Control Tower

Cowboys and Injuries: When Monogamists Pursue the Polyamorous


Ouch, Matisse, this column stings more than most. Even more difficult is when two (or more) people think that just because they're poly, they are the same KIND of poly. "I thought I was your primary!" "No, I'm non-heirarchical - you're unique!" "Just like all your OTHER relationships!" "Exactly! No, wait..."

I have known the mono/poly combo to work. For a while. Occasionally. But I sure don't see it often.
Agreed! HUZZZAH! You say 'Dismissing people's stated definitions of their sexuality as something you can make them change is not love.'

So too, is dismissing *your own*, well-known, hard-wired, or at the very least well-stated definitions of your sexuality not at all self-love, and leaning WAY into the masochistic void.

Thank you for this article.
What is the opposite of a cowboy/girl? A sheep who's lost its flock? Wandering mutton?
It is far more common for poly people to try to turn monogamous people. Why? The polyamorous are selfish and afraid of relationships where they actually have to 100% available & committed.
Pretty simple solution, @Tenyearsofit, don't date one.
Not everyone who thinks of themselves going into a relationship with someone who is poly expect them to change or want them to. I'm in that situation right now, I never considered not being monogamous in my life. My parents have been married for almost 30 years, both pairs of grandparents were married for over 60 years. All my important role models were monogamous. I've fallen for a poly guy, I was friends with him before we started dating so I knew going in that I wasn't going to change him. It hasn't been easy to change the whole way I think about relationships but it's working so far. Even if we don't last as a couple I'll be happy to have been with him and I could never not be his friend. I don't know yet if I'll ever pursue other partners beyond maybe a play partner to top (I switch, he doesn't) but I'm not as scared of the idea as I was a few months ago.
i think it helps that as a poly, bi woman the "monogamous" man who "beat" my 4 secondary partners to become my primary is french. why? because the french built infidelity into their monogamy, which makes my life easier.

now if i could only get the idea out of his head that i'm only "allowed" to play with other women.

I am stunned at the HUGE, sad, ignorant leap you've made here, conflating two things that are very, very different. A person's relational orientation and what they need from their partner(s) are two distinct issues. Being mono does not inevitably mean one requires a mono partner. The fact that there are a lot of cruel, dishonest people in the world doesn't change that fact. I urge you to look again at your argument here, because it's very poor. Deliberately holding an entire orientation responsible for what a few people have done is ludicrous logic.

I don't equate sexual exclusivity with love. I truly believe my poly partner's sexual experiences with others and his love for his girlfriend contribute directly in positive ways to my life. I am deeply grateful to have the gift of watching him build sacred bonds with other people. I have no need for him to prove his feelings for me by restricting his connections with other people; it's a nonsensical notion to me. We have been together for years, and plan to be together for many more... him being poly and me being mono. The thought of me trying to have two intimate relationships fits me as poorly as mono fits for him. It would be entirely inauthentic for ME. But my personal constellation of relationship skills and style is an entirely different matter from what I need from my partner. We are happily committed to one another, and we are a part of the poly community. And, we are not the only ones crafting this shape of poly relationship. Are you honestly willing to perpetuate these ignorant prejudices in your own community? If you want to educate yourself, ask. We have documented a lot of our relationship online, and I'm in touch with several communities of mono/poly relationships.

Yes, someone having the dishonesty and cruelty to try and "rope one off the herd" is horrid, shameful behavior. But so is your demeaning attitude toward healthy poly relationships that do exist, whether you understand them or not. Understandable rage at the former is not an excuse for the latter. If someone tries to "convert" someone, blame THEM for their shitty behavior. But don't make the baseless leap you're making. That's just letting the shitheads off the hook, essentially saying they couldn't help themselves.
Goodies for you for being okay with your husband having other lovers while you don't, Harlot, but if thats really true you're an excpetion to the rule and you know it. But thank you for telling us all how you're so much cooler than we are.
I'm with Graydancer, this one hits close to home. I can't believe I'd never heard the term "cowboy" before.

As to why we do it:

"...hormones, misguided optimism and willful self-delusion, more hormones, and a little emotional masochism—or maybe more than a little."

Ouch, I say! :)
I really have to say that @7's comments ring very true for me as well -- and I'm the poly one in my "mono/poly" relationship. My partner identifies as monogamous, in that he can only conceive of himself as being in one "romantic relationship" at any one time -- and so far, for the last two years, the other person in that one relationship for him has been me. I have had other partners in addition to him during the span of our relationship (which to date is the longest-running and healthiest relationship either of us has been in) and he has not only known about the other partners, but actively encouraged me at points when because of my own history I had a hard time believing he was genuinely supportive.

He has never operated under the assumption that I would be sexually or emotionally exclusive with him, because I told him up front before we got involved that that was not how I am wired, and if he ever fell into that assumption of exclusivity with me it would end badly. He is a very level-headed and stable fellow, which no doubt contributes significantly to the continued success of our relationship. :)

This article, however, sure does predict a lot of doom and gloom for us. According to the view presented here, he must be a "cowboy" set to "cut me from the herd" and our very real relationship is a myth. That really does not give my partner enough credit, and I don't appreciate it.

I'm not saying that everyone with a monogamous relational orientation (or even everyone with a polyamorous orientation!) is in a place or will ever be in a place to have their partners have relationships with others. But that is an entirely separate issue from how many relationships they prefer to have for *themselves* at a time. Please do not conflate the two; it just perpetuates confusion and disrespect for those with monogamous relational orientations, and I would hope we would be more enlightened than that by now.
I really want to make a "git along, lil doggies" joke here, but I can't quite figure out how it'd fit.
Oh, come on, @10. This article is talking about a very specific set of behaviors from a subsection of the mono group. Behaviors which you say your partner doesn't do. If your partner starts trying to get you to be exclusive, then this article will start having some direct relevance to your relationship, but until then... uh, ease up. :)
If you're monogamous and fine with your partner's polyamorous ways, then you aren't a cowboy or cowgirl. You have no intention of changing your partner by the force of your love.
The problem is when someone who knows full well that their partner isn't monogamous decides that true love will "fix" them. Sort of like all of those folks who insist you can cure teh ghey if you just have a heterosexual encounter of sufficient awesomeness.
At no point in this column did Matisse say, "And ALL monogamous people who date polyamorous people act this way! It is teh one twue way!" So uhm, stop being so narcissistic. If you look at this description and think, "Nope not me" then move on with your life and quit whining about how you are being slandered. If you feel insecure and feel she must be castigating you then perhaps there is more to your motivations than you want to admit.
Huh, that's a new term for me and it sounds useful, but I'm going to throw in an annoying 'special snowflake' perspective. I've been in poly relationships for the last few years and it's totally good and fine, but I've also had happy monogamous relationships and I think if I met a really stunningly wonderful mono person I'd probably give up fucking other people if they needed me to. They'd have to be pretty awesome, of course.

But then I don't think of myself as hard-wired poly, it's just the case that I've fallen for poly people and then discovered that it's a style of relationship that suits me quite well.

I guess as a queer (bi), sometimes-gender-agnostic switch, I don't do well with choosing one side of a binary when I can go between both :D
Yikes, 7 and 10, there's no need to get so bitchy with Matisse. She has a limited word count for her column and she is trying to explain a concept, not enumerate all the possible exceptions.

Why get so hot and bothered about terminology, when clearly Matisse is not talking about you? As 13 said, if you're not trying to rope your partner out of the herd, you're not a cowboy / cowgirl.

Honestly, until reading your comments 7 and 10, I'd never heard of a person who identifies as monogamous but is in a happy, sustainable relationship with a poly person. Monogamy to me (and I'm sure to many others) has the connotation of a MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE relationship. Not I-only-fuck-you-but-you-fuck-whoever-you-like. I don't think most people would call that monogamy, although I can see how you might personally identify as monogamous even if you're not in a two-way monogamous relationship.
Yup, there will always be a few special snowflake people out there, but I've always found that dating outside my species [i.e., dating straight, or non-kinky, or monogamous people] is doomed to fail.

The sex initially can be great, but the pain of extricating oneself is usually not worth the endorphins.
Matisse, if I were monogamous, I would still feel lucky to have one small piece of your heart. (gush)
14 and 16, the subtitle of the article is "When Monogamists Pursue the Polyamorous," and the article itself says, "if you're poly and you're involved with someone who's not, once the hot sex cools off and reality sets in, every single problem that occurs in the relationship will somehow devolve to: You're fucking other people."

Again, that's "If you're poly and you're involved with someone who's not" -- not "if you're poly and the person you're with is a cowboy/girl" -- that "special subset" that is never demarcated as a subset. The two sets of "monogamists" outlined in the article are "those who stick to dating other monogamists" and "those who try to 'rustle' poly people" by assuming they can change them.

The fact that "monogamist" and "cowboy/girl" are used interchangeably throughout the article further cements this notion. After all, "Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place?" Again, monogamy is presumed to mean an insistence upon one's partner being or becoming monogamous, when that is not a fair assumption. To say that not "dating within our own species," as another commenter put it, is to invite *inevitable* emotional pain closes off a lot of spaces -- including ones which I and my partner currently inhabit.

And that isn't even getting into the can of worms that is poly people who insist that their partners be exclusive to them for whatever reason! Does that make them not polyamorous, if a monogamous person NOT insisting that their partner be exclusive makes them not a monogamist (since, according to this article, monogamists who try to date polyamorists must want them for themselves alone)?
>> Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place?

I have absolutely no fucking idea. I also don't know why a dyed-in-the-wool mono person would get romantically involved with a poly person - why put yourself through all that when there are loads of perfectly good people around who want just the same thing as you do?

To be honest, whenever I see the "We're a mono-poly couple and we're sooooooooooooo happy!" comments on this kind of post, it always reminds me of those Republican politicans and ministers who get caught with another man and their wives totally stand by them, everyone with this rictus Stepford grin.
"and a little emotional masochism—or maybe more than a little."

and sometimes a little emotional SADISM - or maybe more than a little.

Way back in my past, I made the mistake of getting involved with a nonmonogamist. She was the one who kept trying to preserve the relationship, kept telling me how it wasn't a big deal, how I was the one she would always come home to (meaning I was the one left at home waiting), every argument under the sun to make me stay. It would have been better and more respectful for her to cut me loose after the first time I expressed reservations, but no, she was busy trying to sell me on the deal, making me into the emotional bad guy in the process.

It turns out that way back in HER past, back when she was monogamous, her husband cheated on her in all sorts of deceitful and manipulative ways. She was busy working out her trauma on one wide-eyed innocent fool after the next, getting them hooked on her, and then running them through the non-monogamy meat-grinder.

"Don't try to turn them" cuts both ways.
7 and 10, do whatever you want. MM and nobody else is gonna stop you. But your naked desperation for validation is embarrassing. If you're that hungry for 100%-uncritical-attention, maybe you should get a dog.
I lost a poly partner to a cowgirl about 6 months ago, and she is one of those dependant personality types. All I can say is there's gonna be a whole lot o' trouble when things ain't working out no more, and I'll be far far away from the aftermath.
I'm monogamous. After years of reading about polyamory from many amazing sources, including you, Matisse, and knowing and being quite impressed by happy and healthy polyamorous people - those in relationships that often exceed the healthiness of monogamous relationships due to those involved having very high ethical standards and consciousness toward how to treat others, I think I have a pretty good idea about how polyamory works. Though, I realize I am no expert, because I have never been in a polyamorous relationship. That said, years ago I met a polyamorous man who was recently single. Very smart, very experienced, but due to what I immediately saw as "hormones, misguided optimism and willful self-delusions," this man tried to convince me that he would consider a monogamous relationship with me, because we really liked each other. It was I who did not proceed further. No hard feelings, but whew! So I guess what I'm getting at is, it can go both ways.
Funny, it would never occur to me or my partner to use the label monogamous to describe @7 or @10. In his mind, if you're okay with your partner dating other people, then you're poly because you're in a poly relationship. The fact is that your relationship includes more than two people: even when my partner never meets my others, he is still sharing me - some of my time, sexual attention, emotional attention, financial resources, etc. gets spent with that other. And he does a lot of self-examination, emotional honesty, and communication that he would probably not do if it was just the two of us. We also are not "out" to family, coworkers, casual friends - so it means he has to be discrete about our lives in a way that he would not have to be if it was just the two of us.

He would not consider himself mono unless he wanted me to stop dating others.

But to each his own. So my partner and I consider him poly even though he's not interested in dating anyone else right now (he knows he has my enthusiastic support if his feelings change). That just feels most accurate for us. If it's important to @7 and @10 to use the mono label, that's peachy - they have a right to define themselves in a way that feels comfortable to them.

Maybe the disconnect here is due to the fact that MM is more familiar with the labeling scheme that my partner and I use. Perhaps it is not that common for folks in poly relationships to use the mono label to describe themselves? I don't know - I haven't encountered it before, but I only have a tiny sampling of poly friends to go by.

Dear Poly,
Why not just kiss your mirror, and call it good?
This is blowing my mind and breakng my heart. I have been low-key poly, but was in a monogamous relationship for 13 years with little problem, except I left it for a poly relationship of equal length that recently ended.

Recently I have fallen, really hard, for someone who has a problem with poly (because of her tepmerament, not her values). I believe I can change my bahavior (no outside sex) but feel sure that I cannot change my emotional self in loving others.

I don't know if I'm fooling myself about being able to be with this person, but she is the most amazing woman I've ever been involved with (there is SO much more going on than chemistry / sex thank you) and she feels the same about me. I just wonder if there is any hope for us long term.
People who put stock in "people's stated definitions of their sexuality", including their own, are hopelessly naive. We all have people we'd gladly screw without commitment and others for whom we'd cut off our left nuts. Sexuality is situational and attempts to define it up front are silly role-playing games that have no part in adult relationships.
@21 There are a$$hats in every lovestlye. There are liars, cheaters, sneaks and simply emotionally inept monogamous folks, poly folks, men, women, fans of the color blue and so on.

It's no more appropriate to push poly/monogamy on people who aren't comfortable with it than it is to try to convert someone to your religion. Your ex made a mess of her relationships. That doesn't mean everyone who isn't monogamous is screwed up, or screwing others up. It means that she had issues.

Most of the crappy, pushy, sneaky or coercive partners in my past were monogamous. I don't blame the whole monogamous lovestyle for that. It's right for some, not right for others, and neither good nor bad in and of itself.
Oh, and for the record, I remained exclusive when I was dating mono folks. I didn't push for poly. I don't date mono people any more, as a rule. But when I did, it was by their rules.
This is a lot about not loving someone for whom they are. It exists not only in parallel universes, but in all relationships involving self-unaware people. Ride on.
and then there's the sad fact that all even after you finally find a good label for yourself it might peel off. Those things don't always stick permanently. having a half a century to watch people I can see almost everyone changes over years. Someone who started out poly might lose that drive when middle age hits. Someone who's mono might get really really bored and suddenly think poly looks kind of interesting.

I bet that's a real PITA for someone whose central identity is their sexual make-up...maybe even enough to make them stick to a type of relationship they've emotionally grown away from.
@21: Maybe your partner was trying to "respect" you by trusting _you_ to decide when you wanted to leave the relationship, instead of reading your mind and breaking up with you "for your own good" as you seem to think she ought to have done.

If _you_ were unhappy, it was _your_ decision to leave. Not hers.
So true, Allan! (@33).

@21: your partner had every right to argue for your relationship if she wanted to maintain it. It sounds like she said in every way she could that she wants to stay with you, and that you couldn't handle her non-monogamy, which she was honest about from the get-go, and are now trying to cast the blame on her.

Finding a psychological trauma as a cause for someone's behavior does not invalidate their reasons or their actions. We all do things for reasons that stem from our past -- but part of being an adult in a mutually respectful relationship is taking people at their word. It was *you* who let *her* down -- in getting into a non-monogamous relationship you (implicitly or explicitly) promised to love her as she was, but discovered that it didn't work for you. Why are you trying to blame her, when it was your (emotional) check that bounced when she came to cash it?
It is possible to really, truly, deeply love someone and not be a good partner for them.

If anyone in the relationship says or thinks to themselves "I guess I could TRY to curb my own desires for my preferred relationship style in order to be with this person because I *love* them", then you're probably deluding yourself.

If you can't say "Yes! That's what I've been looking for!", or even "I have no emotional attachment whatsoever to any particular relationship style - whatever works, works", then you will fall into this cowboy struggle. Yes, it works both ways - it's not fair to the poly person to try and "fix" them or "show them that I'm the One True Love for them", and it's not fair for the poly person to string along a mono with "but I can change!"

Love does not conquer all. If the people in the relationship want fundamentally different things from their relationship, it will not last and it will most likely end very badly.

It is possible to truly love someone and not be a good partner for them. If you do truly love them, back off and let them find a relationship that will make them happy.
Also, although MM may not have specified it in this article, it is an established term and definition that requires a particular set of behaviours and/or motivations in order for a person to qualify for that term.

In other words, a cowboy is *specifically* a mono person who tries to turn a poly person back to being mono. The term "cowboy" does not apply to all monogamous people and never has, nor has it ever been intended as such, in spite of any possible implications made by the interchanging of the terms here in this article.…;…
Wow 21, resentful much?

There is a miserable lack of self responsibility here, no one 'made' you do anything, if you are in a relationship than it is what you choose to do, if you decide to stay in a relationship which is not working for you, it is also your choice.
You may not appreciate the way a person treats you but at the end of the day, you do not have to put up with it. Why are people SO very keen to play the victim or the 'orrible Mono/Poly person?
Furthermore, I seriously do not understand the ganging up mentality on numbers 7 and 10, though I agree that they are both IN 'Poly' relationships, not Mono-Poly (I don't believe in Poly as an orientation anyway) the article might lead some to believe that only relationships where both people are doing the same thing, will be healthy ones, they have a right to point out the other pov. Besides NOTHING in their posts were aggressive or bitter, I think the response that has been given to them is extreme and uncalled for.
Like #25, I assume that people who act in a monogamous manner within a polyamorous relationship would not call themselves monogamous. A person who believes that it is morally acceptable to have multiple relationships and is in a relationship with a person who also believes as such is in a philosophically poly relationship. Whether either or both of them have outside relationships.

I know several people who fall into this category. Just because they are open to these relationships doesn't mean that they always have additional partners. Assuming such is probably a symptom of the idea that poly people aren't choosy about who they connect with, and I suppose it is understandable. Many of the more obvious polyamorous examples we see are NRE junkies, or relationship collectors... but that doesn't mean that all (or even the majority of) poly people are that way. Lots of us go long periods of time acting in a monogamous manner, while still being poly people.

Personally, I think one has to search for meaning that isn't in Mistress Matisse's comments in order to be offended. The descriptions that Joreth points to in #36 are the ones used in the poly community.
Oh gosh, yes. I've run into this problem too many times. The issue for me hasn't so much been 'I'm monogamous but I can change my attitudes because we're in lurve' from my previous partners (particularly the guys) but "Hell yeah! Hot Bi babe! This is AWESOME and exactly what I've been looking for!" which somehow manages to include the unspoken assumption 'but I thought you'd give it up when we got SERIOUS' despite my open declaration that I am not monogamous, never have been, and have no intention of ever being.

Congratulations to all the folk sorted enough to understand that wanting a particular thing for yourself (mono, poly, kink, whatever) doesn't mean it's okay to demand it from your partner(s). For now though, I'm several-times-bitten, many-times-shy where it comes to dating folk who aren't already poly.
I got involved with a mono- woman last Winter. She seriously thought that my claims to being poly simply meant I hadn't met the right woman yet, and that once I did, I'd choose her and forgo all others.
I had to let her go.
The reasoning displayed by this article is the same that is displayed by fundamentalists, many psychiatrists, and other closeminded people about BDSM.

(Insert name of known serial killer) was diagnosed as a sexual sadist. He got off on hurting people and then, he KILLED THEM. Therefore, everyone who gets sexual satisfaction from sadistic acts must be a sociopath/psychopath/potential serial killer. YOU CANNOT GET INVOLVED WITH A SADIST, THEY WILL KILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL YOU. Maybe not today, but one day! They are cold, heartless bastards!

Let me share my take on it.

Immediately, in the second paragraph she switches from the terminology of “cowboy/cowgirl” to “monogamist”.

And I quote. Her ENTIRE paragraph.
“I understand why people—including those dating the person being courted by the monogamist—view such tactics askance. The number of potential partners is small enough for polyamorous people without the mono crowd rustling them. It’s also no mystery why they try. Viewed through a monogamist’s gaze, dropping your lasso on a wandering heart is the stuff of songs, literature, and drama. But it begs the question: Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place?”

Now. The problem with that paragraph is this: It isn’t a monogamy thing. I promise. As someone who has played monogamy, monopoly, polyamory, and probably a few different relationships styles in between- that’s not how it works. As a monogamist, I would never *REQUIRE* it of someone. Now, I would ask (and if things progressed, require) that they do it in an ethical form- I want to know about it, and I want you to use rubbers, and I reserve the right to request you not sleep with certain people after we discuss my reasons and make sure it’s not just me being insecure but may be an actual problem I have with the person (personality conflicts, a known “cowboy” type, high drama elsewhere, etc.). But I’m not going to try to stop you under most circumstances. IF Matisse wants to keep to the situation she proposed in her introduction, she fails in the first sentence of her second paragraph.

Not every monogamist is a “cowboy/cowgirl”. So why use a term that encompasses a MUCH larger group of people, that, unfortunately, also encompasses the people who purport the horrendous and heartbreakingly atrocious behavior of the “cowboy/cowgirl”?

If one is going to put it out there for what is known to be a large audience to read, one must be so very specific with the chosen words, chosen meanings, and define all things as clearly as possible, so that things ARE NOT mistaken. She did a WONDERFUL job, in the first paragraph, of giving us the label “cowboy” and defining what they are known for- what their behaviors are.

Then, she went from using a term SHE chose and SHE introduced and SHE defined, to using a term that has a meaning much larger, much broader, and much more inclusive than the singular, smaller group of people described in the first paragraph.

As the column progresses, she continues to use the term mono or monogamist. She may have *meant* to say cowboy. But she didn’t say that. She said monogamist or mono. That involves a lot more people than just the “cowboys/cowgirls” of the world. SO much more.

So if she *meant* to say cowboy, she would have said it. She proved in the first paragraph she is capable of typing the word. She is experienced enough a columnist to ensure congruent word choice. And if she isn’t, she should not be posting to such a public blogspace. But until she writes something to the effect of “I’m sorry I hurt those who identify as monogamist by making the extremely public mistake of stating that EVERY SINGLE ONE of them who are in a relationship with a polyamorous person are in the relationship in order to “change” the polyamorous person, and subject them to horrendous and unimaginable emotional and mental stressors”, I don’t and won’t believe that.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

And if you have NO first hand, personal insight into healthy, meaningful, functional relationships of ALL natures, keep your fucking “stereotypes” out of it. Don’t tell me it can’t happen, when I have quite a few examples showing that it can.

I don’t know many stereotypes that come from a functional and healthy place. All you do is hurt those of us who strive and work and bend over backwards to be those people who break stereotypes for the good, who offer ourselves and accept our loved ones for who they are, what they are, and would NEVER seek to change that about them. If you don’t know about it, don’t write about it as a matter of absolute fact, because it obviously is not.

Now, read it this way.

(Insert name of known serial killer) is known in the community as a “cowboy”. He got involved with XYZ, who is polyamorous, and then he tried to manipulate her into MONOGAMY. Therefore, every monogamous person who gets involved with a polyamourous person must be that way! YOU CANNOT GET INVOLVED WITH A MONOGAMIST, THEY WILL TRY TO CONVERT YOUUUUU. Maybe not today, but one day! They are cold, heartless bastards!
#29: I don't think I ever said otherwise. Not sure where you get the idea that I think all polygamists are like this. I'm just noting that it isn't always the monogamist pushing the relationship to continue, it isn't always the monogamist trying to turn the polygamist, and it isn't always the polygamist operating out of a sense of high enlightenment.

I totally agree, there are asshats in every lifestyle. I had the bad fortune to hook up with one of those when I was too young and inexperienced to know where my boundaries were, let alone being willing to enforce those boundaries against someone that I loved telling me that the boundaries were bullshit and that I needed to grow so I could be like her. (At the time, the only thing I needed to grow was a pair.) I also found out that this person made a habit of practicing the same relationship cycle with similarly inexperienced people, one after another, to the point where "preying on them" was not an unfair assessment.

33: No, she wasn't trying to respect me by waiting for me to leave when I found my own limits. She was actively trying to talk me out of those limits, and claiming that everything would be just fine if I could just be a little more enlightened. I bent over backwards trying to see things her way AT HER ENCOURAGEMENT, until she found someone else and abruptly dumped me.

One last clarification about this particular relationship: she did not OPENLY declare herself polyamorous. The whole thing was very coy. The arguments did not start until after after it became clear that these evenings weren't merely dinner out with an old friend.

Yes, it would have been smarter for me to leave and not look back after her first night out. It would have been smarter for her to not try to stop me. It would have been smarter for me to not listen when she did tried to stop me. Enough stupidity to go around.

34: The article excoriates monogamist cowboys for trying to cut one out of the herd and trying to turn that person. Then you say " your partner had every right to argue for your relationship if she wanted to maintain it." How is that not trying to turn the partner? Are you saying that Matisse's premise is invalid? Or is it that it's fine when a poly tries to turn a mono, but not the reverse?

"Finding a psychological trauma as a cause for someone's behavior does not invalidate their reasons or their actions." Sure it does, when the pattern clearly indicates wreaking some sort of misguided revenge on subsequent partners for abuses committed by a prior one. Bullshit behavior is bullshit behavior, and understanding its roots does not make it suddenly okay. In some cases understanding it simply exposes how deeply fucked up it is.

37: In case you hadn't noticed, the whole argument of this article is telling people to not try to force somebody to be who they are not, and in case you also hadn't noticed, I totally agree with that. Again, however, that cuts both ways.

I am in a situation where I've been with my partner for over a decade. He told me that he loves women. I told him I love men. He told me he was not polyamorous but I always knew in the back of my mind that he probably was. I found out recently he's had over six affairs in the past six years. He claims it is just for variety and "fun" but that he loves spending most of his time with me. I am doing my best to accept this while trying to figure out if this lifestyle is what will ultimately bring us closer together. Any advice?
I'm rather astounded at the degree of anger expressed by some of these comments, directed at MM. As I said in 41, I've been involved with a monogamous woman, who thought she could "tame" me.

It was a mistake on my part to try. I had told her that I had no intention in staying monogamous, but that one relationship "suited me for now". She took that and ran with it, eventually resorting to emotional manipulation to try to keep me with just her.

So I learned my lesson. Anyone I date needs to acknowledge my freedom to date others, just as much as I acknowledge their freedom to do likewise. If they don't use that freedom to actually do so, it's their choice.

MM does a very good job of pointing out one of the most common problems with a "mixed relationship" between monogamists and polyamorists. I, too, have never seen any such relationship persist for long.

Better to just "keep it within the tribe", IMO.
@44: Your partner is not polyamorous, he is a cheater. DTMFA.

A relationship that is opened, Commodore Perry-style, at the threat of infidelity is almost always doomed to fail.... particularly if you aren't naturally inclined toward polyamory.
@19: "And that isn't even getting into the can of worms that is poly people who insist that their partners be exclusive to them for whatever reason!"

The technical term for that kind of person is "fucking hypocrite."

(pun intended)

"Opened Commodore Perry–style" is my new favorite phrase. Could be repurposed for rape-play, even . . .
@46 Wouldn't it be better if long-term relationships could see a little infidelity as a bump in the road, rather than as an iceberg that necessarily destroys the relationship?

@ 44 - you uncovered six affairs in six years, what I'd consider more than a little infidelity. Were they with men? is that why you included the sentence about how you each said you were straight? But the bottom line is that only you can figure out if you're better off with your partner or without him.
"Dismissing people's stated definitions of their sexuality as something you can make them change is not love. It's just disrespectful ... "

Wow! Wish I had a dime for every time I had a bi or lesbian friend think she could somehow "change" me (despite my being hetero). I'd be rich.

And it IS disrespectful to foist your fantasies on someone else and expect them to comply even after they've made it clear they don't swing that way.

I dated a bi guy a few years ago who was poly. I was fine with it because he told me up front and I didn't have any fantasies about "cutting him out of the herd" or some how "changing" him. Honesty is still the best policy.
@49 It depends on how much damage the lies, deceit, and betrayal does to the innocent party. Can trust be re-established, sure, but the innocent party will never look at the cheater the same way and will remember the lost innocence.
@44 Ouch. Poly is many things, but one big constant is that practitioners really are supposed to hold ideals of honesty and openness. (Even if you just have one conversation that goes, "Honestly, do whatever you want, I don't want to hear about it.") What you described ain't poly. If it were me, even if I wanted a poly relationship, I'd be very, very doubtful that he had enough respect for me to establish the honest communication that poly really needs.
@51 I'm in the process of rebuilding the trust, and I'm finding it not impossible. (Though a few more episodes of deceit would certainly make trust harder to rebuild.) For the moment, it helps not to think in terms of "cheaters" and "innocents." In a marriage between adults, there are no innocents, and there's probably plenty to forgive on both sides, though it may not all have to do with sex.
@51 A lot depends on the age and experience of the individuals involved. I wasn’t talking about a person being an innocent (if I did it would much preferred to victim), but the loss of innocence. An unconditional belief in the goodness, honesty, and integrity of a person. If I were skeptical or cynical about a person going into a relationship, then why even bother in the first place. Maybe that makes me an unrealistic, naïve, romantic, but isn’t that what love is all about. In most situations, the only person responsible for an affair is the cheater since they are the person who made the decision. Assuming a relationship is salvageable, the time and resources would be better used in addressing the problems in the relationship than in cheating. The use of time and resources for affairs comes at the expense of the relationship/marriage. Again that is the decision of the cheater and is effectively stealing that which the innocent has a right to expect from the cheater. Both parties may be responsible for the problems that existed in the relationship prior to the affair, but the offended party (if you prefer that to innocent) is not responsible for the cheating or the problems that arise from it.
@54, I'm just saying that one person's mistake doesn't have to mean the end of the relationship. And for me (and others) it's not helpful to see one person as the good person and one as the bad person, if the goal is to get past it. I don't take responsibility for his cheating, but I do take some of the responsibility for not communicating well about sex in recent years. And for sometimes watching TV or reading blogs during time which could have been better spent screwing.
Oye! Lovely! I was dating a girl (I say girl, because, as I look back, she wasn't/isn't mature enough to call woman) who, after a few dates and knowing from day one I considered myself non-monogamous and likely Poly: "Well, don't you think you want to settle down some day?"


We didn't make it much longer...which was fine by me.
EricaP What I'm trying to say is an affair permanently changes the dynamics of any relationship even if the affair is never discovered/admitted. Having an affair is the proverbial crossing of the Rubicon. There is no going back. One party decided that it is okay to lie, deceive, and betray. The other party is going to have to deal with the damage done to them before they can really work on the damage done to the relationship.
@57, Agreed that an affair permanently changes a relationship. But having children does too, as does moving to a new city, prioritizing one person's job over the other person's, facing health issues, etc. etc. etc. Extra-marital sex happens, and then if people want to stay together, they have to figure out how to do that. It is possible to maintain a loving partnership after a betrayal of trust, but not if you keep focusing on the betrayal, as opposed to the partnership.
Is there a nickname for Poly folk who try to convert the monogamists?
Will you agree that an affair damages the involuntary participant as well as the relationship. That the damage to the individual needs to be addressed before the damage to the relationship can be effectively addressed because if the individual continues to hurt then no amount of effort exerted on behalf of the relationship is going to work. You might resolve the pre-existing issues in the relationship, but there are going to be a whole new set of issues due to the affair.
I will say that I was definitely hurt by his infidelity, but now, five months later, I don't think I am still "damaged." We have great sex, and I feel that in a way, I have more confidence in the marriage than I did before. I used to worry, "what if he cheats?" And now we've gotten through that particular trial by fire, and we're still together. But then, it probably helps that he told me the truth himself (five months late), before I figured it out.
I glad that you have stopped hurting. I do caution you that depending on how traumatic it was for you, you may experience post traumatic stress disorder episodes. Even if there are no further disclosures or lapses, you may experience bouts of anger and/or depression for no obvious reason. Something trivial may trigger a subconscious response. The other examples of life altering events are different because they are either voluntary, joint decisions, or require informed consent.

The other issue is what was the underlying cause of the affair. If the person had the affair due to their own issues, which probably affected the relationship, but weren't caused by the relationship then trying to address relationship issues is doomed to failure unless the underlying issues of the cheater are addressed.

The hardest thing is to learn to trust the other person again. There are always going to be lingering doubts about the cheater's truthfulness and honesty, particularly if they were able to lie and deceive without you being to detect the prevarication. While the trust may be re-established, it will never be the same as it was before the affair. Trust, but verify and no longer give them the benefit of the doubt.
Proselytization in any form sucks. At the same time, I am all for the respectful exchange of ideas. It's hard for many people to cipher out the difference, I think, and also harmful to relationships, overall.

@62 Trust but verify sounds good in theory, but in practice, I have to either walk away or trust him without verifying. He works long hours, so could he take some of that time for secret trysts, yes of course. Unless I made him change jobs, that's just a fact of life.

But thanks for the heads-up that this may come back as emotional upheavals at a later date. I agree with that intellectually, and it's good to hear it from an outside voice, even though right now I feel fine emotionally.

Thanks for the exchange, a_skeptic_and_a_cynic
There are all different varieties of this phenomenon. MM probably did not have the space to mention that cowgirls/boys will go so far as to POSE AS POLY in order to rope in their poly love interest. Or that there are some polys whose MO with their partners is "I can be poly and have other partners, but you can't," or "We both can have other sex partners, but you aren't allowed to have emotional connection with your sex partners (although I can)." I am still smarting from the latter myself, I lost my much-loved secondary partner to a supposedly poly cowgirl who lied and manipulated him right out of the relationship with me, while leaving him with one other partner who was strictly sex, nothing more.

I think that ultimately, a truly healthy relationship (mine wasn't, although we were working on it) can't be completely wrecked by a cowgirl/cowboy, but cowgirls/boys CAN damage trust between poly partners, unless the person being "roped" is smart enough to realize what is going on and end the relationship. Unfortunately, NRE DOES cloud people's judgement.
You're welcome. Unless you fell heads or heels in love with him at start of your relationship or were a babe in the woods, you probably had a healthy degree of skeptism towards him and the things he said. What I advocate, is returning as much as possible to that mindset. I found that there was an uncertainty (fear if you will)with respect what they did and said, that would never have been questioned prior to the affair.
One other thing, you may consciously forgive him and let time blur the memory of this tribulation. However, the subconscious is tricky, memories will return unwanted and for no apparent reason. You could find yourself reliving the feelings you felt. I found that this, the return of the feelings, applies to many of the emotionally stressful situations (not just related to relationships) that I had to deal with. Going through a commitment hearing, as the applicant, for my father at 25 was particularly distressing. Dreams as you may know can be extremely distressing even when you know it is a dream. Being trapped in a situation, unable to escape or wake up.

Bottom line you and the relationship can survive. Some people say this kind of experience can strengthen a relationship. I don't know if that is true. I do know that I will carry emotionsl scars and changed brain chemistry with me for the rest of my life.
Terrific article. That is all, and thank you.
This was a great article, but the problem is that many people do not have their sexuality totally figured out, and pursuing their own desires runs them into a brick wall of sexual incompatability. One of those situations where the risk may be worth it despite the certainty of the failure. Telling people not to go after what they desire because they might get hurt... not very much like you MM.
Avast2006 @ 21:

You wrote, "how I was the one she would always come home to (meaning I was the one left at home waiting)."

That's the situation I just got out of, with the added complication of the fact that we were both poly (so sometimes I was waiting at my boyfriend's house). I had one additional serious partner, but she had three confirmed partners and was just starting in on another possible relationship when we called off our engagement. She likes to try out new relationships every year or so, reinventing herself and her understanding of love and intimacy in the process, while I tend to be slower adding new people into my life in general. I don't blame her for wanting to revisit her understanding of love--once I tried it and found that nonmonogamy was not the end of the world for me or my partners, I found it was a great option for me, too. But it was tiring to be told over and over again that she was glad that I was the stable, dependable, straightforward person that would always be there for her and she could relax with, when she was always telling me this at midnight after coming back from coffee with her new fling or 8 am as she chatted with her online date on the other coast. When I had to ask her six times to get her to schedule a date night with me--which we would both ultimately enjoy, and afterwards wonder aloud why it didn't happen more--it ultimately turned into her feeling like I was more a deadweight than a "rock," and I started wondering if there was something wrong with me needing things from her, because she acted like it was an imposition that I had to ask for what I needed, but she gave other newer people her time freely. I started to wonder if maybe I wasn't supposed to need, want or ask for anything from her, which is of course incorrect. And I don't see how she was supposed to guess, either.

Any poly people have thoughts or suggestions? I haven't seen this problem come up much anywhere I've read and there seems to be an interesting discussion going on here.
CPS, so sorry to hear of your painful situation. Sounds like you made it clear that you needed more of her free time, and she didn't respond well to that. You're better off without her.
CPS: That comment feels like the most off-topic part of my little rant, but yes, I agree with you. If someone thrives on novelty to that extent, then being the primary relationship isn't a position of honor so much as it is almost certain bed-death. Stable equals dependable, dependable equals predictable, predictable equals uninteresting.

The other side of that coin is that the primary relationship is the one in which all of the day-to-day drudgery occurs. This makes your relationship by definition the one from which she needs a little relief. Gosh, how romantic. Her other boyfriends, on the other hand, get all the benefit of being exotic, exciting, and a change of pace, without having to expend any of the effort required to actually support a life together. To some people, in some situations, familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

At this point my opinion is, when someone starts making the argument that you are their rock of stability -- especially if they say that status should make YOU happy -- that should be your cue to turn them out in the street. At that point, they are already taking you for granted.
Avast2006, your story reminds me of one my current partner told me, about how his (now ex-) wife, after withholding sex for years, suggested opening up their relationship (which she already had, as it turned out!). He said, with understandable bitterness, "So, he gets your affection and your quality time, and I get your credit card bills"?
I'm not poly but not opposed in principle. Still, it's hard for me to see how the primary could avoid being left holding the laundry bag while his/her partner goes out on the town. Sure I know, the TWO of them can go out on the town too, but someone's still got to do the damn laundry! Love isn't just a feeling, it's behavior, and there are only so many hours in the day...
This article came at just the right time for me. For the last 8 months I have been involved with a man who is poly. I am a monogamous. He was upfront and a dear friend long before this happened. I actually didn't want to get involved because of this.

I am glad that I did it anyway. I have never been happier. I feel free to really explore who I am and what I want with him. The jealousy I thought I would experience has never appeared. I don't know that I will ever have an on going relationship out side of this one though because the idea of dealing with two people seems stressful to me. However he does date and I don't mind.

But this article made me think for a minute about how I would feel if he never committed to just me and I realize I don't care. I can be who I am and he loves me for it. He can be who he is and I love him. We love each other for who we each are, not who we want each other to be.
There's a lot to think about here, both in the column and in the many comments. Even for somebody who's relationship history is basicly a blank slate. The main advice one can distill from all of this I suppose is the importance of honesty, not just to others but above all to oneself. To try and be honest about what is acceptable to oneself, about what really hurts you and what doesn't. Never letting anyone else define what you are supposed to feel. Then of course acting on it, listening to yourself and acting accordingly. We humans are so good at deceiving ourselves, conning and tricking ourselves into believing little lies that makes life seem easier. That's probably what trips up most of the failed relationships that have been brought up as examples. The woman mentioned by #21 for instance might have believed herself each time she promised to change but then acted in a different way anyway, perhaps pre-emptively hurting him before she feared that he might hurt her (based on her history that is). Those lies that we tell ourselves are the hardest ones to expose and get rid of.

That being said all is not doom and gloom, love that doesn't last is still love experienced. Hopefully both (or if there are more) of the people involved got at least some pleasure out of it, even if it was just temporary.
i hope someone can help me cuz i dont know how what to do... i have fallen for a man who is "polyamorous".. i, myslef have never been in a relationship with someone who openly told me he had other lovers.. so it has been somewhat of a struggle for me, but i care for him, and thoughti could give it a shot.. nine months down the road we are still seeing eachother but now we see eachother everyday, go on trips together, say "i love you" all day and in bed... naturally, things are heating up cuz we have such great chemistry, mind blowing sex, we look god together, feel good together... he has told me he has a couple other girls on the side, but i am his number one and, honestly, i dont even know when he would have time to see these girls cuz hes always with me...
but, i am so confused today, becasue we fought about something, and i told him i wanted to work on us m,ore, and he told me he needed to step back.. that he didnt need the struggle.. that he doesnt want to play out the status quo girlfriend/boyfriend drama with me... is it because he doesnt need me like i need him? he has other women to turn to when it doesnt work with me? am i really that disposable? is polyamory just a way to never go anywhere with someone cuz if shit hits the fun you dont have to stay and grow, you can just move on to the next? i love him and i thought he loved me too. i have fucked other guys since we been together but i dont care about them like i care bout him.. what do i do? let it go? i told him goodbye today after he said all those things bout not wanting to struggle. i said thankyou for all you have shown me. i love you.. i know you are a healer and i cant expect to have you all to myself, and he told me "nonono, wait, i didnt mean its over, i meant we need to work on it".. is this guy just a player and im an idiot? i am so confused.. someone who knows about this kinda polyamory stuff, please help... thankyou

Old post is old. But I wanted to share my own story. I'm what you might call polycurious - I've never been in a poly relationship (for lack of interested parties) but I definitely have a poly mindset.
I'm monogamously engaged to a wonderful boy. We decided early in the relationship that poly wasn't going to be part of our relationship, and we've stuck to that because he wasn't comfortable at all with it. We've had sticky situations where I was definitely falling for someone else. But we got through it, and we learned from it. (lucky for me, the guy was kinda scummy as we later discovered, and was quite definitely not respecting my partner's needs) We've had issues, but we dealt with them and now we're stronger for it. He didn't "turn" me, we just made an arrangement. If I were out of the relationship (which I don't want to be) I have no doubt that I'd probably pursue a poly relationship. But right now I don't need it.
@76: I know this is an old post, but anybody in redfox's situation seriously should consider DTMFA. Dates/bfs/gfs who keep on confusing you on where you are on their priority list are manipulating you.

That stuff should be clear at all times, but for some sleazy people out there, it's in their interest to make things murky so they can twist things in their favour (e.g. you're expected to be committed and take the relationship seriously, while they don't). If any relationship becomes deceptive or ends up being a one-way struggle, DTMFA. This applies to mono, poly, anything.

Honest, open, clear communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and dating/being in a relationship with someone who keeps on mixing up signals purposefully spells doom. They're being a manipulative asshole, and you should get out ASAP.