A Fenris Brothers book, from The Crossquarter Publishing Group

release date: January 10, 2004 – trade paperback (5.5" by 7.5"), 376 pages + index – retail price: $21.95

Polyamory Basic: a roadmap for the clueless & hopeful

blunt advice about nonmonogamy, group marriage & all that bother

excerpts from the book by Anthony Ravenscroft


I'm going to begin with a confession: I'm clueless.

I'm okay with that, because I know you're clueless, too.

Having been sexually active for more than a quarter-century, I really have no tried-and-true advice for creating or preserving a relationship, whatever its form or structure. And though I've been openly nonmonogamous for two decades, I can't tell you why some things work and some don't.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, if you've thought about it. Most people who stake their allegiance firmly in monogamy — the cultural standard, thousands of years in the making, support of Church… .

What You Can Get From This Book

As with so many things in this world, there are two levels of advice, which I'll group loosely as strategy and tactics. Strategy looks at the whole picture, the entire situation, that situation's place in the lineage of what has come as well as how it will be viewed from the future. The tactical approach lacks that historicity, and is concerned mainly with what needs to be done, right here, right now, with the resources that are actually at hand.

Both are exceedingly powerful — when paired. By themselves, they can be pedantic at best, dangerous at worst. Tactics without….

01. What are we talking about, anyway?

The term polyamory is a relatively recent neologism, generally credited to Morning Glory Zell of the Church of All Worlds, from an article published in 1990. The term is a hybrid from the Greek poly and Latin amory, and so translates to "many loves."

While providing a category of sorts, "polyamory" is a catch-all that covers quite a range of lifestyle choices, outlooks, and interactional patterns. The term says little about any given person's sincerity or experience, let alone what they have in mind for the future. And, of course, an individual's pattern can change with time, circumstance, and….

02. Reinventing the wheel: why polyamory won't change the world.

You could say that polyamory is something new, a daring and radical social experiment in which the guinea pigs are running the laboratory.

That is, you could say it, but it'd be silly. In the realm of human goofiness, happy and otherwise, there's really not much new under the sun that doesn't require batteries.

On the other hand, I am not about to make a case for polyamory being something that has been around for centuries and eons, lo these many millennia and all that. Needing to prove a "logical" pedigree, as a route to validation, is no less….

03. So, you want to be polyamorous!

No, you don't.

Really, I have to be very blunt about this. If you are indeed actively polyamorous, then what you want is a moot point unless you're planning to change; you might as well decide that you're becoming bored with your race or ethnicity and would like a change of pace. As for the rest of you, think some deep thoughts about what you're saying you intend to do to yourself and your loved ones. It's entirely enough of a pain in the ass to simply get through daily life as an individual without adding in the burden….

04. The usual questions

There are indeed questions that keep popping up, which I will address throughout the rest of this book. From presentations and discussions, I can point up some of the more common, as well as a few of the odder ones, which deserve at least a passing mention. As I've learned over the years, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers (which I will endeavor to avoid). Well, actually, the aphorism is, "The only dumb question is the one you don't ask." Most of the following queries were sincere, if occasionally a bit confrontational.

Why do you hate monogamy?

05. About swingers

Wife-swapping, swinging, recreational sex — call it what you will, chances are that, even if swinging doesn't freak you personally out, it'll set off someone that you know. This is especially true if the offended parties are self-proclaimed polyamorous, and that's what gives it a faint taste of irony. Like so many other interesting concepts, swinging is far more complex than a commonly used, widely misunderstood categorization would allow you to believe.

In case you've forgotten, recall that one of the underlying themes of this book is that polyamory is a sub-sub-subset of a small area of interpersonal interaction. However,….

06. Avoid the common mistakes

The pitfalls that await you when you venture forth into nonmonogamy are impossible to list completely. The saying goes that "the problem with idiot-proofing technology is that idiots are so ingenious." Well, polyfolk apparently comprise some of the most ingenious idiots you could ever hope to find, and I include myself and many of my loved ones in that category.

I have quite a range of experience in nonmonogamy, yet I am far from perfect, and regularly impress myself with the really ridiculous corners I manage to walk myself into. As I intend to keep learning throughout my remaining….

07. Overview: what polyamory actually requires

If you want to take a closed monogamous relationship and magically transform it by force of will into something polyamorous, you're probably in trouble. Oh, and more bad news? If you just try to open it up, that's a little rocky, but can be done, and you'll likely regret it. If you're trying to turn it into a closed foursome, you might just make it, but the odds aren't with you. And if you're going for a closed triad, oh, are you in for a world of frustration… and that's only if you never get it off the ground! …

08. Other sides of the coin

The previous chapter largely considered a monogamous (likely married) heterosexual couple looking to form a closed triad with another woman. When I look at the majority of people who decide that they are "going to get into polyamory," it appears at first blush that this is accurate, but that is an oversimplification. In reality, there is a great deal of diversity, and such pigeonholing doesn't hold up. Rather than try to categorize everyone so neatly, I will instead address briefly a few other main groups.

Single females

The good news for you is that you are what most people….

09. The first fatal steps

Signing the social contract

By claiming membership in a particular social class or stratum, you are taking on what is called a social contract, which delimits what you are expected to say and do, and even to think. If you don't want to be bothered by that sort of restriction, then you also do not have claim to the rights that a member of that (for lack of a better word) community deserves. For instance, the queer community is not going to rush to the defense of an outspoken homophobe who apparently delights in making life miserable for gays….

10. Prepare your sacrifices

Let's look at some more words and the mudholes they mask.

As with the concept of gift (see Chapter 35), that of sacrifice has been badly mangled by the culture of the United States.

When you become involved with another person, you give up a degree of autonomy. It doesn't matter if it's a lover, a coworker, a roommate, or a friend. You have to avoid some topics, soft-peddle others, and generally revise your communication style when you're around particular individuals. One friend might detest hearing you speak positively about another. A habit that one doesn't notice, or even….

11. You will screw up

Mistakes are inevitable. Fearing them cannot and will not make them better or prevent them from happening. You can minimize the negative consequences, and maximize what you learn from errors, if you approach them honestly.

Certainly, this lifetime is not a dress rehearsal. Everything that you do has consequences, repercussions, fallout. There are no do-overs: once the situation is gone, it is gone permanently, just as certainly as every minute, every second, every beat of a heart is unique. An act in one moment might turn out drastically different if taken but one moment sooner or later.

Though you….

12. Relationship is not security

So far, we've examined myths, the societally ingrained presuppositions and prejudices that color our thoughts about love, relationships, marriage, sex, and likely almost everything else in our lives. We've also dabbled in thinking about how myths that make no sense, and don't work at all well even in the most stable monogamist support structures, have nevertheless managed to attach themselves thoroughly enough to our psyches that they've made the leap to polyamory.

One of the myths that has traveled along from monogamy is that, once you've got an engagement to be married, you're set for life, no more worries….

13. Communication: the big lie

The story goes that Mohandas Gandhi was asked for his opinion on Western civilization. He replied, "I think it's a very nice idea."

Likewise, I say that communication is a great idea, but most people (probably including you) don't have the faintest idea of how to go about it, much less the required determination. The majority of people, in fact, detest unimpeded communication. When you hang out with polyamorous people, you'll read and hear phrases such as "Communicate, communicate, communicate!" and "communication is key" until they become an addition to the background noise of daily life, and you ignore….

14. You don't know what you're saying: language & metalanguage

Throughout this book, I emphasize tightening the precision of your language and the "standard" terms and phrases we use to perform the acts that vaguely resemble interpersonal communication. This isn't some mere pedantic exercise. The words we use are strong indicators of how we think and feel about a subject or situation. Much more importantly, though, the words we choose, and the way in which we use them, all deeply affects how we are able to think, a fact that has been proven time and again, yet is widely ignored.

You may have had some exposure to NLP (neuro-linguistic programming)….

15. It sucks to be secondary

When you have a relationship with someone who's in a productively intertwined dyad, it seems like your good times, though extraordinary, are overshadowed by the potential for priorities elsewhere.

Let's choose a slight stereotype and say you're involved with a career-oriented woman married to an executive. A sizable number of his weekends go to meetings. When one of those merry fetes is canceled, and your lover doesn't have anything actually scheduled, can you blame them for wanting to take advantage of the time to be together? You've got even less cause to feel snubbed if you've been sort of….

16. It sucks to be primary

Let's look at the in-built bliss that awaits the partners in a primary dyad.

It's Thursday afternoon, and Ralph is looking forward to spending a few days by himself. He has a very happy marriage with Carol, who is planning a weekend at the lake with her lover of three years, Kevin. Ralph's partner, Ann, is out of town on a work assignment.

Ralph plans to stay up all hours, playing the stereo at high volume, working on an idea for a book, and generally enjoying the freedoms attendant to living alone.

Wednesday evening, Carol is exhausted after work,….

17. It sucks to be polyamorous

Surprised that I'd say that? You shouldn't be. Sooner or later, however much you might be in love, or find yourself infected with a missionary zeal to change the world with the true light of polyamory, you will hit bottom. Though polyamory is of itself no more complex or demanding than a rich monogamous life filled with friends and family, polyamory has none of the societal supports. Just like people dream of going back to "the good old days" when things were so much better, whether that fantasy is set a few years ago or back in the Middle….

18. The jealousy thing

Most "polyamorous" people are clinging to nothing more than an expanded notion of the form of monogamy which even a moment's lucid thought will prove is no longer tenable, and at best had a limited usefulness for a mere two centuries, during the rise of the Industrial Revolution — the same old equation, with another variable or two.

A decade ago, I wrote that "polyfidelity is just marriage with more people, and all the same old mistakes." I have lately come to realize that this is far truer than I previously suspected. This is probably why the popular recurring topic….

19. Swim or die

I held a supervisory job at an organization that assisted people with physical handicaps. I will never forget one of our first pre-launch training sessions, where the board chairman told us how he had gone before a roomful of doctors, and absolutely floored them by saying, "There are assholes in wheelchairs, too." After the stunned gasps had ceased, he went on to tell them how mobility impaired people are still people, mere humans, differently abled but human nonetheless, not "rolling saints" who have somehow automatically transcended their infirmity and thus become superior to the rest of us poor benighted….

20. Vindication through sabotage

I'm presently very satisfied with my own short list of relationships, and I'm hardly out playing the field (not that I was all that enthusiastic in the first place). Still, I'm active enough in the potential-relationship department that difficulties rear up and bite me on a regular cycle. You might wonder that, of all people, why would I be having a hard time of it at all? I'm not exceptionally repulsive, my grooming is casual but acceptable, I can hold up my end of a conversation with a fair degree of wit, I'm open, honest, sincere, and I have….

21. Polyamory or promiscuity?

The difference between polyamory and promiscuity is simple. Promiscuity is the attitude of, "If it seems like the thing to do at the moment, then go ahead, and to hell with the consequences."

Promiscuity is cynicism papered over with sincerity. Polyamory is the opposite.

Polyamory is far from perfect, if only from being a rather new paradigm, and populated with many flawed and damaged people. Sure, there are some standards of belief and behavior that can be pointed to as defining polyamory. For the most part, though, polyamory is inclusive of many different lifestyle choices, some of which may….

22. Pregnancy, disease, legal action, and other distractions

Even if it is something that sneaks up on you, becoming honestly nonmonogamous should worry the heck out of you. If it doesn't, you will have to work to catch up to mere cluelessness. At the same time, I would hope that you don't slide completely into paranoia, however reasonable that may at times appear. For both extremes, let's discuss some of the stickier maybes.

Diseases: incoming, outgoing, unlikely, or imaginary

The "STD question" is valid, and I've been thinking about an uncomfortable countercase. To wit: if we divide the world into "monogamous" and "polyamorous" (and for the moment…)….

Part II – How to actually be polyamorous

23. Core requirements of polyamory

You could write your own rules. After all, nonmonogamy comes in an amazing range of shades, hues and flavors.

If you want, you can set things up so that one person or one gender or dyad or clique has all the power, all the freedom, all the control, and can create, amend, modify, break, or eliminate rules and agreements at whim. You could just as readily create a complex relationship that is so studiously egalitarian that you'll spend your time either processing every little concern as a group, or digging for every far-fetched potential problem. Personally, either extreme look….

24. Good theory & $5 will get you a double mocha

Which is another way of saying that "paper polyamory" has surprisingly little to do with living it, every day, every hour. The metaphorical road to Hell is certainly paved with good intentions; nowadays, that road has lovely borders made from good theory.

Getting real

Someone once told me that, to be a cliff diver in Hawai'i, you can study oceanography for years. You can go to the inlet you're going to dive, and watch the water patterns for weeks, even years. You can sonar the rocks below, map out current rhythms, put the whole thing on a computer. Which….

25. Lifelong intent, day-to-day attitude

Here we are, products of a society full of high-contrast decision making: you can do this, or you can do that. From a very early age, we are taught to not see where we can do both… or neither… or maybe choose another path entirely — even create a more desirable path, all by yourself.

Responsible monogamy requires a degree of paradox, or at least what we are raised to see as paradox. You will need to let go of thinking in terms of black-or-white, good-or-bad, since there are so many situations that will have consequences both bad and good….

26. Learning to deal with change

Skip this section only at your own peril. No, I'm not exaggerating in the least, and hopefully a few minutes will sufficiently warn you about the major killer of many a solid relationship.

About 1990, I read a study of couples who married after cohabiting. The couples under scrutiny had been living together for widely divergent spans of time, anywhere from a few months up to sixteen years. For you younger readers, premarital cohabitation had been widely seen as scandalous well into the 1970s, but soon thereafter began to gain a cachet as a sort of "test marriage" that….

27. Figuring out what you are

Not to go all New Age metaphysical on you, but there is a little more bad news I have to share with you.

You don't know yourself.

You don't know what you want.

You don't know why you do things.

You don't know what'll make you happy.

You don't even know how to begin a search that will at least lead you to the right outlook that'll eventually teach you how to ask the necessary questions.

You're clueless. That's okay, it's entirely human. But unless you face it, and come to embrace it, you'll only have the choice of….

28. What are your motivations?

Here are some not-so-great — but common — reasons that people decide to seek out a so-called intimate relationship. Notice that I do not append the "multiple" modifier, as many of these reason apply to even the stiffest monogamy. I can court a potential relationship:

  • to avoid having to deal with my own self-doubts, perceived failings, and neuroses
  • to add excitement to a life that seems boring
  • to enliven a sex life that's become routine
  • to replace a sex life that's faded, or evaporated
  • for the ego-gratification
  • to spread myself thinly enough to avoid intimacy

"So," you may be asking, "what's….

29. Why polyamory?

You will be doing yourself a life-long favor if you begin learning, right now, to think deeply about what attracts you enough to a polyamorous lifestyle that you are reading these very words.

Polyamory is developing an increasing cachet of cool, or hip, or politically correct. More and more, I hear people say dumb things like, "I should be poly," rather than, "I would like to be poly." Behind such phrases as "I am poly" lurks poor or nonexistent understanding not only of what the term actually entails, but of the underlying motivations (as detailed in the previous chapter)….

30. Honesty: risking yourself & others

I used to attend a nightly poker game, generally penny-ante, but the stakes could sometimes run up quite high. (I once folded a pat full house, to avoid taking the deed to a guy's home.) For various reasons, I became quite proficient, but happy to take home only a few dollars here and there, or to lose same.

One night, I was winning regularly. I had figured out the habits of the other regular players, and was getting good cards besides. I paid back a few small loans, paid for some beer, and was left with a little more….

31. Friend- vs. family-oriented

The sort of family in which you were raised can tell a lot about how you are going to fare in polyamory. Some families raise their children to be family-oriented, with tons of togetherness, game nights, and perpetual family outings. When off to college, the kids return home for every holiday, and they might even select a school largely because they can drive home most weekends. Off and married, the children will still pack up their families to return for regular vacations. The family-oriented family is very protective of its "special times," and discourages others from tagging along.


32. What will the neighbors think (and should we care)?

That latter is another easy question to answer: no. In an ideal world, you shouldn't have to give a thought to what somebody's opinion is about what you're doing with your own life, much less to worry about the possible existence of such a thought.

But, if we lived in such an ideal world, you wouldn't be reading this book, because you wouldn't have doubts like that in the first place. I probably wouldn't have written it, either.

Until that perfect world happens to come into being, though, we have to make do with the occasionally tawdry inanities that….

33. Communicating with a partner or other life-form

So often, to be "nice" to someone means to withhold the truth. It's an attractive myth, and eventually leads you toward believing that lies are better than truth. After all (the reasoning goes), if truth leads so often to conflict, and conflict hurts, then we ought to be happy in our lives comfortably padded by degrees of mistruth.

There are times when I truly wish that were the case — how much easier it would all just be to gloss that over and move along!

Lies, though, are not communication, are in fact the antithesis. Maybe in a better world….

34. Levels of attraction: define “love”

When you find yourself attracted to someone, whether they're an utter stranger or a long-time partner, the various parts of your interaction are governed by the degree to which you're intermeshed. The word "love" simply can't bear up all of the possibilities by itself. I am going to take a moment to show you how to begin dissecting usage of the word and its underlying concepts. There are four possible levels of non-unhealthy attraction:

  • tolerance
  • acceptance
  • desire
  • lust

You're probably already assuming that I'm talking about just sex, here, but it's much more complex than that, though we've all….

35. Love, conditional & otherwise

We live in a culture that has poisoned the concept of "gift" to virtual extinction. Think of birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and so forth: if you give a "gift" to someone, it's because they gave you one, or you expect one from them, or you otherwise somehow owe it to them. In other words, it's a transaction, a purchase perhaps, buying the "respect" or goodwill of others — doing what is expected, following a cultural script. It's a bribe.

If I say, "I love you," and you respond, "But I don't feel that way about you," then, by the widely-held model….

36. Creating a dyad

Simple enough, right? Two proximate people, ergo dyad, q.e.d.

And if you don't see how dangerously simplistic that statement is, put this book down, right now, and wait at least a month before starting from the very beginning and reading every word, slowly and carefully.

Courting the obvious

You need to understand. The problem with understanding, and (a step earlier) with comprehending, is that there are all sorts of things floating around in the world that my Australian friends would call somewhat bloody obvious. That's kind of a mixed-meaning descriptor, though. For instance, there are many things about yourself….

37. Problem-solving: how to fight

All right, fine, so you love each other very much, and have such refined and limber problem-solving skills that you've never had an argument. I've heard that many times, and never found reason to believe it. You will need the occasional direct mutual confrontation.

My friends Steve and Shannon are probably the clearest example. After I'd voiced my observations on the topic, Steve replied laughingly, "Bullshit." He pulled his wife of a year closer to him. "We've never had a fight, and look at us!"

Six months later, Shannon filed for divorce, soon after their first (and last) major ….

38. The tyranny of time

In the Universe as we know it, there are three absolutes: energy, intelligence, and time. That's my pet theory, anyway, and I won't bore you with the various metaphysical ramifications of this. However, for our purposes, we're going to talk about time.

While time is largely a construct of the human psyche, and the notion of the clock has only been with us for a scant few centuries, there are a few vital regulating events against which we are powerless. Though the measures are themselves arbitrary, there are only 24 hours in a day and, with the exception of….

39. Hierarchy, whether you like it or not

Most people who are involved in any way with polyamory thoroughly detest the idea of putting their relationships with others into any sort of order of primacy. Well, tough bunnies, I say. You have some choice as to how you care to justify it or apply it situationally, but the fact is that there will be some necessary degree of hierarchal structuring in your relationships.

You may decry this, going into great and emotional detail to describe how the evil that is hierarchy does not affect any of your close interpersonal relationships. I would be the first to agree….

40. Children

Many people new to polyamory, or giving it serious consideration, are worried about the effect it'll have on their children, and how much they ought to hide their private lives from their children.

The latter is based on myth — in truth, you're not going to pull much of a scam on your children. Kids are frighteningly perceptive little buggers, and adults prefer to forget this. We call them "pre-verbal" then pretend that their comprehension is somewhat less than the cat's (though above the philodendron — usually). The link between babies hearing endless retarded-sounding "baby-talk" from adults has been known for….

41. The mixed-marriage problem

Take two intelligent, perceptive human beings. Bond them together emotionally. Then expect that, because they're so very much in love, they're going to be at the same stages of emotional growth at all times, with the same degree of curiosity about the same things, and identical willingness to explore and take risks.

Okay, it's a stupid idea, but that's where most people start from. I'd like you to try to avoid falling into the trap.

Polyamory and your dyad

Chances are that you already have a partner or spouse. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt by working….

42. Dating outside the couple front

Perhaps you could answer a question for me: What is the damn hurry, anyway?

There's a certain behavior among monogamists that sets my teeth on edge, though I'm immunized by the years from being actually horrified, or even surprised. They meet at a bar, have sex within three hours, can't remember each other's name on the second date, move in together the next week, get married a few months later, and file for divorce when the NRE wears off, which is about the fourth month of pregnancy.

With such absurdity staring us in the face, and a mandate to….

43. The sexual credit bureau

In his wonderfully funny book, Sex from Aah to Zipper, Roger Libby suggested that, in order to be more happily nonmonogamous, we need something like a "sexual credit bureau," where prospective partners could call up an individual's record and read a thumbnail sketch of what it's like to be involved with that person. Believe me, if there were a way to work around confidentiality issues and to filter out unreasonable biases and outright propaganda (good and bad), I'd have founded this long ago. Without it, anyone who makes the right noises, says the right words, or hangs around with….

44. Then, the sex starts…

Sex is a fundamentally simple transaction between emotionally mature individuals. Motivations largely stem from a desire to exchange affection and pleasure. Sexual interaction inherently expands the range of possible communication between the individuals involved. The deep intimacy afforded by sex allows us to grow emotionally. Even though this interaction might not result in a long-term intimate relationship, the sex brings us closer together as human beings, and thus forms the basis for life-long friendship.

Yeah, we'd like that, wouldn't we.

In reality, we're a bunch of flawed beings. We project our self-doubt and insecurity onto others, we force them….

45. The doubtful triad

Threesomes and triads are not the actual subject of this book, though the reader might find reason to doubt that statement. I believe, however, that any intelligent and insightful person (that, hopefully, would be you) is capable of reading about the members of another culture and finding relevance to their own life, however dissimilar the circumstances — we are, after all, more or less all human. But many of the people who "logic" their way into nonmonogamy are operating as a couple; this may even be a majority, so large is the portion. Couples also make up the majority of….

46. Changing gears

You think that, once you've got your ideal triad or quad, everything is peaches and you'll just be able to chug merrily along forever. Think again, because you're likely wrong. You will save yourself a whole passel of headaches and heartbreaks if you give this some serious thought. You may never need it but, if you do, you had better have the plans in place long before it becomes necessary.

Think of it as insurance, and by that I mean the sort of thing where you set aside cash every month. Nobody in their right mind would ever want….

47. Jealousy sucks, get used to it

Jealousy happens, even to those of us who have extensive experience in nonmonogamy.

Jealousy… or envy?

Let's differentiate between two commonly confused terms. Envy is the desire for something that someone else has. Jealousy springs from the fear that something you have will be taken away.

For the most part, I have little problem with jealous experiences. However, as I told one partner, "I am horribly envious. When you're off with someone else, I am completely aware of what they have. You are beautiful, fascinating, bright, funny, and an incredible lover. I wish that I had the time and energy….

48. Surviving the radical reversal

Humans are insane. They are so amazingly screwed up that many times they cannot remember what they said moments before, yet at the same time they will be able to quote you extensively, perhaps going back years. They will pillory you if shifting situations force you to change your mind, yet heatedly demand their right to change complex long-term plans and promises to suit the whim of the moment. Worse, they will not see where this presents any lack of fairness (or logic).

Another way you might run into this is when you are presented with absolute, unbending rules….

49. NRE: when “common sense” is an oxymoron

I remembered a study I'd heard mentioned in the early 1980s. The researchers had located a few people whose intimate lives strongly resembled the behavior of addicts who go on periodic benders — you might not find "bender" in your dictionary, by the way, so I illustrate briefly by referring to author Raymond Chandler, legendary for occasionally disappearing for a couple of weeks of drinking that would've been literally nonstop except for his need for sleep.

The subjects of this study would meet up with a new and interesting stranger, and devote so much time to them that all other….

50. Finding poly friends

I've never had much of a problem finding polyamorous people. (Yes, I am exceedingly thankful for this fact.)

First, don't set up poly as a "dark secret" you have to hide, but don't go out of your way to "out" yourself either. I've been lucky in that most of my jobs of the past 15 years have had a large gay/lesbian percentage, which my experience says is somewhat more willing to accept a person at face value. My queer friends set me an amazing example of how to live my life, and trust that others would recognize me for….

51. Searching for your true new love

If you're playing along at home, and taking these chapters in order, and only reading them as you actually accomplish goals based upon my glowing wisdom, then by this point you're comfortable about being polyamorous, but aren't sure whether you're going to ever meet someone else who's serious about finding a long-term relationship with some significant depth.

No quick fixes

There's a huge difference between looking for intimacy and leaving yourself open to it. This dichotomy has been noted by everyone from the Constantines to the editor of Loving More. Still, it gets overlooked all the time. You cannot….

52. We sleep together, therefore we're partners

Back to the terminology that befogs polyamory, with a few examples of how simple little words can eventually get you into deep weeds. Notice, for instance, in the title of this chapter there is a slippery euphemism, an extremely vague noun, and a sweeping assumption — in a seven-word sentence. You cannot force permanence or perpetuity upon another person by force of will. Choosing a good-sounding word, and repeating it as a mantra, doesn't bring forever any closer, and really tends to push it farther away.


Half the people I know of who referred to a partner regularly and publicly….

53. Care and feeding: relationship maintenance

One of the best points about living nonmonogamously is that there isn't the "either/or" problem, where you're expected to kill one relationship in order to learn via The Hard Way that all real relationships have problems. In responsible nonmonogamy, you have the option of exploring a new relationship with the support of your loved one(s), and it's no longer part of the rules to destroy goodness in order to leap into a mistake - in fact, if everyone's communicating, it's much easier to fix a new relationship that's a little rocky at the beginning: I had a couple of lovers….

54. Falling in & out of poly

We get into occasional snarls over throwing "polyamory" into a conversation as if we all mean the same thing across a huge variety of circumstances. A few people each represent an established couple looking for another unattached woman, and make clear that none of the resultant three will be involved with anyone outside of the triad. Then again, there are a few who, due to various circumstances, have multiple intimate encounters, some of them intended to be on-going, but do not presently have and/or are not looking for a primary partner. We get into arguments here if we start….

55. Empower everyone

I want to expand on my comments on hierarchy within polyamory, so that you don't misunderstand.

There is no way that everyone can be perfectly equal. Yet it is no paradox that I say there should be no "top dog" — peoples' strengths should be brought to the fore, and their weaknesses balanced by the group working in concert.

Consider something we once came up with in our triad: the freedom to conscientiously explore in an atmosphere of support. Meaning that, if one partner had a habit of getting into trysts that got his/her heart stomped regularly, then the partners had….

56. How open, how closed?

A cautionary note

Let's say you find yourself with two incredibly compatible lovers. You are very busy people, and almost all your free time goes to being SOs in what is for all practical intents a closed triad (we've called them "situationally closed") because none of you has time or energy, or even desire, to join up with one more person right at that moment.

But there's this new person who just transferred to your area, and she's really cute. You're shocked to find that she's familiar with the poly concept. When you present this to your SOs, they….

57. Reaching the end

Breaking up may be (as the song says) hard to do. It's also inevitable. Relationships rarely last forever, and likely shouldn't.

I've put this chapter so far up, rather than nearer the final pages of the book, because the simple fact of the matter is that the number of relationships you attempt will always exceed the number that last for any amount of time, and I'd wager that the number of "failures" — really too harsh a word for many short-lived intimate relationships — you embark upon will always outnumber the ones that at least end amicably. To be blunt, you really do….

58. The balancing act: multiplicity

Even if you begin by envisioning your goal to be a life-long triad, excluding everyone else, you'll likely end up attached to more people. That's simply the way it is, and this differentiates polyamory from mere nonmonogamy. The partners in your threesome are very unlikely, once introduced to the sheer amazing possibilities of multiplicity, to all be forever completely satisfied with only two partners. One or more of you will eventually stumble across another very attractive candidate. Assuming that the partner most desiring this candidate has completely learned the lesson to not readily burn bridges just because another true….

59. Firm but flexible: to the future, right?

Your multilinear relationship has gotten far past its launch, and things appear to be going quite well. You've evolved methods for working out the inevitable disagreements, you've all given up subterfuge in favor of truth and open communication, and you have every objective reason to continue the path you've chosen.

Have you locked the relationship into being only what it is, or have you given it the strength and flexibility to grow and adapt?

If at any point you say something like "We'll see how it goes," you're steering toward doom. That's sort of like, "Let's keep driving in….

60. Giving up your freedom

Once in a while, someone will tell me that, what with all of the communication and problem-solving going on, and the need for scheduling and confronting and negotiating, polyamory sounds like a complete resignation of individuality. This is actually funny, because sometimes the same person who presents me with such an interpretation will also express the opinion that polyamory is nothing but rule-free hedonistic anarchy, where nobody gives a damn about anyone else's feelings. Neither extreme is at all accurate.

Is it true that "polyamory" equates to "no strings attached"? My experience, I guess, is quite the opposite. Yes….

61. Scheduling: jobs and other nuisances

Real-world polyamory throws more curveballs at you than merely trying to organize your social and sexual life between multiple partners. There's the work you probably have to do to pay the rent, your hobbies and avocations, chasing the children around and keeping them from creative ways of turning your house into a scrapyard, visiting Mom and Dad, organizing holiday visits, watching television (some people would rather admit felonious activity than a nightly viewing habit), taking classes, reading trashy novels, or whatever.

Flexibility, hah!

Sooner or later, polyfolk discover the dubious joys of the scheduling trainwreck. You'll find yourself clutching….

62. Creating & using a network

There are two major drives built into every human being: to belong, and to share. As the concept of family has been whittled away, and sense of community fragmented and disrupted, these drives have become less and less fulfilled.

Singlehood is lonely. Couplehood is less lonely, but merely transfers expectations that should be spread over an entire village and complex multigenerational familial structure onto a spouse and perhaps a few children, a burden that can become rapidly oppressive even as it cannot meet all of one's needs. By itself, a triad is really not much more sturdy than a….

63. Talk to each other

Recall what I said about polyamory being uncharted territory, and that you don't even have a map. It falls to us — as a subculture, as part of a social network, and as individuals — to draw that map, not only for those who arrive after us, but for those awkward moments when we end up lost with a vague certainty that we've been here before.

Write it down

Let's start with some basics. Keeping a diary is a very good idea. By this I mean an actual, tangible private journal, something you don't trot out on a regular basis for the whole….

64. Sex vs. communication

Check out these statements:

"We are having sex, therefore we are communicating."
"We are having sex, therefore we are not communicating."
"We are not having sex, therefore we are communicating."
"We are not having sex, therefore we are not communicating."

Any of those statements has potential for being true at a particular moment, but overall they are all four fallacious.

Communication, as we all use the term, actually means parallel multichannel interchanging of information. That is, we do not merely communicate: we communicate in many different ways simultaneously. Many times, the channels do not all point in the same….

65. Having a social life out of bed

There comes a point in a new relationship where the NRE starts to fall off. Oh, probably just the tiniest little bit, but when you've been on a peak plateau for so long — weeks, even months — the smallest decline can be very unnerving.

Polyamory is centered largely around dealing with freer sexual expression. That's an inescapable fact. Secondarily, it deals with deep interpersonal connection in intellectual and emotional manners. The primacy of sex can be decried if that's what you want, but it has to be accepted and dealt with, not merely stuffed into a box and ignored as if that's….

66. Creating a household: living together as a method of suicide

Don't get me wrong — I'm a huge proponent of householding, and hope someday to again pack fourteen adults into a sprawling Victorian. However, like any other complex intimate relationship, it's hardly as simple as signing the mortgage papers and deciding who gets which room. There are many missteps that, if taken, will result in the place becoming nothing more than a rooming house filled with hostile boarders. At best.

Long odds

I noted many years ago that one of the surest ways to kill an intimate relationship that is happy, loving, and rewarding is to have them move in….

67. The infamous dishwashing schedule

Here's something unusual: funny, eminently logical, and entirely true.

I was living in a quad household. My wife, Marie, and I had moved in her girlfriend, Tara, and my girlfriend, Grace. A few months later, we packed everyone up and moved to a decent-sized three-bedroom duplex. Shortly after finally getting the place painted and beginning to settle our belongings, I became involved with Grace.

One Friday evening, finished with work and looking forward to getting a little writing done, I was whistling a happy tune as I stepped up on the porch.

The previous month, Grace had confronted me….

68. Be nice to you

When you're running around taking care of your corner of the world and all the people in it, you sometimes lose track of the most important one.


Since I want as many sincere yourselves as possible to succeed at their explorations of responsible nonmonogamy, I'm going to briefly put in a good word to you about you.

Polyamory is a high-stress lifestyle, at least at the beginning. Perhaps a better way to put it, though, is that the stresses are regularly quite different from those encountered in any of the various shades and degrees of monogamy. This foreignness….

69. Time out: sex has limits

Sex demands energy, and it gives energy. I once had a persistent case of bronchitis, and I was amused to notice that I could make love with my partner very strenuously, sometimes for two hours, with absolutely no trouble other than a little minor wheezing. But, like clockwork, I would go into spasmodic coughing shortly after orgasm.

On an emotional level, great sex frightens many people. A woman who considers herself not very sexual (a conclusion reached from lack of exposure to both the affectional and erotic possibilities of sexual interaction) might appear to cool toward her lover after….

70. A little more sex education

Before I wind down toward the end of this book, I'd like to briefly introduce the sorts of concepts that you ought to be thinking about if you're going to be happily polyamorous. They're really not much more than a few crib-notes, but they might start a few good conversations between you and your friends.

Orgasm counting (female)

Over a couple of months, while getting some background material for this book, I chanced to find time for heart-to-heart talks with three incredible women. In each case, we were trying to figure out what malign shade possessed us to stop….

71. Signs that things are going to Hell

Patterns recur. Though we are all unique individuals, most polyamorous people have experienced being brought to adulthood in a particular culture. At an even more subtle level, our brain structures are virtually identical, so we tend largely to see the world in the same manner, and so with our interpretative and problem-solving abilities (the basis of the so-called Jungian unconscious).

I've heard many couples who've said, "We don't need a therapist — we have so much love." They rarely last a year without outside help; it's a classic denial symptom. Polyfolk fall into similar patterns of thinking. I wouldn't be surprised….

72. The Ref

You're going to find many situations where having someone around who can take no sides and all simultaneously is not only invaluable, but vital. You need a referee, someone who is skilled at taking neither side, and both. The referee whacks down any bullying, supports us to defeat self-doubt so that we can attempt to state our case, and prods everyone toward constructive ends.

If you're out in the middle of some cultural wasteland, just the three of you living secretly as a triad, and a hundred miles from a city of at least 50,000 people, you're pretty much screwed….

73. Falling back in love

One of the common misunderstandings about falling in love is captured in the term NRE, "new relationship energy." This has the unfortunate subconscious effect of telling us that old relationships don't have energy! It also implies that, if we want to get back that thrill, that sense of wonder, that we have to go out and find someone new.

Well, nonsense. Falling in love is falling in love. Nowhere does anyone state that falling in love with a particular individual is something you get one pass at and then it's gone, kaput, forever. Sure, that impression lingers, but there….

74. Toward a culture of polyamory

Is polyamory a "movement"? Oh, gods, I hope not. The last thing I want is for polyamory to become mainstream, popular, a fad. The term "bi-curious" still gives me the creeps, even after all these years; I certainly don't want to start hearing "poly curious" used the same way. Call me a snob, but I've worried enough in the past decade about any dilettante and parasite being able to claim to being "poly" without other people willing to check their credentials — serious willingness to risk oneself is the price of admission.

The irony here appears to be that the newbies….

75. About this book

Yeah; heck of a place to put this chapter. But if I have done the job which I set out aiming for, you've absorbed some very serious lessons that ought to give you a serious shot at happiness.

Becoming polyamorous is not like flipping a switch. The change is not a matter of waking up one bright morning and saying, "Hey — I'm polyamorous!" whence the scales fall away from your eyes, and everything is forever after absolutely peachy. Nothing in life works like that, yet many people behave in exactly that manner when it comes to polyamory.

If you set….

Epilogue: Real Community – or, Why I Sound Like an Activist

There is an analogy I haven't been able to get out of my head. Call it a dream-image.

I'm living in some run-down place, scrabbling for existence, but I'm a survivor, so I have enough food to get by. People like me; I'm always ready with a funny story, so when I stop by to chat, they're usually happy to give me what they don't want. I soon establish a routine where I regularly have plenty of wilted vegetables and even shankbones. I can make a heck of a soup, not a cure-all, but enough to make you feel….

Resources: Real people in virtual bunches

I'm a bit of a Luddite, so I've been using the power of the Internet since just 1999. If you want to look into polyamory, then, in my highly biased opinion, there are only two possible Internet points to begin. While people associated with both groups do occasionally descend into whirls of cliquish silliness, self-congratulation, groupthink and gatekeeping, they are for the most part warm and welcoming to people at any level of interest and experience — as long as they're forthright and sincere. If you poke around a bit, or join up and ask the members, they can likely help….

Further reading

Most people who cite the book Open Marriage as if it were divine revelation have never read it. If they had, they wouldn't mention it so freely. In that regard, it's hardly unique.

When you glance over the shelves at the bookstore or your library, you'll quickly locate many hundreds of books on topics that directly affect your interpersonal relationships. The bad news is, almost all of them are crap. You have a choice between the high-minded crap, the scholarly crap, the big-name crap, the condescending crap, and the simplistic crap. (Perhaps you've noted the pattern here.) You choose….

This page is an example of the Fenris Brothers "99 Words" Project, part of a XYMASE joint publicity project of Fenris Brothers, Crossquarter Publishing, Hazard Design, Onion Field, & Albermarle. Enjoy!