Negative polyamory outcomes?

post by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:25:17.934Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 104 comments

Related article: Polyhacking

Note: This article was posted earlier for less than a day but accidentally deleted.


Although polyamory isn't one of the "official" topics of LW interest (human cognition, AI, probability, etc...), this is the only community I'm part of where I expect a sufficiently high number of members to have experience with it to give useful feedback. 


If you go looking for advice or articles about polyamory on the internet, you mostly get stuff written by polyamorists that are happy with their decisions. Is this selection bias? Where are the people whose relationships (or social lives, out anything) got damaged or ruined by experimenting with Consensual Non-Monogamy?


I'm posting this hoping for feedback, negative AND positive, on experiences with polyamory. I considered putting this in an Open Thread, but it occurred to me that many other LW readers might be interested in whether polyamory has drawbacks they need to be aware of. If you have experience with CNM (including first-hand witnessing, which has the added bonus of not requiring you to out yourself while still participating in the dialogue), please comment with your overall impression and as much detail as you would like to include (I am also putting my experiences there rather than in this post). If you've seen multiple poly relationships, multiple comments would make tallying slightly easier. I will try to upvote people who feed me data, a la LW surveys. If there are sufficient comments, I will periodically go through them and post a rough ratio of good to bad experiences at the bottom of this article.

PSA: The Username account is available for use by any who wish to remain anonymous. The password is left as an exercise for the reader. Hat tip... Username.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-01-06T03:25:22.748Z · score: 16 (15 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience people who have recently gotten into poly are evangelical, claiming that it is easy and for everyone, while people have done it for years say it is hard and not for everyone. But you hear a lot more from the people with the new partner infatuation. Experienced people complain even about this dynamic.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-06T08:02:23.544Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Largely negative experience: person A (female, bi, well-known by me but I have the story second-hand) was in a poly relationship with a couple. The guy had other women on the side, with his partners' knowledge but only grudging acceptance. The two women had occasional female secondary partners themselves. This lasted for around a year. Person A had a fling with another guy; her primary guy went jealous and awful over it. He's now out of both women's lives; they're not dating anymore but are still friends.

EDIT: I should point out that while all of this was permitted by the rules of the relationship (except the jealous fit and its fallout), there wasn't as much communication as there probably should have been. "Other women are OK, other men aren't" perhaps should have been a rule, but maybe the guy didn't know he'd get so upset over it.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-06T08:45:10.616Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

OK, somebody is going through almost every comment on this thread and downvoting it. What gives? Are you objecting to the small amount of free karma for sharing data (in which case, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to just post a comment saying so and asking the OP not to upvote the comments, with justification?), or is there some other objective? Was something about the comments too low-quality? Did it reveal too much information? Too little? What's the objection?

comment by gjm · 2015-01-06T13:25:28.494Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I just got hit with ~30 downvotes in a row after posting something with a slightly leftish political flavour. I conjecture that we have Neoreactionary Mass Downvoting Syndrome again. NRx folks tend to disapprove of polyamory, and even though the title is "Negative polyamory outcomes" it's possible that someone wants to punish people for treating polyamory as socially acceptable.

(This is only a guess, and I'm not super-confident about it.)

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T19:38:25.932Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That was my guess too, but I was worried about voicing it.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-06T20:32:33.054Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

As a matter of principle I think we should ignore such worries. (I'm aware that that's easier for me to say, since I've been here for ages and have a reasonable supply of karma.) In response to intimidation attempts one should refuse to be intimidated, because that reduces the incentive to attempt intimidation.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T20:54:13.999Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought people would think I was paranoid. It would be helpful if we could punish the defector.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-07T12:50:44.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would be helpful, but it's definitely not worth starting witch-hunts over. I don't personally care for Reddit-style unlimited voting (the technically-present limit on downvoting is pretty irrelevant unless you want to absolutely mass-downvote people) but it does seem to even out to something approximating a balanced view from the community.

Even though I'm pretty new here, I likewise have enough karma that I'm not going to be intimidated by a single downvote on a bunch of my posts. On the other hand, because I'm new here, I'm somewhat conscious of the fact that this is an established community with some unwritten rules to go along with the written ones, and I'm therefore attempting to determine what is and is not considered acceptable around here.

If the downvoter's intention is to discourage discussions like this, that backfired pretty badly; I now consider that person a coward and/or irrational, in that they either are afraid to or simply cannot justify their actions, and I am opposed to cooperating with their desires on that front alone. Oh, and I got more karma for my "what gives?" comment than I lost to all the downvotes I got on this thread anyhow. None of the comments seem to have been downvoted more than once, so it definitely resembles the work of a single person (NRx or otherwise) and not a community standard.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-07T16:36:09.896Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

that backfired [...]; I now consider that person a coward and/or irrational

But unless you know who that person is, the fact that you believe "whoever did the mass-downvoting is an irrational coward" doesn't actually harm the mass-downvoter. So it's not clear how badly it really backfires.

(For this reason (1) I tend to deliberately post more when I find myself being mass-downvoted and (2) the technical measure I would most like to see against mass-downvoting is something that automatically publishes information about all recent mass-downvotes on a regular basis.)

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-07T20:18:26.722Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The "backfired" I was referring to is that I now see this as a topic that is deemed more interesting to the community rather than less, and therefore one that there's benefit to participating in. It's true that the downvoter in question incurs no penalty aside from the limited impact on their pool of allowable downvotes, but they do also get to see this discussion they dislike so much continuing...

EDIT: I'd be in favor on some kind of anti-mass-downvote system.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T16:49:42.807Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the technical measure I would most like to see against mass-downvoting

LW could also employ the technique commonly used to prevent brute-forcing logins -- limits on the rate of downvoting. Basically, the forum could allow (the numbers are arbitrary and are just examples here) 10 downvotes within 10 minutes, 15 within an hour, 20 within a day, 25 within two days, etc.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-07T17:10:02.964Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. Though some of the mass-downvoting I've had has been gradual -- a few points a day for several days -- so it seems at least one LW mass-downvoter might not be so badly inconvenienced by this. (Have there been multiple LW mass-downvoters? I don't know.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T17:15:39.576Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, a few points for a few days doesn't sound like mass-downvoting to me. Downvoting is a useful function, I don't think we should be heading towards the situation when it would require an advance application for permission to downvote submitted in triplicate to a Very Important Committee.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-07T17:35:19.195Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think anyone's suggesting that, or anything sufficiently like it to warrant concern.

The behaviour I'm talking about is: A goes through all B's old comments, systematically downvoting a few of them every day for some time. Not selecting particularly bad old comments, you understand; the comments themselves are irrelevant. The only goal is to be able to reduce A's karma by a lot more than a single downvote would, without making it too blatant what you're doing.

(Why old comments? 1. So it's less obvious to anyone other than B what's happening. 2. Because A has already downvoted all B's recent comments.)

Do you think this is a "useful function"?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T17:53:12.299Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, you're talking about the state of mind of the downvoter. Unfortunately, the technology to detect that isn't available at the moment. What LW software can detect is that user X downvoted N1 comments by user Y on day 1, N2 comments on day 2, etc. As long as N is "a few", I would be wary of drawing "mass-downvoting" conclusions from this pattern.

Also, I would recommend not getting into a technological arms race with people want to game the karma system.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-07T22:46:23.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is the advantage of merely publicizing their behaviour rather than attempting to prevent it. Even if you get false positives or false negatives, the adverse consequences aren't severe.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T12:45:55.684Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It happened to me too, on the accidentally deleted version. I kind of wonder if someone just objects to the topic, but I wouldn't expect that kind of petty behavior from LW.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-06T18:47:10.498Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it reflects upon the forum as a whole - we just picked up some single NRx-er with way too much time on his hands a while back and there's not much that can be done about it, as he will just keep making alts. You can basically harvest karma for downvoting by making a large number of low quality comments, because everyone is apparently downvote-averse. The last time this happened the user in question managed to become a top poster. I think he's basically aiming to alter the group's composition by targeting left wing individuals who are sensitive to negative feedback.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-07T13:11:59.211Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A single person downvoting me without giving any reason why will have the opposite affect; my sensitivity to negative feedback is based on the "I am doing something wrong (and possibly not noticing it)" sensation, and if the person in question can't justify their actions and is acting alone, the most reasonable conclusion I see is that they're in the wrong and I am not.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-07T23:17:09.128Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is a good attitude to have. Evidence indicates that many others are more easily rankled.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-01-05T22:06:38.731Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

(Repost) Negative and second hand: Some couples were sharing a large house. One of the couples added a third person, who turned out to be very bad news. That marriage ended, and only one of the couples lives in the house now.

Positive and second hand: A triad which has worked well for many years.

Negative and second hand: Triad where the third was emotionally destructive and also brought in a very serious STD.

I've wondered about the risks of polyamory which aren't exactly about fidelity, but more about the risks of giving a great deal of trust to a person who might defect. The more people you add, the greater the risk of something like that happening.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-10T20:35:59.648Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's not just that the risk of defection increases with the number of people, though that's certainly true. It's also that the dynamics for 3+ people are qualitatively different from the dynamics for two people -- if you're in a monogamous relationship, you can't play the other people off each other to your benefit, because there's only one other person.

(This is also technically true for couples with children, but children are probably less likely to be skilled at and inclined toward that sort of manipulation than polyamorists, and married parents (though IME not divorced ones) should be able to put up enough of a united front to prevent the obvious failure modes.)

comment by James_Ernest · 2015-01-13T10:36:01.412Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's almost like there's something qualitatively different about the tractability of interactions between two bodies and N>2 bodies... (sorry)

One could also make an extremely laboured analogy about circumbinary orbits, and the spontaneous ejection of one party into deep space.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-26T10:38:19.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

but children are probably less likely to be skilled at and inclined toward that sort of manipulation

Let me guess - you got no siblings? :-)

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2015-01-05T15:44:03.394Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't strictly related, but I was thinking about polyamory today and I was wondering something.

I've never experienced polyamory in real life, and while aspects of it seem cool, there's a major concern I would have with it. I feel like I would deplore a situation in which I have only one partner who in turn has multiple partners. I wouldn't be able to shake the feeling that I was getting the raw end of the deal, like I had been duped into becoming a willing participant in a sort of public systematic cuckoldry.

Given that fact, I feel like any polyamorous relationship with a "primary" would be a constant battle of sorts to ensure that I have a greater than or equal to number of dating prospects as my partner. But as a man (the username is a dumb joke), I feel like this battle would be stacked against me, as women tend to have an easier time finding dates. I imagine that this is doubly true in a rationalist community where the men probably outnumber the women by a significant amount.

I'm not sure if feeling this way says more about polyamory, or my own selfishness and insecurities. Anyway, I would be interested in hearing from polyamorous people if this is an issue that ever comes up, and if so, how it's dealt with.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-05T17:02:57.515Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

If your partner having multiple partners while you don't is an unacceptable outcome for you then you definitely ought to get clear with your partner on what you'll do about it (collectively) if that happens before you start inviting other partners.

From what I've seen (monogamous man in a very poly-friendly social environment) yes, this is an issue that comes up, and yes, it's an expression of partners' insecurities. (This isn't intended as a dismissal; people have insecurities and relationships need to deal with those insecurities somehow.) It strikes me as similar to the issues some people have with partners who are significantly more romatically/sexually experienced than they are. In some ways it's also similar to the issues some people have with spouses who out-earn them financially.

One poly married couple I know deals with this by the wife, who is far more socially adept, helping her husband find other partners.

One approach you might consider is asking whether there's anything extra your primary partner could provide during the periods when she's more connected than you are that would make you feel less "raw end."

I infer from your assumptions that you're straight, but if not you might find it easier to find male poly-compatible partners than female ones. (In my experience it's less that women have an easier time finding dates, and more that it's easier to find male dates.)

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T12:52:44.339Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Man, imagine if Eliezer or some other big name wrote "Bi-hacking" and LessWrong became known for all the deliberate bisexuals.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-01-07T05:19:50.121Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

As opposed to just being an obscure post in the procedural knowledge thread?

comment by atorm · 2015-01-07T13:07:50.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if that would work. Also, where is the compelling internal dialogue about the value of being bisexual?

comment by falenas108 · 2015-01-08T01:18:50.855Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There was definitely something Eliezer said about bisexuality being strictly superior because then you would just be attracted to more people. I was 16 and straight when I read that, and I wanted to be bi since then. Then, about 3 years ago, I became* bi.

*It's weird, but there was a definite point where I started being attracted to more than one gender.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-10T20:29:36.662Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, this is possible. I did it a while ago because local status systems, then reversed it once I got out of those status systems and it was no longer useful.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-06T16:57:34.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be entertained. But I'd also be surprised.

In my experience a lot of people who identify (or are identified) as straight or gay are actually some flavor of bi and just "round themselves off" (or are rounded off by observers) for convenience or out of habit, but a lot aren't.

The former can choose to change how they identify and behave, and are sometimes happier for it; the latter not so much.

comment by blacktrance · 2015-01-07T07:27:04.581Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a guy in a polyamorous relationship with one girlfriend, who is in several relationships simultaneously. It's not a problem - the only occasional issue is that of limited time, and that's not unique to polyamory, it would be necessary to make those tradeoffs for friendships as well. On the plus side, compersion is a great feeling, and another benefit that I get in particular is that my girlfriend dating other people expands my social circle and introduces me to cool people, whom I would have greater difficulty meeting otherwise, because I'm normally not very social with people I don't know.

comment by Username · 2015-01-08T22:34:32.913Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

if this is an issue that ever comes up

I am female with two male partners. Before my first partner had other relationships, he sometimes asked for more time with me, but actually seemed less concerned about partner balance than I was. I strongly prefer for us to be in relationships that take up approximately equal amounts of time, so that I don't feel like anyone is sitting around waiting for me to pay attention to them.

This is merely an anecdote and obviously doesn't mean your concerns are not valid. :) But, also a single data point, there does exist at least one female partner who does not see it as a competition, and whose sense of justice is offended if everyone isn't having at least as much fun as they would like. :)

comment by therufs · 2015-01-08T22:26:49.640Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

women tend to have an easier time finding dates

I'm a little confused by what this implies. Are you observing that it's easier for women to initiate dating activities (plausible), or that women go on more dates than men (but while some women date each other, most don't)?

comment by Kindly · 2015-01-08T22:40:53.291Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, women (and men) dating each other aside, women as a whole go on the same number of dates as men; however, this does not imply that the same number of women go on a nonzero (or non-low) number of dates as men. This would imply that a small fraction of men are dating a large fraction of women.

comment by therufs · 2015-01-10T01:20:19.631Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. It'd be my guess that this effect diminishes as the number of dates/length of relationship increases; what do you think?

comment by Kindly · 2015-01-10T14:50:42.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on the cause.

If it's because the "small fraction of men" is just really talented at getting dates, the effect would diminish, because they just don't have the time to be in ten times as many long-term committed relationships as anyone else.

But the same effect occurs, as an earlier post points out, in any subgroup in which there is a majority of men and a minority of women. Then, if all the women are out on a date, only a fraction of the men are, by virtue of the pigeonhole principle. In this case, I don't think anything changes if we look at longer-term relationships.

comment by VAuroch · 2015-01-09T22:17:36.691Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically, it is generally easier for women to find potential partners willing to date them than it is for men; this isn't necessarily useful to them unless their standards are low-ish, but if they're willing to sacrifice date quality, it's a tradeoff that's much easier for them to make.

This is massively exacerbated by the gender imbalance present in most fields that have a significant rationalist following, obviously.

comment by therufs · 2015-01-10T01:24:27.052Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious about the extent to which rationalists have a strong enough preference for dating within the rationality community that they exclude non-rationalist potential dates.

Or, in another framing, to what extent the preference for a rationalist date outweighs other considerations, to the extent that not dating a non-rationalist is preferable to dating a non-rationalist.

comment by VAuroch · 2015-01-11T04:04:02.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That wasn't central to my point; I mean that in the fields where most rationalists spend their time, there's a significant gender imbalance. Even if you're totally willing to date non-rationalists, by default the people you meet will be heavily imbalanced unless you're specifically cultivating social circles not related to rationality or your profession.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-10T01:50:37.463Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That may depend heavily on what one means by "rationalist" in this context.

comment by listic · 2015-01-11T21:41:03.849Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

polyamorous relationship with a "primary" would be a constant battle of sorts to ensure that I have a greater than or equal to number of dating prospects as my partner

Why would you want to do that? Don't you have anything more useful to do with your life?

I look at this hypothetical situation like this:

Situation: I have only one partner who in turn has multiple partners.


  • I get to spend time with my partner while not needing to fulfill all of their needs.


  • I don't get enough attention from my partner? But his can be discussed and negotiated. I may or may not pursue other partner(s) if I want to; no pressure on me here. Anyway, I'm better off having some of their attention rather than none or full attention of a grumpy partner and no possibility to pursue other partner(s) (the latter because my partner has other needs that I have trouble fulfilling; that's what I would get in case of monogamy)

I don't see any other problems here. Do you?

comment by atorm · 2015-01-12T02:46:11.232Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're oversimplifying feelings a bit.

comment by listic · 2015-01-12T09:05:43.119Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the onus is on you to explain where do you think I oversimplify.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-12T14:28:44.260Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People tend to see relationships as more than contractual exchanges of favors. In this case it seems like gothgirl defines some of his self-worth from his ability to gain/keep partners, or at least draws some utility from having as many as his primary partner does.

People are complicated and get a lot of different things out of their relationships.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-06T08:40:44.849Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Negative experience, I know all the people involved but didn't observe any of this firsthand and it happened before I knew some of them: A good friend of mine (call her person B, female, bi, married) and her husband (person C) once tried dating another married couple (also friends of mine, call the guy person D). Everything went swimmingly as far as the sex and the hanging out together as friends went, but C got uncomfortable about the growing romantic attachments and amicably broke off the inter-couple relationship. Unfortunately, B had already fallen hard for D (though not to the exclusion of C) and ended up cheating to have one more night with him. When she told C about it he got pretty mad, blocked D out of his life (and got a promise from B not to be alone with him again) and pretty much swore off polyamory (at the time). This was over three years ago, and it was only in the last year or so that C has started to forgive D and they've moved towards being friends again.

B and C are still married, though it was rocky for a while there (D and his wife aren't, for many reasons of which this cheating incident was plausibly one). B really doesn't do monogamy well, and the compromise for a while was swinging with other couples (just sex, no dating in the usual sense) every now and then. That seems to have worked out, though B wishes it was more often.

Related question: should I include swingers in the list of people I know in poly relationships? The boundary is a bit fuzzy but many people would count it as CNM even if it's just for sex.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T19:37:28.274Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's definitely consensual non-monogamy in my opinion.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T12:41:57.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Swinging is certainly consensual non-monogamy. What happened to Person A?

comment by gwillen · 2015-01-05T20:46:39.376Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Poly seems ubiquitous enough among people I know (mostly young, techies, living in the Bay Area or otherwise with some connection to it) that it's hard for me to even keep track of which people I know are poly or have been in poly relationships.

My general sense is that things often go well, sometimes go badly, but when they go badly poly is usually not the main reason (but sometimes it's an aggravating factor.) When things do go well, you're less likely to hear about it than when they go badly, too.

I also know several people who seem to have had poly phases at one time or another, but now seem to be practicing-monogamists; as well as at least one poly person who went through a monogamy phase (for a partner) but couldn't deal in the end and is back to poly.

comment by Alsadius · 2015-01-05T15:07:14.334Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I have a friend who's tried it on two occasions. The first time, she and her best friend shared a boyfriend. It didn't last terribly long, but it seems to have ended amicably. The second time, she and her then-boyfriend decided to merge up with another couple into a foursome. Her original boyfriend eventually ran off with the new girl, leaving her and the other guy single(they weren't as into each other, and decided not to bother continuing after their other partners left).

Overall, she's mostly unhappy with her experimentation, and has said she intends to remain monogamous in future.

comment by Username · 2015-01-09T17:40:59.491Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I've tried polyamory several times, in several permutations, and it Just. Does. Not. Work. for me. I'm male and bi so there are many permutations, although I have not logically exhausted them all. Yet! First experience was with a female partner who started seeing someone else, also male. Much jealousy and unhappiness all round, despite much talking. Everyone was happier when we stopped doing that. A later one with a primary male partner and we both saw other people, fairly casually, mostly other males. Again, much unhappiness merging in to insecurity, despite talking, though less than in the first one. Then later a four-way two males two females all bisexual in theory thing that never worked right. Who was finding who really hot kept changing over time, which seems like it ought to have worked. But, long story short, A never had the hots for B when B had the hots for A, for all values of A and B, and nobody was getting any.

My two big monogamous relationships were much less hard work (one male, one female). Less visits from the Drama Llama is awesome. And the latest of those is very long term and happy and we now expect the relationship to end by death, if at all.

Maybe there's a typical mind fallacy thing going on. Some people get on with polyamory, some don't. I know people who love it, others who crashed and burned. I say give it a go, but be ready to call a halt to the trial as soon as you have enough evidence to show it's not working for you.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-01-05T17:40:05.178Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

So, in terms of statistics I'm not going to try to isolate the experiences; I have too many friends involved in poly relationships to do a representative sampling without more work than I feel like dedicating to this comment.

Just to be clear, I'm counting as "poly" relationships those where at least one partner has at least two partners who know about and are reasonably OK with each other for at least some period of time, and where such partners are understood as in-principle acceptable. I'm counting as "monogamous" relationships where such partners are understood as in-principle unacceptable, including ones where partners have had affairs but claim to feel bad about them.

This creates an excluded middle of "poly in principle but not in practice" and it's likely that a lot of relationships I consider monogamous fall in that excluded middle (arguably including my own) but I don't really care.

There's also "nominally monogamous but in practice poly" relationships mediated by affairs which are eventually confessed and forgiven, about which I don't have much to say but am counting here as monogamous.

If I had to guess about statistics I'd say that maybe 15-30% of the long-term (say, a decade or more) monogamous relationships in my cohort have tried the poly thing and concluded it isn't for them, and about the same proportion of the LTRs in my cohort are poly and seem happy enough with it. (Which is not to say they don't have relationship problems; they do, sometimes involving third parties and sometimes not. So do the monogamous LTRs, and the single people.)

I haven't noticed either groups' relationships failing more often, though I see a lot of relationships of both sorts break up on third parties, which in poly relationships usually looks like a triad destabilizing, and in mono relationships usually looks like an unforgiven affair.

One highlight: one of the best marriages I know of (in terms of how well the spouses work together and support each other and make each other happy and achieve their own goals and raise their child) has been poly for about a decade now; they've each had secondary partners during that time who last a few months to a couple of years and then break off amicably.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-06T08:18:17.416Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Largely positive experience thus far: my current relationship is technically poly, though so far it's mostly been limited to when one of us is out of town for a week or more. General rule is "anything goes as long as you're safe and it doesn't cut into the time we have with each other." Travel (I'm a consultant) is one obvious case, but we live far enough apart that it's hard to see each other except on weekends. She's had one fling with an old fuckbuddy mid-week while we were both in our respective hometowns; I so far have not (only when traveling) but have considered it.

When we are with each other we have largely acted monogamous so far, and things may change if she moves closer (as she is planning to do). We have discussed (her suggestion) adding a third person for a fling, though. We appear to have implicitly rejected expanding the primary circle. Current relationship age is over seven months and this has been the rule since the first month.

comment by Kaura · 2015-01-05T20:04:54.881Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Negative: a couple decided to go poly after some years in a stable monogamous relationship. It seemed to go well for a few months, but the guy apparently told a few white lies here and there, which then got completely out of control and eventually resulted in a disaster for pretty much everyone involved.

Neutral/negative: a couple was poly for maybe half a year or so, then decided it was "too much trouble" and returned to monogamy. I don't know them well enough to be able to provide more details, but they have been together for a few years after that and are now having a child, so nothing terrible probably happened.

I know plenty of other poly people as well, but don't know as much of what's going on in their individual relationships. The general feeling I get is that while a healthy poly relationship certainly isn't impossible, they are only rarely very stable and often seem to require significantly more attention and work to succeed even when they do (which of course are not negative things to everyone, and it can be worth it anyway in case the freedom and additional partners bring a lot of value). Problems arising from insufficient honesty are pretty common, even among those who would generally seem to value trust and openness, so that's probably an important thing to watch out for.

comment by Larks · 2015-01-08T04:27:46.544Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Repost: I apologise that this is not first-hand but Patri came out arguing his experience with polamory had been negative a while ago.

comment by jimmy · 2015-01-07T19:18:07.874Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's pretty hard to know whether poly gets credit or blame in any given situation.

For example, I know of one relationship that opened up largely because it wasn't a good relationship and then later ended. In my best guess (not very confident), the open relationship hastened the end while also making it somewhat easier to do.

At first glance, that can look like "poly ruined their relationship!" or at least "poly might mean your relationship isn't good and so don't do it or it'll fall apart!", but in this case the transition from husband/wife to friend/friend was unambiguously a good one - and to the extent the open relationship brought it to an end more quickly, it gets credit, not blame, for helping them accelerate into the crash. (Yes, this is their stance too. They were considering having a celebratory "divorce party" before just merging it into another party they had at their house)

comment by atorm · 2015-01-07T19:45:32.938Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are one or both of them still practicing polyamorists with other partners?

comment by jimmy · 2015-01-07T21:29:43.943Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The wife is. The husband wants to be, but his girlfriend (who he was with for the last bit of the marriage) isn't okay with it.

comment by therufs · 2015-01-07T03:51:04.732Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The main negative aspect of my ongoing experience (20 months so far) has primarily been in increased awkwardness around acquaintances and family members. I'm predisposed to that anyway, and actually doing something nonconformy (and not really having much sense of how acquaintances and family members feel about it, even those who are aware of the relationship) has heightened the phenomenon.

It's definitely net positive overall, though. :)

edit: deobfuscation

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-07T12:58:41.331Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that you describe this as "my negative experience" instead of something like "the only negative part of my experience" suggests to me that you think you would be happier in a non-poly relationship which is otherwise the same as your current relationship in as many ways as possible. Is that so?

Leaving aside the fact that mono and poly relationship opportunities have limited overlap and therefore often aren't really comparable, would you convert your current relationship to a monogamous (monoamorous?) one if you could, even though that would require excluding some members of it? Or is the relationship you have now, with its multiple partners, something you would not risk losing for the sake of some conformity?

I ask because I really can't tell from your comment whether you're describing "being in a poly relationship is a negative outcome (but I stay in it anyway because it beats my available alternatives)" or "this is a significantly negative experience that I have had as a result of being poly (but the total outcome of the relationship is positive)" and the subject of the thread is outcomes more than specific experiences.

EDIT: grammar.

comment by therufs · 2015-01-07T22:13:31.527Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Argh. No, my current relationship(s) are pretty great overall, and I was so enthusiastic about demonstrating that I was realistic about the downsides that I didn't really think about the outcomes vs. experiences thing.

Sorry for the confusion; will (try to) edit for clarity.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-07T12:59:14.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know what you mean. For me it helped to come out to everyone I cared about. I wasn't able/willing to do so with family, and those interactions are more stressful than interactions with friends. The increased mental load of "don't out yourself" is not insignificant.

However, I'm surprised you've been poly for 20 months if you've found it to be net negative.

comment by therufs · 2015-01-08T22:14:54.301Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. For me I don't think so much in terms of "don't out yourself" (basically figuring this is impossible) as "will I be able to manage my relationship with this bystander with minimum future awkwardness" (which I have maybe unreasonably low priors for.)

(Also, not net negative; see above)

comment by btrettel · 2015-01-07T01:18:17.361Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My only experience with poly was negative. (There were details here, but I removed them for reasons.)

I have decided that poly is way too complicated for me and I have no intention of pursuing a poly relationship in the future. I left this feeling more like a piece in a collection than a human.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-07T01:44:24.900Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I am sorry someone made you feel that way.

comment by Elo · 2015-01-10T23:43:01.774Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

thank you for the data point all the same :)

comment by listic · 2015-01-11T21:57:31.360Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

poly is way too complicated

Exactly what do you find complicated in poly? The first time I heard about polyamory, I thought for a while, then thought, "hm, this makes sense". Monogamy, on the other hand, looks unnecessarily complicated to me.

comment by btrettel · 2015-01-12T18:23:14.963Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Great question. The important qualification is for me. My main issue comes down to making sure that every partner I have is happy with our relationship. I barely have enough time to dedicate to one partner.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:11:13.344Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Per passive_fist's suggestion, I am collecting my experiences as replies to this comment and deleting the originals. I'm keeping them as separate comments so that they may be replied to individually.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:16:57.757Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Positive experience: I dated someone who was already in a primary relationship. They ended it fairly amicably because they felt that my primary relationship was affecting my relationship with them in a way they didn't like.

comment by RicardoFonseca · 2015-01-06T01:02:06.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, did the person you said you dated belong to your primary relationship at the time?

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T01:48:28.235Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

They had a primary partner, I had a primary partner. We were secondary to each other.

comment by RicardoFonseca · 2015-01-06T03:06:45.680Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right. I was initially confused by your use of "they". I thought it meant multiple people, but now I see it represents your secondary partner.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:13:32.100Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Negative experience: A married couple who were living six hours apart opened up their marriage. When I met them they were not having any obvious issues with the arrangement. Eventually it came out that the husband was lying about partners both to his wife and to the other women. The rules of their relationship allowed him to have sex with other women as long as his wife knew about them, and yet he seemed compelled to lie whenever possible. The wife gains some comfort from the support of her lover, and has not yet decided whether to end the marriage.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-06T12:50:18.526Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I attribute their problems to the husband's apparently deteriorating mental health rather than to polyamory. The wife says she feels that polyamory has still been a positive for her despite what has happened.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:12:12.042Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Positive experience: My monogamous relationship was suffering due to my partner's sudden drop in libido and the tension this caused. Although I had read Polyhacking, we didn't really consider Consensual Non-Monogamy until my partner met another person in an open marriage who framed it as a positive thing. Since we opened up, my partner and I have been much happier, although lately there has been stress due to my partner not currently seeing anyone else and wanting more of my time.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:18:57.197Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Negative experience: I met someone who was in an open relationship with her husband and a boyfriend. Over the next few months I watched her marriage explode as her husband adjusted poorly to anti-depressants. They are in the process of divorcing, and she is on-again off-again with the boyfriend. My impression is that both she and her husband have emotional issues that may have contributed to this outcome.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:18:20.002Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Positive experience: A female friend of mine seems extremely satisfied with her poly lifestyle. She has been poly for several years, with a break for monogamy that she regrets.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:17:39.576Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Neutral/negative experience: My partner has dated two people who would not describe themselves as being poly (they were monogamously interested in my partner). They knew that my relationship to my partner was primary, but still ended up with broken hearts when my partner broke up with them. My partner is fine. This doesn't look much different from the outcome I would expect if my partner had been monogamous.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-05T12:14:26.741Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Positive experience: I dated someone who knew both my primary partner and me. Doing so did not affect their friendship. I ended the relationship fairly amicably for reasons unrelated to non-monogamy.

comment by falenas108 · 2015-01-08T01:25:12.166Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Positive experience:

I've been poly for 3 years, had 10+ poly relationships, and while all but 4 have ended problems caused by polyamory has never been the cause. I'm currently in a triad for 9 months, been with one of the people in the triad for almost a year, and have been in another relationship for a bit over a year. Polyamory has literally never been anything more than a tiny issue in my current relationships, and only once was it ever anything close to a serious issue.

comment by Rubix · 2015-01-07T22:43:41.181Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Personally: Overall positive experiences. I'm polyamorous by nature, and have never had a relationship that wasn't poly. In my friend circle (bay area rationalists) there's a fair bit of polyamory. It seems like there's more + happier relationships, as well as more + calmer breakups, when I compare to the current relationships of my acquaintances from high school.

Negative data point: someone I know tried polyamory for (I think) 10-25 years, had a lot of difficult life experiences some of which related to her relationships, and has lately skewed towards relationship anarchy but with one primary romantic partner.

Data point in favor of poly, but sad: I know a person who left a 10-year relationship last year due to (her own) cheating and has been cheerfully doing CNM since then.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-07T13:07:57.567Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Swinging having been described as "definitely CNM", I'll mention some other folks I know where there are others in their sex lives, but only for the sex.

Another couple I know (hetero couple, but I'm not actually sure how they would define their own orientations) have a very kinky sex life and routinely take part in sex acts with participants outside the relationship (for example, two or more people together tying up / dominating a third). They've been together for something approaching three years now (and co-habiting for over a year), talk openly and happily about their sex life, and in general seem happy and committed to each other.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-29T12:12:05.098Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The market rate for swingers parties for single males is the same as the rate for prostitutes. Damn, I was looking for an arbitrage opportunity!

Back to my point. Given the similar rates, that would suggests swingers probably attract the same population of single males who go for hookers. As one such individual myself, and having met LessWrong and regular poly's, my experience is such that the latter represent a very different population that either Johns or hookers.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-07T17:00:11.283Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are using the wrong words that describe a different situation.

I do not see a reason to dwell too much on relationship styles. But I do honestly believe that with a bit of reason you can solve EVERYTHING. But from what I gather people are often more emotional than rational in relationships and therefore reason is thrown right in the fire.

But if I do have something to say.. I often feel poly folks are basically epicifiying what I think is "I just wanna fuck".

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-07T18:58:49.580Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

people are often more emotional than rational in relationships

Emotion vs. reason is a false dichotomy. Also, a relationship without emotions isn't a relationship.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T17:10:23.314Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But I do honestly believe that with a bit of reason you can solve EVERYTHING.

Not strongly incompatible value systems.

I often feel poly folks are basically epicifiying what I think is "I just wanna fuck"

I think poly is defined as multiple relationships, not just many fuckbuddies.

comment by jimmy · 2015-01-07T19:08:35.189Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But I do honestly believe that with a bit of reason you can solve EVERYTHING.

Not strongly incompatible value systems.

Yeah, that takes a shit ton of reason.

For real though, in my experience "incompatable value systems" often turn out to be less terminally different than they appear, and are just (perhaps vastly) different strategies with based on different positions/beliefs.

For example, I have a friend who was closed to the idea of monogamy in principle - even to the idea of being with someone who wanted monogamy with her. After much talking about how to be flexible/how to convey your needs/frame well, she's now with a guy who apparently started as into monogamy as she was non-monogamy.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T19:17:44.411Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"incompatable value systems" often turn out to be less terminally different than they appear

The top item in today's news is precisely about how incompatible value systems can be terminally different.

comment by jimmy · 2015-01-07T21:49:26.127Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"terminally different" does not mean "it's hard enough to come to agreement that at least one party resorts to violence".

Though I guess there's a point hiding in there. If two random people are stranded in the desert with enough water for one to survive, their value systems will both say "I want the water", but they point at different "I"s. Even if they manage to cooperate and draw straws, there's still room for the stronger to just take it because of "incompatable value systems" - even if the value systems have the same fundamental structure after abstracting away specific beliefs and positions.

However this definitely doesn't apply in modern day relationships and I very much doubt that it applies to terrorists either.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-02T12:06:37.051Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"terminally different" does not mean "it's hard enough to come to agreement that at least one party resorts to violence".

Killing your enemies is pretty terminal.

(Historical footnote for visitors from the future: "today's news" alluded to upthread refers to the Charlie Hebdo killings, a phrase which should be easily googleable for a long time to come.)

comment by jimmy · 2015-02-03T23:11:53.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds pretty obviously instrumental to me. "Why do you want to kill your enemies?" has pretty obvious answers. "so they won't kill me", "so I can take control of their resources", etc.

And if you take those away, perhaps by making them unable to harm you, finding a way to take their stuff without killing them, etc, how much do you expect people to still care about killing their enemies?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-07T19:25:12.662Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To some extent yes, but to some extent, that's not just due to incompatible values: the people in question are actively wrong about the nature of the universe. That is, if they understood that factually speaking, no version of their deity exists, their values would adapt (they might change to some other extreme, violent belief system but they would presumably change).

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T19:42:04.014Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the people in question are actively wrong about the nature of the universe

I would guess that about 80% of the world's population is "actively wrong about the nature of the universe" and out of the remaining 20% the great majority live in China.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-08T03:45:06.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, even if any particular theistic group were right, the vast majority of the world would still be wrong. I am not 100% sure that my belief on the subject is accurate, but it's vastly more likely to be correct than those of people who believe that radical violence in response to a cartoon is appropriate and will be rewarded. Even a great many Muslims would reject that view.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-07T17:27:42.677Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not strongly incompatible value systems.

I did not attempt to compare mono and poly. I intended to mean in in inter-relationship. Also, this is just a preference and as I said, no reason to dwell on it too much. Works for me, end of the story.

I think poly is defined as multiple relationships, not just many fuckbuddies.

I thought that they also have sex with other partners. But this kind of stretches the definition of a relationship. It means a higher level of connection with another person. I am not such an emotional person so I think I might suffer from overclarity. I connect to people on an intellectual level. If I have a girlfriend but I also enjoy the company of a few different women does that mean I'm a poly-mono hybrid? It does not feel anything like a relationship to me but rather a solid friendship, and I think this is what poly folks feel too, but they go for it with more intensity than I'd do.

But before I fall into a bottomless pit, I think we have different definitions of the word "relationship" so the best we can do is state what are thoughts are in order to reach some agreement but I honestly feel we're talking about different things when we say relationship.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T17:55:58.630Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By "relationship" here I mean both a sexual relationship and an emotional relationship. Just sex makes one a fuckbuddy, just emotion makes one a friend (or maybe a tragic unrequited love interest :-/). In the poly context I use "relationship" to mean that people are both sleeping with each other AND are emotionally involved.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-07T18:05:39.278Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought the point of polygamy is to be able to have sex with multiple partners. This makes me feel a bit weird because I can have a relationship with a female friend and not kiss her or hug her too much or whatever. More like a friendship but you get the point.

Still though, I don't see how it refutes my point of them just wanting to have sex with more than one person. I suspect this might be because I place more weight on the sex rather than the relationship.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T18:28:38.390Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought the point of polygamy is to be able to have sex with multiple partners.

Nope, that's just sleeping around and does not necessarily involve polygamy.

I don't see how it refutes my point of them just wanting to have sex with more than one person

Because your point involves the word "just". If you just want to have sex with many people, no need to do the whole polygamy thing -- just sleep with whoever you want and can get.

comment by atorm · 2015-01-07T19:49:22.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Polygamy" involves marriage.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T20:09:32.389Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not in the typical LW usage of the word.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-07T20:20:12.088Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that's why people use "polyamory" to distinguish the two.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-07T20:33:40.978Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fair point.