Adventures in Polyamory

March 30th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

Lots of people have been emailing me to ask how the polyamory pursuit is going, so this is a good time for an update. If you aren’t familiar with this topic, the short version is that Erin and I decided to shift our closed marriage to an open marriage at the beginning of this year. This means that we’re both free to explore and experience relationships with other people if we so desire. I’ve already blogged about the reasons for that decision, so for now I’m only going to focus on present realities.

Feedback

I think I’ve received more feedback about this topic than anything else I’ve written about. The feedback certainly tapered off a bit since January, but more people still email me every week to ask me about it or to share their opinions. At this point I’ve pretty much heard it all; nothing new seems to be coming down the pipe in terms of the feedback, advice, and questions I’m getting.

Among the people that know Erin and me very well, most have been in favor of this new direction. They know that Erin and I care about each other very much and that this will be an exciting path for us.

Based on the Internet feedback I’ve received, I can see that a lot of people (mostly 20-somethings) assume that polyamory equals sleeping around with many different people. That’s promiscuity, not polyamory. Polyamory (at least the version that interests me) is primarily about connecting with the heart. Sex can be a part of it, but it’s not the primary focus. I think I’ve made this pretty clear in the articles I’ve written, but people still bring a lot of their own biases to the table when they write to me about this.

Biggest Challenges

The biggest polyamory challenge I’m facing may be somewhat unique to my situation. It has to do with privacy issues.

Erin and I have shared many details of our lives publicly. As I mentioned in the article Share Your Shame, I think it’s good to share your biggest mistakes with the world. It’s okay to be human and to accept yourself as you are. If you try to put on a false front, people can tell you’re being inauthentic. So just be real, and learn to live with the consequences.

Even though I’m a big fan of openness and honesty, I’ve had to accept that other people are not nearly as comfortable with the level of openness that I take for granted. Being so open about my life can create barriers to intimacy with others. My lifestyle demands a lot from potential relationship partners.

I can’t hide my public life from others – I’m too much of an open book. Some people may see this as a good thing, but for other people, it can be a scary prospect. I can’t go into details, but this has already been a problem in at least one instance.

Use your imagination to consider some of the problems that could arise. Suppose you and I begin to get close and enter into some kind of relationship, and I mention you on my blog. Now suddenly you’re getting emails about it. Maybe your friends, family, and co-workers see it too. Perhaps someone calls you out as a slut.

As a well-known blogger, being praised and criticized in public is part of my daily reality. People can refer to me as an inspired guru or depraved devil-worshipper, and it doesn’t phase me. But for someone who’s not used to this sort of thing, it can be a lot to deal with. Some bloggers have actually quit blogging due to overly harsh public criticism, including death threats — usually coming from people they’ve never met and who hide behind online anonymity.

In any event, blogging about any new relationships publicly could put a lot of undue stress on those relationships. For some people this would be no big deal. For others it’s a huge deal.

Consequently, I’ve given this some careful thought. In the end I decided that I’d better keep my intimate relationship pursuits private by default. I simply can’t blog about any details publicly. I have to protect the privacy of any potential relationship partners.

Some people in the pick-up artist community post what are called lay reports (LR for short). So if you’ve ever been on a date or had a one-night stand (ONS) with someone from that community, the sordid details of your affair may very well be posted to one or more Internet forums, and your date no doubt received virtual pats on the back for the conquest that was you. This is a popular practice (more than you might imagine), but I assume that most of the guys do not share these LRs with the women who inspired them. As a general rule, I have no problem with LRs that are mutually agreed to by all involved since then you’re simply sharing the truth. But if you’re posting these in secret without your partners’ knowledge or consent, then you’re turning your back on truth and using people. Also, if you post under a made-up handle to protect your true identity, that’s pretty cowardly too. If you want to post an LR, then get permission from your partner, and post under your real name. If you can’t do that, then keep your LRs to yourself until you have the courage to communicate authentically.

Rest assured that you won’t see me posting anything like this. I’m sorry if that puts a little damper on the entertainment value of this blog for the coming year, but I’m sure you can understand why this is important. People need to know they can trust me and that what happens between us isn’t going to end up in someone’s RSS feed the next day.

I won’t even hint about details because too many people read my blog, including my local friends. If I blog about an intimate connection I had with someone, some people will easily figure out who I’m talking about. And that’s unfair to the other person who didn’t necessarily choose to live her life in the public eye. I don’t want to put myself in a position of trying to filter everything I write about this, so I think the best approach is simply to keep the details private. The best I can do is to extract general lessons from my experiences and turn those into articles that can benefit others.

The only case where I can really talk about this publicly is when it’s decided mutually. For example, Erin and I have an understanding that it’s okay for us to do this when we blog about our relationship. If we have any doubt, we just ask each other, and the person who wants more privacy wins by default. But most of the time, we’re both happy to share various aspects of our lives openly. The main issue is usually how to extract the important details from a complex situation, so we can tell a story succinctly to illustrate a key point.

Erin also has to deal with privacy issues for her reading clients. Obviously she can’t turn around and blog about all the details of a reading she just did. But she can write about general patterns for the benefit of her readers. In some ways this is unfortunate because she’s had some amazing readings that would have made incredible stories to share, but they could have embarrassed her clients if she wrote about them, especially when intensely personal issues are uncovered.

If I enter a situation where a relationship partner is happy to have me share details about our experiences publicly, I’d be delighted to do so. I’d love it if I met someone like that since I think it could provide tremendous value for people to read about it. But I don’t know if that will happen anytime soon. It would take a pretty brave woman. :)

Effect on Marriage

I can say that the best development of going poly has been the effect on my marriage.

When Erin and I decided to have an open marriage, the result is that we grew closer than ever. Our commitment to each other resurfaced at a whole new level. We’ve been so much in love the past few months, so caring and happy with each other, that it reminds me a lot of the first few months after we met.

When we removed the barriers to connecting with other people, we dropped all the obligatory aspects of marriage. What we were left with was pure choice. Now when we say “I love you,” it feels different. Now it sounds like, “I choose you.”

Lately our connection has felt almost magical. This past weekend we celebrated our 11-year anniversary (15 years since the day we met). We enjoyed a really nice evening out, including a movie and a lovely dinner on a quiet outdoor patio. We talked about how happy we are and about our future together. Before returning home we decided to play a little blackjack just for fun. After we arrived our whole table started winning, and everyone was laughing and cheering. We left with an extra $215 after 35 minutes. Not only did we enjoy our date, we actually got paid for it. As we got up to leave, I heard Ron’s voice in my head saying “Happy Anniversary!” :)

Some people assumed that our relationship would take a turn for the worse as a result of exploring polyamory. Morons. In actuality it brought us closer than ever. Florin and Guilder are at peace.

Open Marriage

Opening a marriage is a way to see how strong and committed your relationship really is.

Do you trust that your partner loves you for who you are and will continue to choose you freely? Or do you need to rely on social conventions to force you to stay together under the threat of negative consequences? If the door is open, will your partner keep coming back to you, or will it lead to a permanent goodbye? Are you and your partner meant to be together, or will s/he find someone better than you? And if that happens, will you still be okay?

An open marriage will expose major weaknesses in your relationship. It will expose fear, low self-esteem, and lack of trust. I see this as a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to work on those character flaws more consciously. You lose the ability to hide such weaknesses by controlling your partner.

An open marriage also makes it harder to take your partner for granted. When you know your partner has other accessible choices, you have to keep working at making it advantageous for your partner to stay with you. You have to provide value to your partner and make your relationship their best option for continued happiness. This encourages you to work harder on your personal development.

When Erin and I opened our marriage, we chose to trust each other more than ever. We’re together because we want to be together. We know that we can’t be everything to each other, and we’re okay. Our love is greater than our limits.

Growth

One thing is clear. It’s going to take a long time to master this way of living. It’s not the sort of thing that can be understood with a 30-day trial. It may take a long time to get a handle on it. As the saying goes, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

At first I was putting so much effort into this pursuit that I was burning myself out. I was treating it like a goal to be achieved, which turned out to be the wrong mindset. Now I’m relaxing more and going with the flow, intending and allowing new relationships to develop in their own perfect time instead of trying to force everything to happen overnight. That feels much better to me, and it also gives Erin and me more time to come to terms with this at a reasonable pace. Being in the space of having an open marriage has been changing the way we relate to each other in subtle and unexpected ways.

Polyamory offers many delicious payoffs. In order to make multiple relationships work long-term, I have to get better at connecting, listening, sharing, understanding, intuiting, and even managing my time. These provide benefits across all areas of life, not just intimate relationships.

A more traditional relationship can offer plenty of growth, so I’m not saying that polyamory is the best choice for everyone. It was the right choice for me and Erin because we wanted to accelerate our growth in this area, and after 15 years of monogamy, a closed marriage no longer had enough to offer us. It was time to progress to something more challenging. More challenge means more opportunities to grow.

Someone sent us a link to a recent teleseminar delivered by Jack Canfield, co-author of the incredibly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series. (This was for a private subscription list, so unfortunately I can’t share the URL.) In the teleseminar Jack mentioned that he was reading my book and that he liked my approach to living experientially. He talked about my polyamory decision, but he said that if he tried to go polyamorous, his wife would kill him. So I guess we won’t be seeing Chicken Soup for the Polyamorous Soul… :(


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