Columns Feb 10, 2011 at 4:00 am

The Monogamy-Now/Polyamory-Later Trap


So totally right on, Matisse! I'm poly and I've seen so many newbies try the "evolution" model and fail. You nailed it. I will be referencing this column for years to come, I'm sure! Thanks!
Unfortunately, I deeply respect your opinion. This is inconvenient, because I'm in a monogamous relationship, and I have just been flirting with Not-My-Husband. Wishfully thinking I can get some on the side without pissing him off.

I needed a reality check, even if I did not want it. Thanks. You have probably prevented months of grief in my marriage.
Evolution can work, but I wouldn't recommend it on purpose. I was polyamorous in college, but hadn't really tried monogamy. My now-spouse convinced me to try monogamy with em (or, rather, we processed my past polyamory and, in this monogamous culture, came to the conclusion that I was just a non-jealous monogamous person), and I agreed. It didn't work out, so I went back to polyamory. It wasn't because I met someone new: I went online and started looking after I decided that seven years of the monogamy taught me that monogamy wasn't for me.

If you want non-monogamy with monogamy first, as described in this column, you probably want to be a swinger (your relationship comes first, together you play with others) instead of polyamorous.
I'm very poly and have been all my life. I see nothing wrong with agreeing not to expand my relationships for a period of time while a relationship develops, because while love is not a pie to be divided, time is, and a developing relationship requires an investment of time.

On the other hand, setting a time limit such as three to six months for the relationship to get well established, is probably a good idea,and I would not agree to limit new people without a specific time limit.
The "Scared" partner? I would assume from the context that you refer to the "non poly" partner, but I would suggest that either path, poly or monogamy, is fraught with difficulty and emotion - perhaps it's time to admit if one no way is right that a poly inclined person can be every bit "the scared partner" as the monogamy inclined partner?
Well if you know that you are nonmonogamous before the relationship starts, it makes since to avoid getting into monogamous relationships. But my wife & I were mostly monogamous while dating (but open to the idea of sex with others, especially when our relationship was long distance for several months), started swinging just before we got married, and are now happily in a poly triad.
Not a big fan of the term "evolution" for reasons you mention, but I've seen this strategy work out just fine, though usually it works out because it is the less interested in poly from the start partner who suggests that they are ready to open things up.

I suspect that the big cause of relationship failure is not the agreement to open the relationship up someday, but the fact that one of the people making the agreement didn't ever really want to be poly in the first place. Dating people who don't really want to be poly _is_ a great way to screw up a poly relationship.

cons: those you mention, plus the possibility that one partner is _never_ ready to open things.
pros: it really does lead to a stronger "primary" bond, if that is what you are looking for.

Is it possible to screw up a relationship in the way you note above? Of course! But we've all seen a fair number of poly-from-the-start strategies fail utterly too.

I think you go to far in characterizing this approach as doomed to failure.

The example given was Revolution NOT evolution. Evolution takes millions of years. There is nothing slow about Pats "dog in heat" request.
Taking baby steps is absolutely the best strategy for having an open relationship with a lover.
Evolution is always a painful process. In nature, it involves the death of those ill-suited to the environment. That doesn't necessarily mean those who are the strongest survive, or that one iteration of evolution is better than the last, it just means that it fits the environment better.

I also expect that an "evolution" from monogamy to polyamory would also be a painful process, likely one that involves the death of ill-suited relationships. But then, every relationship fails. Until one succeeds.
Do plants really feel pain? I don't think you understand evolution.
Ugh what is with these people insisting Matisse is using "evolution" incorrectly? Her point is that people THINK it's evolution, but it's really not.
I think the author means "evolution" in the sense that one way of being with someone would or wouldn't "evolve" into another way of being with someone. As in, the "building upon" or "leading to something else" definition of evolution... not Darwin's theory of evolution.
This isn't about a relationship "evolving" into poly. It's about a *person* becoming poly. A better way to state this would be: don't start monogamous with a monogamous person and trust that poly is the way it will end up.

If someone isn't already poly, the transition will be painful, whenever they decide to do it. Only do monogamy with a monogamous person if you're cool with the very real possibility you'll always be mono.

The thing that's not really mentioned here is that the partner who says they're interested in polyamory in theory/eventually, but suggests that you start out monogamous and see how things go, is really not interested in nonmonogamy, and is just pretending they'd be willing to try it at some point, or fooling themselves into thinking they would, to appease the other person or seem more sophisticated or some such crap... so you get tricked into forming a relationship with someone who you thought was like-minded but actually isn't.
Man, that was a long sentence. Sorry.
Anyway, point being, it's an annoying situation to find yourself in, especially if you only realize it once you're past the point where you can do anything about it without resorting to doing what Matisse describes and potentially breaking up your relationship.
OMG, here's 14 people I definitely don't want to get involved with. My head hurts.
I think a relationship can evolve, naturally, in any number of ways. However, the column describes a planned process or program, rather than a natural sequence of events. After 30 years, I describe my relationship as "open-minded." Mostly, though not exclusively monogamous. The one rule? No secrets. Whatever it is, we talk about it. It's worked remarkably well for us.
Doesn't *have* to be that way. Our relationship was monogomous with the understanding that we'd probably open up at some point. The difference was we made the decision to be open without having any particular people in mind.
Sounds as if ron_in_PDX wants someone to get all Poly on his arse...
All I can be sure about is that my Partner is my Best Friend. I want my friends to be happy. If getting laid now and then by someone else will make him happy, then I'm all for it. me.
I would have to argue that "evolution" IS actually a great way to go...provided both of you are self aware, know what you want and communicate your feelings honestly.

When my boyfriend and I first got together, I wanted to try being poly (he was fine with it; he'd never been in an open relationship before, but was and is an unjealous type), but I quickly realized that I didn't feel secure enough in our relationship to be "open" yet. Like...I was so afraid of losing him to someone else that I couldn't orgasm with him anymore (this happens to me when I don't feel emotionally "safe" with someone). So we agreed that we'd be monogamous until further notice.

In the meantime, we discussed EVERY damn aspect of how we'd conduct our theoretical open relationship. We hashed out our feelings and insecurities and came up with a set of rules to guide us and make us both feel more comfortable (we have to get each other's permission before pursuing someone, we limit "outside" encounters to casual making out at first so we can acclimatize a little bit at a time, etc.).

We've been together for a year and a half now and we're as in love as we were in the beginning...but now we have a HISTORY. We know each other to be reliable and trustworthy because we've had over a year to demonstrate these traits. It's obvious that this is a RELATIONSHIP and not a shallow fling to be abandoned when the next shiny new thing comes along because, well, we've been together a while and weathered some storms. We feel strong and connected enough that one of us lusting after someone else is just not that scary anymore.

...And a month or so ago, I made out with someone else for the first time. It was fun, my makeout partner fully understood the situation and was good with it, and when I got home my boyfriend was ABSOLUTELY FINE.
I just noticed this key point from the original post:

Time passes, and Pat feels attracted to other people. However, because of the agreement, Pat doesn't act on the feelings or tell Chris about them."

So we have a cautionary tale a relationship in which at least one person is hiding relevant information from the other, and we're blaming the breakup on the RELATIONSHIP STYLE and not the dishonesty?

The problem is not that this couple approached polyamory via the wrong route; it's that they lack the honesty and communication skills to be poly in the first place! OR monogamous, for that matter - concealing information that directly affects your relationship is all-around stupid and a great way to have everything blow up in your face later.
Oh my god, can I marry you?! These exact thoughts have been rattling in my brain lately, and you're the first person I've heard talk about it. I have so many friends who are into the idea of an open relationship, who admit that monogamy might not be the best long-term strategy, but are too scared to actually dive in. They say, "Oh I'll just worry about that down the line," and go about looking for monogamous partners.

As someone who's gone through that heart-wrenching emotional processing of opening up a relationship further (and almost losing my wife over it), I know what a stupid, stupid plan that is. And we were already sexually open! We just opened up a bit more emotionally and even THAT was excruciatingly painful! But I have no idea what to tell these friends of mine without sounding preachy, so I just kind of rib them about it sometimes... but I'm seriously worried!
Re: some of the comments... monogamy/non-monogamy are not immutable characteristics. They are relationship styles/choices. Some work better for some people than others, but it's not like being gay where you know or at least suspect from the time you're a kid and it's completely uncontrollable and unchangable. It's unhelpful to act like people should have "known better" when they end up in this situation. Maybe some of these people who did know they liked nonmonogamy thought they could give monogamy a go. Nothing wrong with trying I guess. Plus nonmonogamy is really hard to embark upon in a culture where it is strongly discouraged and misunderstood, and it usually takes something pressing to push people into trying it, so I understand the urge to embark upon the "evolution" model, even if I think it's stupid.

(Although my friends really should know better because I told them so!) ;)

I think the situation perversecowgirl described can work just fine, but most people who follow this model are not openly discussing the fact that they'll open it up eventually and talking about what that will mean. They're "worrying about it later," which is just a recipe for disaster, or at best some serious emotional pain.

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