Episode 6: Can I Love More Than One Person? Unboxing Polyamory

Just imagine that one day your loved one announces, “I want to be in polyamorous relationships from now on”. What will your actions be? Do you need to run away from it OR maybe you’re curious to give it a try? In our new episode of Long Distance Short, we’ll explain how things in polyamory work and what it really is. More than that, we will show you what and why you need to learn from people in polyamorous relationships. Don’t hesitate to learn about something that can be a future of social relations, all you need to do is to click a Play button!

Intro

Hello and welcome to another episode of “Long Distance Short” — GiftBasketsOverseas.com‘s podcast where we talk to real people about the triumphs and tribulations in all kinds of long-distance relationships. Your host is Ally Winters, an international gift consultant who’s found success in her own long-distance romances and friendships. Today we are discussing a topic that we don’t hear too much about: polyamory.  We’ll dive into what polyamory is, how it works, who it’s for, and why we’re even bringing it up on Long Distance Short! Today we’re bringing back Sempi, part of the marketing team for DrinkableGifts.com who has first-hand experience navigating her own polyamorous relationships. And Carmen Monroe – she spent 5 years in Clinical Mental Health Counseling before changing careers to bring her expertise to GiftBasketsOverseas.com. Let’s jump right in, take it away, Ally!

ALLY

Hello Sempi, hello Carmen! How are you today?

 

SEMPI

Hi Ally, I am doing well. How are you?

 

ALLY

Just great! I’m so excited to talk about polyamory today, really!

 

CARMEN

Hi Ally. Yeah, me too — I’m really excited to be here, thank you so much for having me.

 

ALLY

Yes! So, let’s start — and I guess the most interesting part of this would be to introduce the notion of polyamory; I am also eager to know more about this, as well as our listeners, so, Sempi, since you have some experience in this field, can you provide us with some understanding of what your relationship is about? What is “polyamorous” — in your relationship, so to say?

 

SEMPI

Sure! So, I think one of the key things to remember is that poly isn’t just one thing; poly is sort of an umbrella term for a lot of other things. But the focus of what poly is for me, and my relationships — plural, that’s the key part of “poly,” — is, I practice this idea that I can love multiple people. So I approach my relationships very openly, I talk to all of my partners very bluntly, and let them know that I am of the belief that love is sort of an open resource, right, — you can love more than one person, but you don’t have to love them all the same.

 

So I do live with one partner, and he’s been my partner for a very long time, but he knows that I do occasionally have feelings for other people. Sometimes this means that, yes, I do date somebody else; sometimes this means that I just love another person and I express that, and it never really gets beyond more than a really, really, really close friendship; sometimes, and it has in the past developed to where I have basically two boyfriends, which is awesome and a little bit exhausting, to be completely honest.

 

ALLY

Uh-huh. So, how many partners do you have right now?

 

SEMPI

Um, at the moment I have just one romantic partner, the person that I’m living with. But I do have kind of a friends-with-benefits situation: we’ve known each other for several years, and we both have romantic feelings for each other, we both are very attached to one another romantically, and intellectually, and spiritually; but we recognize that we can’t date — we don’t really have that time to commit to one another. He actually lives on the other side of the country from me, and we just can’t make the sort of constant relationship work. So we are able to see each other, we enjoy our time together when it can happen, and when it can’t happen, we understand that we have these other lives.

 

CARMEN

This is a great time to talk about defining things like love. Love is such a huge concept, and, as Sempi’s pointed out already, it’s a big undertaking to nurture a one-love relationship, right? A lot of people are just like: oh my goodness, how can you possibly have more than one?! (laugh) It’s hard enough!

 

SEMPI

I’ve been asked that once or twice. (laugh)

 

CARMEN

But what I have seen and experienced in polyamorous relationships, is the idea of more than one love is, exactly as Sempi said, more than one type of love, and many polyamorous people aren’t necessarily talking about sex when they’re talking about loving another person. And I think it’s really important to consider people’s needs, human needs — it’s really easy to understand from a friendship perspective that a person’s needs are never completely met by one other person, right? Nobody has only one other person in their life for their entire life, right? Even parents — it’s like, you’ve got at least two, and also grandparents, and your family, in the very broadest sense, is a multiple-love relationship.

 

With your many friends, it can be argued, you are in a polyamorous relationship already, you just define your affection, and your levels of intimacy, and your levels of closeness differently depending on their roles. And, I believe, a lot of polyamorous people might have only one partner for intercourse, but another partner who intellectually stimulates them, or who’s really good at non-sexual affection. Just cuddling! You’ve got a cuddle partner. And I think polyamorous people leave a lot more room in their life for those kinds of definitions of love.

 

ALLY

That’s really interesting, and I would say that, in Ukrainian, we have two words for loving: the one for those with whom we can be friends, for our friends and parents, this word is «любити», and if we talk about this love to our partners, that’s another word which is «кохати»; this distinction gives us understanding of what kind of relationship we are in. But still, in many other languages, the word “love” both for parents and partners is the same word.

 

CARMEN

I’m so glad that you brought this up! I did not know that about Ukrainian, but I often bring up a similar example in Greek. In English, we just have this one word for love, but in Greek, there are many different words for many different kinds of love: there’s ἀγάπη [ˈɑɡɑːˌpeɪ], which is possibly the most well-known — that is sort of a brotherly love, that’s a love that you have in fellowship with your community; in fact, it’s often raised to a spiritual or a religious idea, the idea of the agape love which is a pure love that you just have in general for other humans. There’s ἔρως [ˈɛɹoʊs], which is that erotic love, that going to bed and getting your rocks off (laugh) kind of love. And they had a whole separate love for that!

 

SEMPI

We should bring that back.

 

CARMEN

And there is also a word for familial love; there’s a word for the love of intellectual ideas — φιλοσοφία [fi.loˈso.fi.a] is the love of wisdom, from which we get the study of philosophy, and so many things spin-off from that.

 

ALLY

Wow! Good to know.

 

CARMEN

So they had words embedded in their language for all different kinds of love that, I think, point to the human needs for different kinds of affection. We need to safety and security of a long-term partner, I think, like a domestic partner; the one who makes the business of day-to-day life, like, okay to do. But we also need intellectual stimulation, we need affection, we need other things — you know, the joker in our lives, the one who’d just make you laugh no matter what’s going on. And polyamorous relationships can allow for people to define what those can be and look like.

 

ALLY

And Sempi, you mention your own polyamorous relationship; what about your partner? Of course, he should also be polyamorous?

 

SEMPI

So… that’s kind of the tricky thing with poly. He absolutely has the option if he finds another kind of love that he wants to pursue, and if… I’ve tried to set him up on a couple of dates; none of them went well — apparently, I’m awful at picking out people for him. But he, you know, he’s a little bit older than me, and I’ve asked him a couple of times: why don’t you have someone else, because at this point in time he doesn’t, and he’s just… He says to me that he just doesn’t feel that need to go looking for someone else, and he feels, at the moment, totally satisfied with just me. And his video games. I guess, technically, you can say he’s dating his computer. (laugh)

 

But he has a lot of friendships, he has a lot of online gaming activities, and he has me to come home to, and he’s sort of… done — that’s the end of his list. But he has definitely been attracted to other people, and he has dated in the past, he’s fine to do that — but he’s never had anything else long-term. But that’s by choice, you know? I encourage it, it’s just not there for him, whereas with me, he’s definitely encouraging me, as well. Well, I’m a little bit younger, I have some interests that don’t necessarily align with him — one of the best examples is that I can stay… I love anime. Not sure how many people out there know what anime is — google it, but… carefully google it. Really cool Japanese cartoons, there’s also a dark side to it — so…

 

ALLY

I adore it.

 

SEMPI

Yes! You know what I’m talking about. So he doesn’t want to watch these things with me, but I don’t want to watch them alone. So I’ve had friends that… one of my dear, dear, dear friends is actually asexual, so they have no physical attraction to other people, they have no desire for this — what was it, Carmen? Eros? — Is that me using the right Greek word…

 

CARMEN

Yes. Yes. Not interested, or attracted to, or aroused by erotic love.

 

SEMPI

Right. I’m gonna bring this word back. My new mission. So, they don’t have this eros love, but they have this affectionate love. So, they’ll watch anime with me, and we’ll just cuddle — that’s what we do, right? That’s all they want, they get that fulfillment from me, I get that fulfillment from them, and my domestic partner doesn’t have to watch the stuff he doesn’t care about. So it’s a win-win for everybody, but I understand how it can be difficult because it’s really hard to openly talk to your partner about having needs that they don’t meet, or they don’t want to meet, maybe, while also not making them feel as though they’re not enough.

 

CARMEN

…They’re not important.

 

SEMPI

Yes, exactly. And I think this is where a lot of people, particularly people who have only ever had monogamous relationships, sort of get hung up — because how do you have that kind of conversation, it doesn’t come naturally, it’s something you really have to work at.

 

CARMEN

Those are also skills that will benefit people in monogamous relationships. Because we’re also talking about — even if you’re not looking outside of your monogamous relationship for another partner, it’s still the case that there are times when people need to talk about what’s missing. Otherwise, podcasts like these or articles about “How to spice up your love life in the long term” wouldn’t be as popular as they are. Right?

 

ALLY

Sure.

 

CARMEN

So learning the scripts to talk about, you know… The base we’re talking about, the first step, is learning how to make your partner feel good about the way that they do meet your needs and your desires. And learning how to talk about that — first.

 

SEMPI

Absolutely.

 

CARMEN

And then — move on to areas where you have needs, but go into that conversation armed with a real idea of what you actually need and what you actually want, and be able to express it and talk about why honestly. 

 

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ALLY

And we can talk about our needs, being in a relationship with a person: what is the main difference between polyamory and open relationships? Because I think open relationships, they presuppose that you have the freedom to choose?

 

SEMPI

Open relationships are definitely a form of polyamory — “polyamorous” being the sort of catch-all term for a myriad of non-monogamous relationships, — but what makes open relationships unique is that there is, as you mentioned, a freedom to do what you want sort of without necessarily having to talk to your current partner or partners as much. I think one of the biggest examples that people instantly think of is, open relationships can sometimes, or oftentimes, be of people who are married or who are otherwise monogamous, but sometimes go and seek sexual fulfillment elsewhere. And they have the freedom to do so.

 

Any time you add extra people to your sexual love life, your eros love life — gotta really work to bring that word back — you do have health concerns. And people in open relationships do talk about this, they do know their health boundaries beforehand — or they should be. If you’re in an open relationship and you aren’t talking about that beforehand, I encourage you to please go that. Right now. Stop listening to us and go make sure you’re safe.

 

CARMEN

Yeah, this is absolutely the right time for the PSA. Because there are all sorts of risks out there, and we don’t have to get too deep into STDs and things, but there are safer ways to share your bed. Please practice them, please get tested with your partners, please be open about how many sexual partners you have, please use protection, and don’t let anyone stop you from doing those things.

 

ALLY

Yes, that’s very good advice. Also, I’ve done some research beforehand, and there are some terms which kind of define the notion of polyamory; these are, mainly, primary and secondary partners. Can you provide us with some understanding of what the main difference is between them?

 

SEMPI

Oh, okay; so these terms, these “primary and secondary partners” terms, are sort of reference points, if you will. It’s natural when you date multiple people to wonder: where do you fit in the hierarchy, right? Of relationships. Does this person come first, when do they come first, right? And in a lot of polyamorous relationships — not all of them, but a good few — they sort of establish who their primary partner is, who is the person that sort of takes precedence as the person they’re going to put their needs of first, versus who the secondary partner is. Oftentimes, there’s sort of a natural shift; with a lot of my friends who are polyamorous, it’s understood that the person they’ve been dating the longest is the primary, and their secondary is the person they’ve been dating the least long.

 

But it can also… It can feel a little — for me, these terms feel degrading. I personally try and stay away from them, because it’s really hard for me personally to wrap my head around using them as not an insult. Intellectually, I understand that they’re not — intellectually I understand this is just trying to make boundaries clear; emotionally, they’re very, very rough on me. So I stay away from them and a lot of poly people do stay away from them, so that they’re not making any one of their partners feel like “other.”

 

But it is a necessary identifier — especially when you bring in things like polyamorous couples who have children, polyamorous couples who have lives… I’m very, very fortunate in having a workplace that doesn’t care if I’m poly, so long as, when I work, I work and I excel at it. Right? But some workplaces do care, so you have to decide who the partner you can be public about is, and who the partner that only your intimate circle gets to know about is. And that’s often the lines that are drawn when people discuss their primary partner and their secondary partner.

 

CARMEN

This is a great place to sneak in that polyamory is not new. We should talk about that more later. But, you know, so you’ve got your domestic partner, and then you’ve got the “date night” partner. And maybe you should negotiate that with that person, you might not even be having intercourse or sex: maybe you only have oral sex, maybe you just have a really fun, stimulating date night, and this is the person that you go and do the stuff with that your partner’s not interested in. Maybe watch porn, or maybe you go to a strip club…

 

ALLY

Oh my God (laugh).

 

CARMEN

I mean, seriously! We need to learn to be less shameful and open about these taboo things that we want. Especially when things are getting into a rut, right? And so that might be the shorthand for what we call the secondary partner — that’s the person where you have a little bit of, maybe, tabooed fun — or whatever you’re not getting at home on a regular basis. And sometimes you just need a little injection of something new. So that’s one way to define it; Sempi has also mentioned that maybe you have that similar domestic partner and your asexual cuddle partner — and again, that’s not an intercourse relationship, but that is a very deep level of intimacy. And it can include physical affection, right?

 

ALLY

And I actually remember Sempi mentioning her partner being a “nesting partner.”

 

SEMPI

Yes! Yes. “Nesting partner” is basically another term for “domestic partner” or for somebody who is… I personally am not sure that I’ll ever marry, just because I don’t feel the need to do that, I’m not religious and legally it doesn’t really make sense for me to marry, but this is my forever-human, right? And actually one of my friends, a couple of years ago, introduced this “nesting partner” term to me — so I don’t know how old or new it is, but I liked that, because it’s very much what we’re doing: we’re building this core foundation that, no matter where else we go to explore for romantic love, or adventures in life, we have this core home, this nest to come back to. So, he’s my nesting partner. He’s my guy.

 

ALLY

Nice! Okay, and some other terms that I found — so, can you give us some idea, Sempi, of what they mean; specifically, the triad: metamour, paramour, and the unicorn, some of which are really strange.

 

SEMPI

Oh, the mythical unicorn! Okay, so I’m gonna talk about triads and the unicorn at once, because they kind of go together. Um… unicorns. How to describe unicorns.

 

I will, first off, say that if you are in polyamorous circles, maybe you don’t use the term “unicorns” so much — it’s actually kind of insulting. But when somebody uses that, what they’re talking about is wanting to find this magical, perfect person to fit them; traditionally speaking, a unicorn is a female who is bisexual and willing to enter an existing male-female couple to date both of them. Emotionally, for me, if you’re looking for a unicorn, you’re looking for somebody who fits you, and fits you perfectly, and if you’re a unicorn hunter, you’re… Being called a unicorn hunter is as negative as being called a slut, oftentimes.

 

CARMEN

Okay, I can buy that, yeah. I can buy that. It’s two completely different terms — and actually, I really want to talk about the word “slut” a little later, after we define these terms. But yeah, I can see how it has the same vitriol in the polyamorous world.

 

SEMPI

Which is, I think, where the term “triad” comes in. This is the better term, this is the more inclusive term. So, a triad is simply three people who have managed to find sort of what unicorn hunters are looking for, but it’s not specific to bisexual women being added to an existing couple. A triad is simply a successful relationship built amongst three people.

 

CARMEN

And we know of all sorts of examples of this, and some are more honest than others, but there are triads built of, say, a married couple and someone’s other partner — male or female, you know, one partner has the other… But there are examples where, say, this one married partner knows that that is the case and, perhaps, encourages that. There are cases where, as Sempi has already mentioned, that someone’s not interested in sex, as is the case of asexual people — they might be a great nesting partner, and want a great nesting partner, but encourage you to have your eros relationship elsewhere, and be very good friends with that partner.

 

It is also the case — there comes a stage of life sometimes, earlier than others for some people, where sex is no longer possible. And if you’ve been in a long-term loving relationship, and your partner finds themselves — and you find yourself in such a situation, you are then faced with a question of what to do. You love your partner, and your partner loves you, and now the probably big part of your lives, that erotic component, for some reason or another, physical or otherwise, is gone. But you still love each other. And that’s a very practical and difficult-to-discuss kind of question that can lead to the kind of triad that we’re discussing here. And there are plenty of others.

 

ALLY

It sounds like a new topic for our podcast.

 

CARMEN

Yes! (laugh)

 

ALLY

Well, we’ll definitely think about it. Okay, so what’s left is metamour and paramour, right?

 

SEMPI

So, metamour and paramour are basically really fancy terms for a very simple concept; let me see if I can get this right on the first try. Paramour is your other partner. So you can talk about… I can say the sentence: “You know, my nesting partner and my paramour…” — the other person I’m dating, right? A metamour is your partner’s other partner. So if my nesting partner were dating someone, I could say: “My nesting partner’s metamour.” Or… my metamour — would be referencing my nesting’s paramour. I have been polyamorous for, going on… gosh, now… seven years — I still mix those up! (laugh) I just tend to use people’s names, I find that much easier.

 

But you can’t always do that, right — for instance, you know, my partner has asked me to not mention his name on this podcast, so I’m not, and that’s why I’m saying “nesting partner” and things like that. And there are other situations when that’s the case, when you’re in a social situation where everybody there knows about your polyamory, but they don’t necessarily know about your metamour’s polyamory, and so you respect them by using this term, or by talking around it by saying “the person my partner is dating.” But that’s a very long way to think, so people who are more prone to having to be discreet use these terms. If you hear that, that’s what they’re talking about, simply the various people in their relationships: paramour being their romantic partners, metamour being their romantic partners.

 

ALLY

I think that this idea, that people may not want to disclose their names for some reason, or disclose the type of their relationship, — of course, it’s normal to keep something in secret, — but do you think that this, presumably, can be because there is the idea that somebody is cheating on somebody, and people simply do not want other people to know that they are cheated?

 

SEMPI

Ah. So, yes, there is this huge stigma surrounding polyamorous relationships that they’re really no better than cheating. I… should just go on the record saying that in polyamorous relationships, in ethical polyamorous relationships, there is informed consent from all parties. You cannot cheat if you’re adhering to the rules stated in your relationship.

 

But this can be really hard and awkward to explain, especially to people who are a little more set in the ways of what the social norm is, which, for the US right now, is monogamy, right? So a lot of people won’t mention to, say, their parents and grandparents that they are polyamorous — simply because they don’t want to have this exhausting conversation explaining: no mom, I’m not cheating on my partner, he knows, he’s cool with it. Just having to say that is often not even worth the effort, so they just don’t talk about it openly.

 

I didn’t — for a very, very long time, especially when I was in college; because there’s also this idea that if you’re poly, you’re okay with cheating — I am not okay with cheating. I am not the person you should confide in and say: oh, I’ve been cheating on my wife. I will tell on you! I will happily and eagerly tell on you, because your wife deserves to know — she deserves to have respect.

 

So, for the longest time and especially in college, I just wasn’t telling people I was poly, because when I did do it, it put me in a lot of weird situations, where I found out things that I just didn’t know how to deal with at the time — I know how to deal it with now where somebody’s telling me they’re cheating, but at the time, I just didn’t know: I was very young, I didn’t know how to talk about it, I wasn’t quite secure in who I was as a polyamorous person, I hadn’t met a lot of other poly people, so I really struggled, especially early on. You know: was I a cheater, too, just because I believed that I could love multiple people at once? And that’s a really hard thing to talk about, especially to people who are close-minded, and especially when you’re still finding your own footing in the polyamorous world.

 

CARMEN

This is a very good place to bring up a couple of things, and the first is: Sempi said a phrase that is incredibly important and that we really should deconstruct. She said the phrase “ethical slut.” And this is my plug, because it’s absolutely required reading, even if you’re just curious about polyamorous relationships and spicing up the bedroom, particularly when it comes to the erotic side of things; but I’ll also submit that learning to talk, openly and honestly, without shame, about the erotic side of things can definitely improve communication and similar aspects in other areas.

 

Anyway, the book I’m recommending is called “The Ethical Slut: a Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities.” It’s by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy; it is, like I said, absolutely required reading. And the other ethical sluts in the polyamory world will know this book, and they will work by its precepts. And some of the things that they will talk about in this book are open and honest communications with your partners.

 

Going back around to cheating, we often use these words — and I’ll get back to it — like love, and intimacy, and affection, and cheating, as if everybody has the same definition of it. And — we — don’t.

 

We all don’t! And we all need to talk about that with our partners. I’ll go ahead and make a couple of admissions: I’ve been in polyamorous relationships, I prefer polyamory; I would really like to have a good domestic triad. But, at the same time, my libido isn’t… usually in line with another sexual partner’s. I, most of the time, run more towards the asexual range when it comes to erotic intimacy. I can be moved to the other side of the spectrum, and that’s a lot of fun, but another healthy sexual partner probably deserves, and should have, another sexual partner besides me. Okay?

 

So, if I were to define cheating, and I have before in other relationships, it is not necessarily cheating on me if you’ve had sex with another person. I need to know that that other person is… whatever their disease status is, and I need to know you’re practicing safe sex with that partner. Because I’m assuming that I’m occasionally intimate with you. That is something, definitely, that needs talking about and negotiating right off the bat, because in that case if you haven’t told me about your outside sexual partner, or if you didn’t use protection when you slept with them, you have violated our agreement — then you have cheated on me.

 

ALLY

That’s a really fresh idea, I would say.

 

CARMEN

Um… But I’m just me, and not every partner can accept that, and I have to leave room if I’m going to negotiate for something like that, I need to be aware of who you’re sleeping with and how you’re sleeping with them. Because I can’t always provide you adequate sex, probably.

 

ALLY

And here, another question arises: will you be jealous?

 

CARMEN

I haven’t been in the past. I know that it’s very difficult for people to understand, but I highly value autonomy. And to a certain extent, I am very introverted. And I need to have the ability to move closer and further away, and closer and further away, based on my needs to recharge my own energy, in order to be able to give enough to our relationship. And some partners need more than that — they deserve more than that, and I might not be a good fit for them. I’m aware of that. Other partners, they also need that kind of room.

 

But the point is, that my relationship doesn’t look like anybody else’s relationship. And that’s okay; what is most important, is that partners have come together and said: this is what cheating looks like for me. I’ve known people who are: “Absolutely, you cannot have sex with other people — but that just means penetrative intercourse. Yes, you can sort of — air quotes — “play around” with other people, and things like that.”

 

SEMPI

About the jealousy question that Ally brought up; I think it’s important to note that jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing. And it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Carmen’s mentioned that she hasn’t felt jealous in the past, clearly acknowledging that she might feel jealous in the future — and that’s okay. It’s just something that you need to be able to talk about; and there’s also a little bit of difference between, say, jealousy and envy. And I know that we often…

 

CARMEN

That’s a really good distinction.

 

SEMPI

We often use the words interchangeably, I don’t blame people for using the words interchangeably, but there is a difference, and the difference is that when you’re jealous of something, you have this internal fear that something’s being taken away from you, or because somebody has something you’re not getting. Right? Whereas, when you have envy, you see something, you want something, but you don’t want the other person to not have it. So, in polyamory, this often shows up as, maybe you’ve had this relationship with somebody for years, and they find a new partner, and they discover a new something that they do together. This something can be as innocuous as going to a museum, and as erotic as a fantastic sex position. And you never knew you wanted this thing, you’ve never experienced this thing, but you see your partner doing it, enjoying it with someone else, and suddenly, you want it too. Right?

 

That’s okay! Just tell them. Just be honest with them: hey, I saw you doing this with your other partner — is that something we could try to do together, too? Is that something we can now bring into our relationship, now that I know it’s even an option. It can cause your relationship to actually grow; jealousy and envy, as contrary to popular opinion as it may be, can be healthy — they can spark you to talk about, more openly, things that you weren’t talking about before.

 

It’s just a matter of understanding where your place is in a relationship, and maybe being jealous can cause you to realize you need to have this conversation. If you’re feeling jealous, if you’re feeling like you’re afraid something’s being taken from you, that’s a really good time to evaluate: do I really know where I stand, do I really feel secure? — And just have that conversation with your partner: hey look, I’m a little scared right now; can we work on us, can we work on our security? And if you’re feeling envious, asking them if you can bring these new things into your relationship.

 

The answer may not always be “yes,” you may have to find somebody else to fulfill that, maybe they only like museums with their other partner. That’s fine! Some people have different chemistry. Maybe you need to go out and find that person to have that chemistry with. It’s all just a matter of being open and honest, rather than ashamed.

 

ALLY

That’s a really good point, I should admit.

 

CARMEN

This is a really great point to go back again to that level of introspection and honesty, and remembering that emotions are indicators. As often as possible, even when it’s uncomfortable, we can try to embrace those emotions and understand what they’re trying to indicate to us.

 

I try to think of emotions like that as part of the dashboard lights on your car — when the “Check something!” light comes on on your car, you don’t just ignore it, hopefully? Hopefully, you look under the hood, or get a diagnostic test going or whatever — you figure out what’s wrong with the car or what it needs to turn that indicator off. And emotions are very much the same way, and, like Sempi has mentioned, they present opportunities for expansion and growth. And they also represent opportunities to go to a partner — whether they’re a friend, or an intimate partner, or anybody! — and be vulnerable.

 

Saying “I’m scared” is hard. Saying “I want something different” is hard. But you can be honest about “I’m scared” instead of going to your partner, like, accusatory. Or with blame. You really can open up a better path where they are able to lose some of their defensiveness, too, and you’re able to say stuff like “I wasn’t prepared for feeling the way that I did when we got into this relationship. Or when you got into your relationship. I wasn’t prepared for what I didn’t know was missing.”

ALLY

Those are really good thoughts, Carmen, thank you for that. Sempi, do you have any more thoughts on societal views you have to overcome in polyamory?

SEMPI

Goodness! I’m gonna start… You and I touched on this when you asked about even doing this podcast; we talked about this notion of how there’s stigma for men and women in polyamory is sort of the opposite of what it is in monogamy. In that, when a man dates one woman — or marries one woman, there’s these… we call them jokes, but I don’t think they are — when she’s “the ball and chain,” and he’s “being dragged down,” and he’s “not having fun anymore.” But if he’s dating multiple women, or multiple partners, even, then: “Oh, man, what a stud, what fun he’s having, look at him, able to juggle all of this! He’s on top of the world.”

 

The opposite is true for women: I’ve definitely experienced… people who have told me: “Oh, you should settle down, your life will improve, just pick one guy,” “Oh, you haven’t found the right one yet.” Because they think of a woman dating one guy as successful, “she’s done it — that’s the goal!” But a woman dating multiple partners, “oh, look at her — she’s so lost, she’s so confused.” That’s really… hurtful.

 

CARMEN

(whispering) “Such a slut…”

 

SEMPI

Yes! “What a whore!” Scarlet A on my chest!

 

CARMEN

Right? I mean, but it’s true, right — we definitely, I mean… We cannot talk about it, can we?

 

ALLY

Yes!

 

SEMPI

Oh no, I think we have to, yeah.

 

CARMEN

Yeah… (stammers) Wow, it’s such a… I think you hear it, you see it, you go online and you see it — even outside of the discussion of polyamorous relationships, you can see it… The first girl in high school that everybody finds out who’s had sex — even when she didn’t. Right?

 

ALLY

Yes.

 

CARMEN

And I’m being very generalized here when I say “we” — I’m talking about “we” as a society because I know that I’m western and it’s definitely rooted in the western society when I say this “we.” But we shame people for loving sex. Even the perception that they might enjoy it — ah! (gasping)

 

SEMPI

How dare!..

 

CARMEN

Right? Um, the thing that got us all here! (laugh)

 

SEMPI

“If you’re here, it’s ’cause at least your dad had an orgasm.” (laugh)

 

And you know what? Your mom should have too, honestly speaking.

 

ALLY

Oh no!

 

CARMEN

She did — I really hope she did!

 

SEMPI

And that’s — I think that’s the discrepancy: especially in the western culture, men are encouraged, allowed, this is a thing they’re supposed to — “Boys will be boys!” As they say.

 

CARMEN

Ugh.

 

SEMPI

But… but women — they’re not, they’re not supposed to do this, they’re not supposed to own their sexuality; this goes back to terms of being a virgin. I hate this word, virgin, right? And I’m not to say that this idea that you’ve never had sex doesn’t exist — you can certainly have never had sex before and be inexperienced sexually, and that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with that. Where I start hating it is this idea that your worth comes from that; that you are somehow better because nobody’s ever touched you before; inversely, you’re somehow worse because you’re a slut and you get around.

 

CARMEN

Less pure.

 

SEMPI

Right? And that somehow you’re…

 

CARMEN

That somehow your purity is attached to how many times you have been penetrated.

 

SEMPI

And that’s just… that’s insane to me.

 

CARMEN

And once is… too much. Or it can be, stereotypically speaking. Right? The idea that you’re lesser or tainted is tied up in this idea of wanting more than one partner — and this is why I love, and I’m gonna plug again, “The Ethical Slut: a Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities” by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. These authors, they want us to reclaim the term “slut” and redefine it as, quote, “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you.”

 

And I find it very difficult — under honest, and fair, and ethical terms, the way that they describe it in the book — difficult to argue with the idea that sex is good, and pleasure is good for you. There is a lot of research that suggests that good sex makes you live longer. That orgasms release all sorts of happy things in your brain that you should have more of — and not just orgasms; affection, human touch.

 

SEMPI

We will point out that good sex can be your 30 minutes of cardio for the day. (laugh)

 

CARMEN

Absolutely.

 

SEMPI

And. You know. Who doesn’t want more cardio in their lives.

 

CARMEN

Um, so there’s definitely this dichotomy with the idea of having multiple partners for intimacy, whatever that means for you, and that does get wrapped up in the stereotype of “shame” and “slut” — and it’s there for guys, too, like there’s this thing about the “playa”. You know, “hate the player, don’t hate the game,” is that how it goes?

 

SEMPI

But it’s really only… accepted to a point with guys.

 

CARMEN

Yes.

 

SEMPI

If you’re in high school or if you’re in college, like, “Yeah, way to go, you!” — but once you’ve crossed that thirties line, the big three-o, right, then it stops.

 

CARMEN

“You need to grow up.”

 

SEMPI

Yes. And…

 

CARMEN

“Your sexuality’s supposed to be drying up by now.” (whispering) Except… Viagra. (laugh)

 

SEMPI

You know. And I just… I think that we need to — I’m gonna plug it again, and I’m gonna mention that we’re not being paid to plug it, — but as the “Ethical Slut” mentions, we should just get to this notion — this genderless notion — that sex is good. And being honest and open and healthy about it — and that does mean protecting yourself, gonna plug that again, ’cause I can’t plug it enough — then you’re doing a good thing. Right?

 

Ultimately, you fucking a hundred guys — if that’s what you wanna do! If you’ve got the stamina to do that — that’s not hurting anybody else. Provided you’re doing it ethically, right? And… this idea that we’re gonna be judged by it, for what we essentially do in our free time, is absurd. And harmful. And it’s causing a lot of… unnecessary shame and unnecessary depression in people who are simply struggling to find out how to live their best life.

 

CARMEN

How to love.

 

SEMPI

And how to love! Right. And that’s just…

 

CARMEN

And we all want that, we all want and need love and affection in our lives, and none of us comes with a manual for how to do it, or some definitive guide on what the best way is for you — it’s different for all of us.

 

SEMPI

I should interject there that I think it’s crazy only when you apply it to somebody else. If those are your personal values, if you have sat there and decided that for you it matters — the number of people you’ve slept with — that’s fine! You can base your worth on whatever you want to base your worth on, provided it’s only you. You don’t get to force that on other people! You don’t get to shame other people for finding their self-worth from other things, right?

 

Some guys think that they’re macho because they can score a touchdown. …Yeah, I think that hopefully sounds right — I don’t do sports. Other guys base their self-worth on their ranking in Overwatch. Right? Both are fine! Both are valid. You should feel like a badass for either. But you shouldn’t shame somebody for not living up to your own personal standards.

 

CARMEN

Yeah, thank you for that reminder, Sempi, and I don’t mean to call anyone crazy if their self-worth is tied up in those things — I absolutely agree, it’s when you apply that to others outside of your own dynamic or your own life that it really becomes problematic. Do the things that feel good for you, within reason, in healthy and honest ways.

 

SEMPI

Yes. Yeah.

 

CARMEN

Agreed. I have really, really enjoyed being part of this conversation. I really hope that it’s helpful to listeners; whether they’re curious about polyamorous relationships or not, I hope that there are useful things here for any relationships. And I really appreciate the opportunity to have been here, Ally.

 

SEMPI

Yes, I… Absolutely just ditto on all of that, this has been — you know, Ally, when you asked me if I would come on and do this, I don’t think that I anticipated getting quite so deep, quite so personal, but I like where it went, and I just… I want to echo Carmen’s sentiment that just because we talk about communication styles and love styles in the context of polyamory, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply elsewhere. So even if you’re listening to this and you’re like: nope, nope, nope, nope, polyamory isn’t for me, that’s fine! That’s absolutely fine.

 

CARMEN

Totally valid, yeah.

 

SEMPI

You live your best life, but maybe take a minute to think about other things that we’ve talked about: emotional techniques for dealing with jealousy — versus envy, and how to open up those lines of communication, because, at the end of the day, all of this is about learning to love, learning to open yourself up and learning to do it better.

 

ALLY

Yes. One hundred percent. And thank you very much for sharing your expertise, and I totally benefited from it; not only as a host but just getting to know something is always great. So, thank you so much for coming! And I hope to see you again in some future episode, maybe, if you agree?

 

SEMPI

(laugh) Anytime! Any time you like.

 

CARMEN

Yeah! I… It’s been a real great pleasure, and I would love to do more.

 

SEMPI

Yes.

 

ALLY

Yeah. So thank you so much… I hope to see our listeners again in a month’s time, and of course, we will meet, as usual, on our podcast LongDistanceShort. Thank you.

 

OUTRO

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