Initiated By A Woman
By Cascade Spring Cook
Based on an interview
with Jack (who is in relationship with Vanora and Al)
(these are pseudonyms)
(My comments are in italics)
People often assume that it’s the men who initiate nonmonogamy, and the women are reluctantly pulled into it. That’s clearly not always the case. Take Jack, for example. Jack was going to a very large high school when he was exposed to the idea of nonmonogamy. A good friend of his had two girlfriends – something they were all very open about. The two young women had been good friends to start with, and both had a crush on Jack’s friend. The friend started hanging out with one, and then the other. At first they thought that sooner or later he’d choose which he preferred, but he never wanted to pick, and they never quite wanted to force the issue. So they worked something out. Jack says it was clear they were all sexually active, and were a very conspicuous threesome.
A part time offer
His own experience was initially more frustrating. Jack had female friends who were very attractive, but he says he was a complete loser with women until his senior year in high school. Then a stunning woman took a liking to him. However, she had several other boyfriends, and she made it clear that she was not owned by anyone. One of the conditions of her being sexually available to him was that he accepted her other involvements. He wasn’t happy with this. He had been waiting for someone who wanted to be involved with him, and to be told he had to accept only a fraction of the love, sex and attention that he wanted, and to have to compete with other guys who were certainly more attractive and more aggressive – this wasn’t what he was looking for. Even when she assured him that he was free to date other women as well.
The young woman was persistent. Jack explains,
“She said at one point, ‘Look, you're not understanding, you don't get this, I know other women that are friends of mine that are interested in you. I have good taste in men. If I'm interested and attracted to you, I know there are other women out there.’ And so I said, ‘Well, show me.’ So she introduced me to first one of her friends, and then another. After a while it became obvious that she was on to something with this. So I kind of flipped around entirely on this over a period of - a while.”
It took Jack a few months to get used to the idea, to accept that she really was offering him a tremendous gift. In time he was convinced, and has remained convinced ever since then. However, once he got to college, he had a hard time finding other women who liked this idea. Instead he kept running into women who wanted to be monogamous.
Polyamory vs. cheating
It wasn’t until many years later that Jack managed to be in a sexually open situation again. He finds the situation rather ironic. He was one of a group of male friends who were all executives for the same company in a very conservative city and county. Since he and his friends were open about what they were doing, they were constantly getting lectures about how they shouldn’t be doing this. Yet the bankers and accountants who were working with them were having secret affairs. Jack thinks that a large proportion of the men in that business were cheating on their wives, but they couldn’t afford to admit it, because they needed to project an image of trustworthiness. They needed to be seen as someone who wasn’t involved in anything weird or unpredictable or related to the counter culture. However, this made them susceptible to being blackmailed into accepting a deal by someone who knew about their affairs. The openness of Jack and his friends drew unwanted attention to other people in the company. Jack says, “I got lectured repeatedly on how what we were doing would make the world fall apart, or would cause the collapse of civilization because our civilization is all based on monogamy.”
Eventually Jack was pressured into moving away. He and his friends had created a polyamory society and he went on a radio show to talk about his lifestyle. This was too much exposure for the conservative city. The local police chief, who was a relative of his, was being pressured to arrest Jack and other “people who cause problems here.” Some people, presumably powerful ones, had been making complaints. He didn’t want to arrest Jack, because he didn’t want to embarrass Jack’s family, but he also didn’t want to be accused of favoritism when someone realized the family connection.
People can come up with very interesting theories about why monogamy is important, and don’t notice when their theories don’t fit the facts. Jack says that talking to the police chief was the first time he ever got an answer about why there was a problem with what he was doing.
The explanation for how monogamy holds civilization together went like this. If you have a nonmonogamous situation, the distribution of women roughly follows the distribution of wealth. There are about as many women as men, so if one man can afford and attract five women, that’s five other men who don’t have a woman. If the top 10% of men have several wives each, that means a large percentage of the men don’t have any, and of course, the ones that are left are the least attractive ones (in whatever terms that society measures attractiveness). The police chief told Jack he’d seen people killed over a dollar and a half, so it was clear to him that if 10% of the men have all the interesting women, and 90% of the men have none, then they’ll fight. There would be lots of war between the upper and the lower classes, and constant battles.
The police chief told Jack that this idea was what was going on in the minds of the ruling class. To raise an army, they needed the cooperation of the lower classes with the upper classes. If the lower classes perceive that if they support the upper classes and fight a war, what will happen is that the upper classes will take their women, then the lower classes won’t be willing to fight. He claimed that,
“From Roman times on there was this agreement that was made, that okay, part of what we're fighting for is a situation where one man can have one woman at a time only, so powerful men can't take all the women away - it was a very well thought out ideology here – so you may be poor compared to the top elite of the world, but at least you can have a woman and a family and these things. So if you make it monogamous, even the least attractive man technically has a woman available to him, but in a nonmonogamous situation that's not true. But the only way to keep this whole thing going is, you actually have to enforce monogamy. It can't be perceived that it's just a sham. It has to be perceived as, even if you're a Caesar or the president, you are monogamous, you aren't taking extra women, and any time somebody, even if they're rich and powerful, is caught doing this, they have to be made an example of, and they have to be punished.”
If Jack or any other man tries to be an exception to this rule, then others will want to be exceptions, and the whole thing will collapse. Was the police chief really not aware of how commonly people have affairs? Or did he simply think that the lower classes weren’t aware of this?
As Jack points out, what the women think about this isn’t even an issue in the argument. And the people who raise the argument certainly aren’t thinking about the possibility that the women would have multiple lovers as well.
What effect did religion have on Jack’s embracing nonmonogamy? The Protestant denomination that Jack grew up in, as the son of a minister, had a history of separating the things of God and the things of man. Originally they were very strongly for the separate of church and state. They believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and that there’s no justification for claiming something if it isn’t specifically stated in the Bible. Jack explains,
“In some ways, although it's a very conservative approach, it has the seeds of extreme radicalism in it, because it encourages you to say, well, wait a minute, where's your proof, where's your evidence, why are you saying this? Just because it's a custom, just because it's tradition, just because it's common sense and everybody claims to believe this, that's not enough for you to create a restriction on somebody. In the late 1800s that was very much their thinking on it.”
Questioning was encouraged to some extent:
“You're supposed to question human superstitions, but the idea is that you're supposed to question everybody else's superstitions, but not theirs. They're real good at pointing out how something in the Buddhist world or Hindu world or Islamic world or whatever is nonsense, and that you should see through all that, but if you try to use the same methods on their religion, they don't like it.”
Jack isn’t concerned about it now, but shares the type of questions he raised:
“Where exactly, if you're going to claim monogamy is the one right way prescribed by God, where is your evidence for this? All of the sexual restrictions and things that our society, particularly the religious folk, put on people - where do you get that? Show me that this is something other than a superstition or a tradition. If you look in the Bible, clearly most of the major male figures in there had multiple wives. There's no place anywhere where that was rescinded or condemned or some decision was made that you couldn't do that any more. It never specifically says that women can't have multiple husbands or anything like that. It doesn’t say they can, it doesn't touch the issue.”
Jack’s approach is a good example of the kind of questioning that one often finds in the poly community. Many polyamorous people have put a great deal of thought into their choice, and haven’t come up with what they consider to be a good reason to be monogamous. It may be a part of our culture, it may be taught by their religion, but why?
Jack’s triad dynamics
After his conversation with the police chief, Jack decided to move some place where there were other people who understood how to make a polyamorous situation work more effectively, so he moved to the San Francisco Bay area. He is now in a Vee triad relationship with Vanora and Al. The three of them share a house with another man who is not part of the relationship.
Jack and Al get along. He says they have a mutual respect, but are not particularly friends. That’s been a source of tension - Vanora really wanted them to be best buddies and great friends, but that never happened. There’s not a lot of stress between them, but Vanora has been disappointed that they are not closer. Jack says that the types of disagreements and arguments that the three of them have are more about household things than about polyamory. For example, Vanessa thinks a lot more time and energy should be put into maintaining the house, but Jack isn’t willing to put as many hours into those types of activities as she would like.
This discrepancy in the amount of energy they want to put into taking care of household things causes a tension which is aggravated by other relationships. Jack tells me that when his long distance lovers come to visit, he has a tendency to clean up his room. Vanora get very upset at this – if he’s willing to do that for someone else, he should be willing to do it for her. She has the same issue with Al. Jack associates this with New Relationship Energy. He says that when Vanora spends the night with him, he doesn’t see any reason to clean up the room, but there’s something special about his other lovers coming to visit, and so he wants to do things that are special.
Vanora’s NRE with Al, when Al first moved in, forced Jack to look at some of his issues. When Vanora and Jack were living together alone, they always kissed when they got together and when they separated. When Al moved in, Vanora stopped doing that with Jack, and started doing it with Al instead. Jack felt very abandoned and neglected and mistreated, but Vanora didn’t realize anything was going on. It took a lot of awareness to recover from this. Jack reports that he needed to realize that she wasn’t doing this because she was a bad person, or that she was leaving him. That was just his interpretation, and he was blowing it out of proportion. She needed to realize and communicate with him that she was feeling very secure in her relationship with him, but that she felt her relationship with Al was very delicate, and so it needed a lot of attention. Jack had to deal with his feelings of having been dumped, and accept what she was doing.
Awareness of NRE
Jack thinks that this type of awareness is essential for people to develop. He’s seen a lot of relationships blow apart that didn’t need to. People mistake NRE for being in love. They don’t realize that this is a natural phase, and the intensity will decrease with time. When some people experience NRE, he says,
“In their own mind, they're saying, I don't feel this for this person, but I do feel it for that person, so that means I'm in love with that person which means I'm not in love with this person any more, so that must mean I need to get rid of this person out my life and I need to focus on them. And a lot of the serial monogamy things happen that way. It comes out of not understanding NRE.”
Adjusting to having Al live with them had its challenges. Jack and Vanora had been spending six or seven nights a week together, and now he was down to half time with her - at least in theory. He claims that if she had really been present with him on half the nights, it wouldn’t have been bad. However, for a while he had a lot less time than that because of scheduling and other issues. In addition, they were sexual a lot less frequently. Vanora lost interest in sex when she and Al were having problems, so Jack was directly affected by the quality of the relationship between Vanora and Al. Jack mentions a period of about a month when she was so upset that talking about Al took over their time together.
The three of them have found that having a strict sleeping schedule is what works best for them. So Jack and Al alternate nights with Vanora. If she wants to spend the night somewhere else, she has to negotiate that with the man she would otherwise be spending the night with, but the schedule continues unchanged.
Different relationship styles
Vanora and Jack are not totally in sync about how to have other relationships. Jack says that he has had a fair amount of experience over the years of sharing a woman with other men. Vanora, on the other hand, is used to being involved with men who have to be willing to share her. She has less experience with sharing a man with other women. So he has found it fairly easy to give her the freedom she wants, but it’s been rougher on her emotionally to give him the same freedom. She has given “official permission” for him to have other relationships, but she still sometimes gets upset. Jacks says that
“An emotional issue for me is that if I'm doing something that seems like it's hurting her, making her real upset, it's hard for me to do that. It's a bad thing if she's being hurt like this, where she's upset by this, where it's causing her some real problems, so that makes me more reluctant than I otherwise would be.”
He’s realizing that this comes from the standard monogamous conditioning that you don’t fool around because it hurts your woman, and if you’re doing that, you need to stop it. He also recognizes that his own sense of self-esteem is affected by her reaction.
They have had a lot of discussion about this issue. Jack recognizes that Vanora’s reactions are very different towards different women. She’s fine with one of the women he’s involved with, a little uncomfortable with another, but very uncomfortable with the third, whom she sees more as a rival.
While Jack doesn’t want to be sexual with someone unless he sees the possibility of a longer term relationship, he has a good intuitive sense of who is a good match, and doesn’t mind acting quickly. This remains a bone of contention between him and Vanora. For him, polyamory is about freedom. He has the point of view that if he meets someone and wants to get involved, he can do that. He’ll tell Vanora about her, but he reserves the right to choose to get involved. Vanora tells him no, before he gets involved sexually with someone, she wants to meet the woman. So he wants more freedom, but she doesn’t think she is really restricting his freedom. One of the differences between them is that she tends to know someone a long time before becoming sexually involved.
Officially they don’t have veto power, although obviously Jack is affected by Vanora’s emotional reactions. They do have an agreement that they won’t stay involved with anyone who has an agenda to break them up. Vanora is currently dating a man whom Jack does not like. She’d like to have him around a lot, and maybe even move in, but Jack does not share her high opinion of him, and sees him as a potential source of trouble, in particular financially. He doesn’t try to persuade her not to see him, but has told her he doesn’t want this other man in his life. He recognizes, however, that someone who is in her life is necessarily to some extent in his, but he wants to minimize that as much as possible.
Is anyone primary?
Jack and Vanora also have different reactions to the concept of primary partners. Vanora definitely does not like the primary/secondary distinction. Jack explains,
“In her way of thinking, you may spend more time with someone, more attention with somebody, you may do certain things with some people that you don't do with others, but to tell anybody that they're less important or to diminish one relationship doesn't work. She would say it's all one love and it's all one relationship, and I need to understand that, whether I accept that or not. Somebody can't be in her life and not be in mine, whether I spend time with him or not. What she does with them affects her mood, it affects her feelings, it affects her behavior and how her energy is with everyone else in her life. So to pretend that it's separate doesn't work, it's an illusion.”
From Jack’s point of view, Vanora has a primary relationship with both him and Al. Jack feels there’s a qualitative difference between living with someone and seeing them every day or two, eating meals with them and sharing a home, versus someone he only sees occasionally because they live far away, so he’s not directly involved in their daily life. He expects to be with Vanora for the rest of his life. She might decide to leave him, but he does not expect to leave her. He doesn’t feel he has that level of commitment with his other lovers.
Jealousy and NRE
Jack is very interested in finding ways to help people deal with jealousy. He says that if we can teach 18 year old boys straight out of high school to conquer their fear enough to risk their lives in military adventures, and we can teach people how to manage their anger, then we should be able to teach people how to manage their jealousy.
Understanding the emotions that underlie jealousy is helpful in working with the jealousy. He explains, “Issues of past hurt, self-esteem issues or self-worth issues show up as what you would call jealousy when it's really a past hurt getting triggered, and the emotion really is pain, it's not jealousy, it's pain, it's not jealousy it's fear, it's not jealousy it's self-worth issues or self-esteem issues.” This issue triggers what we think of as jealousy, but when we label it as jealousy, it’s too big and obscure to work with. If we can find the painful memory that triggered it, or the fear that we have, we can get it to a level where it’s a lot easier to work with.
Jack works a lot on recognizing that Vanora’s interest in someone else, or her lack of availability because she is spending time with someone else, doesn’t devalue him. He has to catch his tendency to think that it’s because she wants to end things with him or wants to be with someone else more than she wants to be with him. He thinks this comes from standard conditioning for men in our culture. Men have their egos very involved in having a woman, and think that if the woman also wants other men, it means that they aren’t good enough, because a woman who really loves you doesn’t have those feelings. Jack has to catch those thoughts and be conscious about them. Working through his feelings about having Al move in has helped Jack handle Vanora’s other relationships more easily.
While Jack works hard on his own feelings of discomfort around Vanora’s other relationships, he also consciously avoids letting his own NRE with a new lover get in the way of his relationship with Vanora. He mentions the need to be aware of the special ways you’re treating a new lover, and make sure that you’re also doing something to remind your existing lover that she is also special.
Many years ago, before he had heard the word polyamory, Jack was in a relationship which was nominally open, but where his partner got very upset every time he tried to act on that openness. So he stopped trying to tell her what was going on when he had another relationship. This left him feeling guilty, and eventually he decided he couldn’t handle it any more, and broke up with her. That convinced him that he never wanted to do that again. His partner needs to know what is going on and be okay with it, or he isn’t going to do anything.
Being able to have close, intimate, but not necessarily sexual relationships is one of the advantages Jack sees in polyamory. He has a female friend with whom he likes to cuddle. They talk to each other about their troubles, and enjoy their time together on a nonsexual basis. He has noticed that this kind of friendship isn’t okay in the monogamous world, because you’re supposed to get all your emotional and affectional needs met by the same person. The person you cuddle with should also be your primary partner. If one person isn’t meeting all your needs, you’re supposed to break up and go find someone who does meet them. He prefers the option within polyamory of letting his relationships take whatever form feels most natural, whether very sexual, not sexual at all, or somewhere in between.
Jack sees a lot of benefits to polyamory. He says,
“Freedom is a big part of it. Beyond that, there's no joy like it. That's really what it comes down to. There's nothing like really being able to love the people that you want to love, and do it the way you want, whether it's sexual or nonsexual, or whatever. All the arguments for and against and all that aside, there are just levels of ecstasy and joy and happiness that are available to me that wouldn't be there.”
However, polyamory does take a lot of work, but Jack thinks that a good monogamous relationship takes a lot of work as well. To be polyamorous, you have to be willing to face disapproval from the world.
Jack doesn’t go along with the idea that the purpose of having more partners is to make it easier to satisfy one’s sexual desires. He notes that his interest in each woman is specific to her. His desire to be sexual isn’t an abstraction that can be satisfied with any of his lovers; instead, he has a desire for each of them that can’t be satisfied by another. He says that for him it’s not like being thirsty, where water or orange juice might be equally effective in satisfying the thirst. He knows that “Some people's sexuality seems to work that way. As long as they're having sex, who cares who you're doing it with, as long as they meet some minimum standards of attractiveness. I don't seem to work that way.” Cuddling with Vanora doesn’t substitute for cuddling with another good friend. Being sexual with another lover doesn’t substitute for making love with Vanora. His desire for each person is closely attuned to his sense of who they are.
Jack would like other people to know that polyamory is possible. He says that he and Vanora were on a call in radio show where they had many calls from people who told them it was impossible, that no man can love two woman, that women can’t avoid being jealous, that it’s against human nature. He sees this response as a way of avoiding responsibility. If you think that polyamory is impossible, then you don’t have to work with the feelings that come up when you think about it. He comments that Vanora is a very attractive woman, and a fascinating person to be around. If they were monogamous, there would still be the possibility that someone else would try to take her away from him. So he could have the same fear of losing her to someone else, whether they’re polyamorous or monogamous. Jealousy, anger, the annoyance that comes from not feeling respected, these are all just human emotions that can come up in any type of relationship. He’s seen people who were monogamous who had huge fights over jealousy, over how one of them looked at another person. So being monogamous is not necessarily a solution to the problem of jealousy.
Monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. Polyamory doesn’t work for everyone. Jack thinks some people shouldn’t be in relationships at all, that they need to do their own work first. Looking at the possibility of polyamory is a positive thing, because it brings your attractions to consciousness, where you can choose how to deal with them. Whether to be monogamous or not should be a conscious decision. He says, “The fact that you want to do your life a certain way is all the reason and justification you need for it.” If people want to be monogamous, they should find someone else who wants to be monogamous, and not try to make anyone else be monogamous, or say it’s ordained by God or evolution or human nature.
© 2009 by Elaine CookOther Poly Stories
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