The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Guest Post – PolyWHATerous?

Remember when you asked if that more philosophical and less porny post from FOTB Max Rose was going to happen in your lifetime? Well here it is. Again, many thanks to Max for agreeing to let us exhibit his talents here.


I’ve long known that monogamy doesn’t suit me, but it’s only this year, after some personal changes and reading both Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut, that I decided to be open with myself and others about being non-monogamous. But if I’m not monogamous, what actually am I?

Polyamorous is the obvious answer, but I have some problems with both its connotations and the emphasis of some of its advocates. The Latin “amor” in there refers to love, and while from personal experience I know that it’s possible to fall in love with more than one person, I’m not actively looking for romantic love in the “being in love” sense that Emma recently examined. I know that the word encompasses a wide range of non-exclusive sexual experiences, but I get the distinct impression from some practitioners that they’re more approving of the polyfidelity end of the spectrum, and since I’m always going to want adventures, that’s not for me. Besides, I can’t stomach the cod-spiritual self-help language of much of it, and I can’t ignore the stereotypes of free-love hippies and suburban swingers.

Given my less romantic and spiritual approach to sexuality, I notice than some people use the term polyfuckerous in a half-joking sense. Well, yes, there has been and there will be a lot of fucking, but it’s far from the be-all and end-all with me. I don’t believe that you have to love someone, or even know someone’s name, in order to have blindingly good sex, and I thoroughly endorse certain articles that praise casual sex. But I’m not actually very good at one night stands. Most of my recent lovers had been friends before we slept together, and even with those who started as randomish hook-ups, we ended up as longer-term friends and/or lovers. Maybe that’s because I can’t stand most of the meat-market bars around here (I could pull much more often if I weren’t such a music snob); maybe my charms take a while to become apparent; and maybe I do actually prefer a degree of intimacy along with the sex.

So, is polyintimacy the right word for me? I have some very rewarding friendships that are more than platonic, but where the friendship takes on a physical dimension, it’s more sensual than outright sexual. And I love that. I also like the emotional intimacy that I share with several purely platonic friends, and I’ve found that BDSM relationships require a rapid breaking down of boundaries that, if not truly emotionally intimate, can be an astonishingly honest, tender and trusting experience. But in general, the word “intimate” is so ambiguous, used as everything from a euphemism for sex to something that excludes everything short of an exclusive long-term relationship, that it can be more confusing than useful.

Just to complicate things further, I’ve found in the past that I’m much more comfortable agreeing to a certain degree of monogamy if my partner doesn’t mind me flirting with other people, and that might make me polyflirtatious. I often feel that flirtation is more exciting and fulfilling for me than the prospect of actual sex, and I can take a while to warm to sex if there hasn’t been a prelude of playful social and intellectual foreplay (I’m definitely sapiosexual). But while flirtation without intent or possibility of follow-through (e.g. where work, geographical or relationship commitments would make it inadvisable) can add spice and glitter to otherwise platonic relationships, it could also become dangerously frustrating if one were barred from taking it further.

To sum up: I want intimacy, friendship, adventures, filthy sex, flirtation, sensuality and a lot more, but not only do I not expect to find that all with just one person for the rest of my life, I don’t currently want a “primary” partner in a romantic sense, even with external benefits. I’m happy being single, but living within a network of what Sex at Dawn calls “socio-erotic exchanges”, whereby friendships are strengthened through non-exclusive sexuality. I’m loyal to my friends, emotionally and intimately engaged with those I care for, and having a happy cluster of good people somewhere on a continuum from “friend” through to “lover” will be important to me. But I also have had, want to have and will have sexual experiences that are less cuddly and sociable: random pickups, porn, public group sex, paid sex, and unwise yet irresistibly intense love affairs.

So, if I need a label, what would it be? I’m definitely promiscuous, particularly in the etymological sense since I’m in favour of “mixing”, but it’s too loaded a term and it seems to imply I have no standards. While I support the reclamation of the word “slut”, and have jocularly called myself a slut on more than one occasion, it’s still not a useful word. And while I relish the air of dashing immorality that comes with words such as “rake” and “libertine”, they also connote heartlessness and deceit, which I reject.

“Non-monogamous” seems too broad and ambiguous a term, and worse, it normalises monogamy by defining itself in opposition. But on the other hand, I’ve made my way through most of Franklin Veaux’s Non-Monogamy Map, and I’m coming to the realisation that in lieu of a better term, it will have to do. It will tell people what not to expect of me, but not what to expect of me, and now that I think of it: I like it like that.

36 responses to “Guest Post – PolyWHATerous?

  1. Emma January 6, 2012 at 11:52 am

    It will tell people what not to expect of me, but not what to expect of me, and now that I think of it: I like it like that.

    It does seem a disturbing conclusion to come to, defining by opposition to a norm, and yet it’s what I ended up doing when I had to have this conversation lately, because everything else seemed misleading.

    Despite having lived almost my entire life as monogamous (because, as Sinead said, it’s “what you do”) I have to accept that I’m not. I love being in a steady long-term relationship, I like loving and being loved. That doesn’t, however, stop me wanting or loving again, nor does it make it easy or logical for me to accept that, in order to have one thing, I MUST give up something entirely unrelated. Recently I might have been a bit petulant about this, I’ll admit.

    About the most useful term I’ve found lately, though, is “sapiosexual”. Previously I was using about a paragraph of verbiage to explain just what a huge turn-on intelligence – particularly verbal intelligence – is for me.

    I think… up to a point, new labels and terminology are very useful when a person is trying to work out just who and what they are once they realise mainstream ideas and ideals don’t work for them. And then there comes a point where you have to acknowledge their weaknesses, know communicating those ideas is always going to be difficult, and just BE.

  2. Hugh January 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I realise I’m only addressing a part of what you said, Emma, but I find the term “sapiosexual” kind of meaningless. Contrary to what you and other users of the term seem to think, very few people are attracted to people they find stupid. You might disagree with their assessments of their partner’s intelligence, but that’s not really the point. Sapiosexuality is no more unusual than “pulchrosexuality”, eg, being attracted to people who are beautiful.

    • Max Rose January 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      There are people who find intelligence intimidating. There are some who find intellectual pursuits boring and are put off by any discussion that strays beyond cliché and smalltalk. Some have no time for verbal sparring as a form of flirtation, and will be much more interested in someone’s physical appearance, career or sporting prowess. Some people don’t think of themselves as “stupid”, but really don’t value intelligence and learning for their own sake.

      On the other hand, some of us will rapidly lose attraction to someone if we find that they habitually use txt-speak in emails. Some of us would worry if we went back to someone’s place to find no books or art, but on the other hand would get hot and bothered to find that they collect either our own favourite authors or those we aspire to read. Some of us get transfixed by the wit and sparkle of conversation more than by more overt flirtation.

      Seriously, go and have a look through the parts of Twitter or Facebook that aren’t part of our relatively sheltered and erudite circle. Trawl through any Internet dating site, and you’ll find that for a large proportion of people, intelligence and wit really aren’t the sexual turn-ons that we assume.

      To put it another way: U think your sapiosexuel?!? Lol!!!!

    • Emma January 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Contrary to what you and other users of the term seem to think, very few people are attracted to people they find stupid.

      Things that are not hot: people explaining to me what I think.

      This is far, far more than “not being attracted to people who are ‘stupid’ (whatever that means).” This is active attraction to active intelligence (and for me, as I said, specifically verbal intelligence), over and above other factors such as appearance, age, or in my case gender.

      I’ve had multiple conversations over the years with friends about people they’re attracted to physically whose minds they have zero respect for, and they say things like “I wasn’t planning to discuss philosophy with her,” and I think, “Well, okay, but I don’t Get It.” I don’t disagree with their assessment of their partner’s intelligence. It’s a difference of priority.

      But of course, we’ve always, socially, valued intelligence as attractive as much as we have physical appearance. That’s why there are all those songs and poems about people’s bodacious brains.

      • Gossipy Moz January 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

        “check out the brains on that chick” “whoaaaarrr!” {tui ad}

        I do think this is one of those things that gets very complex as soon as you escape the straightjacket. Also, when I try to discover and describe myself without the constraints of normality I find it very hard to distinguish situational behaviour from underlying orientation. I’ve gone through lots of “identity” phases in my life but really, I think I’m more fluid than most identity politics is happy with.

        I recall one lovely conversation with a friend at high school when she was complaining that people thought she was complex, unpredictable and fickle. To her, she seemed quite straight-forward and just said what she thought. I love her for expressing that. It’s my chosen identity: I am Moz, if I must label myself I am mozosexual, moziamorous and mozofidelitous. Another approach is to “tick all boxes that apply”. Heterosexual – tick. Homosexual – tick. Bisexual – tick. Monogamous – tick. Polyamorous – tick. Polyfidelitous – tick. Openrelationshiperous – tick. Tick, tick, tickkity-tick.

        “Stinging Rain” by Capercaillie just came up on random play, how appropriate. You give me words that will never last, But you won’t rule me … if you think you can hold me down, I beg to differ

      • Hugh January 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm

        “But of course, we’ve always, socially, valued intelligence as attractive as much as we have physical appearance. ”

        Good thing I wasn’t trying to get you hot, then.

        I find it ironic that you accuse me of putting words in your mouth when I imply you think sapiosexuality is uncommon, and then explaining how you know a lot of people who aren’t sapiosexual.

        So you say your friends are physically attracted to these people’s bodies/appearances but not their brains. Are you, as a sapiosexual, not capable of this? Is sapiosexuality about not being attracted to people’s bodies if their brains aren’t attractive? The way you described it it sounded like the capability of being attracted to somebody’s intelligence, now you’re saying it’s more than that, it’s a matter of only capable of being attracted to people of perceived high intelligence.

        Here’s why I find sapiosexuality problematic. Intelligence is, in my opinion, something that it’s very hard to assess in somebody without quite a profound understanding of them. I don’t feel comfortable judging the intelligence of anybody other than quite long-term and close friends. It’s very easy to appear more or less intelligent than you actually are. If sapiosexuality was about the appearance of intelligence (be it verbal, written or what have you) it would be less problematic, but to imply that sapiosexuals are only attracted to ~actual~ intelligence, not some more narrow traits that are associated with intelligence, you’re saying that sapiosexuals have an ability to determine intelligence on quite short notice that is unusual. Either that or sapiosexuals only grow attracted to people after a long acquaintance, but I think on the basis of some of your previous posts / comments, Emma, that isn’t you.

        • tallulahspankhead January 7, 2012 at 12:10 am

          Either that or sapiosexuals only grow attracted to people after a long acquaintance, but I think on the basis of some of your previous posts / comments, Emma, that isn’t you.

          Right, but Hugh, you didn’t mean to imply anything by that particular comment, did you? Because if I didn’t know better, I’d be accusing you of slut-shaming. OH WAIT.

          Are you actually listening to any part of this conversation? Because what people are talking about is the difficulty of defining a relationship that isn’t man + woman monogamous, and you’re telling people that the words they are using Don’t Mean What They Think They Mean.

          For the record, I’ve known a lot of people in this conversation for some time, and I can tell you that they _are_ attracted to people for their “intelligence”. You seem to be implying that how smart someone is can’t be perceived as quickly as how nice their biceps are.

          I can also tell you that for me, personally, someone who can make me laugh, who is engaged, who is passionate about something (regardless of whether I am interested in that topic)who has wit and smarts is much more likely to get into my knickers than someone with a six-pack. Never mind how long I’ve known them.

          • Hugh January 9, 2012 at 9:19 am

            Slut-shaming? Really? Did I say anywhere that I thought that being attracted to people on the basis of brief acquaintance was a ~bad~ thing?

            You seem to feel I’m leaping to conclusions that aren’t based on what you write, but I honestly cannot see where you inferred that. Emma is open to casual sexual encounters, she’s written about that many times before and I, for the record, have absolutely no problem with that in her or anybody else.

            As for the rest, if you really feel you can pinpoint intelligence that rapidly then I guess sapiosexuality makes more sense. Personally I don’t think I can, but whether what you’re seeing isn’t what I would define as “intelligence” or I’m just not as good at it is kind of moot.

          • Emma January 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

            Emma is open to casual sexual encounters, she’s written about that many times before and I, for the record, have absolutely no problem with that in her or anybody else.

            I really don’t think I have, Hugh. Given I’m in an eighteen-year relationship, I’m not “open to casual sexual encounters” and it’s been a bloody long time since I was. I’ve been in relationships most of my life.

            Perhaps this is a difference in perception of what “casual” means. I’ve had sex with people I wasn’t in relationships with sometimes, but almost never with someone I didn’t know, and certainly never with anyone I haven’t spoken to or built up some level of rapport with – which can easily happen over the course of one evening. Now obviously, nothing _wrong_ with doing that, but it’s not what I do, and we were talking about what I do.

          • tallulahspankhead January 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm

            Yeah, of the two of us, I’m the dirty slapper, if only because I can’t get someone to marry me.

            Emma actually hasn’t written about casual relationships here at all, that I can remember. I have. And yes, I think you did mean to imply something about whether casual relationships are good or bad. It’s right there in the word ‘casual’. Just because something is short-lived, doesn’t make it inherently bad. Or without serious intent, or careless. This whole post, and the conversation about it is about not privileging one kind of relationship over others. So why are some relationships “serious” and some not?

            I think maybe you are using a much narrower definition of ‘intelligence’ than the rest of us. I don’t expect to be able to tell someone’s IQ based on one conversation. But then, I also don’t consider IQ much of a marker of the kind of intelligence I am talking about. But yes, for someone to be interesting and interestED, engaged, reasonably educated and literate? That is a prerequisite.

        • Emma January 7, 2012 at 10:03 am

          Oh Hugh. You know me and my trolloppy habits so well. And you certainly understand my experience better than I possibly could. I take it, because you’re arguing with me and not Max, there’s a reason you consider my understanding essentially weaker than his?

          What you are suggesting is that people can ‘fake’ verbal intelligence without having it. I cannot see how that’s possible. I have always found that I can have a very reliable idea of whether or not I connect intellectually with someone after a few hours conversation. Amusingly, you also seem to be saying that it’s possible to be attracted to “traits that are associated with intelligence” (whatever they are) but not intelligence itself. Now why would that be.

          So this is my last go, because you’re clearly not listening to me.

          A friend introduces me to a friend of his, M, at a pub. The group of us talk for some hours. It comes out that M did his thesis on Cubist Literature. This leads to M and I talking for about three more hours while everyone else gets bored and leaves, over the period of which, he becomes incredibly sexually attractive. There’s a physical response, Hugh. I can describe it if you’d like.

          Recently I was having a conversation with a friend, and this is a friendship in which, given I’m in a relationship, sexual attraction has been problematic. Tracing the history of our dealing with this back over the last three years or so, we realised my warning that we needed to be careful around each other pre-dated our actually meeting. A difficult-to-deal-with level of sexual attraction had arisen purely from things we’d said to each other on-line. I’m fairly sure that on my side, I’d not even seen a photograph.

          And then there’s the BDSM aspect of intellectual attraction. There are few things that cause quite as dramatic a physical response as someone who can Collar me with words, who can say something without touching me that reduces me to a helpless shaking puddle of utter submission. It may well be my favourite way to go.

          Now, you can say you have problems with the word, just as people have problems with words like “polyamorous” or “homophobic”, but you don’t get to tell people that their experience of their own sexual response is wrong.

          • Hugh January 9, 2012 at 9:22 am

            As I said to Tallulah, I really did miss the part where I accused you of being “trollopy” or anything like that. You’ve explained to your readers at why being open to casual sexual connections isn’t bad, I don’t think I’ve ever argued with you, why are you assuming that referring to that open-ness is some form of accusation?

            As for the rest, and as I said to Tallulah, I wouldn’t be prepared to judge any of those people as more than “potentially intelligent” in those situations but I expect it’s simply a different definition of what intelligence is, or some difference in the ability to perceive it on my part.

        • Max Rose January 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

          I wish I’d never used the term now, given that it’s sidetracked, if not actually derailed, the original purpose of my post. I never intended “sapiosexual” to be a serious term for a quality akin to a sexual orientation: it’s a jocular description of a tendency to be attracted to signs of intelligence.

          “Intelligence is, in my opinion, something that it’s very hard to assess in somebody without quite a profound understanding of them. I don’t feel comfortable judging the intelligence of anybody other than quite long-term and close friends.”

          It’s entirely possible that someone can appear intelligent and well-read on a first meeting, yet turn out to be a shallow fraud on closer inspection. And it’s not uncommon for someone who has less than sparkling conversation, or who has little book learning, to turn out to be a very intelligent person after all. I can’t speak for Emma, but I know that any immediate signs of intelligence or the lack thereof will affect my immediate level of sexual attraction to them. If someone impresses me with their repartee or insight, then that would perk up my interest (so to speak). But if they repeatedly make basic grammatical mistakes or express an admiration for Michael Laws, then that would lead to rapid intellectual detumescence.

          Which is not to say that I couldn’t be physically attracted to a conventionally physically attractive person without any obvious signs of special intelligence, or that I couldn’t enjoy spectacular sex with someone I’ve barely talked to (it happens). But I mentioned it in the context of flirtation and hook-ups, and the outward signs of verbal intelligence are an important part of attraction for me. Yes, that’s probably more about cleverness than true, meaningful intelligence. It’s shallow, but that’s why I used the term “sapiosexual” rather than “sapioromantic”. And you know what? Clever people are hot.

          • Hugh January 9, 2012 at 9:24 am

            To be honest I cottoned on to “sapiosexual” simply because the rest of the post is pretty uncontroversial in my eyes.

            To you it may be a reasonably jocular term, but a lot of people do take it as a fairly major part of their sexual identity.

            For the record, I do think it’s possible to have crappy grammar, like Michael Laws, and still be intelligent.

          • Max Rose January 9, 2012 at 10:22 am

            It’s not even an etymologically correct term, since it applies attraction to wisdom, whereas it’s more about wit than wisdom.

            I do know that one should be wary of judging someone’s intelligence on the basis of their grammar or spelling. I know several people with dyslexia, or for whom English is not a first language, and their linguisitic infelicities have nothing to do with lack of intelligence.

            On the other hand, I cannot think of a functional definition of “intelligence” that would include an admiration for Michael Laws.

      • Isabel January 6, 2012 at 11:48 pm

        I’ve never stopped to think about whether I needed a term for it but there’s a certain type of intelligence (or possibly wit is a better term) which will make me go weak at the knees every time. Clever banter or wry observation will get me going in a way no perfectly chiseled cheekbone ever could. It’s not a preference about who I hang out with but an active turn-on.

  3. Isabel January 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Every time I’ve I’ve mentally rehearsed a reply to this it has come out sounding either sanctimonious or sappy which really isn’t what I mean.

    I think, for me at least, a lot of this comes down to seasons, and choices, and trade-offs.

    As a younger person I wasn’t particularly monogamous and really couldn’t imagine myself ‘settling down’. Then I fell for a bloke for whom settling down and being monogamous was important. I agonised for months. Could I manage that level of commitment? What if it all went horribly wrong – could I live with myself if I hurt him like that? In the end I wanted him more than I wanted the other stuff and, nearly 15 years later, I have no regrets.

    At this stage of our lives, with children and jobs and general grown-upiness, there is little time and energy for added complexity so a stable relationship works well (I think a stable poly-relationship would work equally well but that’s not what we have). That doesn’t mean there aren’t temptations or times when I want it all but, whenever I do the maths, I want to keep what I have and I choose this all over again.

    If, heaven forfend, I were to find myself single again I don’t believe I would deliberately pursue another serious, monogamous relationship so much as be happy with any arrangement that dealt me companionship, intellectual stimulation and the occasional orgasm.

    • Max Rose January 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      “I think, for me at least, a lot of this comes down to seasons, and choices, and trade-offs.”

      “Seasons” is a good way to put it: I take it means something similar to “life stages”, but sounds less like marketing speak. I haven’t followed the traditional life path, or if I have, I’ve bailed out of it and gone back to what’s supposed to be an earlier “life stage”. I don’t have children or property, and have no intention to pursue either, so an essentially single life style works for me. A lot of The Ethical Slut deals with the more complex issues of houses and families for polyamorous people, and it’s for them that polyamorous rights are most lacking and most important, but through a combination of choice and privilege they don’t directly affect me.

      While I’m wary of complaining about something that’s piffling compared to the level of slut-shaming to which women are subjected, there are a lot of people who tell me to grow up. Phrases such as man-child, “Peter Pan Syndrome” and the old favourite “afraid of commitment” exist to shame men who don’t feel any inclination towards mortgages, kids and lawnmowers, but the way I see it, I have grown up. By admitting to myself and being open with others about what actually works for me, I’ll avoid the sort of self-deceit and mutual heartbreak that I’ve known in the past when trying to force myself into that mould.

      While this post isn’t about championing non-monogamy, it’s about exploring the range of options that can work for people, so that in the long run everyone can make mutually informed decisions about their sexual and romantic lives, rather than feeling they have to conform to what may be an impossible standard. Arguing about terminology can seem fruitless, but by investigating all these words I’ve helped clarify for myself what I do and do not want in my life. And you pretty much summed it up:

      “any arrangement that dealt me companionship, intellectual stimulation and the occasional orgasm.”

      Add to that the freedom to seek all those things with anyone else who want to enjoy them with me, and it sounds like a pretty good life to me.

      • Isabel January 8, 2012 at 9:51 pm

        “Life stages” sounds so linear and prescriptive doesn’t it? To me “seasons” sounds more like the organic changes that just happen in our lives. We don’t have to believe there’s only one valid path through life to know that our circumstances, needs and desires change over time.

        I really dislike the shaming that occurs when people eschew traditional partnership and parenthood arrangements. It seems far better to avoid such commitments unless you are certain it’s what you desire than realise you are not suited when it’s too late to back out without hurting people (and yourself.)

        • Max Rose January 9, 2012 at 10:57 am

          “It seems far better to avoid such commitments unless you are certain it’s what you desire than realise you are not suited when it’s too late to back out without hurting people (and yourself.)”

          A few years back, I was in a relationship that I assumed would be, and at the time wanted to be, a life-long monogamous one. However, my partner wanted children and I didn’t. We ended up going through a lot of counselling, with the emphasis on working out why I had “a problem with attachment”, and “fixing” this so that we could go on as a couple. I knew that I would end up resenting her if we had kids purely for her sake, so I had to work out whether I could learn to want to be a father, because one can undo a marriage but one can’t undo children.

          In the end, I not only reconfirmed what I’d always thought (that I don’t want kids), but came to the realisation that I didn’t need or expect to have a life partner. I’m very honest about that now, and I think that it’s saved some potential misunderstandings and heartbreak. That hasn’t stopped some people labeling me as weak, immature or bad, and I’ve missed out on what could potentially have been some wonderful (if fraught) love affairs. On the other hand, being labelled “bad” has opened up its own opportunites.

          Nevertheless, I went on believing that serial monogamy was an option for me. It’s only during the last year that I really had to admit to myself that no matter how much I’m in love with someone, sooner or later I would meet someone else that I could also fall in love with, or at least feel such an intense desire for that it would disrupt a monogamous relationship. No matter how intimate and rewarding a long-term relationship might be, enjoying the thrill of flirtation, anticipation and exploration that comes with new lust is always going to be an important part of who I am.

          To bring this back to something more directly relevant to feminism, I used to feel guilty that I, as a straight cis-male, was insisting on this stereotypically male behaviour. A lot of baby-boomer populist feminism sticks to the old essentialist line that men want sex and variety while women want monogamous love, which would make my non-monogamy sexist at best and predatory at worst, no matter how honest I try to be. Reading a lot more sex-positive feminism in the past year or two has helped reinforce a lot of my personal experience and show that female desire can be just as liberated, non-monogamous and purely sexual as men’s. However, I cannot ignore that in a society that still strongly shames and shapes female sexuality, most women I meet would prefer something more conventional in the long run, which means that no amount of honesty on my part can completely eradicate the possibility of misunderstandings and heartbreak.

        • Emma January 9, 2012 at 11:08 am

          Ah, I meant to reply to this last night.

          It seems far better to avoid such commitments unless you are certain it’s what you desire than realise you are not suited when it’s too late to back out without hurting people (and yourself.)

          What bothers me, I guess, is that you can’t always (or, I’d argue, often) know whether something suits you until you try it. And even then, some of the specifics of that particular attempt might not work out and that still not mean that that thing is not for you. But yes, as you say, the punishment for “failure” (we don’t talk about “failed jobs”, but relationships?) is ridiculous.

          I sometimes wonder if I should ever have had children, if I’m not rather too self-centred and self-contained to be a good parent. On reflection, “raising children” is not quite the same thing as “raising a disabled child when you have a chronic illness”. You never know how it’s going to pan out.

          • Max Rose January 9, 2012 at 11:54 am

            “the punishment for “failure” (we don’t talk about “failed jobs”, but relationships?) is ridiculous.”

            It’s an argument that’s often levelled at polyamory: “Oh look, that polyamorous relationship broke up after a few years. Looks like polyamory doesn’t work after all.” That relationship may have been perfect for those people at those time, but when it no longer does, they should be able to move on to the next places in their lives without adding the guilt of “failure” to any sadness they might have for the passing of love.

            In a sense, the insistence that the only successful relationship is one that lasts a lifetime ends up devaluing the inherent worth of interpersonal relationships, since it sees a relationship as only a means to an end, whether that be security, child-raising or fulfilling societal definitions of “success”. I’ve known several people who got married to a particular person, not because there was something spectacularly special about that person that made them want to spend a lifetime with them, but because they felt it was “time to settle down” and that was who they happened to be seeing at a time. Some people seem so tied up in the idea of being in a capital-R Relationship that they ignore the true value of human relationships: two (or more) people relating to each other, as unique individuals, because they actually want to.

          • Emma January 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm

            It also (“that relationship failed”) reduces the entire relationship to its ending. What about the bits before that, where you made each other happy, and excited, all the laughter and the long talks and the good-screaming? Does that suddenly not count any more?

          • Max Rose January 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm

            It took a year or two after my divorce before my ex and I could get together, get drunk, and say “You know what? We had some fantastic times together.” The fact that the ending was painful should have in itself been a sign that the relationship had had a lot going for it for several years, but it took a while to recognise that, especially since a divorce is more commonly seen as a “failure” than a non-marriage relationship that comes to an end.

  4. Sinead January 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    The more I think of sexuality the more I think it is inherently individual. Just like intelligence or talent. We might all be playing the same piano, but we all play it differently.

    To help with the muddy waters, intelligence is super important to me, but I don’t think I would identify as sapiosexual. As I get older the more I realise visual appeal ranks high for me. You do not have to be conventionally attractive – and many many people assure me my choices aren’t, but your physical form has to turn me on. Sure word play and having read more than 10 books of your own free will are also important to me, but its probably not in the top 3.

    What I look for are a very grounded stability (I wants it and my self generation there of is . . not good) since I can’t say no to myself I need my partner to be able to, Otherwise, I will run you over sooner or later and be equal parts sorry I did it and aggravated you didn’t stop me. Magnetic attraction – which does rely on a physical component for me. If I don’t want to rub you all over while you’re sleeping, I don’t want you sleeping over (sorry!), and a willingness to go out of your way for me. I don’t mean spend you last pay cheque on a present, or walk 500 miles, I mean simple out of your way stuff. If you have a car, pick me up at work, if you stay over friday to monday, wash some dishes or mow the lawn or (heaven!) both.

    If we can’t maintain conversation and we don’t find each other intelligent we aren’t going to last, but – not lasting and being a big turn on are not the same things at all

    • Hugh January 6, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      “To help with the muddy waters, intelligence is super important to me, but I don’t think I would identify as sapiosexual.”

      It’s not clear to me whether sapiosexuals are attracted to intelligence but not solely to intelligence (in which case intelligence is only one factor among many, and a non-intelligent person could at least theoretically be attractive if they had enough other positives) or intelligence is a must-have quality for somebody to be attractive. If it’s the former, you might be sapiosexual, but it’s pretty common – you would have to not find intelligence at all attractive to be sapiosexual, and as I said in another comment very few people are attracted to those without intelligence whatsoever. If it’s the latter, no, you’re not.

      • Gossipy Moz January 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

        To me it’s more than just intelligence. Sure, that’s effectively a prerequisite, but without a reasonable level of education and a habit of learning I lose interest. I have known a few people who are quite intelligent but don’t learn recreationally and I find them frustrating. I can explain stuff to them and they usually get it, but then they stop. There’s no going away and learning more, and generally stuff has to be directly relevant to what they want to do right now or they won’t learn it at all. Not attractive.

        Also, when I say intelligence I mean IQ style. Not EQ or any of the “smart but not school-smart” types. I have huge issues with the whole notion of EQ (why can high-EQ people not socialise with low-EQ people, but high-IQ people can usually explain things to low-IQ people?)

  5. Good Gravey January 6, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Been thinking about polygamy today after reading a comment from Rick Santorum (I think) about how if we allow two males to marry each other, where else will it lead? Polygamy?

    And I was thinking … well … kinda, yeah. Marriage, relationships – it should not matter with whom or how many. Consent, understanding and love. These things make a relationship. And beyond that, nobody should care.

    Me – I can’t imagine myself being with anyone other than my wife …. well … yeah I can imagine it, but I don’t **want** it. But I am just me. Sexuality is an amazingly fluid thing. Errr ….. that sounds bad but you get what I mean, yeah?

    I love the idea that whether the relationship is between 1 man and 1 woman, or multiple people of any gender, it is still love. We all know the world could do with a fuckload more of it than we have,

    • Max Rose January 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      “Marriage, relationships – it should not matter with whom or how many. Consent, understanding and love. These things make a relationship. And beyond that, nobody should care.”

      Exactly. I think I’ve said a few times that rather than expand the range of marriage to include same-sex couples, then polyamorous relationships, the entire concept of “marriage” should be unravelled. Part of that may be my own personal antipathy to the institution of marriage and its theocratic baggage, but on a more philosophical level I object to certain privileges being extended only to those in a supposedly exclusive long-term romantic relationship.

      Rather, the various rights and responsibilities (property, immigration, child-raising) currently bundled up into one legal relationship should be deconstructed, and made available to any and all combinations of adults in whatever way best suits their collective needs. And if you want to have that consecrated in the name of your own particular brand of sky fairy? That’s up to you and your religion, not the law.

  6. Jens January 7, 2012 at 12:11 am

    In Sweden you can be a ‘relationship anarch’, which has some similarities to how you describe yourself and your relationships with people. Sadly the websites I’ve found are only in Swedish, but the basic idea is that *you* freely define or do not define *all* your relationships and their limits, expectations and other ‘rules’. Relationship anarchy questions the idea that a relationship has to be defined in any way. Instead, what a relationship needs is explicit communication between the two or more parties about what it entails. It questions that there is a clear line between any One Special Relationship and other relationships. All relationships are unique and none is necessarily more important than any other. Friends and lovers are not necessarily wholly distinct categories. Relationship anarchy also questions the hegemonical view that jealousy is the most horrible thing possible and that love/sex relationships always need to have implicit or explicit rules to protect both parties from it, at all costs. Instead, lovers should tell each other about how they would feel if one party was intimate with someone else. You make promises if you wish, but recognize that without all-or-nothing promises, there is less room for ‘betrayal’ and more room for understanding and healing within a relationship. Basically, a relationship should be based on all parties’ willingness to participate, and any strict frameworks imposed on them usually cause more harm than good. If people love or care for each other, one can be sensitive about each others feelings and needs anyway. To strictly define the boundaries of a relationship is often to shove the issues of trust, jealousy and fear ‘under the rug’, putting them beyond communication and creating a rift between people. On the other hand, being a relationship anarch in a world where most are not necessitates pragmatism and compromise. When other people demand definitions and rules, or when you yourself would feel most comfortable with having them, they are fine! But not every relationship needs them, and they should not be there without the explicit consent of all involved. In the end, relationship anarchy does not entail any strict tenets in itself, but is a label for a view of relationships that goes beyond other categorizations.

    Something to think about, perhaps?

  7. Gossipy Moz January 9, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I’ve made my way through most of Franklin Veaux’s Non-Monogamy Map

    Riding to work this morning I was thinking about this, and remembered: thank you for this post Max, it’s people like you that help me feel comfortably sexually conservative. Which I enjoy. I do like hearing about the wild experiences of others though.

    • Max Rose January 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      That’s part of my job: to make others seem conservative and morally unimpeachable by comparison 🙂

      Though I did have a conversation recently where a friend managed to shock me with her sexual exploits, but that’s not common.

  8. Hugh January 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I’m sorry Emma, I was confusing something you’d written with something Tallulah had written. My apologies. Obviously that makes what I was saying about your open-ness nonsensical so consider it withdrawn.

    Tallulah: You said, “And yes, I think you did mean to imply something about whether casual relationships are good or bad. It’s right there in the word ‘casual’.”

    I don’t consider casual to be a negative word and I’ve heard a lot of people self-identify as interested in casual relationships without, presumably, meaning it as a negative thing. If you don’t like that description I’ll refrain from using it around you but I don’t think the word ‘casual’ has generally negative connotations.

    “This whole post, and the conversation about it is about not privileging one kind of relationship over others. So why are some relationships “serious” and some not?”

    I suggest you direct this question at somebody who differentiates between serious and non-serious relationships. I didn’t here, and haven’t elsewhere.

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