In the mainstream – part 2/2: The monogamous fallacy

The patriarchal construct of monogamy is essentially a derivate from the patriarchal construct of the social role “woman”. The only difference is that a complementary social role (like the social role “man”) is not necessary any more. This patriarchal construct can be maintained and reinforced by people regardless of their gender, be it women, men or other genders. The patriarchal construct of monogamy consists of four individual lies:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.
  2. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.
  3. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.
  4. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to desire another person sexually.

The heteronormative mainstream is represented by the majority of the total population of every patriarchal society. The majority of this group either believes in the patriarchal construct of monogamy or at least displays it publicly while acting out the opposite privately. The desire for sexuality is one of the strongest internal forces of each person. Therefore, suppressing it always leads to significant consequences. If desire at the sexual level is only acted out in unison with the romantic level, thus according to the patriarchal construct of monogamy with only one person, a significant part of one’s own sexual desire will always remain unsatisfied. The suppressed energy will go somewhere; that’s why the pressure in one’s unconscious increases, until desire breaks its course.

In the short term, an obvious sign for this claim are sexual activities that are pursued “spontaneously”, after all individuals involved have consumed enough alcohol or other drugs, so that they are less inhibited and their suppressed wishes don’t have to overcome so many obstacles on their way out. In order not to question the existing false idea and thus to act against the majority of people, these eruptions usually happen secretly, or are concealed as well as possible afterwards. In the medium term, secret sexual affairs will be pursued which are carried out beside sexual activities with one’s romantic partner. If someone pokes into the topic, the individual who has an affair will be quick to offer weak justifications, such as:

  • Going after sexual practices which they believe their romantic partner dislikes / doesn’t accept
  • A wellness session or little treat they somehow “deserve”
  • A get-back for lack of emotional attention or fair treatment from the romantic partner

The funny thing is that these justifications are never about the person with whom the secret sexual encounter(s) took place, but that they always allow a glimpse into the emotional issues within the romantic relationship: The unwillingness to listen to their partner, to ask for needs and wishes properly, or to initiate a talk about their own needs and wishes. This shows that the necessity for secrecy is not rooted in the reasons the justifications contain, but in the wish to avoid conflicts – mostly with one’s romantic partner, but also with one’s (patriarchal) social environment since most of its members will have the same issues and the same unwillingness to confront them.

This is the true origin of the word “cheating” for having secret sexual encounters while in a sexually closed relationship: The individual who has an affair gets their desire at the sexual level more satisfied in a way that would raise conflicts while the same person continues to act sexually closed in public and thus receives a fake sense of peace and tolerance in their romantic relationship and social environment.

To whom this might look like a clever strategy: Don’t be fooled. While it may seem that one can circumvent the conflicts, the individuals involved only repress them. Since the purpose of a romantic partner is to love and care for each other, meaning to share each other’s life to the maximum extent, this person has a right to participate in all decisions that influence the shared time, energy and space – including sexuality. This is why hiding fundamental wishes such as one’s own sexuality and sexual fantasies from one’s romantic partner can be considered unethical without question. The “cheat” even makes the situation worse than before: It fuels additional conflicts due to its unethical, unfair nature which creates the potential for explosive uncovering of the secret sexual encounter(s) or affair(s).

The Belgian-Jewish psychotherapist Esther Perel gave a comprehensive TED Talk on secret affairs, and I agree with it in every aspect. It discusses what drives people in a closed relationship to pursue secret sexual activities, and how affected couples have a chance to reunite after an uncovered affair.

The conclusion, however, that those who secretly pursue their sexual desires are “the evil-doers” and those, who don’t, are “the good ones”, is just as false as the whole patriarchal construct. In reality, both individuals involved within a romantic relationship under the patriarchal construct of monogamy play their part in its perpetuation.

The person who suppresses his/her own sexual wishes towards other people also expects this from his/her romantic partner: This is the first 50%-portion of responsibility for the situation, as expecting one’s romantic partner to ignore his/her own sexuality, which, due to its internal force, is quite identity-shaping, is not love, but just egocentric possession thinking. One’s romantic partner is actually treated like a sex toy, which can be put back into the drawer after usage, not like an individual person with feelings.

The person who does not suppress his/her sexual wishes expects from his/her romantic partner to not put any limitations to the pursuit of his/her sexual wishes. This behaviour originates in the psychological principle that in order to overthrow something standing in one’s way, one must use the exact opposite as a weapon. If one side constantly sets up pointless limitations in accordance with the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the other side tries to terminate this suppression mechanism by an allergic reaction against all limitations whatsoever. These are the missing 50% of responsibility.

The two courses of action described above then reinforce each other: The person who wishes to act on his/her sexual desires gets more and more annoyed because of the constant pointless limitations by the person who suppresses his/her own sexual desires, and ignores the sexual wishes of his/her romantic partner. Depending upon duration and the way the conflict is expressed, the active person can develop a lot of anger, which later unleashes in unilateral actions: “If you deny me my right to be an individual and instead keep treating me like your personal sex toy, I will pursue my sexual desires without asking or telling you!”

Naturally, this behaviour is usually noticed by the suppressing person in some way, but instead of questioning his/her principles, the anger is vented towards the romantic partner and the ignorance increases: “You have to desire sex only with me, and you have acted against this law, so now I will put up more barricades!” Both parties are convinced to have the “right” strategy and try to persuade the other one of the correct strategy. However, in fact, both individuals carry out a 50%-portion of a patriarchal construct which has been false from the beginning.

This destructive dynamic can go on until the patriarchal construct of monogamy shoots itself in the foot:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.

One person within a romantic relationship is sexually attracted to another person and would like to pursue sexual fantasies with him/her – the respective person is recognized as sexy, hot or very beautiful.

  1. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.

Now this person confuses – subconsciously (!) – his/her own wishes due to the above patriarchal construct: “Just sex” cannot be the case since a sexual attraction to another person will automatically be linked to a desire for romantic intimacy with this respective person. In addition, the constant necessity for secrecy gets more and more annoying. Why can’t we just “do it”? Openly and honestly, not worrying about how to sneak past one’s romantic partner and tell a convincing bundle of lies afterwards?

After that, the person starts to develop a crush on the person, who he/she is sexually attracted to at the time. But this is not about being an asshole and faking romantic desire in order to get sex. The person who has a crush on someone else actually feels like they are in love and desires a romantic relationship with this new person.

If the crush is reciprocated, the suppressing person is defeated with his/her own weapons: Since there is also a new sexual level included in the new romantic level, the active person can finally act on sexual desires to another person than his/her romantic partner – openly and officially. But because of the third and fourth points within the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the romantic level with the pre-existing romantic partner is now in question:

  1. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to desire another person sexually.
  2. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both individuals involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.

From the perspective of the patriarchal construct of monogamy, the fact that oneself or one’s romantic partner fell in love with a new person indicates that the current romantic relationship and/or mutual sexuality were not working for both individuals involved. If they had been working, one would not have fallen in love and/or pursued sexual activities with another person. This conflict results in emotional pain for both sides and usually leads to the pre-existing couple’s separation.

This is already a well-known phenomenon in the heteronormative mainstream (and the queer community as well!): The term is serial monogamy.

What is polyamory?

Although it is repeatedly mentioned as such, polyamory is not an alternative sexuality, but an alternative model of romantic relationships. People are described as polyamorous, or (abbreviated) poly.

The word is a combination of poly which means “more than one, many” in Ancient Greek and amor which is Latin for “love”. It describes people who (want to) live in a romantic relationship with more than one person at the same time while every partner knows of all other partners and every relationship is consensual for all connected individuals.

From the outset, a polyamorous lifestyle requires more time, energy and emotional labour than a closed romantic relationship between two individuals, simply because more than two people have to agree on things on a daily basis. In addition, in multiple relationships, questions and problems arise that cannot happen between two individuals, like, “Who sleeps in the middle?” or “Could you mediate between us?”.

Since our existing language does not include representations of polyamory, new terms are needed to describe these relationships. The idea of the heteronormative mainstream, the majority culture, is that a romantic relationship consists of two people. This is reflected in the language: A romantic couple always means two people, but a couple of friends can be any number of people.

Polyamory, however, needs more than one romantic relationship, that is, at least three people. Thus, individuals in a network of romantic relationships were compared to connected atoms, and termed a polycule, as a portmanteau of polyamory and molecule.

As soon as more than two people are connected over the romantic level, complexity increases by a certain factor, with every additional individual. The comparison to a molecule is therefore appropriate even beyond wordplay: In chemistry, over time, everything falls back to the next stable level that needs the least amount of energy. Networks of people tend to do the same, and as a result, the most common long-term stable polycules consist of the minimum amount of people, that is, three individuals. A polycule of three individuals may occur in two different forms which are named after their visible structure.

In the figures below, the letters stand for the individuals involved, and the lines with heart show a romantic relationship.

A triad or poly triad is a triangle formed out of the romantic relationships A+B, B+C, and A+C.
A further term is throuple, a portmanteau of three and couple, because, well, there are three couples.

A V includes two romantic relationships A+B, and B+C, but not A+C. The term metamour was invented for the relationship between person A and person C, from meta which is Latin for “over something” and amour which is French for “a lover”. So metamours share a meta-love, over person B who connects them. The actual intimacy between metamours is not defined, except for the absence of a romantic relationship, and differs in individual cases: Some are best friends, while others barely know each other.

I, the author of this blog, am biromantic and I live a polyamorous lifestyle: I have a girlfriend and a boyfriend who are a couple as well. Together we form a romantically closed triad (= We are three people, and we all do not pursue any further romantic interests).

For all networks that consist of more than three people, there are no special terms, at least none I am aware of, other than polycule in general. However, because the poly philosophy especially attracts academics, who like to show off with scientific notation, people often describe the form of their polycule with an angular letter of the Latin or Greek alphabet.

Apart from these principles, there is not “the one way” of living polyamory, which does not mean that all polyamorous lifestyles work, that is, produce loving, stable, long-term romantic relationships. Some strategies never even produce more than parallel short-term relationships.

The poly community – part 1/4: What it means to be poly

When a person is in a romantic relationship, but maintains sexual connections with others, it is common to conceal the latter in the mainstream. The basic rule of a polyamorous lifestyle is the exact opposite: Every partner knows of every other partner, and other people with whom their partner has sex. Secret connections are forbidden.

All around the world, the so-called poly community promotes this polyamorous lifestyle. They offer regular meetings, discussion groups, parties, Facebook groups, and, in many cities, preferred hangout spaces. The community itself emerged in the US during the early 1990s and filtered into Europe in the course of the 2010s. This is why, in 2019, most ideas and beliefs still originate in US communities and come to European cities in books or over the internet.

Here and there, people from a specific social class happily adopt the poly philosophy: Academics in their 20s or 30s, who earn an income of their own, who like to experiment with social expectations, and live in a bubble which has allowed them to face little consequences of their own actions so far – so, mostly Bobos (to-be).

Since Austria, the country where I live, is largely rural and conservative, the members of this educated class (and those who want to be a part of it) are drawn to the more independent life in the cities, to the capital Vienna and the city Graz, where most of the university students live. Consequently, the poly community in Vienna has the most members, and an excellent network with the community in Graz. The same people are also attracted to other alternative subcultures, such as left-wing activism, poetry slams, the queer community, Gothic events, Goa festivals, and BDSM spaces. Therefore, in such comparatively small cities, poly-curious people keep running into each other at numerous such events.

I spent my leisure time of more than a whole year (August 2014 – December 2015) almost exclusively in the poly community in Vienna: I went to meet-ups nearly every weekend, participated in activities during the week, and, in the end, also organized a few events. However, to curious people, I can only issue a warning : If you care about your mental health, don’t go to the poly community!

The poly community presents itself as an alternative, even rebellious lifestyle, in contrast to the mainstream: The people and the community say that they have liberal worldviews, are more tolerant, sexpositive, open to new ideas, and, above all, open to an honest approach to alternative forms of sex and love, which most people in the mainstream claim don’t exist, or at least not in a healthy way. This especially includes multiple simultaneous romantic relationships , that give the poly(amorous) community their name.

But under this liberal surface, a very different picture gradually emerged.

Contrary to their message, the poly community does not even have the slightest insight in how to enter and maintain a loving romantic relationship with more than one person at the same time. Worse still, the most widespread ideas and beliefs are destructive strategies: When people try them in everyday life, they do not add strength to their romantic relationship(s), but accelerate a separation instead, regardless if there are two, three or more romantically involved individuals. I have termed these distinct beliefs heart farts, which make up the poly ideology.

In addition, the community itself fosters highly problematic group dynamics:

Polyamory.at, a central website for the poly community in Austria, describes the common aims of poly events:

It’s definitely not a place to look for partners or try out pick-up lines.
[It] is for everyone interested in polyamory; whether it’s your first time talking openly about feeling polyamorous or your concerns about opening your relationship, you have lived for years in a polycule and want to hang out with other polyamorous people or fall anywhere inbetween.

Source: Richard und Sky (2019) Polyamory.at – Detailed descriptions of poly groups in Austria [Online]. Available at https://polyamory.at/english/english-descriptions (Accessed 29 October 2019).

This, however, is not true. While everyone claims that poly meet-ups and events are about discussion, support, and friendship, and not about looking for partners or pick-ups, in reality, nearly everyone does the latter. You may now wonder why this is a problem because a successful pick-up, or a new romantic partner usually makes people happy. The problem is, however, that the people doing it conceal their intentions and gaslight this fact whenever it becomes obvious, which turns almost every poly-event from the safe space it promises to an unsafe space with unfair behaviour as the norm, scheming, and sometimes even abuse.

Examples:

This is visible in the widespread slutshaming in which all sexes participate equally: Most people in the poly community who identify as “poly” distance themselves from “swingers” at every opportunity. The conversation doesn’t even need to be about the lifestyle: It’s enough for someone to talk about an erotic experience just for fun, or unfulfilled sexual wishes, with a person or people in whom they do not have a romantic interest. An accepted topic of conversation, you might think, in a “sexpositive” subculture, and for people who pursue alternative forms of sex and love.

This is, however, not the case. Usually, someone promptly states that polyamory is not about sex (especially not here at this meet-up!), accompanied by nods of agreement or even annoyed reactions from the bystanders which aims to silence the person who was speaking, and devalues them in the view of the group.

Anyone who makes the mistake of talking about swinging openly or asking questions about it receives a very obvious put-down, in the form of usual sexnegative responses: “Swingers clubs are unhygienic.”, “You’re going there? Gross.”, “Eww!”, etc. – based solely on rumors, of course, since they have never visited a swingers club, just like people in the mainstream.

People who simply want to have sex for fun are thus portrayed as inferior, on the often stated grounds that polyamory is just about love. You might argue that people could communicate this in a friendlier way, but that someone who seeks sexual encounters and not a romantic relationship is clearly in the wrong place in a community that took its name from the desire to have multiple romantic relationships.

Well, not quite.

In the course of most poly events, most straight men usually flirt with and try to pick up one woman after another, so that at the end of the evening, successful matches leave together to enjoy their pick-up at “your place or mine”. And no, most of them don’t form a relationship afterwards. This is exactly what swingers do, with the difference that they do it openly and honestly, and talk about in a truly sexpositive way, without shaming anyone. The poly community, however, sees the same behavior not only as a negative trait, but actively denies it and shames dissenters (while continuing their pick-up culture for all the world to see).

The funny thing is that, despite the focus on relationships between multiple people, more than two people who leave together remain the exception: In the course of one year, with two or three poly events per week, I witnessed several pick-ups between one woman and one man every evening, between two women two times, between two men one time (although about a third of men in the poly community label themselves as bisexual), and between more than two people three times. I didn’t visit all poly events in the area, and I didn’t notice everyone, of course, however, this statistic already shows hardly any difference to going out in the heteronormative mainstream.

Unfortunately, the toxic dynamics do not stop there. The few people who genuinely seek like-minded people for discussion and support, without an ulterior motive, don’t find each other, but likely run into disappointment, too:

The majority of people who regularly go to poly events complain about the lifestyle of monogamy and the heteronormative mainstream, which serves as a common enemy, and thus brings different people together. Most of the time, the conversation revolves around past failed relationships, and unfulfilled desires for sex and/or love with other people. The shared stories about similar feelings, experiences and problems create an atmosphere of acceptance and being heard, a new experience for the participants, who have always been blamed and shamed by their “monogamous friends” for talking about sexual and romantic wishes that the latter suppress.

Now, the “solution” to these problems is “being poly” or that someone “has always been poly”. The latter claim explains all problems of a failed relationship by a fundamental incompatibility with a “mono” person, which allows the person telling their story to refuse any responsibility for potential or obvious misconduct (such as a secret affair). The numerous declarations of “I am poly” and “Us Against the Monogamists” create the warm and welcoming feeling of belonging to a community. Those who never got lucky in the mainstream even feel that they found a social circle where they finally belong.

What the identity behind “I am poly” actually looks like in everyday life, however, remains vague in all conversations. The only shared attribute seems to be that someone is open to multiple parallel social connections that include sex. Unfortunately, there is an unpleasant reason behind this observation: Almost every person means something different, when they say they are “poly”. The blogger Oligotropos also observed this confusion in his local poly community in Germany, and I think he described it well:

  • There were lovers who cohabited with each other like in a traditional closed marriage albeit with multiple mates.
  • Quite a number of other people on the other hand saw themselves as members of far-flung and multi-branched relationship-networks.
  • Some others lived excessively all alone and joined chosen mates only at festivals, workshops or especially arranged weekend-meetings. At times there was the proclamation of the inevitable congruency with free or universal love.
  • Whereas other Polyamorists seemed to practice something that was very similar to Swinging,
  • and a number of people even joined in parallel or serial flings and affairs in the ubiquitous name of loving-many.
  • And the emphasis on the expression of individual sexual freedom seemed to be at the forefront of the general thinking in many quarters anyway.

But nonetheless all of the aforementioned folks called themselves proudly participants in the polyamorous lifestyle – accentuating the very fact vehemently and noisily, especially in order to distinguish oneself from the next neighbour, who was claiming exactly the same privilege for himself…Those pervasive differences of opinion appeared to reduce the promised characteristics of honesty, responsibility and commitment – which once motivated myself to the crossover to Polyamory – to mere negotiable footnotes.

This highlights that the poly community does not use a clear definition of the word polyamory,

If you’re familiar with queer vocabulary, you might ask why this is a problem, because like many words in alternative subcultures, polyamory can be treated as an umbrella term, that is, a word for different lifestyles, for the purpose of uniting diverse people to a common cause. Without such a word and identity available, it is much more difficult for the same people to create a community and team spirit.

However, in order for the positive effects of an umbrella term to actually happen, three things must take place first:

  • All individuals involved must know how their definition differs from others,
  • There must be an open discussion about these different definitions. Through discussion, the participants can
  • formulate common aims, which in turn create team spirit, which produces a sense of belonging and solidarity among the group members.

The poly community, however, is already lacking the first step. Most people simply assume that the people they talk to have the same understanding of polyamory, so that hardly anyone talks about different meanings – most people in the poly community do not even know that there are different meanings. This leaves people who are curious about the poly philosophy, and even self-identified “polys” uncertain about their own identity. People can justify all kinds of beliefs on the confusion that emerges – or at least not refute them – since it is never clear what people are talking about.

Examples:

When a group of people shares their experiences in the mainstream, and the individuals are delighted about the acceptance they receive, it is never clear whether someone who uses “monogamous” as a slur is talking about “a sexual connection with only one person” or “a romantic relationship with only one person”. The fact that this ambiguity produces a problem sometimes shows itself in the form of absurd statements: Although we are a very visible polycule of three people, poly people sniffed at us for being “monogamous” on two occasions, the minute we mentioned that nobody of us will pursue further romantic interests.

The second step, an open discourse on polyamory, is thus repressed from the beginning. If someone nevertheless tries to clarify ambiguities or to shift the conversation to start a discussion, by asking questions such as “What do you mean by that?” or “What does this look like in everyday life?”, they will only receive confused looks, and occasionally even angry snaps, regardless of whether the conversation was about monogamous or polyamorous issues. In fact, to inquire about meaning and implementation in real life is perceived as a disruption, because it reveals that there is not as much common ground in the community as all participants would like to believe.

Because of the very different wishes and objectives – and their obfuscation – the feeling of the poly community as a real community is, in most cases, just big talk. People who seek the benefits the community promises, such as support for a struggling relationship or a talk among friends, will quickly discover indifference where they had seen interest, and rejection from what looked like a potential friend. The respective individual probably had a different understanding of polyamory the whole time which could remain hidden long enough by the use of too inclusive language.

Oligotropos draws the same conclusion:

Even so it became distressingly apparent to me that at the dawn of the 21st century the mere term “Polyamory” was no longer consistently employed by its users. Therefore, the general term wasn’t any longer suited for congruent communication and to a much lesser extent qualified concerning the convergence of like-minded people or even community building.

Source: Oligotropos (2019) Entry 1 [Online]. Available at http://www.oligoamory.org/gb/2019/03/09/blog (Accessed 29 October 2019).

The poly community – part 2/4: The polyamorous falsehood

The heteronormative mainstream generates and reinforces the patriarchal construct of monogamy, i. e. the monogamous falsehood. Its main idea is that sex and love are to take place only between two people in a romantic relationship. As a consequence, if a couple enters a romantic relationship together, it is automatically sexually and romantically closed. This is a stop sign to other individuals who feel attracted by a person of this couple, sexually and romantically.

Being automatically “sexually closed” as a couple can be considered a general problem, since all patriarchal constructs and false ideas about human sexuality are generated and perpetuated by this automatic preference.

The automatic preference “romantically closed” does, however, make sense, since the new couple can thereby keep themselves to themselves at the romantic level and thus build up mutual trust and bonding behaviour, which is the basis of a loving, stable romantic relationship.

The poly ideology, however, does not only reject the problematic principles, but rather all principles from the heteronormative mainstream. As a consequence, a completely new patriarchal construct has been generated in poly communities – which I termed the polyamorous falsehood. It is a modification of the monogamous falsehood – which is interesting due to the observation that poly communities all over the world consider monogamy to be their nemesis.

The patriarchal construct of monogamy, for comparison:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.
  2. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.
  3. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both persons involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.
  4. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both persons involved, it is not possible to desire another person sexually.

The polyamorous falsehood and its monogamous counterpart have the first two beliefs in common. Only the third belief of patriarchal polyamory is a new invention:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.
  2. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.
  3. If someone falls in love with a new person, while in an existing romantic relationship, a new, additional romantic relationship must be pursued due to these feelings. The romantic partner in the pre-existing romantic relationship has to approve of and support this development under all circumstances.

If the polyamorous falsehood is applied in real life, its consequences look like this:

  1. Desires and wishes at the sexual level and the romantic level are the same thing.

One person within a romantic relationship is sexually attracted to another person and would like to pursue sexual fantasies with him/her – the respective person is recognized as sexy, hot or very beautiful.

  1. If someone is sexually attracted to another person, a desire for intimacy at the romantic level will always be a part of this attraction.

This person confuses – mostly unconsciously (!) – his/her own wishes due to the above patriarchal construct:

“Just sex” cannot be the case, since a sexual attraction to another person will automatically be linked to a desire for romantic intimacy with this respective person. In addition, the constant necessity for secrecy gets more and more annoying. Is it impossible to just be open and honest about this?

After that, the person starts to develop a crush on the individual who he/she is sexually attracted to at the time. The justification of this falsehood is more creative than the one in the heteronormative mainstream:
Casual sex (= swinging) is supposed to be not just “eww”, but an emotional cold and mechanical experience. Only sex together with romantic activities like in a romantic relationship could be really fulfilling.

The third belief, however, is different from the monogamous falsehood:

  1. As long as the romantic relationship is healthy for both persons involved, it is not possible to fall in love with someone else.

This belief has been deconstructed: To fall in love with another person, while in an existing healthy romantic relationship, is entirely possible. Moreover, if it happens, it is primarily unrelated to the decision whether the existing romantic relationship is desired by both persons involved. However, instead of developing a working non-patriarchal construct, the deconstructed belief has been replaced by a new belief system:

If someone falls in love with a new person, while in an existing romantic relationship, a new, additional romantic relationship must be pursued due to these feelings. The romantic partner in the pre-existing romantic relationship has to approve of and support this development under all circumstances.

The origin of this new belief is the following: The heteronormative mainstream allows only very narrow ways to pursue sex and love. The “solution” of the poly ideology is the polar opposite – an allergy to all limitations, whether these make sense or not. The basic tendency is thus – contrary to the heteronormative mainstream – “romantically open”: Everything is possible; new people can be added to any romantic relationship or polycule just because one person falls in love. Some poly people consider only their leisure time as a limiting factor for new relationships, while others exclaim “the more, the better” and add every new crush as a relationship to their pre-existing couple / polycule.

A further expression of this “romantically open” space of the poly community is the so-called cuddle group: Several individuals, who have just met, start to exchange romantic activities. They embrace, cuddle, caress and kiss each other – sometimes for hours. From time to time, the people in the cuddle group change position, so that everyone can cuddle with all persons involved. Pretty often, the whole cuddle group falls asleep on one another. These activities (including falling asleep together), suggest a largest intimacy between the persons present at a unconscious level – the intimacy of a committed romantic relationship. However, as already mentioned, most of these individuals have just met or they are only acquaintances. Sometimes they don’t even know each other’s first name. Thus, at a conscious level they are almost strangers, but at an unconscious level they communicate the deepest intimacy possible. That’s why it is not surprising that these people have a higher risk to develop mental issues due to this incompatibility.

The poly community – part 4/4: What is Lovebombing?

The punishment of unwanted behaviour until it is refrained from is not the only way a social group can control its members. A second, just as effective method is Lovebombing: The desired behaviour is excessively rewarded by using exaggerated affection and exaggerated positive attention towards the person over which the group wishes to obtain control.

These forms of affection are based on secondary motivations: The aim is not support or friendship, as the affection would suggest, but an attempt to get the targeted person to exhibit a desired behaviour. The targeted individuals don’t usually notice this at first and feel accepted and welcomed by the group. In general, the desired behaviour, however, is of use to only particular members of the group and either not useful or even harmful to the targeted individuals. If a targeted member wants to act upon impulses that go against the group philosophy, or shows actions which are not exploitable for the desired purpose, the seemingly positive attention is used as a threat:

“We really value each other in this group. You do value us, too, don’t you?!”

If the targeted individual continues to display behaviour other than that desired, all forms of attention by other group members are withdrawn at once. Most of the time, manipulation strategies such as Lovebombing develop and stick within a group unintentionally and unconsciously. Only particular individuals who are experienced in power dynamics can use this method on purpose to control a group, which, however, they only succeed to implement if there are enough toadies within the group who unconsciously accept the manipulator as a parental figure.

Everyday life with my polycule became stable and pretty much drama-free briefly after we decided to romantically close our polycule, and thus no longer fell prey to the polyamorous falsehood and its energy-draining dynamics. We now share the occasional misunderstandings and conflicts of every healthy relationship.

When I shared the good news of my closed polycule with my (supposedly) good friends and other (supposedly) nice people that I knew from poly events, the atmosphere of the poly meet-ups and events I attended changed drastically. Many people stared at me in an annoyed fashion, some even pointed fingers at me and my partners while giving us nasty looks and whispering to each other. People who had used to greet me enthusiastically suddenly pretended they didn’t know me when I talked to them.

On several occasions, we faced even open hostility: People were trying to actively separate us as a triad or even as couples in order to restore our previous romantically open behaviour, that is, our availability for romantic suitors. We were told several times not to sit together, not to “show so many public displays of affection” (because it was “triggering” – of course…) while the same people had never complained or even expressed happiness about similar displays by other people. My girlfriend and I were subjected to special treatment by straight men who presented as “Prince Charming”: As soon as our boyfriend stood a few metres away, they basically jumped to stand between us. One guy with whom I had been in a few cuddle piles crept up on me to suddenly hug me from behind (which was new) seconds after Nemo had gone to get drinks, apparently as a “This is mine”-gesture towards my boyfriend.

Most straight men acted in a particularly hostile manner towards my boyfriend – not only by the usual microaggressions, but also by derogatory remarks. They apparently perceived him as the only reason why I was no longer romantically open, and, as a consequence, did not join cuddle piles any more. The fact that my girlfriend and I had also made the decision for a closed polycule – which we mentioned repeatedly – was obviously uninteresting to them. We think this was because of their (partly) unconscious misogyny that is rampant in the poly community: “These are two bisexual women. Why are they talking so much instead of pleasing me?”

In the course of my year in the poly community, there had been regular poly events and private gatherings to which I had always been invited, and where people had been asking me in advance “whether I was going again.” When I asked to bring along Maitri and Nemo as my “plus 2”, my partners were not invited. I received the feedback, however, that if I liked to come alone, that would be fine – to an event of a community about multiple romantic relationships. Hosts from other gatherings just stopped notifying me when new events were scheduled, because, as I found out later, they had decided that I “did not fit the concept”.

Due to these experiences, we stopped going to poly events for entertainment and only continued to attend a workshop which we had already frequented before we became a polycule. Shortly after we attended as a triad, however, the workshop, previously with a free choice of seats, suddenly had a lottery system to allocate seats to people. “We want to avoid the same people always sitting together”, the workshop leader remarked while looking at us. Naturally, the couples at the workshop had always been sitting together, without the same leader opposing this in any way.

Some (supposed) friends approached me to convince me that my new relationship status constrained my “freedom” and suspected my decision to be closed was a result of blackmail or coercion by Maitri and, above all, Nemo. For me, this was the most revealing moment: Precisely those people who had complimented me for a year (and were now dropping me like a hot potato), wanted to persuade me that Maitri and Nemo, who had reciprocated my feelings without games, had been fair from the beginning, and had cared for me when I had been ill, were somehow oppressing and exploiting me.

So it became obvious that none of the people I had seen as fellow nice polys or even friends because of their (supposedly) benevolent actions over weeks or months, had actually meant their affections seriously. Instead, I had fallen for Lovebombing, that targeted me as a young, attractive, liberal woman to provide free attention and sex to cowardly straight men who did not want to give the same in return.

I have since left the poly community , and I can only advise anyone to withdraw from this extremely toxic environment as soon as possible!

Heart farts – part 1/6: The poly time dilemma

If someone suppresses their own erotic level, it not only fosters the chronification of the patriarchal falsehood and, subsequently, Rape Culture, but also secondarily-motivated crushes on new people that the person in question probably would not have developed, or not as easily, had they pursued their sexual desires on the erotic level.

In serial monogamy which stands upon the monogamous falsehood, a wish for a romantic involvement with a new person terminates the pre-existing romantic relationship. Polyamory, however, means that multiple crushes or romantic relationships are possible at the same time. Therefore, the poly ideology stands upon the polyamorous falsehood: The pre-existing romantic relationship remains unchanged (for the moment) while the person who has fallen in love simply adds a romantic relationship with the new person.

As long as they believe in (or don’t openly question) the polyamorous falsehood, the new relationship network of three people remains romantically open. So if another one of the people in the existing polycule falls in love, they add this romantic involvement again, so that now, there are four connected people, either as couples or as metamours. And so on.

In polycules, this leads to constant scheduling problems due to the number of people involved. My boyfriend Nemo has created a mathematical model which I have termed the poly time dilemma:

Key for polycule figures

Key

A couple, a romantic relationship between two people

 

A couple’s relationship consists of two individuals: Person A and person B. All individuals involved in the couple are the same as those who comprise the whole system of relationships: There is only one mutual space. The complexity of the system is thus simply 1.

 

 

 

A poly triad, a polycule of three people

 

 

A triad is a polycule that consists of three individuals A, B and C in the form of a closed triangle.

  • It contains three couples: A+B, B+C, A+C.
  • The whole system of relationships is the triad: A+B+C.

The complexity of the system therefore is: 3×1 + 1 = 4.

 

 

 

The examples above do not have any metamour connections. The most frequent form that contains a metamour connection is the V, a polycule in the form of the letter V that consists of three individuals.

A V, another polycule of three people

 

It has to be divided into primary and secondary connections:

  • Primarily, it consists of two couples: A+B and B+C.

Secondary connections are:

  • The metamour connection A+C
  • The whole system of relationships A+B+C

The complexity, although there is one romantic relationship less than in a triad, is of equal magnitude: 2×1 + 1 + 1 = 4.

 

 

One can argue that metamours spend far less time together than romantic partners do, so why do they get the same weight as a romantic relationship? Anyone who barely speaks with their metamour can certainly round this factor down a bit. However, this value does not only count for the time and energy for direct contact between the metamours, but also for their impact on the connected romantic relationships. Judging from reports of the everyday life of people living in a polycule with a metamour, I derive 0.7 as the lowest value.

For example, the metamours person A and person C must be able to negotiate life decisions as their decisions are both dependent on person B, in order to keep the polycule stable. For this connection to work, they must spend time and energy as well, to build and maintain mutual trust. In addition, metamours contribute directly or indirectly to all conflicts around person B, such as when person A and B have a conflict, and person C cheers up person B afterwards, or when person A mediates in a conflict between person B and person C.

We can deduce that all polycules that consist of three people, irrelevant whether in a triad or in a V, will exhibit the fourfold complexity of a couple. This factor applies to all areas of life which need to occur in a loving romantic relationship: four times more time-consuming, four times the relationship work, four times as many relationship agreements, etc. The more people a polycule contains, the higher its complexity, and thus the necessity for time and energy rises.

This can be shown with an “N”, a polycule consisting of four individuals in the form of a row.

A N, a polycule of four people in a row

We have individuals A, B, C and D. This constellation primarily consists of three couples: A+B, B+C, C+D. So far, the complexity is only 3×1 = 3. However, there are secondary connections:

  • As metamour connections, the lines between A+C, B+D and A+D.
  • The whole system of relationships of all four individuals involved: A+B+C+D.

That results in a total complexity of: 3×1 + 3×1 + 1 = 7.

 

 

Even if we assume the lower value 0.7 for each metamour, and round down accordingly, the complexity is still 6 which means that it would require the sixfold time, relationship work and agreements of a couple.

If we now perform the thought experiment of a polycule with four individuals, who are not in relationships in the form of a row, but where the polycule completely consists of couples, the situation goes into overkill mode:

A square, a polycule of four people

 

Our example shows four individuals, and everybody is in a romantic relationship with everybody else. Every individual is in three romantic relationships. Thus there are no metamour connections, but six couples, four triads and of course one whole system of relationships:

  • Six couples: A+B, B+C, C+D, A+D, A+C and B+D
  • Four triads: A+B+C, B+C+D, A+B+D and A+C+D
  • And the whole system of relationships: A+B+C+D

The complexity is thus: 6×1 + 4×1 + 1 = 11.

 

 

This means that it would require the elevenfold time, relationship work and agreements of a couple. Even billionaires who do not have to work at all for their income could not invest that kind of time and resources on a long-term basis. If even further people are added to a poly network, its complexity might ascend to something that would need the hundredfold resources of a couple or more.

The poly ideology, however, claims that a polycule is expandable with further individuals ad infinitum and that this continual expansion is not only a beautiful experience for the individual who enjoys acting upon a new crush, but for all individuals in the polycule. There are numerous statements that polys use to justify this belief, but my personal favourite is the following:

“A relationship is like a candle in a dark room. The more candles I put there, the lighter the room will become and the more fulfilled will I be.”

As detailed above, this will neither work mathematically nor in real life. The realistic consequence of this attitude of an ever-romantically open relationship with ever-new partners is that the individuals involved will soon no longer have the time and energy to provide the attention and emotional work it would need to stay in love. Consequently, after a few weeks, initially energy-giving, loving relationships become largely exhausting, energy-draining connections, which fuel several energy-draining group dynamics between all individuals involved. To stay in the picture, there is not enough time to attend to all the burning candles, until, sooner or later, some flames simply go out, or one falls over and burns down the house.

Heart farts – part 2/6: What is a secondary relationship?

The poly community claims that there are two different basic types of romantic relationships:

  • The individuals involved grant one another equal rights: They are on equal footing concerning life decisions, like how they conduct their sex life, and where and how they live.

Parallel to this common and working concept, the poly community has invented a new type of romantic relationship:

  • The individuals involved perceive their connection as of a romantic kind, however, they do not grant one another equal rights concerning life decisions. They only need to tell each other about relationship-affecting decisions, and rely on their partner dealing with any consequences on their own.

For a person who does not want to engage in any primary relationship, but only in one or more secondary relationship(s), the poly community has coined the term solo-poly.

If a person, however, is in or aims to have relationships of both types at the same time, this lifestyle has been termed hierarchical polyamory, and they call their relationships by different names according to their type.

  • A romantic relationship with equal rights is called primary, or core relationship, and in the case of a joint household, nesting partner.
  • A romantic partner to which the same individual grants fewer rights than to their primary partner is called a secondary relationship or satellite.

The behaviour in a secondary relationship can differ by either some or all of the following points from that of a primary relationship:

  • At family visits or celebrations, company parties or public events, only the primary relationship is visible as a couple. The secondary relationship is either not invited at all, or is expected to hold back romantic actions, since only selected individuals or even nobody at all is to see the real state. A frequent lie is that the secondary relationship is introduced as a family member or as a good friend of their romantic partner.
  • The primary couple refers to themselves as “the couple” or “our relationship”. The individuals of that couple get angry if the secondary discloses their own romantic relationship in this way. As a consequence, the secondary stands as an individual besides a unit of two people who form the primary relationship. If there is a conflict about the secondary’s needs or boundaries, these rules make it easier for the individuals of the primary relationship to join ranks against the secondary person.
  • The primary couple decides on their own when the secondary relationship may spend time with their romantic partner, and what they may or may not do during their dates. The secondary relationship is presented with fixed time slots and what-to-do rules, and is given only the choice to take it or leave it.
  • The primary couple spends time with each other naturally, and without checking with anyone else while the secondary relationship must request each couple time beforehand. Sometimes they may not get any couple time, and may only see their romantic partner together with the primary partner. One version of this is when the primary partners are living together as nesting partners, and access their home with their keys, whereas the secondary does not get their own key. This makes them a perpetual guest at their romantic partner’s place since they have to ask every time before they can come over, while they watch their metamour just come and go as they please.
  • While the primary couple is making plans for the future, the secondary relationship neither has a say in these decisions, nor are they in a place to ever get it. The secondary partner has to adapt to their romantic partner’s lifestyle changes such as a move, a change of working place or hours, or child rearing plans without discussion.
  • If the secondary does not want to abide by the rules set out by the primary couple, they just don’t get any time with their romantic partner, regardless of their current needs.

A dominant claim of the poly community is that forming a secondary relationship is, as opposed to a primary relationship, a good choice for individuals who value being independent in their lifestyle choices since they don’t have to consider the needs and wishes of their partner before making a decision, and if in conflict, are able to give priority to their own wishes without discussion.

As an ex-poly, I disagree strongly. Now and then, some isolated voices within the poly community question this dogma, too. My argument is explained best in the following image:

Eternity bed with one big and one smaller mattress on top, both tiers decorated with cushions. A text below reads: “Poly bed: Secondaries sleep on the bottom row.”

 

It describes a realistic scenario in a polycule which consists of at least one primary and one secondary relationship, which is shown below.

A V-polycule with person B in its center, who is in a primary relationship with person A (on the left-hand side), and in a secondary relationship with person C (on the right-hand side)

Person A and person B, who are the primary relationship to each other, are cuddling on the top bed. In the most frequent case they are the chronologically oldest couple of the polycule, which I refer to as the original couple. Person C, as a secondary relationship, has to sleep alone or wait until the primary couple has finished, before it is their turn. The actual physical distance doesn’t make a difference: Whether the primary and secondary relationship(s) are segregated by a bed or by city does not change the given scenario and its outcome.

I can imagine that such a situation does not necessarily contribute to the well-being of all individuals involved: Person A and person B, the primary couple, would like to spend couple time with each other, undisturbed; however, they are at least subconsciously distracted by the unresolved situation with another person anxiously waiting for them to finish. Meanwhile, person C, the secondary relationship, who would also like to talk, enjoy sex or share affectionate attention with person B, has to think about the needs and wishes of the primary partner, person A, before they can get their own needs met.

These issues are likely to be the source of several typical conflicts within a polycule:

  • Between person A and person B, the primary relationship:
    Person B wants to spend more time with person C, their secondary, than person A finds acceptable.
  • Between person B and person C, the secondary relationship:
    If person C has needs, the fulfilment of which would overstep agreements between the individuals of the primary couple, and thus would call for an overhaul of the whole hierarchical structure in place.
  • And, at the worst, between the metamours person A and person C:
    Person A, the primary relationship, and person C, the secondary relationship, easily end up in sub- or half-conscious power games, by using resources from person B, their mutual partner, as emotional blackmail against each other. This often includes the gaining or withdrawal of couple time, or (alleged) comments by person B. In most cases, person B lets the ongoing power game run its course, or even plays an active part, as long as they get an advantage out of it.

The potential for such conflicts accumulates over time and discharges upon occasion in heated arguments, fights or actions which widely overstep the boundaries of at least one member of the polycule. If the individuals involved “feel committed to the idea of being poly”, they will, after a bundle of these clashes have occurred, try to deal with them by so-called processing. This means that all individuals involved sit together, and everyone addresses their needs and wishes to every other individual. The aim is to settle misunderstandings, find new behaviour strategies and amend agreements, in order to arrive at a satisfying solution for all individuals involved.

The communication method of processing is, in principle, very useful and healthy, and has found its way into the poly ideology probably by accident. If correctly applied (!), it is a recommendable conflict solving strategy for romantic relationships of any kind, with two or more members. It revolves, however, around one important philosophy: Every individual must aim for the best solution for all individuals involved (and not for their personal advantage at any cost!). In other words, if one person tries to “win”, the method does not work because all participants (including the one who started it) “lose” – they are depleted of emotional resources, trust, and intimacy.

Unfortunately, many people are not able to distinguish between solution-oriented communication and subconscious or deliberate power games of certain individuals or groups, because they have never learned to spot the differences. As a consequence, most people in the poly community are not able to use processing as intended, just like most people in the heteronormative mainstream.

Instead, this handicap results in “processing in circles”: Since the individuals involved hardly ever think and communicate in a solution-oriented manner, in the end, they agree only on minor changes, but are not able to recognise or acknowledge the source of the conflict(s) at hand. In other words, they cut diseased leaves from the plant, but do not remove the diseased part of its root. This incomplete procedure will sooner or later give rise to similar conflicts which, again, spur arguments, fights or transgressing actions.

This creates a situation which drains energy from every individual involved, much more than it contributes. A conflict constantly hovering over the polycule, as well as more and more arguments and processing rounds that don’t seem to fix issues (or at least get easier over time) exhaust the resources of all individuals involved – which is a distinguishing feature of an unstable intermediate condition on the Intimacy Scale.

Through my personal history with my polyamorous triad, I was able to gain further insights:

When I met Maitri and Nemo, I was not single as I had been in a (poorly defined) secondary relationship with a boyfriend for a few months.

Our romantic connection had started as a typical relationship, but went sour a few weeks in, due to persisting conflicts rooted in his unfair behaviour. For example, while he had agreed to an open relationship and greatly enjoyed going on dates and having sex with other women (with the only restriction of telling me soon after), he made a scene every time I showed interest in another man. This is a common power game in the poly community called OPP (One Penis Policy). Being familiar with the game from the mainstream, I pursued my sexual interests every time, but initiated multiple talks to find a good compromise between my boundaries and his- to which he agreed, only to continue as before. After three months, I had had enough, sat down with him and made him secondary, thereby explicitly stating (for him and in the community) that he wouldn’t have a say in my future sexual or romantic interests.

Then I got together with Maitri and with Nemo. In the beginning, we still believed in the idea of a secondary relationship (as something closer than friendship but less close than a committed romantic relationship). However, I did not feel comfortable going back to my apartment to sleep alone while Maitri and Nemo were living in a shared household, slept in the same bed, and had access to immediate couple time. Likewise, none of us wanted to exclude the other or throw them out of bed while they wanted to share affectionate attention, enjoy sex, or cuddle with their romantic partner(s) – which would have been a logical conclusion of me being secondary in one form or another.

After two months, Maitri, Nemo and I revisited the topic, and explicitly threw the idea of a secondary relationship overboard. Then, we officially agreed on equal rights and identical agreements for all individuals involved. At this point, I acknowledged the unethical consequences of a secondary relationship in all directions, and finally broke up with my own secondary.

In hindsight, I am glad that I had this energy-draining connection in my polycule, since, with a nice boyfriend at my side, I would not have been so starkly confronted with the necessity to uncover the negative dynamics inherent to any secondary relationship. After three months, I moved in with Maitri and Nemo, and we agreed not to engage in any new romantic entanglements (i.e. to be romantically closed), making us the polyamorous triad we are today.

From these observations and my own experiences I conclude that engaging in a secondary relationship, and therefore hierarchical polyamory as such – regardless if solo-poly or in a network of primary and secondary relationships – does not constitute an ethical and healthy model of romantic relationships.

Heart farts – part 3/6: New relationship energy or: The energy equilibrium between couples in a polycule

If individuals are connected at the romantic level, an energy exchange takes place between all persons involved. This also happens between connected individuals at lower levels of the intimacy scale, but to a much lesser extent.

If a participating individual exhibits energy-draining behaviour and/or if the existing couple generates an energy-draining condition, this leads to an effect which does simply not occur in any romantic relationship which consists of two individuals. That’s why only few people think about these effects when dealing with polyamory.

A condition which is energy-draining over a longer period of time corresponds to an unstable intermediate level on the intimacy scale.

If a couple predominantly drains energy, this can occur due to the following setup:

  1. They are still in the phase of fighting out their relationship in order to reach stability
  2. They have an underlying unresolved conflict over their mutual interests, activities or desires.
  3. One of the individuals involved is missing something fundamental: The desire for sex and/or affectionate behaviour is not met or satisfied (enough).
  4. The persons involved believe in values from the poly ideology and define themselves as “secondary partners” which are allowed less co-determination in life decisions than “primary partners”.
  5. The relationship is built upon a secondarily motivated crush: Actually, the persons involved would have only desired casual sex with one another.

In my personal experience, I had a straight secondary relationship attempt for a few months. It was based on the points 2, 3, 4 and 5 in personnel union – that’s why a lot of my energy went down the drain with him.

Within a couple, the total number of all persons involved is the same as the number of persons who make up the couple: Generally, it’s always about two individuals. If the couple is unstable, thus only two people are directly concerned – and maybe also their children, if they have any.

This situation, however, is very different from the one in polycules:

A polycule consists of at least two couples by definition; the minimum is three persons involved. If one couple is unstable, the other couple(s) and metamour connections are also negatively affected by energy exchange, even if these couple(s) were perfectly stable on their own.

This energy exchange – similar to osmosis in chemistry – will take place at all points where two or more people are connected. In the graphics presented for the poly scheduling problem that is in all corner points, where two or more lines meet.

If an energy-draining (= unstable) structure meets an energy-generating (= stable) structure, a (mostly subconscious) dynamic is set into motion: I call this the principle of shifted boundaries.

Examples:

Two individuals live in a romantic relationship which is unstable due to an energy-draining dynamic. Since something seems to be missing, they open their relationship emotionally, in order to find “it” with another person. Thus, their decision is not based on a primary motivation for polyamory (for that, the existing couple would have to be stable), but on a secondary motivation.

Supposedly, this emotionally open couple becomes acquainted with a suitable third individual. As a consequence, a person of the pre-existing couple falls in love with this new person. These two decide to enter a connection at the romantic level. Thus, the pre-existing couple is suddenly a part of a polycule.

The new couple can generate energy in two ways:

  1. Since both individuals are in love, freshly-generated energy comes along with their feelings. As long as these feelings are active, they predominantly provide energy. This is (ideally) meant to fuel the necessary relationship work at their conflicts in the beginning of the romantic relationship until both persons involved achieve a stable romantic level.
  2. The couple has arguments and agrees on solutions for the existing conflicts. Thus, they achieve a stable romantic level. As long as this level stays stable, it predominantly provides energy.

Now, there is the pre-existing couple (EV = energy vampire) and the new couple who generates energy (ES = energy source). They form a V polycule which looks like this:

In accordance with the principle of communicating vessels, the energy flows from the energy-generating to the energy-draining couple. That starts the principle of shifted boundaries:

From the view of person B, who is both a part of ES and of EV, the behaviour of person A which accelerates the energy drain of EV – e.g. actions, which are annoying, disrespectful or ignorant towards person B’s boundaries – suddenly do not seem so bad any more. That’s because person B has now access to more energy than his/her own – there is the energy of ES, which is used to balance the energy minus in EV.

Consciously, this manifests by lowered annoyance, exhaustion or destructive conflicts (also implicit ones!) within EV and previously unwanted behaviour is reinterpreted to “that’s ok” or “just a peculiarity of person A”. The EV-relationship between persons A and B seems to suddenly work better subjectively, although all energy-draining dynamics keep running underneath.

The other couple, however, does not remain uninfluenced by the principle of shifted boundaries, since the energy of ES is tapped. In the beginning, this can go by unnoticed, since more energy is generated than lost. If, however, the loss becomes greater over time, the previously energy-generating couple starts to drain energy as well since even their maintaining energy is drained by EV. This leads to destructive (and unnecessary) conflicts between persons B and C within ES. Usually, person B projects conflicts with person A onto person C. The result is annoyance and exhaustion between persons B and C.

The only way to break this vicious cycle is to find the causes for the energy vampirism within EV and to look at these as if EV would be a standalone couple without another connected couple:

  • Is the wish for a polyamorous lifestyle based on a secondary motivation?
  • Does one or several of the reasons for an unstable romantic relationship listed above apply to you?
  • Is there other behaviour of your romantic partner, which is energy-draining?
  • How can we change this step by step, mutually, so that we achieve a stable romantic relationship?
  • Could couple coaching, couple therapy or individual psychotherapy be helpful to us in our situation?

If, however, no constructive communication about any of these topics is possible (any more), or a romantic relationship has not been the most suitable social connection from the beginning, a separation remains as the only solution.

The poly ideology contains its own philosophy for such cases – it might not be very surprising that it is dysfunctional, again: The concept about new relationship energy, abbreviated to NRE.

New relationship energy describes exactly the effect that an energy-draining romantic relationship experiences an apparent “improvement” by the energy of an additional new romantic relationship. According to this philosophy, all persons involved would feel “compersion” in such a situation: All are happy about one another and about the beautiful energy. If there were no breaks of consent involved (“I tell you who I have started an additional romantic relationship with, but I don’t care whether you have consented to that!”), this can actually be the case – but only for a few days or weeks. Then the equilibrium loses its balance, and also the ES relationship starts to drain energy like the EV relationship. At this point, a new ES relationship must be found of course, which provides NRE for the next round, etc.

The respective ES relationship is always tapped: Instead of letting the energy flow to the respective couple which has actually generated it (where it belongs!), it goes into energy-draining structures and disappears therein, like in a black hole. If this dynamic is not removed, the entire relationship network will tumble towards an emotional mushroom cloud and blow up in a fiery finale.

The intimacy scale – part 1/3: The model

My boyfriend Nemo has developed a psychological model: the intimacy scale. It describes different levels of intimacy between human beings. The desire for casual sex at the sexual level and falling in love/a desire for a romantic relationship/a feeling of commitment and love at the romantic level are two different levels within the model, however, there are further still. The entire model is expressed in a table and looks like this:

Intimacy Scale
Relationship to each other Mutual interest Form of attraction Extent of intimacy Mutual activities
6
(3, 4 and 5 must be included
in order to achieve stability)
Romantic relationship Sharing each other’s life to the greatest extent,
co-determining life decisions
Affectionate, sensual, romantic Romantic love Kissing, smooching, long embraces / hugs,
sleeping together, cuddling
5
(inclusion of 3 and / or 4 is optional)
Friendship Thoughts and feelings Emotional Platonic affection Deep talks or entertainment,
looking into emotional issues
4
(inclusion of 3 is optional)
Acquaintance Interesting topics,
a hobby or project
Intellectual Intellectual interest Advancement of a mutual topic, hobby, or project,
self experience in a group
3
(excludes 1 and 2)
Fuckbuddy Casual sex Friendly, aesthetic, sexual, physical Erotic desire Sensuous eroticism, enjoying lust,
fucking
2
(excludes 1)
System upkeeper Survival Survival community Indifference Smalltalk,
necessary activities to maintain the system,
tasks in a company’s team
1
(excludes all above levels)
Enmity Avoidance Repulsive Dislike From leaving over blocking
to destroying

The levels presented go from 1 (minimum intimacy) to 6 (maximum intimacy). The aforementioned levels 1 to 6 are stable conditions: They can stay stable for an unlimited period of time, as long as sharing this exact level is desired by both persons involved. For all levels, the activities pertaining to a certain level are essential. If activities of a higher level are carried out on a lower level, mutual frustration will follow: One or both parties involved will start wishing for a higher than the actual level, if not consciously, then subconsiously. If reaching such a higher level is not a mutual goal, carrying out activities pertaining to a higher level doesn’t make sense: The result is playing games, followed by mutual discontent, in the worst case emotional pain.

To picture the intimacy scale in everyday life accurately, each level is explained by an answer to the following question: How do I experience other people with whom I share a certain level?

Level 1: (Enmity):
This person is annoying, obnoxious, doesn’t accept my personal space or my boundaries or is even dangerous to me or people who are important to me. If we don’t have any contact at all, not even by chance, the situation can be considered ideal. If we nevertheless keep running into each other, my reaction is rejection, blocking, leaving or in the worst case using violence for self-defence.

Level 2 (Formal Relationship):
I share this level with any random person, e g. in public transport, cashiers of the nearest supermarket or working colleagues in my company’s team. As long as everybody accepts personal boundaries, we are at least polite or even friendly to each other. We share smalltalk and politeness, in order to keep up “the system”.

Level 3 (Fuckbuddy):
We are mutually sexually attracted to our bodies and share mutual sympathy. As long as basic body hygiene and polite, friendly behaviour as well as consent and respect of all people involved is the case, we can share casual sexual activities and feel happy about it. More talking than smalltalk pertaining to Level 2 and negotiation about our mutual physical wishes is not necessary.

Level 3 has a special characteristic: It can be active or not active between two people sharing one of the next two higher intimacy levels. Both versions result in a happy and stable condition. However, this stability is only the case as long as the status of Level 3 is openly clarified for both parties: If it is not active, it is just skipped on the way up to Level 4 or Level 5. This is e.g. the case, if two persons are sexually not compatible, but authentically share other mutual wishes and activities pertaining to a higher level. The most frequent example is, if two completely heterosexual cis men or two completely heterosexual cis women are acquaintences or friends.

Level 4 (Acquaintance):
I’m in regular contact with this person. We share one or several mutual interests like a hobby or a joint project. This is not a neoliberal Graves 5 project of one’s company, but rather a leisure activity chosen voluntarily, which is pursued together. If enough sexual interest on both sides is present, our acquaintance can contain a healthy Level 3. Then, we discuss issues or carry out suitable activities for our hobby/project while we also have casual sex for fun on occasion. If our Level 4 doesn’t contain the Level 3 at all, this must be clarified for both sides. Otherwise, the unresolved Level 3 intrudes into our acquaintence and allows secondary motivations to slip in: Would we still be interested in the project, if one of us clearly states that an active sexuality is not an issue between us?

Example of Level 4 with an unresolved Level 3:

We have started a band as our Level 4 project. Then, one evening, the other person expresses sexual desire towards me. I decline openly, since I am not sexually compatible or the realisation of such wishes does not fit into my current life. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • A short time after my clarification regarding the sexual level, the project becomes less interesting to this other person. Meet-ups are suspended on short notice or don’t happen at all any more. In extreme cases, the project comes slowly to nothing. This is an indication for the fact that our Level 4 (acquaintance) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 3 – and nothing more: Instead of the mutual hobby or project, rather the fulfilment of casual sex fantasies was hoped for.
  • If the band does not change as a direct consequence of the clarification of our sexual wishes, a stable Level 4 (acquaintance) is given. What we share with one another (creating or making music) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we had casual sex in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Level 5 (Friendship):
I’m in regular contact with this person, however, it usually is more frequent than with acquaintances. We care for the other person’s thoughts and feelings: How does the other person experience the world? If this respective person suffers from a setback in life, I would like to give support – and vice versa. Whether the lower Levels 3 and 4 are active is optional: We can pursue a mutual hobby/project parallel to our discussions on each other’s thoughts and feelings. In the same way exactly, we can enjoy casual sexual activities inbetween our talks or our hobby/project.

If our Level 5 doesn’t contain Level 3 or Level 4, this again must be openly clarified for both persons involved. Otherwise, the unresolved level intrudes our friendship and allows secondary motivations to slip in: Would we still be interested emotionally in each other’s thoughts and feelings, if:

  • one of us clearly states that an active sexuality is not an issue between us?
  • we stopped having a mutual hobby/project together?

Example of Level 5 with an unresolved Level 3:

We are in regular contact with one another and share our emotional interest: Our thoughts and feelings, our opinions on the world, how we have been recently, etc. Then, one evening, the other person expresses sexual desire towards me. I decline openly, since I am not sexually compatible or the realisation of such wishes does not fit into my current life. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • A short time after my clarification regarding the sexual level, this person begins to bring up excuses, in order not to meet with me. Suddenly, the initiave to contact or meet me is nearly or completely gone. This would be an indication for the fact that our Level 5 (friendship) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 3 – and nothing more: Instead of sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, rather the fulfilment of casual sex fantasies was hoped for.
  • If our friendship does not change significantly as a direct consequence of the clarification of our sexual wishes, a stable Level 5 (friendship) is given. What we share with one another (our emotional interest) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we had casual sex in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Example of Level 5 with an unresolved Level 4:

We have started a band as our Level 4 project. Occasionally, we share our thoughts and feelings with each other in the sense of Level 5. Suddenly, something changes and as a result, our project does not work for us any more, e. g. another band member quits the band. As a consequence, the band splits up. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • Since our project is gone, we don’t meet each other during rehearsals or other band-related meet-ups any more. However, nearly all attempts to meet up or stay in contact with one another fail. In addition, talking about our thoughts and feelings is now feeling more and more odd: Strictly speaking, we don’t know any new issues to talk about, since there is no need to cover band-related issues any more. We seek contact to each other more rarely and over time, it comes to nothing. This would be an indication for the fact that our Level 5 (friendship) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 4 – and nothing more: Instead of sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, rather the pursuit of a mutual hobby/project has been the other person’s wish.
  • If our friendship does not change significantly as a direct consequence of our project’s termination, a stable Level 5 (friendship) is given. What we share with one another (our emotional interest) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we pursued a mutual hobby/project in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Level 6 (Romantic Relationship):
That is the romantic level. We are in love/love each other and would like to share as much as possible of our lives with each other. Our mutual activities are: Cuddling one another, smooching and kissing, going to bed together as well as sharing and co-determining all life decisions. This includes living together and decisions concerning the pursuit of sexual wishes.

The intimacy scale – part 3/3: To be stable or not to be stable – that’s the question

How the stable conditions work

If reaching a higher level is within interest of all individuals involved, time and energy must be invested, in order to transfer the desired level into a stable condition. A stable condition from 1 to 6 is determined by the observation that the suitable activities require an investment of a certain amount of personal energy while on average, more energy is generated rather than needed. For a stable Level 5 (friendship) meet-ups must be organized and carried out – that means, time and energy has to be invested. But several nice evenings with friends are relaxing and energy-giving on average (support due to life setbacks such as separations is an exception), so that the persons involved go home afterwards feeling “lifted up with energy”.

How the unstable intermediate levels (don’t) work

On the intimacy scale there are unstable intermediate levels beside the stable levels from 1 to 6. An unstable intermediate level is usually the case, if activities pertaining to a higher level are carried out, while the mutual wishes and expectations however correspond not to the respective level, but to a lower level. Stable intermediate levels, however, do NOT exist: If two people share an intermediate level with each other, this condition has an expiration date by definition. Depending upon the mutual activities, over time, it can ascend either to the next higher stable level or drop to one of the lower stable levels from 1 to 6. A dropdown to a lower level, if a higher level was desired originally, does usually occur along with emotional pain in different magnitudes.

Unstable intermediate levels are determined by the observation that they do not generate energy, but mostly suck energy. This increased energy consumption can be a necessary passage stage, for this example the relationship work in (ideally) the early stages of a romantic relationship. As soon as the situation starts to generate more energy than it consumes, a stable condition has been obtained. However, if energy consumption remains higher than energy generation constantly over some time, it is recommended to analyze whether the mutual intimacy level is actually suitable to the respective person. If especially important people such as romantic relationships or friendships are in question, reflecting the situation by means of coaching or other psychotherapeutic techniques can be helpful.

An example about romantic activities:

We have yet known each other for a short time and we share activities of Level 6 (kissing, smooching, cuddling). Sharing these activities causes or reinforces falling in love or a desire for a romantic relationship. Therefore, an incomplete Level 6, which is an unstable intermediate level, is the case. If the romantic activities don’t lead to a romantic relationship or the respective romantic relationship goes into separation after some time, the mutual desire to spend each other’s lives with one another is not successfully fulfilled. The result is emotional pain in varying magnitudes depending on the individual situation. As a consequence, our relationship status drops to the next suitable stable level. Naturally, this can be Level 5 (friendship) – which is only stable without activities pertaining to the romantic level – another level below, or however, in extreme cases Level 1 (enmity). However, establishing one of the levels above Level 2 (Smalltalk) is usually only possible after some low-contact time which is required to recover from the emotional putdown.

An example about friendship activities:

We have/seem to have a friendship, which corresponds to a stable Level 5: We meet up regularly and share our thoughts and feelings with each other. Suddenly, I suffer from a setback in life: A drastic change which happened too suddenly, separation from a romantic relationship or a serious illness. I would like to get support from this friend to deal with the new situation. This friend either listens to my issues or we pursue some other activities in order to cheer me up. However, now this so-called “friend” refuses to offer me support. But not because there are similar issues going on in his/her life (this would be understandable), but from a complete lack of interest for my situation. Instead, he/she would rather talk with me about the activities for a mutual hobby/project, have small talk or whine about small everyday issues.

This observation leads us to the fact, that a friendship, and thus, a stable Level 5 is not present (any more). This “friend” is obviously interested in sharing a smaller amount of intimacy, either carrying out a mutual hobby/project pertaining to Level 4 (acquaintance) or having casual sex pertaining to Level 3.

However, since the emotional interest necessary for a friendship has only been pretended, emotional pain is the result. Establishing one of the desired lower levels is therefore only possible after some low-contact time which is required to recover from the emotional putdown, or not at all. Therefore, the mutual intimacy drops down to Level 2 (smalltalk) most probably, or even to Level 1 (enmity).

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