Thursday, 4 March 2010

Where are all the Successful Poly Relationships?

This is a question that comes up time and time again on poly internet sites. It is often raised when people break up painfully (sometimes even publicly) prompting some in polyfi relationships to question their stability and those considering polyfidelity as a relationship option to wonder whether it is actually workable in practice.

It seems to me that there are three main reasons why we don't see very many successful polyfi relationships.

First, it is not that the successful relationships are not out there, but that they are not much publicised. There are quite a lot of people on the internet in successful polyfi relationships: some are very open about it, and others are much less obvious; you would have to read their posts pretty closely to discover it. There are two main factors which limit the visibility of successful poly relationships:-

  • People in successful poly relationships of any kind where there are children or an employment risk involved tend to keep a very low profile, even in countries where they are not actively persecuted. Just in case. Only in countries where polygamy, whether as polygyny or polyandry, is an intrinsic part of the culture are we likely to find a reasonable proportion of people living an openly poly lifestyle, and even then, only those whose lifestyle looks similar to the locally acceptable norm.
  • A lot of the people on poly internet sites are interested in learning about a poly lifestyle, but are not yet actually living poly themselves. It is not uncommon for members of a site, once they have developed a poly relationship, to vanish from the board completely for a period of time, often until they need advice from others about their relationship problems. I suspect this may have something to do with their focussing their energies on building their new relationship, and something to do with a sudden desire to keep a low profile. Once people are actually living poly all the stories of poly problems which they have read online, and which were once just academic curiosities, can become a very real fear or even a reality which may threaten their families and their children.

Secondly, a lot of poly relationships actually do fail. But a lot of mono relationships fail as well. In some cases, it is for the same reason: people rush into relationships enthusiastically and thoughtlessly. This appears to be even more common in polyfidelitous relationships than in monogamous, because we compare polyfi relationships to marriage rather than to other forms of mono relationships (such as co-habiting or non-cohabiting sexual relationships). It is difficult to imagine a mono person proposing marriage to someone with whom they have corresponded for just one month and only seen in the flesh for a single visit of a week or two. But unfortunately this IS sometimes the case in many forms of poly, as people new to poly become so carried away by the dream of 'living poly' that they are willing to plug almost anybody into the empty gap labelled 'second partner.’ They lose sight of who the person is. They are enthusiastic about poly not the person.

It is not always the case: sometimes people do get together very quickly and go on to have a wonderful long-term relationship, but it is the exception rather than the rule. In cases where people have declared a long-term commitment very quickly, it is probably more helpful to regard the early part of the relationship as a dating period rather than as a permanent relationship, regardless of what vows have been exchanged. In mono terms, it is more like a 'living together' period that might or might not lead to a true marriage. The relationship is so very young, and young relationships can be terribly unstable.

What I am suggesting here is that when compared with mono marriages, polyfi relationships appear to have a poor success rate, but I suspect that when compared to non-marital mono relationships, they are not so very different. I have no figures or research to back this up: it is pure supposition on my part. I would be very interested if anybody could dig up some reputable data which might confirm or refute my theory, but I suspect it will be more difficult to come by than marriage statistics, as marriages are legally recorded and other relationships usually are not.

Thirdly, I can think of just one good reason why, all other things being equal, poly relationships might not work out as well as mono, and that is that they have all the stresses of mono relationships, but also additional stresses peculiar to poly. Certainly, there are emotional and material advantages to polyfi (such as an available friend when you need one or help with childcare, housework or family income, depending on the living arrangements) and these more than balance out the disadvantages, but the advantages only really obtain if all the spice care for and are happy to help one another. For example, in a situation where each of several women in a heterosexual polyfi relationship is focussed only on the man and has little time or concern for the other women, mutual support of any kind is likely to be minimal and competition is likely to be high. In this case, there are no advantages to polyfi over mono for the women concerned, and there are additional emotional and practical burdens (such as limited time with their sole emotional support, and probably additional childcare and home responsibilities owing to his spending time with another woman and therefore having less time to pull his weight domestically).

Is living poly worth it? Well, that depends on the person. To some people, it is totally worth it and to others it is not. There are seriously rocky times in even the best of relationships, mono or poly. But once you have got past the unbearable stress, tiredness or exasperation, had a good night's sleep and are feeling a bit calmer, if you can look at your spice and think: 'I still want to try to make this work, because I really can't imagine walking away from you, or being happy without you,' then it is worth going on. If you know that your life would be more miserable without your spice than it is with them, then it is worth it. And when it is working well, the emotional rewards of polyfi are indescribable.

Adapted from a post written by Deorccwen on SisterWives Yuku

2 comments:

  1. There are seriously rocky times in even the best of relationships, mono or poly. But once you have got past the unbearable stress, tiredness or exasperation, had a good night's sleep and are feeling a bit calmer, if you can look at your spice and think: 'I still want to try to make this work, because I really can't imagine walking away from you, or being happy without you,' then it is worth going on. If you know that your life would be more miserable without your spice than it is with them, then it is worth it.

    Thank you; I needed to hear that. :)

    I should probably introduce myself - I'm Honeysuckle over at Polyamorous Percolations, and I followed a link in your signature. I'm fairly new to the blogosphere, but it's fantastic to happen across poly-oriented blogs such as yours. Looking forward to reading subsequent updates, and all the best :)

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  2. Hello Siz,

    Nice to 'meet' you!

    I'm glad you found something useful here, but sorry that things seem to be rough for you at the moment.

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