good job of so far – and then deciding what to do with that freedom. And this is where polyamory starts to make a lot of sense.
The relationship dynamic that appeals to me most at the moment is solo poly, which means I’ll continue to live like a single person. I won’t combine my finances with a partner, and I won’t share a household. Solo poly doesn’t always mean living alone because some solo poly people do share their home with others for practical and/or financial reasons, but from the outside, it looks like being a single person who dates.
I’m also non-hierarchical in my approach to poly, which is fairly obvious when you’ve read what I wrote above about equality. A lot of poly relationships involve primary, secondary, and perhaps even tertiary partners, and this seems to work well for the people in them. However, I wouldn’t want to be someone’s secondary partner – I’m not bothered about coming first, but I certainly want to be equal – so it doesn’t seem reasonable to ask that of others. So, I’m interested in a style of poly where all relationships are equal.
That doesn’t mean equal in terms of time spent with each partner. Trying to achieve time-equality would be very challenging, I think, and probably wouldn’t benefit most of the people involved very much. Non-hierarchical poly ranks every relationship as equal in terms of value. This appeals to me a lot because I can’t see a way to rate people in terms of how important they are. Everyone is important.
The other aspect of polyamory that interests me is relationship anarchy. This is more challenging, both to do and to define, and it’s something few people practice, but I wonder if it’s more natural for an asexual person to look at relationships in this way. Loosely it means not categorising relationships – not putting labels on them – and simply letting each relationship evolve naturally into what it wants to be. Labelling relationships seems very prescriptive to me. As soon as you give a relationship a label – friend, romance, friends-with-benefits – you create expectations for how that relationship is supposed to evolve. But if the relationship doesn’t want to evolve that way, what then? Does it end, or does it have to be reassessed and re-categorised? It seems like a very complicated way to approach things.
But all this is hypothetical right now, since it’s still new to me, and I’ve never attempted to have more than one relationship at a time. Only time will tell how it develops.
(Photo: ‘More than two’ people holding their hands up to write the word ‘love’. There’s actually a website and book by that name about polyamory, and you can find the More Than Two website here.)