Polyamory Is Boring


I remember explaining polyamory to my father when I met him in Utah. He just shrugged and said “I guess I’m too old-fashioned for that sort of thing to make sense.”

I feel blessed to have a father with the rare skill of being able to generate “I am old-fashioned” as a counter-hypothesis to “other people are evil”. But more than that, I sympathize with his response. I sympathize with it because it was exactly my response when Alicorn told me about polyamory two years ago or so (I can’t remember if I got it from IM conversations with her or from reading her essay). For a twenty-eight year old, I am really good at sighing and saying “Kids these days!” in a despairing tone, and that was about my response to the whole polyamory concept.

And now seven months after moving to Berkeley I’m dating three people.


What changed? It just started seeming normal. I was going to make an analogy to desegregation here, how white people thought having black kids in their schools would be a disaster, and then it happened, and the world didn’t collapse into a hell dimension or anything, and after a few years it just seemed like the normal order. But that metaphor is too weak: there’s still racism, a black kid in an all white school district probably feels really out of place, there are still even fights over segregated proms.

So better analogy. Imagine a space-time rift brings a 19th-century Know-Nothing to your doorstep. He starts debating you on the relative merits and costs of allowing Irish people to mix with the rest of American society. And you have a hard time even getting the energy to debate him. You’re like “Yeah, there are some Irish people around. I think my boss might be half-Irish or something, although I’m not sure. So what?” And he just sputters “But…but…Irish people! It’s not right for Irish and non-Irish people to mix! Everyone knows that!” And not only do you not think that Irish people are a Big Deal, but you’re about 99% sure that after the Know-Nothing spends a couple of months in 21st-century America he’s going forget about the whole Irish thing too. There’s just no way someone seeing how boring and ordinary Irish-Americans are could continue to consider worrying about it a remotely good use of their time.

In fact, this Know-Nothing would have two strikes against him if he tried to hold onto his philosophy. First, there’s the empirical strike. Whatever his predictions of doom – Irish immigration would impoverish the country, Irish immigration would lead to the US being annexed by the Vatican – those predictions have clearly been disconfirmed. Second, there’s the psychological strike. He would be exposed to so many perfectly normal Irish people that his brain would have trouble even maintaining them as a separate category. It’s like the difference between your association for Chinese people being Fu Manchu versus your association being your neighbor John Chang who speaks perfect English and has a job at Google.

This was my experience with poly people upon moving to Berkeley. Alicorn makes a big deal about poly-hacking and having to valiantly overcome some sort of strong natural tendency to switch from monogamous to polyamorous relationships. This wasn’t really my experience at all. It just seemed like once the entire culture was no longer uniting to tell me polyamory was something bizarre and different and special, it wasn’t. And then it started to look like a slightly better idea to take part in it than to not take part in it. So I did.


I didn’t even remember how weird it seemed to everyone else until the last few weeks. First I had to explain it to my father. Then someone commented on a blog post of mine with something about polyamory, spelling it poly-“amor”-y the whole time, as if there couldn’t possibly be any real love involved.

The plural of anecdote is not “data”. But the singular of anecdote is “enough data to disprove a universal negative claim”. So I will just say that Alicorn and Mike are probably the best couple I have ever seen. I have lived with them for seven months now and never once have I seen them get in a fight (I know there is way more to being a couple than not fighting but I’m trying to think of objective numerical evidence I can report here beyond “if you know them, you know what I mean”). They both seem to love and appreciate each other just as much if not more as they did when I first met them. They both go way out of their way to make the other happy, and although part of this is just that they’re both very nice people who go out of their way to make everybody happy, I think there’s got to be some love involved there too. They are engaged, working on the “getting married” thing, and have every intention of having lots of children and staying together for at least one lifetime.

And all this despite Mike having two other girlfriends and Alicorn having three other boyfriends including one who lives with her. I can’t even get angry with people who say polyamory is incompatible with true love. They’re just empirically wrong, like someone who remarks confidently that hippos have six legs. They’re not evil or even deluded. They just obviously haven’t seen any hippos. You don’t really want to argue with them so much as take them to a zoo, after which you are confident they will realize their mistake.


The other thing people always bring up is the jealousy issue. I feel like the correct, responsible thing to say at this point would be “Yes, of course everyone experiences jealousy, and it’s hard for the first few months or years, but eventually you just learn to live with it and the sacrifice is worth it.”

But the responsible answer is wrong, and the incredulous-stare answer is right. At least in my very limited experience, jealousy is a paper tiger, sort of the post-9/11 al-Qaeda of emotional states. You spend all this time worrying about it and preparing for it and thinking it is going to be this dreadfully imposing enemy, and in the end it sends one guy with a bomb in his shoes onto a plane, whom you arrest without incident.

I know this hasn’t been anywhere close to the experience of all polyamorous people, but it’s my experience and that of the people I’ve talked to most about this.

My roommate Mike dates the same three people I am dating, including Alicorn who also lives with us (this is not normal for polyamory, and all three people started dating Mike and then met me and started dating me too, so I guess the moral of the story is to think very hard before accepting me as a roommate). I cannot think of a single problem I have ever had with Mike, which I guess is also sort of incredulous-stare and which exceeds my normal standards for roommates let alone roommates-whose-three-girlfriends-I-am-dating. None of those three people have had any noticeable-from-the-outside jealousy about any of the others. Two weeks ago, Mike and I took all three of our mutual girlfriends on a group date to Sausalito. It went really well, everyone got along, and it is something we would do more often if not for scheduling and travel issues (also, Sausalito is really expensive).

I once felt a small pang of jealousy when one of my girlfriends was having a very public display of affection with a non-Mike person I didn’t know quite so well. But I get upset with/jealous of public displays of affection in general, even among people I don’t know, and it’s very hard for me to disentangle this feeling from jealousy and it could have just been my imagination.

As opposed to this tiny-to-nonexistant role of jealousy, I think pretty much everyone here has experienced compersion. Compersion is the opposite of jealousy, being really happy for your partner when they meet someone new and they are obviously happy. Mike and Alicorn are really good at compersion (Mike helped set me up with his girlfriend Kenzi and was really glad it worked out) and some of this has rubbed off on me. It is a good feeling and it makes you feel good to have it. If there is a Heaven, I assume compersion will be a big part of its emotional repertoire.


I don’t drink much, not because I’m especially virtuous but because I hate the taste of alcohol and the atmosphere of bars and parties. In the same way, I’m not promiscuous, not because I’m especially virtuous but because I’m sort of borderline asexual. I like cuddling people, kissing people, falling in love with people, petting people’s hair, writing sonnets about people, and a few things less blogaboutable, but having sex isn’t an especially interesting experience for me. I treat it kind of like watching a chick flick – something one might do to get the nice warm feeling of doing romantic things and bonding as a couple, but wait a second why the heck is she kissing him now and that scene made no sense and THIS MOVIE HAS NO PLOT HOW DID IT MAKE $100 MILLION AT THE BOX OFFICE?

And I’m sorry for subjecting random people to details of my sex life, but I’m trying to establish credibility here for what I want to say next. What I want to say next involves the perception – I had it and a lot of other people seem to have it – that polyamory is about having sex with lots of people and monogamy is about having close loving relationships. And once again this is not my experience at all.

If you just want to have lots of sex instead of having a loving relationship, there are many ways to do it that are much more socially acceptable than polyamory. You can be one of those bachelors who “plays the field” and “doesn’t get tied down”. You can be in an “open relationship” or be “swingers”. All of these are way easier than polyamory; if your goal is sex, they’re also more effective.

Polyamory is almost the opposite of this. It’s for people who aren’t just into sex, for people who realize they could get sex without relationships with a lot less deviation from social norms but are really into the relationship part of things.

Here I will say maybe the only note of personal uncertainty or concern you’re likely to get in this essay, which is that I don’t know whether I could have maximally-close relationships with multiple people simultaneously. That is, I don’t know if I could date three people and love all of them as much as my parents love each other, or other social models for very good relationships (the Obamas? Now I’m foundering on who our non-fictional archetypes for very good relationships are) love each other. I’m not sure whether this would satisfy some deep human need for what you might politically-incorrectly call “mutual ownership”. And I’m definitely not sure (though I think it’s likely, certainly more likely than the skeptics would) that this is a great structure for child-rearing.

In practice none of this matters, because driven by some innate urge most polyamorous people I know end up having one “primary” relationship along with whatever others they are involved with. Mike and Alicorn are each other’s primaries, and that is going to develop into being each other’s spouses, and what I said above about them definitely having achieved that level of maximum-closeness remains true. This form of polyamory seems to me to be “monogamy plus”, keeping all of the advantages of monogamous relationships and ending out strictly superior. Sometimes this develops into people being so into each other that they just aren’t interested in other relationships because it takes away time they could be spending with their primary partner, but I haven’t noticed any differences in the quality of relationships where this happens and ones where it doesn’t.

I have heard of polyamorous communities where this is not how things are done, where people don’t have primaries, where they are just this complicated mass of partners without anything that looks like a traditional relationship. I predict I would not like this; something in me recoils from this situation. But that could just be more prejudice that would look as dumb as a Know-Nothing in the 21st century once I saw it up close. I’m pretty willing to take the Biblical tack on this one: “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it”. But I’m pretty sure I’m not of that number.

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303 Responses to Polyamory Is Boring

  1. Misha says:

    If you’re relatively unattractive, you can comfort yourself in a monogamous world with the idea that there’s someone out there for you but maybe in a poly world the most attractive people monopolize affection even more than they do now. I don’t think this would actually happen or if it did it might be counter acted by th
    e fact that less attractive people could get relationships as secondaries where they might not get one at all in monogamy world.

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      maybe in a poly world the most attractive people monopolize affection even more than they do now

      This is something that actually worries me and it’s one reason I try to keep to a policy of only dating women who are dating other men. (The other reason being that I find it uncomfortable to be someone’s only resource.)

      Empirically the most ‘attractive’ man in our community including for purposes of casual sex is Mike Blume, who (I’ve asked a woman or two) achieves this by being extremely polite, reliable, and generating a feeling of being very safe to be around or date (contrary to a number of people who’d allege that this is beta-male behavior who I’m beginning to suspect are just sheerly empirically wrong). If we end up in this kind of unfortunate scenario it won’t be the high-status leaders of the community monopolizing mates, there will just be enough Mike Blumes that even dating more than one of them, most women might not bother trying to step down from there to men who radiate less kindness.

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

        To clarify, I’m worried in theory that this will happen, I haven’t seen it in practice. Also I find it uncomfortable to be someone’s only resort because there’s this Huge Thing in my life that often takes priority, and on those occasions it’s much more comfortable to know that her other boyfriend is still cuddling her and taking her to the movies.

    • Anonymous says:

      So is my impression that people into poly- are *less* attractive wrong then? One possibility is that the *most* attractive people, like my fiancee (a 9+/10, hired as a ‘model’) are more likely to pair-bond (at least when their SO has studied seduction…. hehe), and the *somewhat* attractive 7s-8.5/9s are more likely to be poly. Of course, I think the *most* likely possibility is that there is no significant correlation between attractiveness and polyamority, so in blunt terms you can all go take your self-enhancing assumption and stuff it you-know-where.

      • Realist says:

        “Attractive” can have meanings other than “physical qualities prized at the present moment by the mainstream regarding sexual attraction/selection.”

        I have an IQ of two standard deviations above the mean. I hold two Ph.D.s (Princeton and MIT), am physically robust (biathlon and crew), very attractive…and emotionally and financially secure. I have been diagnosed as very high functioning autistic on the basis of brain scans; I have good empathic skills, but don’t seem to need the constant reassurance others do. I’m not sure what drives me to want a relationship, other than enjoying the complexities of intimate interaction and how they evolve over time, and the physical contact is important to me. I also have learned a lot in intimate relationships, and seem to be wired for learning.

        Do men want to pair up with me exclusively? Hell no. After the “new relationship energy” wears off in six months or a year or two, everything that comes out of my mouth threatens them, and that includes things I’ve always said (like, “did you read the latest article in Journal X? How did you feel about the methodology?” or “No, being in a sports stadium with 100,000 screaming people and seizure-inducing lights and explosions unsettles and confuses me; I’d rather not.”). I do not mate with females; they don’t float my boat, though I tried it in my 20s and 30s. I suppose “the right women” could come along in the future, but they haven’t so far.

        So although by one set of standards I am an attractive mate, I am not the kind of mate that most/certain men are wired to want a monogamous relationship with (regardless of all the propaganda). They want to mate with, i.e., hunt, conquer, and go through the behaviors that lead to impregnating, younger, more docile, girlish women. This seems to be a fairly fixed evolutionary tendency of higher primates.

        It also seems to be a fundamental element of human behavior that outliers of any sort are excluded from social arrangements. “Ugly”? It can be just as alienating to be physically “beautiful.”

        However with polyamory I have found my value to be much higher, emotional-economically speaking. There is something about removing the pressure to be “all and everything” to another person that makes it possible for all parties in a polyamorous relationship. No one person can complement all my parts, but I can have complex, rich, sustaining, creative give-and-take interactions with multiple people. The expectation is removed that in a relationship of just two, somehow their non-ideal (to each other) qualities will overlap just as their ideal ones will. (More likely their non-ideal and ideal parts will be perpendicular to each others’, and the differences will accumulate stress.)

        I find that the males I engage with in polyamorous relationships tend not to be of the Selfish Gene/conquer-impregnate-and-dump pattern. They seem to be a new sort of human, more evolved, more caring about learning, growing, improving the world around them. They seem to be more realistic and…yes…boring. They don’t think that their choice of partner or their engendering of offspring or the size of their paycheck or penis or house or car mean anything. They may do important things in the world (one of my old partners shared many patents for vaccines). But they are…I don’t know…more loving in the larger sense of the word.

        That points to something important; love is, in fact, boring. War is exciting, including sexual war. Love just goes along quietly. I am not theist or religious at all, but I think the very first Christians (who were Jewish heretics) were really onto something when they perceived the superiority of love over empire.

        • Andy says:

          Very well said, sir or madam. (There isn’t a really good English gender-neutral respectful address, is there? Hmph.)

  2. JJJ says:

    [I don’t endorse the following paragraph, but I’m wondering how you would respond to it]

    The problem with polyamory is that it enables high status men to monopolize all the women, leaving low status men involuntarily celibate. Generally, men are more desiring of additional partners, and less comfortable with sharing their partners then women. Look at the Craigslist personals for any decent-sized city and you’ll see that mw4w ads vastly outnumber mw4m. The problem is so prevalent in the poly community, it has it’s own vocabulary:
    Unicorn- a woman who is willing to date a heterosexual couple.
    One Penis Policy- a rule where the woman in an open relationship is only allowed to sleep with other women, not men.
    I doubt the polyamory can grant enough utility to it’s participants to outweigh the disutility it inflicts on low-status males. On utilitarian grounds at least, we have good reason to discourage polyamory.

    • im says:

      Oh lord not the low-status male thing again.

      Also, it sounds like Yvain’s poly community maybe not the same one as your quote comes from?

      Unicorn hunting is a real problem. Yvain’s polyamory seems to have grown out of noncontractual monogamy rather than out of kink, likely less of a problem.

      I for my part am still not interested.

      • Paul Crowley says:

        Robin Hanson is right that no-one wants to speak up for the low-status males for fear of being grouped with them. I for one feel compelled to make clear from the outset that I’m a *terribly* high status male who is *overwhelmed* with interest from women, and am only speaking up for those less fortunate than me out of the purest generosity of spirit. What that out of the way, what is the *actual answer* to this problem, besides pointing out that you’ve heard it stated before? At the least, it’s not clear to me from observing poly circles that there isn’t an issue here.

        • Athrelon says:

          Remember also that we’re talking about the Berkeley rationalist subculture, so “high-status” and “low-status” won’t necessarily carry the same cultural markers as in the broader society. I wouldn’t be surprised if some popular people are introverts or can’t dance. I would be surprised if they were considered disagreeable or unlikable by high-status people and I’m sure you can bootstrap even better culture-neutral status heuristics.

        • Oligopsony says:

          I consider myself a low-status male if anyone is, but I’m fully on board with proscriptions about complaining about their plight. After high school “status” in the sense that people-who-like-to-use-the-word-status mean it just doesn’t matter if you don’t want it to.

        • im says:

          I wouldn’t quite put it to the point of never mattering if you don’t want it to, but the low-status-high-status-male thing is of pretty limited applicability and I think that a Berkeley rationalist poly group is about the least applicable it goes. Also, ‘high status’ as it is frustratingly often used would be *extremely* low status in Berkeley rationalist subculture (although conventional ‘low-status’ would not be high status).

          I don’t think people fear being grouped with low-status men. I think that the discourse has become poisoned and people don’t want to be grouped with the (indeed at least mildly repugnant) poisoners of the discourse.

          Also, as to OC: While individual poly clusters may be polygynous, there is also probably more room for hookups, etc.

          Meh. I’m just going to sit here and polish the empty throne.

        • A. Nonymous says:

          Speaking honestly as a low-status male who often has relationship difficulties, I often wonder if the problem couldn’t be solved by enforcing a 1:10 ratio of men to women past age 25, while maintaining the roughly 1:1 birth ratio. Essentially, let males develop to a state where we can tell whether the mating and economic markets consider them “worth” anything, and if not, end them (or even better, simply give them easy and economically-exploitable means to end *themselves* without the worthy males having to get their hands or consciences dirty).

      • Jonathan says:

        I came home from my tour in the US Army in the Middle East. I have only been back two months. My wife and I have three children. We have been married for ten years. I came back and Sarah had changed. Didn’t want anything to do with me. This is typical for returning Veterans so I figured it would just take time. Fast forward to now, I just discovered, she has been recruited as a “unicorn” by a Neurologist at a hospital in town. She abandoned me and our middle child who has Autism. She took the youngest and oldest boy and they are considered now Mitch’s children. So, excuse me if I can’t be open minded enough to understand this. I don’t. It hurts incredibly bad and I don’t understand how a doctor, with a wife and six children, could steal my wife and try to take my children. Is this common for polyamorous men to seek out other men’s wives? It has caused ripples everywhere through our family and friends. She has alienated herself from everyone.

        • Roman Davis says:

          That’s really terrible and I’m sorry. While I think that if the whole unicorn thing ever took off it could be really terrible on a demographic scale, I think the specific instance you are talking about has less to do with subcultures and demographics as it does with one person (your [ex?] wife) and their poor behavior.

          It’s possible the doctor is a cad, too, but unless you know him, what he knows or thinks he knows, I wouldn’t assume it.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I hope not. Polyamory is supposed to be based on full knowledge among all partners in the relationship.

          The proper polyamorous way to do this would have been for your wife to ask you if you would agree to an open relationship in which both of you could see other people. If you said yes, you would continue being married to your wife but she could date this other person on the side. If you said no, the proper response would have been to back off.

          I am sorry your wife left you for a polyamorous person. But people’s wives leave them to marry monogamous people as well. I don’t think the problem here is polyamory. I think the problem is that some people are terrible.

          I’m sorry for what terrible people have put you through.

        • Gilbert says:

          I don’t know the situation or the details of American accreditation standards, so this is idle speculation.

          That being said, if the neurologist knows your wife because he was somehow involved in treating the autist child, it might be worth checking if he can be saddled with some very well-deserved professional trouble.

    • David Gerard says:

      So, we have enough anecdotes to call it data. Does this actually happen in practice?

    • Mary says:

      One wonders whether all polyamourous women run DNA tests as soon as the baby is born, and what the consequences are if they do — or don’t.

    • Jack says:

      I’m interested in this comment, because this doesn’t especially represent poly relationships I’ve seen, but I recognise it happens quite a bit.

      On the one hand, even if that’s a problem, what could you do about it? If hypothetical person A wants to sleep with hypothetical high status person H, you’re going to try to force them to sleep with low status person B instead? However much B might prefer that, surely A has the right to decide who they want to sleep with?

      On the other hand, I think relationship models like one-penis ARE often problematic, because they often represent one partner’s preference being assumed to be more fundamental than the other’s, which is bad for any relationship.

      • Pfft says:

        The “surely” in “surely A has the right to” is interesting, since deciding what rights people have is usually contentious. Libertarians reject redistributive taxes by a similar argument: surely people have the right to decide what they spend their money on.

        A couple of years ago Robin Hanson had a series of blog post pointing out that the set of inequalities that are considered properly remedied by state action is surprisingly narrow: we smooth out the income distribution, but would balk at most attempts to smooth out the receiving-sex distribution.

        And yet! Legally enforced monogamy _is_ very common in different societies, and according to the above argument, one of it’s main effects is as a redistributive tax on male attractiveness. 🙂

        • im says:

          Part of reason for balking at that is that it sort of sounds like it would involve something on the spectrum from prostitution (would not satisfy many) to the hated and accursed act.

          Myself, I favor a return to structured norms for starting relationships.

      • Deiseach says:

        We’ve had a bit of a stir in this country over a publically-funded advice website for teenagers which talked about threesomes and the dos and don’ts of having one (but that’s not the point I want to make).

        Some of the comments in defence mentioned surveys showing that some majority of college students in England were in favour of threesomes, and this proved attitudes were changing.

        My question is this: how many of those surveyed were guys willing to (at least fantasise about) have a threesome with two girls? And if they were asked instead would they be be willing to engage in a threesome with two guys and one girl? I think -and this is only my own impression – if it were the case that Bill thought it wouldn’t be him and his girlfriend Jill and Jill’s hot best friend Kitty, but instead Bill and Jill and that hot guy Jill fancies, the percentage in favour would have been way down.

        Same with polyamory – I think the problem getting it to work would be where there are more men as partners of the women, rather than the other way round. I think sexual jealousy comes into play when one party feels that he or she is not getting the same access to potential partners as the others, or that one or more of the others is having more sex or has a bigger pool of dates or the likes.

    • falenas108 says:

      This argument applies only in cases where the One Penis Policy is the norm, but, in the poly community it’s more the exception. This is because women can also date multiple men, so they can date the high status powerful man and the low status person they think is cute but wouldn’t want to be seen with as a primary partner.

    • Fnord says:

      [incredulous reversed perspective poly person]MONOGAMOUS people are worded that POLYAMORY leads to a monopolization of sex partners to the exclusion of a certain class? It’s only monogamous values that lead to the idea of a person being “monopolized” at all.[/incredulous reversed perspective poly person]

      That only happens if you have a society where polyamory is only for men, not for women. Admittedly, it’s a concern, seeing as historical/religious polygamy where exactly that happened exists. But the idea is that once you dismantle the patriarchal structures that lead to that, that doesn’t happen in polyamory.

      This seems born out by my experience (note how unicorn hunters are disdained, not sought out by low-status women eager to be monopolized by higher status men). Not to say that high status men don’t end up in more relationships than low status men, but the women they’re in relationships with are in other relationships, too (I’m ignoring queer relationships here, because the question is ignoring them, too). High status people generally have more friends than low status people, too. But we don’t talk about high-status people monopolizing all the friendship.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Suppose (as is indeed true) that there is a limit to how many poly relationships someone on a normal time schedule can have. Let’s say three. If this holds true for both men and women alike, high-status men having three times more relationships should be exactly counterbalanced by women having three times more relationships. If we bring in primary relationships, those should keep working the way they work now.

      But I think that while keeping total demand for relationships the same, it also increases variance.

      My observations have been that things are better for low-status men under polyamory. It makes it much easier for shy people to ask others out, because you have more networks you can do it through – I have asked out my friends’ girlfriends and my girlfriend’s friends, which are much less scary than asking a random person I don’t know.

      I’ve also noticed people being more willing to date non-conventionally attractive people when they’re not committing to “this is the only boyfriend I can ever have, forever!”. If someone’s sort of cute, but they’re not clearly socially successful and able to provide for you and emotionally stable and all the other things someone might want, it’s easier to take a chance on them in polyamory than in monogamy, and sometimes you find that chance was very warranted and you get along really well and maybe you want them as a primary partner.

      On a related note, someone who has zero partners might become more desirable in polyamory because you know they will have time for you / be very grateful to you. This would tend to reduce partner inequality.

      (I’m in the awkward position of having lots of good examples of this, but not wanting to say things that could be easily matched to specific people and so publicize the sex lives of others on a blog, not to mention reveal who I think are the low status men and women)

      The problems you’re talking about regarding unicorns don’t seem any different from the fact that in every community, poly or mono, women are more in demand than men.

      • JJJ says:

        In your experience, do high-status polyamorous women sleep with about the same number of men as high-status polyamorous men sleep with women? Or do women get “polysaturuated” faster?

        • Brynn says:

          In my experience as a poly woman who knows a lot of poly men and women, women get polysaturated at the same rate or slower than men do (i.e. women tend to have more partners). I think part of that is the unfortunate stigma still remaining on bisexual men (as vs. bisexual women), which reduces the number of potential partners for men as vs. women; in groups where male bisexuality is acceptable/encouraged, the saturation rates are much more equal.

    • Midnight says:

      I think this is terribly fucked up and entrenched with patriarchy and insecure masculinity, like so many other parts of society! sigh.

      -High status men monopolizing all the women? The fuck. Maybe these high status men are being complete dbags and using some sort of coercion, or the “i’ll leave you” line if these women have another relationship with a man

      – the “One penis policy” is clearly devlaues womens relationships to each other, romantic or otherwise

      “…it inflicts on low-status males.” – oh noez the poor men!!!

  3. Multiheaded says:

    Thanks, excellent post, especially the jealousy part! I’ve also been in an open relationship for a year or so now, and have increasingly come to think of sexual jealousy as a weird, contrived, very [i]local[/i] thing that’s mostly perpetuated by some cultural systems. The quasi-ev-psych explanation of it as a Hardwired Genetic Thing… looks more or less like an assertion that all men are biologically killers and rapists by nature, and need war, etc to function well, would look to most (sane) people. That is, it’s both empirically wrong and charged with all sorts of weird emotions that I just can’t share.
    Yet it seems to be the only “respectable” opinion in today’s culture, with the “conservative” position featuring words like “shallow”/”destructive”/”decadent”/”hedonistic”, and the “liberal” one containing a meek objection that maybe these creepy people should just be left alone, as long as their craziness doesn’t spread.

    • Nick T says:

      Agreed that it’s empirically wrong as a generalization about humans in most/all possible cultures, or most/all humans in modern Western culture… but AFAIK many people are stuck in jealousy-mode and can’t easily be changed, and for most practical purposes that’s the same as jealousy being hardwired — it doesn’t make it any safer for them to adopt sexually-liberated memes that don’t change their deep-set reactions.

      • Datan0de says:

        Nick, that’s certainly true. I think that some (most?) people just aren’t cut out for poly relationships. The solution is simply for them to not get into poly relationships. Even the most vehement poly activists I know are only advocating for polyamory to be an accepted option in our society, not a replacement for monogamy. I’d no sooner advocate for polyamory to replace monogamy than I’d advocate for chocolate to replace vanilla, regardless of my personal preference. 🙂

  4. Hand of Lixue says:

    Re: Evils of Polyamory: Marriage generally involves a uniting of fiscal aspects, and historically has had a strong focus on child raising. In the everyone-is-polyamorous society, I’d expect custody, child support, and dividing assets after divorce would all be legally much more complicated.

    I’d also expect people who live life by simple formulas (“school, job, marriage, kids, retire, die”) would have trouble. I can imagine magazine headlines, “How many partners is enough?”, “Is having a single partner ‘in’ this year?” “My boyfriend doesn’t date anyone else, should I be worried?”. I wouldn’t expect that to be terribly bad, but, um, my intelligence usually leaves me to vastly under-estimate the value of simplicity 🙂

    Re: Not having primaries: In Portland it seems to trend more towards having 1-3 primaries. One of my girlfriends treats me as being about on par with her husband in emotional respects, even though we don’t have quite the same degree of fiscal and living-space entanglement. I’ve had multiple primaries at numerous points in my life. I find it helps that they’ve always been very *distinct* people and relationships – neither one would be that “perfect pinnacle of intimacy” by themselves, but they compliment each other nicely.

    Then again, I’m also an introvert who prefers to spend at least half her time by herself, so I view the lack of emotional primacy as largely being a feature, not a bug: my partners don’t mind me being unavailable nearly as much when they have other people to be with 🙂

  5. AphroditeGoneAwry says:

    Excellent post. As usual.

    Two thoughts. One, I think you are right, I think people tend to gravitate toward one primary partner who gives them most of what they need, in every way one needs things. This is simply more efficient than trying to disperse your needs equally among a certain number of partners, because it takes so much time and energy to involve/include people in your life–to expend energy to bond–and harder if you have kids, because you have to be concerned over their bond as well, until they are on their own. Perhaps for very extraverted types who live in large circles of active people, not calling one a primary partner would be a good model, but I’d wager for most the ‘primary partner model’ works best, poly or no, and this has been illustrated historically with the human (and animal) trend toward pair bonding.

    Two, I have come to find–and just recently–that the best model for me to describe the whole shebang of love and contentment is the paradigm of needs assessment and fulfillment. We all have needs, that without being met means that we are not living to our fullest potential, whatever that may be, and of course is drastically different for every person. So even if we are lucky enough to find that primary partner to meet most of our needs, we are becoming collectively cognizant enough to realize that it’s ridiculous to believe that one person will meet all our needs for our entire life. And humans are driven, whether they want to admit it or not, to having their needs met and will find a way to do just that, whether it’s via cheating, lying, or serial monogamy. If needs are not met the alternative is to die a little (or a lot) inside, and/or not realize our full potential as a human life.

    So, yeah, the BEST partner, all in all, is the one who wants the other person to realize hir fullest potential and will help to see that hir needs are met however possible.

    I am pretty much in love with your mind, and have been for a while. <3

    • michael vassar says:

      I’m prone to strongly agree with all of this, while also noting that I tend to be deeply distrustful of the style and terminology of paradigms being given names and adopted by people who aren’t largely inventing them for themselves.

      Also, the BEST partnerships happen, as far as I can tell, literally never. While it seems clear that the BEST partnerships couldn’t possibly be monogamous, it seems a) difficult to be sure what form they would take (framed as purely economic most of the time, and spiritual or identity dissolving when the hair was entirely down would be my best, but very low confidence guess), every pretty good partnerships are freakishly rare, and the majority of those, absolutely if not by percentage, are clearly monogamous. I don’t know how many extra bits of optimization pressure one needs in order to specify monogamy or non-monogamy within the space of excellent relationships, but I tend to think that for best results, theoretical non-monogamy (possibly with practical monogamy) should be left to emerge from general relationship excellence. This is all implicit in what you already said though.

  6. David Gerard says:

    “… you then have time to do some mathematics.”

  7. Scott Messick says:

    There’s more than one kind of jealousy, of course. For example, I am jealous that you live in a place with lots of really cool-sounding polyamorous people.

    • Berry says:

      Seconded, I spent a good chunk of my time reading this blog inwardly thinking of ways to get my ass over to Berkeley and hang out with these ridiculously awesome people.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Eventually, it would turn out that the Berkeley community’s largest contribution to human well-being by far was the amount of research into teleportation devices that they inspired.

    • im says:

      Yeah, there are a lot of kinds of jealousy. One poly person noted insecure feelings that a metamour resented her despite no evidence or strong emotions, and these feelings disappeared when they were actually together.

      Then there’s also envy-jealousy, which seems like it could become a problem in polyamorous relationships even if exclusiveness-jealousy

    • Alan M says:

      Ahem, that’s not jealousy, that’s envy. We’re supposed to be good at splitting these meanings. Tsk tsk.

  8. spandrell says:

    So your friends have sex with them while you just chat up their girlfriends.

    Somehow you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re just as much of a boyfriend as them.

    This post is wrong in so many ways it’s not even funny. Is this standard fare at Less Wrong?

    • B_For_Bandana says:

      I think the tone of this comment is a little harsh, but it brings up a good question. It isn’t clear from the opening post whether or not what Scott calls dating always involves sex. If I’m dating many people but have one “primary,” does that mean that I cuddle, kiss, and go on dates with lots of people but only have sex with one of them? Is that all polyamory is, or are there actually multiple sex partners for everyone?

      I know this makes me just unbearably reactionary and uncool, but to me that seems like highly relevant information, which, Scott, you kind of dance around in the opening post. Understandably so, because this is private stuff, I understand. But, hey, you brought it up.

      • spandrell says:

        It’s uncool to make a distinction between been friends with someone and being their boyfriend.

        It’s uncool to advise people to stop fooling themselves into giving themselves more status than others are giving them.

        I actually wanted to be more harsh but I don’t have Roissy’s talents. He would have fun here.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Different poly people have different rules, but in general, it is assumed that you’re also having sex with your “secondaries”. Don’t know about Scott’s case.

        • B_For_Bandana says:

          Ah, okay, thanks. (Misha, that’s all I was asking!)

        • Misha says:

          She has sex with her bf and me. Me and her bf and her can have sex with other people as long as we use ptotection. They’re bound by a further restriction: they get to vet partners for each other, but that doesn’t apply to me, since I’m the third party in regards to thei relationships.

      • Misha says:

        This is actually the exact kind of moral realism that I think poly is great for ignoring. Why do you care if someone is technically “dating” but not having sex? Or having oral sex with whoever they want but penetration with only one person? What if they say they’re only dating one person but have sex with whoever they want?

        It’s fine if you want to be monogamous and constrained by you and your partner’s agreed rules, but when you ask what exactly being polyamorous entails that’s kind of like asking what exactly a non-christian believes. Do they go around all day insulting Jesus? How can they consider themselves moral if they don’t believe in John 3:16?

        The point of being poly amorous is that this highly relevant information you ask for is ENTIRELY up to you and the people you’re in relationships with. If you don’t like someone’s relationship structure or view it as not really poly or worse than monogamous, you’re completely and totally free to do something else different.

        • B_For_Bandana says:

          I think I understand what you’re saying here — that it is very difficult for a member of a dominant culture to shed all of that culture’s assumptions about how things work, so even a question about an out-culture which aspires to be neutrally-phrased can come off as biased just by the way it’s framed.

          So my question about whether polyamorous people who are dating have sex is roughly analogous to asking a lesbian couple, “which one is the man?” They just don’t think in those terms at all; I am asking a wrong question.

          If that diagnosis is right, then… yeah, I confess total failure. I cannot imagine how people can, not just not care, but actually not even keep track of, who is having sex with who in a poly relationship. No doubt this is a bias that comes of living in a monoga-normative culture. If someone would like to take pity and try to explain it to me, that would be cool, but of course no one is obligated.

        • dugancm says:

          This article showcases a lot of other common failure modes people can stumble into when trying to understand polyamory:

    • Nick T says:

      So your friends have sex with them while you just chat up their girlfriends.

      I don’t think he ever said that.

      Somehow you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re just as much of a boyfriend as them.

      Strictly speaking, I don’t think he said that either.

      And maybe he’s found an environment where the kind of insecurity and adversarial attitude that motivates thinking like this is less of a thing. (Why should Scott care if he’s not the #1 highest-status person in a relationship?)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can’t respond to your post quite as well as I want to without going into a list of who has sex with whom, which seems like a bad idea on the Internet without getting other people’s permission, not to mention on a blog that my family reads.

      But suffice it to say this is totally wrong. I said that I’m not driven by sex, not that I never have it or don’t consider it a valuable part of relationships. Many other polyamorous people are not borderline asexual and all their relationships are exactly as sexual as those of monogamous people.

      • Andrew Rettek says:

        As someone who does know the parties in question, I find the idea of Scott being fooled/manipulated/cuckolded by the metamour he mentions one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in a long, long time.

        • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

          I testify likewise. I wish I could give Scott permission to mention me in any examples he wants to use, but I can’t speak for all of my girlfriends let alone all of their boyfriends.

    • DB says:

      If Scott is getting what he really wants out of the situation, why does it matter if outsiders wouldn’t classify him as a “boyfriend”?

      I know it’s genuinely possible to be wired like Scott describes, because I’m essentially wired that way as well, and I’ve known this for my entire adult life. Your near-certainty that Scott is fooling himself would be reasonable if you had just (virtually) met Scott for the first time and thus had no opportunity to observe how much of an outlier he is, but if you’re a regular reader of his writing you should have enough bits of information to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      • michael vassar says:

        I’m far from being convinced that it’s virtuous to opt out of status games, but this is largely because attempts to do so usually lead to self deception, and I’m easily convinced that Scott does so, and not in a self-deceiving manner.

    • im says:

      The fact that Scott is happy indicates that your complaint is hollow. I can only suggest that you do not personally join polyamories in which you are a lesser partner.

      I think that polyamory is usually poly-sex-ory, although there may be different levels of sex between different partners (as well as measures to prevent STD problems).

      Your mention of Roissy fails to impress me and is unlikely to impress Scott. He is widely despised and I believe that Scott’s community is to some degree insulated from the clamor and intrigue of ‘status’.

  9. Mary says:

    “People would have to dump their partners if someone better came along, leading to all relationships being insecure.”

    That would not have to be merely a polyamourous society, but one in which following one’s strongest sexual attraction is viewed as a positive duty and indeed the gravest duty one has, trumping all other considerations.

    • Randy M says:

      “That would not have to be merely a polyamourous society, but one in which following one’s strongest sexual attraction is viewed as a positive duty and indeed the gravest duty one has, trumping all other considerations.”

      Wow, that very nearly exactly how I would describe our society. Witness movies about women finding their “true love” and abandoning their current lover, or politicians (like Mark Sanford, I think) leaving the wife for the mistress, or the wife for the gay lover, etc., etc.

      • michael vassar says:

        More generally, many social circles, especially in California, do apparently operate like that. Unfortunately, I would say that the LW circle sometimes does, but not always.

        • Randy M says:

          That ambiguous ‘unfortunately’ completely masks how you judge the situation. Amusingly.

      • Deiseach says:

        And here again, I would blame the idealisation and indeed fetishisation of romantic love as the main, only and ultimate relationship. Very few people in previous centuries expected or believed their marriage, love affair or romantic entanglement would fulfil all their needs and desires; you had friends, you had colleagues, you had people who shared your interests in postage stamps or the history of the Lower Rhine in the 14th century, you had family – a whole network of relationships, commitments and obligations outside of and beside the sexual bond.

        When ‘marriage for love’ became the only legitimate (or at least, the only legitimate reason that could be stated; the idea of openly declaring you were marrying for money, status or trading up to a better model was considered crude, materialist, and unworthy), then the pressure started piling on marriage. The continuing ecstasy of romantic love was the proof that your love was real, and if that faded, you had to seize the chance for ‘true love’ when it came your way. Thus the tearful pleading about the necessity for the liberalisation of divorce and “how can you force anyone to stay in a loveless marriage”, and the breakup of relationships as people chased the will o’ the wisp of “The One, True, Only Soulmate”.

        That ‘soulmate’ notion makes me really annoyed; I think it’s done more damage than anything else in perpetrating the idiocy that there is one perfect match for you out there, that you deserve the chance to find that match, and if you just keep looking you’ll find it.

    • im says:

      I think that was meant in the ‘there is only one way to ideally satisfy your preferences’ way, not in the ‘you are compelled by an outside force to do this’ way.

  10. Fnord says:

    Just a reminder about typical mind fallacy and all that. Just because switching to polyamory was easy and obvious for you once social pressure against it was dealt with, and you have no jealousy issues, etc, doesn’t mean it’s that way for everyone. I would assume Alicorn made a big deal about “polyhacking” because she really did have to self-modify before being poly.

  11. spandrell says:

    Cut the crap and upload some pics of your polyamorous selves.

    You guys are all for science and rationality? Well polyamory is surely a minority choice, and it might be interesting to see the correlation between a certain kind of body/face type and a preference for polyamory.

    So pics is it. Especially of the girls.

    • Misha says:

      why are you being such a dick? If you actually think scott is wrong/beta/misguided or whatnot, say it. Your style of asshattery is exactly why I can’t stand Roissy et al. You immediately escalate any conversation about these topics you don’t agree with to insults and self-satisfied superiority.

      • spandrell says:

        After writing that post I actually thought: “why am I being such a dick? I might actually get better results (i.e. pics) if I had phrased it more nicely”

        But I guess part of my unconscious doesn’t expect you to produce actual data or any meaningful response, so I might as well make public my contempt for your moronic ideas.

        But hey even if cultish you guys are high IQ, right? Maybe there’s some hope left. Please let me answer your comment from above:

        Why do you care if someone is technically “dating” but not having sex?

        Because it’s different. Because willing to have sex, and not willing to have sex, mean different relationships, they are different parts of the brain. What I, and any red-blooded man with a higher than 30% percentile libido wants to know is how does female psychology work. And polyamory is not supposed to be possible. Your brain is not programmed like that. If you say you are, and it is possible for a woman to have many sexual partners in equal terms (frequency), and for a man to willingly allow a beautiful woman to have sex with other men, well those are extraordinary claims. Might as well put some evidence on the table.

        • James says:

          Are you suggesting that these intelligent rationalists with generally high-status career paths who fit into poly networks that sound like they involve far less worry and confusion than basically any other kind of social relationship are actually being duped by whoever the real alphas are? Just how ugly are you expecting them to be to make up for all of that?

        • James says:

          I misread, you aren’t suggesting that. Corrected: Are you suggesting these people are so ugly that they couldn’t expect to find a good partner without the freedom of polyamory, despite otherwise clearly being high status within the community of people they’re most interested in (which includes plenty of monogamous people too)?

        • ozymandias42 says:

          I am confused how “poly is not possible” leads to “therefore poly people should show me pictures of themselves to prove how ugly they are.” I mean. Ugly people’s relationships still *exist*, the attractiveness of the people involved in a relationship does not affect that. Presumably if there were a universal female psychology ugly women would also be governed by it. Perhaps you assume that if we are unattractive we are lying about being happy in our relationships– but unattractive monogamous people also exist, does that mean that monogamous people are lying about how happy monogamy makes them?

          Anyway, this is what I look like. Feel free to describe how this means my relationships don’t exist or aren’t happy or whatever it is you intended to prove.

        • michael vassar says:

          Spandrell, I don’t think that you can make your assumptions explicit. I probably could, but it would be work and I’m busy so you would have to pay me to do so.

      • Anonymous says:

        I obviously don’t appreciate the tone spandrell is using, but I constantly found myself wondering the same thing reading the article. I intuitively feel like the attractiveness of the people discussed is massively relevant, but I can’t think of why I feel this way.

        Is there any reason to think that polyamory might not work as well for attractive people as unattractive people? Perhaps I feel myself fearing that polyamory is only serving as some sort of romantic crutch for people who can’t get dates any other way? Or perhaps it’s some dumb, illogical reason, like that I wouldn’t want to be associated with a dating-related movement composed entirely of ugly people. I don’t know.

        • Anonymous says:

          (addendum to above)

          Oh, I guess spandrell already answered this, his theory is that people will be more willing to share unattractive partners and so this only works for a community of unattractive people.

          This seems like a poor rationalization to me though.

          Among “normal people”, who do you think is more likely to engage in lots of promiscuous casual sex, attractive people, or unattractive people? Who is more likely to “settle down”? For example, one time I was telling a friend about two friends of mine who dated exclusively all the way through high school, and she immediately asked “Are they both kind of ugly?”

        • Oligopsony says:

          Although as Scott emphasizes, polyamory is plausibly better understood as Even More Monamory than as Lots of Promiscuous Sex.

          My personal guess would be that polyamorous folk probably are less conventionally attractive on average, because conscious lifestyle experimentation of that sort is something that nerds (who are less conventionally attractive on average) do.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can at least give you my picture since it used to be prominently displayed on the blog.

      But as for the women, my prediction is that you would be offensive to the ones you found attractive (“hubba hubba, look at the boobs on that one”) and offensive to the ones you didn’t find attractive (“wow, how ugly, no wonder she needs to go poly to get anybody”). It seems like a bad idea to subject people I know to that.

      If you absolutely insist, go look around the CFAR website. They have a bunch of pictures of CFAR people up and most of the ones whom I know are poly.

      • spandrell says:

        I’m not that much of a dick as to comment on strangers’ faces in public. I just want the data.


        • I don't do that; except when I do says:

          spandrell here:

          “I’m not that much of a dick as to comment on strangers’ faces in public.”

          spandrell at his blog:

          “Yes, that’s a woman. Well it’s a gross, beastly lesbian ogre. Probably the ugliest lesbian this side of Michael Moore.”

          “whose idea was it to put a close-up pic of the old lady on top? It’s fucking gross. You don’t take close-up pics of old women.”

        • im says:

          you FOOL. Beauty, whether they have it or not, whether it is conventional or of only narrow appeal, would clearly be wasted on you.

      • Aaron Brown says:

        I can at least give you my picture since it used to be prominently displayed on the blog.

        Scott’s the one on the upper left.

      • asdf says:

        You look exactly how I expected you to look. Spandrell is right, there is immense data translated in just your picture.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          Do you care to share with those of us who know Scott what that data *is*? Or are you just going to be like “(strokes beard) hmm, everything is exactly as I predicted but am not going to explicitly state because if I explicitly state it people might prove me wrong?”

      • Army1987 says:

        Last time I glanced at your Facebook profile, your head was shaven and you wore glasses, which may or may not make a difference depending on what exactly Spandrell is looking for.

    • Deiseach says:

      spandrell, stop being a tosser.

    • im says:

      WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? You seem to be telling Scott that he isn’t actually satisfied by the poly relationship that he blogged about being satisfied by. You seem to think that you’re speaking truth to power, but you’re acting like somebody’s drunk uncle tunelessly singing ‘La Donna E Mobile’ at somebody’s wedding!

      I guess it’s just tooooo bad that Scott and his girlfriends are posthuman, tech-optimized lovers genetically designed to have healthy and equitable poly relationships!

      Oh. Wait. Human variation, human desires/culture overpowering genetics, and psychology not actually working that way.

      If you want a chew toy, why don’t you take on yours truly, the Dark Lord of Berkeley?

      Winning this battle is easy. By mighty magic and forgotten science I shall banish you to the Land of the Mildly To Heavily Queer where Ozymandias reigns eternal. Then broodingly I shall return to my palace with my glass of wine and the empty chair for my as-yet unknown lover, raging defiant against the soulless cynics, left and right, who claim my monogamous and romantic hope to be a useless fantasy.

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      My instinct to provide evidence when requested has overridden my instinct not to respond to trolls. So:

  12. ozymandias42 says:

    I had a quad where everyone was everyone else’s primary partner once for a period of like… three months or so. And then one person moved away and two people broke up and two people got engaged and that kind of fell apart (is cool, we’re all still close friends). So my intuition is that the complicated mass of partners without anything that looks like a traditional relationship can work, it’s just not particularly stable because all you need is two people getting engaged to mess up the whole situation.

  13. Deiseach says:

    Well, I’m sufficiently cold-hearted that while I could imagine people generating a network of sexual relationships up to or down from “friends with benefits”, I find it difficult to imagine “I like X and Y and Z and Q and…” all on the same or equivalent levels. I’m also sufficiently cynical that I wonder what the situation would be like if all six to nine of you (forgive me, I’m unsure of the numbers involved) tried living in one household or in very close proximity where there was a higher level of daily interaction.

    My instinctive reaction is to go “Dash it, if your ‘primary’ is Y and you like Z and Q but not to the same levels of emotional and/or physical intimacy, why not just say Z and Q are friends?” I think friendship is a social relationship that has been downgraded terribly where romantic/sexual love has been correspondingly elevated, but that’s a different matter. If we’re doing True Confessions about our love lives, I knew from the age of seven that I’d never marry because I either lack the capacity for, or interest in, being emotionally involved with another person. Is it time for the Narcissists Liberation Movement? 😉

    I’m someone who’s not even interested in monogamy, let alone polygamy, so this is in the range of ‘interesting news from foreign places from quaint people’ for me. Good luck with you all, anyway 🙂

    • James says:

      I’m not trying to too strongly doubt you when you say what you want, but, it kind of sounds like you’re letting a seven year old control your life. Emotional involvement with people can be extremely neat and I’m trying to think of areas of personality-space where you could rationally decide you’ll never meet anyone who could mutually increase your life satisfaction via intimacy.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m smiling wryly now, because I have the feeling if I said “At age seven I knew I liked girls not boys”, you wouldn’t be lecturing me about letting a seven year old make my decisions.

        Yet when it comes to coupledom (or more than coupledom), singles are cajoled and persuaded and told what they believe in the same manner.

        Just as most of us have learned that telling a lesbian “Oh, you just haven’t met the right man yet!” may get you a punch in the nose, dear sir, kindly believe me when I say that emotional involvement with other people is wearying, not “extremely neat” for me and I need a lot of time and space alone to get over it.

        • James says:

          Well, I was in a similar position to you once, though probably not as extreme. In my case it was self-delusion, and I actually hadn’t met the right people yet. Maybe your sample size is big enough that you really can be sure you’ll never meet anyone who you could be emotionally involved with in a healthy way, but there are definitely people out there who believe what you seem to believe now and then turn out to be wrong.

        • Deiseach says:

          James, thanks for mansplaining my problem to me. Obviously my poor little female brain has not been capable of figuring out for myself, over the past four decades since I decided the love thing was not for me, that I just hadn’t selected a large enough sample size.

          So all I need to do is go through every man in Europe to be absolutely, positively certain that no, I really don’t want an emotional involvement? Gotcha!

        • James says:

          You know, I wasn’t being sarcastic or anything. If I were really, really sure you were wrong about your own intimate needs, I would’ve been all, “You’re definitely wrong about your own intimate needs!” Your sample size is actually large enough for you to come to that conclusion rationally, but before you said “yes you twit I actually do know this for good reasons”, I had no reason to believe you weren’t a depressed teenager suffering from a total lack of intellectual peers like I was. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t of the opinion that I’m definitely right and you’re definitely wrong, but clearly I failed. Now seems like a good time to invoke the principle of charity.

        • James says:

          Also I didn’t know your sex until just now, so your accusations of sexism don’t even make enough sense for me to get upset about it. I totally follow gender blogs and know what “heteronormative” means and stuff. Charity god damnit!

        • Oligopsony says:

          Also I didn’t know your sex until just now, so your accusations of sexism don’t even make enough sense for me to get upset about it.

          Her hypothetical about her seven-year-old self knowing she liked girls would have been enough to deduce that fact. This isn’t to say that you necessarily did deduce it or are at fault for not doing so, much less that you were consciously looking down on her for her sex, but her offense is hardly nonsensical.

  14. Xaver says:

    Polyamory sounds like it could be one of the things mentioned in this post:

    “High class people unknowingly wage class war against low class people by promoting liberal social norms that they can handle but induce dysfunction in the lower classes (drug abuse, high divorce rates, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, more violence, … ).”

    You acknowledge this objection to some degree, but when you look for potential problems you only seem to consider problems on a individual level not on a society wide level.

    To give one concrete example instead of just worrying about unknown unknowns and Chesterton’s fence: The low-status males thing mentioned above, while maybe not a problem among this particular high-status cluster of people, I think it would almost certainly be a problem if poly were adopted by the masses. I.e., I think polyamory would effectively become polygany (there are good evo-psych reasons to believe this, see: And glancing around at polygynous societies there’s some indication that having lots of unmarried low-status males around is potentially disastrous.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, polyamory adopted only by men but not by women would be a social disaster. This has not been my experience so far.

      (actually, almost anything adopted only by men but not by women would be a social disaster. The metric system? Driving on the left side of the road?)

      • im says:

        I’d be more worried about a situation in which a lot of people are poly with some differentials somewhere making it difficult for (some?) monogamous people to find partners. A Big Polyamorous Blob is much more elastic as to gender mismatch than a large group of mono couples.

        I’d also be worried about differences (not neccesarily by gender, but maybe by other stuff) as to how many primaries and who those primaries are that trap some people in a state where they desire primaries but nobody wants to be primary with them, but the easy availability of nonprimary affection keeps them from leaving even if they want to.

  15. spandrell says:


    Way to go. Now let’s see if our host will be so kind as to produce his and his “girlfriends”‘ too.

    I was going to write some euphemistic shit about “conventional faces” but I’ll go to the point.

    If a man is willing to let a women he is having sex with go to have sex with other men, she’s likely to not be very pretty. The degree of jealousy is highly correlated with the value of the object of the jealousy.
    If a women is not content with sex with one man, and finds the need to sex regular sex with several partners, it’s likely that all those men aren’t very attractive themselves. Of course attractiveness in a men, unlike a female, isn’t only physical. But if you are sharing a women with other men, I have this hunch that it does show in your face.
    Also the intensity/frequency of sex of all the males is likely to differ, and I bet we could tell by seeing the faces of the dudes who is getting laid the most.

    To summarize, if you can’t for whatever reason find an optimal sex partner for yourself, and can only settle with suboptimal ones, well you are likely to care less about exclusivity, and if you are high IQ, you are likely to make up some monumental piece of theoretical bullcrap to rationalize it.

    • ozymandias42 says:

      …I *am* one of his girlfriends.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I find it somewhat ironic that while you’re trying to argue that this whole poly thing is just low-status individuals rationalizing away their low status and miserable existence, your tone makes you come off as somebody who’s desperate to deny the existence of a phenomenon that you’re uncomfortable with.

      • spandrell says:

        We can throw each other nasty adjectives such as “low-status”, “desperate” forever if you like. But sooner or later you will have to graduate from primary school.

        I made an argument. Where’s yours?

        • Nick T says:

          You made flat assertions about how people work. Several other people have said that these assertions poorly describe their experience (mine too, btw). It seems to me that that’s no worse of an argument.

          Where’s your argument that your observations generalize to all people, everywhere?

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Your argument seems to consist of:

          * a number of claims, such as “If a man is willing to let a women he is having sex with go to have sex with other men, she’s likely to not be very pretty“, which you’ve stated as facts but provided no support for, and which my experience disagrees with
          * claims like “And polyamory is not supposed to be possible. Your brain is not programmed like that” which are somewhat more plausible, in that there are indeed evpsych theories that make such claims and there is evidence which could be read to support those theories, but they’re still nowhere near as strong as you seem to be implying.
          * claims which are reasonable if you accept their premises, such as “if you’re unable to find an optimal sex partner for yourself, you’re likely to rationalize that away“, but meaningless for as long as the premise hasn’t been established
          * claims which seem to mostly be stating that you don’t consider something to be a “real” relationship and implying that others should accept your definition instead, such as “So your friends have sex with them while you just chat up their girlfriends. Somehow you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’re just as much of a boyfriend as them“, which don’t really even have a truth value: they’re commands for others to define words your way, rather than empirical claims

          As such, I don’t have very much to say besides “your argument does not seem very convincing”.

        • im says:

          Also, at least two people in this conversation (but not Scott) are at least somewhat queer, which throws the wrench in this ludicrous blathering.

    • Deiseach says:

      spandrell, your post is couched in terms of property rights. People are not property. A man “letting” his girlfriend, wife or partner do anything is not the question here, because the man does not own the woman as he owns his boots, his dog, or his own left leg.

      Y’know, I’m a socially conservative, fossilised, reactionary, small-t traditional Roman Catholic, and you managed to offend me with that attitude. Way to go!

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think it’s necessarily related to property rights. I don’t let my grocer spit on my groceries (not an analogy at all), not because I own him, but because the relationship, such as it is, can be ended unilaterally. I don’t let my landlord double the rent, because I can go elsewhere if he does, not because I own him.

        • Deiseach says:

          But your landlord owns the room, so if he decides to raise the rent, or that he does not wish to rent it out anymore, or that you are a bad tenant, then he has the right (within the contract or agreement about the rental) to do so.

          If we phrase spandrell’s line as “If a man is willing to let a woman he is having sex with go and buy clothes on her own” or “go to the cinema to see a film she wants to see” or “spend her money on a plushie instead of putting it in a high-interest savings account”… do you see the point I am making?

          While there are legitimate reasons to object to adultery or cheating, particularly if the terms of the relationship are understood to be those of exclusivity for both partners, basing the objection on the grounds of “I didn’t say she could” or “I didn’t let her do it” is not the best way to put it, shall we say?

        • Randy M says:

          No, sorry, Deiseach, I don’t think it is any way outside of common useage to have “let” simply imply consent, whcih is after all the one guiding principle of liberal sexuality.

    • im says:

      Tsk tsk. Don’t you know that it’s very rude to tell a genderqueer-sort-of-but-not-always lady that she looks suboptimal? How unseemly!

      • ozymandias42 says:

        If the genderqueer-sort-of-but-not-always lady is me, I am not a she, thank you. 🙂 “They” is fine, as is any of the bewildering variety of gender-neutral pronouns people have invented, whichever is easiest for you.

        If it’s referring to some other genderqueer person in the thread who does use female pronouns, my apologies.

        • im says:

          Ummm. Yes, it was you, and I’m sorry. I normally use they. Slipped my keyboard-toungue.

          Actually, that makes me wonder what the genderqueer/agender/genderneutral…. equivalent of lady/gentleman is and also what you do for aristocratic styles and titles.

        • michael vassar says:

          I find people taking offense at other people not knowing their preferred pronouns of address to be offensive.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          I’m not taking offense? I assumed im just didn’t know, which is reasonable; I can barely keep track of the pronoun preferences of my friends, much less random Internet strangers. But if I don’t correct people when they mispronoun me, people will think that “she” is a pronoun I find acceptable as opposed to actively painful.

    • michael vassar says:

      Might I summarize this as a conflict between people who are not trying to opt out of primate social dynamics trying to assert their superiority relative to people who are? How does this differ from people who are not trying to opt out of Christian morality trying to assert their superiority relative to people who are? Not being a Christian needs rationalization from the perspective of the Christian, but not from the perspective of the atheist. If the atheists of the world occasionally point out that they haven’t been struck by lightning yet, that doesn’t mean that they are anxious that they might be, it might just mean that they would like to point out the good news to those who are still concerned.

    • >If a man is willing to let a women he is having sex with go to have sex with other men, she’s likely to not be very pretty. The degree of jealousy is highly correlated with the value of the object of the jealousy.

      You underestimate the power of social pressure. When a significant fraction of your peers are telling you that your jealousy is evil, and no one is standing up to them, and your partner is pushing hard to be allowed to fuck other men, and your entire cultural heritage has been systematically emasculated, and you’re generally not an assertive guy… Well, polyamory happens in those conditions.

      I don’t even think it’s best explained in terms of quirks of the individuals involved; they are just responding to ambient social conditions, which is just the usual “zeitgeist”. Once the poly meme exists, it will capture people with the above listed characteristics.

      By the way, my tone is bitter experience, not outsider contempt.

      • Multiheaded says:

        and your entire cultural heritage has been systematically emasculated

        Just for record, how is the word “emasculated” different from, say, “de-aryanized”? How is this not misogyny in itself?

        Not to mention the paranoid overall premise; poor, pathetic men are manipulated by cunning and selfish women and a dissolute society. This is below even the most simplistic feminist argument about internalized sexism; such arguments at least acknowledge that without patriarchy some women might still prefer sticking to traditional roles. But you would claim that e.g. I must be brainwashed for being revolted by sexual jealousy & unable to feel it, despite having grown up in a relatively conservative culture. It can’t be my character, I must be in denial, etc.

        I’m sorry for any disappointments you may have suffered, but that’s no reason to lash out against the “other side” that isn’t actually at war with you.

  16. WhoWhom says:

    Of course, the segregationist and Know-Nothing would find lots of things to notice to support their viewpoint.

    The segregationist would point out the hellhole that are urban schools, the tremendous inefficiencies of whites having to flee to the suburbs to keep their children away from blacks (of which the housing bubble and subsequent economic crash are just the most visible effects), and so on.

    The Know-Nothing would probably move from being horrified at the Irish- who did integrate well- to being horrified at the Hispanics- who haven’t integrated well. Unlike with the Irish, where there weren’t old Irish immigrants to compare to, he could point to the 4th generation Mexican-Americans who resemble Mexicans in income/intelligence/etc. more than Americans.

    The primary complaint about Chinese workers in the US was that they were willing to under-live whites and blacks- which, of course, is what we see. Korean convenience stores and Vietnamese nail salons are common in majority black areas, and the wages for graduate students and scientists are so low that a quarter to a half of many departments are Chinese.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If you’ll grant the original point about the Irish, that should be all you need to make the metaphor work.

      • Randy M says:

        Even if there are competing comparisons that may (or may not) be just as valid that argue in the opposite direction, that the prejudiced are right to worry?
        In other words, if you also grant his points, then you have to argue more substantial points than pointing and saying “bigot!”.

  17. spandrell says:

    You made flat assertions about how people work.
    Well there’s this thing called cognitive science and it has something to say about how people’s brains work.
    Of course there’s variance, Gaussian distributions and all that. Which means that some things are normal, others are deviant. Statistically speaking. Your experience may differ, but it’s unlikely, and if it differs, other things are likely to differ too.

    Surely the original post was about promoting polyamory as something normal that just requires some small cultural adjustment, instead of being a highly-deviant preference that goes against everything we know about how sexual mating works.

    And he’s putting it together as a superior way of life! Even Lenin didn’t push communism as just requiring some adjustment.

    Aren’t you the guys that are about overcoming cognitive bias? Well then you are supposed to know when you are ugly or not, overcoming the bias of thinking of oneself as superior and incontestable. I propose an experiment, you can rate your own appearances, 1 to 10, then put it on Roissy’s, or hotornot or whatever there is these days. Then you’ll see how rational and objective you are.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Are you claiming that the men are unusually ugly, the women are unusually ugly, or both?

      Is the claim that polyamorous people’s mates are so ugly that they fail to activate the normal “jealously guard your mate” reaction? If so, how do you explain that as far as I can tell ugly monogamous people get jealous just as easily as pretty monogamous people?

      Or is the claim that polyamorous people are so ugly that they have to settle for being “secondaries” instead of doing things the more naturally desirable monogamous way? If so, how do you explain that many polyamorous people have primaries, and in fact that polyamorous men and polyamorous women make a relatively self-contained dating pool that could very easily just date each other monogamously if that was what they wanted?

      Or is it something else I’m missing?

      • spandrell says:

        The general claim is that you, by reason of your brains, regard yourselves as being very high-status.
        That makes you feel like you deserve attractive mates. But of course that’s not happening because the population at large don’t see you as high-status.
        So you have to reach a settlement in which your egos can be satisfied in some way. Doing ‘polyamory’ makes you feel cool and special. Of course you get less sex than in a normal relationship because your sex-drive is based on a more primal part of the brain, but you can rationalize that away.

        Is the claim that polyamorous people’s mates are so ugly that they fail to activate the normal “jealously guard your mate” reaction?
        It’s partly that, partly “can’t do anything about it so might as well compensate it by fucking someone else.“ Men place a high value on female beauty, but also on variety. Men with options have been known to occasionally screw ugly women. They don’t invest on them though.

        The low density of attractive females in the cult means they have a really good hand, so even if men don’t want to share, they don’t have much of a choice.

        Evolutionary psychology says that men are happy enough with multiple partners, but women are hell-bent on monopolizing the one highest status man.
        Of course you fellas have a very particular psychological profile, but surely the actual distribution of sex, money and other valuable commitments aren’t isn’t flat?

        Who are the cute chicks sleeping with? Who are the cool guys giving attention to?

        • James says:

          Basically all of your posts seem to be written with the assumption that these polyamorous nerds on the internet are trying to work around/disguise their lack of success in mainstream dating markets. My contention is that this isn’t nearly as upsetting to us as you think it is. Anyone with sufficient life experience eventually notices that there’s not much point in trying to appeal to people who will find you boring or weird or sexually inferior or whatever. If you can stay true to yourself (whatever that means) while also being highly attractive to lots and lots of typical people, that’s great, but I promise it’s not the only way to live a fulfilling life.

        • im says:

          I also am pretty sure that your claims about what cogsci and evopsych say are either blatantly wrong or are nowhere near as strong as you are taking them to be.

          I’d add that you don’t know how much sex Scott is getting, and that he does not strike me as the kind of person to feel that he deserves lovers.

          Also, you claim that he does this to feel cool and special but the whole OP is about how boring and mundanely normal it feels to him.

          You also don’t know how much value Scott places on female beauty, and just because men on average value it more, doesn’t mean that they always will value it more in every context or that the effect is strong.

          You claim that men don’t invest in ugly women; that is demonstrably false by counter-example (Freaking actor who played James Bond?!) and also it’s very common for non-visual aspects of attractiveness to totally overpower visual ones for both genders and for people to be specifically attractive to each other without either of them being attractive on some kind of bullshit objective scale.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Note also that a simple linear scale for attractiveness leaves out some details; people who rate equally attractive will get very different amounts of attention based on how strong the variance in peoples’ reactions is. So here, ‘deviant’ but moderately attractive people have an edge over people who are just moderately attractive.

        Better to be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea, I think the saying goes.

    • ozymandias42 says:

      You first. You say poly people look different from monogamous people? Prove it. If I I randomly select pictures of a bunch of poly people and a bunch of mono people (probably the easiest way would be off a dating site), would you be able to tell them apart better than chance? We can make a bet if that would make it more interesting.

    • solemncoyote says:

      While I’m not especially familiar with the current state of cognitive science on the subject of sexual jealousy, I am fairly familiar with the current and historical anthropological record of the variation in kinship and sexual relationship structures seen over disparate cultural contexts. And you, spandrell, are laughably, almost fractally wrong in your assertions about the homogenaity of human sexual relationship structures and ethnographically recorded jealousy responses.

      • spandrell says:

        Yeah? How many polyamorous tribes are out there? I’m actually curious here.

        • im says:

          ‘Polyamorous’ and ‘Tribe’ go together like ‘Agricultural’ and ‘Hierarchical’.

          Trobrianders don’t have a concept of fatherhood because everyone is making love to everyone so nobody ever knows.

          The Tiwi have arranged mairrage from birth but can choose any lovers they want, w/o stigma.

    • Tarwatirno says:

      (disclaimer) I am not actually in a polyamorous relationship. Everything that follows is based on introspection and my observations of poly people. Also, I am a mostly-straight cis-gender male.(/disclaimer)

      I am not sure that Scott is advocating that it is ideal for everyone, just that there is a certain set of people who think a certain way, for whom poly is natural. As has been mentioned before, people in the rationalist community don’t tend to be typical, and self selection is a big factor.

      I am interpreting your hypothesis to be that people who say that they prefer poly are not as attractive (or don’t have as attractive partners as) [some arbitrary attractiveness level that makes a person prefer monogamy.] I know that this is not true for me. I am very lucky to have a partner that is pretty much my ideal in terms of attractiveness. (photos here and here) I am pretty sure (from using my own eyes, and from what I frequently get told by other people) that she is also attractive to a lot of other people. However, I would have no problems with her dating other men (or other women) if she were inclined to. She doesn’t have an inclination to do so. If we were deide to be poly, for me, it would be as much to be able to feel compersion for her dating someone else as for me to get to date somone else.

      I do seem to be somewhat unusual in this regard. I have never very well understood the concept of jealousy. (I can understand the fear of losing someone you love.) For example, the “love triangle” plot in stories has never really had any resonance for me. I find it very difficult to empathize with characters in such a situation, and always have. The great thing about discovering polyamory for me, was discovering the language to describe this. It seems just so overwhelmingly obvious that the solution is for the “vertex” of the triagle to date both suitors, and both suitors get to experience compersion to boot. These stories often involve two friends falling for the same person, which means you get to experience double compersion. But in the stories the friendship gets destroyed or at least disrupted… Huh? (I am also curious if any other poly people have experienced this.)

      It seems like what Scot was trying to say is that “If poly seems weird to you, and you are already friends with a lot of poly people, there is some likelyhood that if you try it (or even are around it more), then it won’t seem as weird.” Not that “Poly would make a better relationship norm for the general population.”

      Just to be clear, because you seem to come from the PUA community. What is your hypothesis about a person’s looks and their inclination toward being poly? I know of a certain subset of PUAs that hyptohesize some very specific physical traits would correlate with an “inclination to be poly,” and traits that would not make someone unnatractive, even by conventional standards.

      Also atrraction is a very personal thing. You can talk about “average” attractiveness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that most people will match that. I suspect that most people have at least one preference that doesn’t match what studies about what populations find attractive. Some people will vary a lot. For example, some men “work more like women” (or at least how you portray women as working) in that they don’t necessarily care about physical attributes, and would chose a partner with certain personality characteristics before physical ones. Some men might prefer to date women that have higher status than they do. Some women hate “alpha” behaviour. Some men prefer women with a higher BMI. Some people are specifically attracted to androgenous people. Some people prefer the same gender. Humans vary a lot in the things that they find attractive in a romantic partner. Maybe I should consider what hot or not thinks of me, but why should I care what it thinks of my partner, especially if they meet the criteria that I find most important? Is adopting the opinion of a bunch of people on the internet supposed to make my preferences more “rational and objective?” Should their opinion of me supercede that of my partner?

      • spandrell says:

        Lol, that’s a big piece of… data.

        Jealousy surely has to do with cuckolding. 50k years ago you fellas would have had quite a problem having your genes get by if you didn’t watch who your mate was screwing with.

        Jealousy is as natural as the breathing reflex. Probably the most important instinct a man has. If you people think it’s not important or easily hackable, I have this guy Darwin I want to introduce to you.
        If you guys don’t have it you probably just have Aspergers. Nothing wrong with that, but you shouldn’t go preaching your moral superiority just because you’re so self-absorbed that you don’t feel regular human instincts.

        Attractiveness follows a bell curve, so yes, most people find attractive a particular set of traits. Of course not all, there are of course a small amount of deviants with quirky tastes. Of course it’s great if you have found a quirky agreement that suits you. But don’t be surprised if over time your partner falls over an alpha guy or you become attractive to the 18 year neighbour. Preferences also suffer of regression to the mean.

        • im says:

          It sounds like you think that anything that’s evolutionarily advantageous gets run at 100%, consciously. Don’t forget that the majority of human sexual behavior is not even about babies. (Bonobos are even more extreme in this respect).

        • ozymandias42 says:

          Do you have empirical evidence that people with Asperger’s do not experience jealousy? Or is this simply another thing I’m supposed to take on faith, like my lust for eighteen-year-olds and/or alpha guys (whatever “alpha” means)?

        • Malcolm says:

          This is making a lot of assumptions about what culture was like at the time. The book Sex At Dawn explores how (as far as we can tell) the notion of even “having a wife” (which is how it was modelled for the past 5-10kyears) doesn’t even come into existence until civilization.

          Note that I say “doesn’t”, not “didn’t”. In today’s surviving hunter gatherer societies, it can be observed that pretty much everything is shared—including partners. Also including the role of raising children. Also, everything. Since everything is shared, it doesn’t really matter which children are yours, because there’s no way to pass on your wealth to them, since you don’t have any wealth independent from the tribe’s wealth.

          This sharing was incredibly adaptive: necessary for survival in a world without surplus. It would thus be maladaptive to be extremely jealous, as it would make it harder for the tribe to get along.

          If you’re going to make arguments using evolutionary psychology, it’s important to not project modern culture onto the ancestral environment.

      • asdf says:

        So you don’t actually practice polyamory, which is by far the most important data point. However, if it was the only way to retain SOME portion of your GF you would let her screw around rather then lose her 100%.

        What we call polyamory is usually something that is allowed when either:

        1) There is a large attractiveness differential between the parties. In this case the dominant party will want to cheat because they can do better and the submissive party will allow the cheating because they can at least own a portion of this person that is way out of their league. For evolutionary reasons

        2) Both parties have abnormal personality types and options.

        I think Spandrell is right to say polyamory has a type, because if you go on say OKcupid and look up people who list themselves as poly they will definitely be of a certain type. Their appearance, their interests, their ages, their socioeconomic backgrounds, their educations. It isn’t hard to notice these patterns. When I saw the picture from the sites author I had seen that face and body type plenty of times before.

        “Should their opinion of me supercede that of my partner?”

        People are as good as their options. If you love your partner, but she has better options, she will leave you. If you love your partner and she doesn’t have better options she will stay. So other people’s opinion of your partner, which is what determines what her options are, effect the both of you. What we call commitment tends to boil down to: “I won’t leave you for a small increase in mate status nor because you have temporary status setbacks.” And that is usually given as a kind of mutual insurance.

        Polyamory is some attempt to grease the wheels on this issue, but there are all sorts of easily understood complications that society figured out over thousands of years.

        Spandrell speaks from the POV of the general welfare. The general welfare doesn’t care about the little ad hoc arrangements a bunch of far at the ends of the bell curve people come up to get their dicks wet. It just wants to go with what works for most people. And what works for most people most of the time is traditional gender norms and monogamy. We also know that allowing people to buck that system, even if it works better for them, is bad for the general welfare because monogamy doesn’t hold up when people cheat.

        So what we are back to is why you aren’t such a special little snowflake that you should be able to wreck society to get your dick wet. And I applaud Spandrell’s effort to knock you all down a peg. From what I’ve seen of polyamorous people all it takes is a mirror.

        • im says:

          You are terrible at insulting people. Also, you both seem to live in a world where nobody really likes each other.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          Some Inuit tribes had people in relationships that were polygynous, polyandrous, and monogamous. Therefore it is incorrect to say that a culture where some people are monogamous and some people are polygamous is unstable.

          Obviously there is no reason why people who are poly might have similar interests, appearances, and educations. For instance, it is definitely not that in order to be poly you have to have relationships with other poly people, and people tend to get along with people who are like them, so poly people will tend to be similar to each other. It is also clearly not that, since poly is rather weird, it will tend to be adopted by social groups that are open to new relationship structures (queer people, those with high Openness to New Experience, those infected with the programmer “there is a bug in this program! I WILL FIX THE PROGRAM” mentality, etc.).

          Your statement about options is… do you understand what polyamory is? If I am in love with my partner, and I meet someone else who is a better match for me, I don’t have to leave my partner. I can date… both of them? Because if I’m poly I can date… multiple people? That is literally the whole point?

          I don’t *have* to choose the Best Person ™ and replace them when I have access to a Better Person ™. I can date multiple people, all of whom make me happy in their own unique ways. I don’t need to rank them, because they are different but all good. This makes me feel more secure, because I know that my partners choose to be with me because I bring happiness to their lives, rather than because I’ve artificially limited their options. I can be happy when they meet someone else that makes them happy rather than worried that I’m going to be replaced or that the other person is a threat to me. If the way you describe romantic relationships being is accurate to your experience, I feel bad for you and I hope you get to feel some of what I feel for my partners someday.

        • michael vassar says:

          What it boils down to, I think, is the question of whether they have to make their experience of personal welfare bow to your assertions about the social welfare (or really, care about it at all). It probably serves social welfare for you to voluntarily give all your money to the poor, the rich, the government or something but I bet you aren’t going to.

        • asdf says:

          Did the Inuits conquer the world?

          Monogomy is necessary is mass societies. Mass societies are very different from hunter gatherers. The problems presented by mass society necessitate monogamy not because its natural and everyone wants it but because it does the best job of solving most of the complications of mass society.

          “That is literally the whole point?”

          It’s foolish and naïve. You aren’t God. You can’t be everything, everywhere, to everyone. Eventually in live you have to start making choices of who to invest in emotionally, financially, etc because you have limited amounts of these resources. There will be trade offs. Sacrifices will be required.

          What happens when better person wants to move to another city. Now all of a sudden you can be with old person and better person. You have to choose. What if your partner decides to go with better person? How does that affect you if you were in a deep relationship? If you were planning to start a family? If you’ve already started a family?

          Part of this is always going to come back to the purpose of sex. If its just to get your dick wet all sorts of nonsense perversions make sense. However, if the purpose of sex is children and the raising of them in stable environments then you’ve got to put that above dick wetting.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          I didn’t know “society” meant “society that conquered the world.” (Even so, Rome? You can say a lot of things about their sexual ethics but monogamous they were not.)

          Yes? I mean, “love is infinite, time is not” is a cliche for a reason. I’m not sure what that has to do with my point.

          What happens when you have a great job in New York and your partner suddenly gets their dream job and it’s in Oregon? It’s not like poly has a monopoly on situations where people have to make choices between values.

          If my partner wants to break up with me, I want them to break up with me, because the other option is dating someone who wants to break up with me. I prefer my partners being happy to my partners being with me. (Practically, I tend to view commitment as a sort of “this relationship will make me happy enough in the long run that I precommit to trying to work through problems, even problems that would result in a breakup in other circumstances.”)

          I don’t subscribe to a teleological morality, so I don’t think sex has a “purpose.” Unless you count increasing net utility, but that’s the purpose of everything.

        • asdf says:

          Romans had marriage. Like every society they had people who broke the rules, but it wasn’t considered a good thing. Repentant sinners I’ve got no beef with. Sinners in denial is another matter.

          “If my partner wants to break up with me, I want them to break up with me, because the other option is dating someone who wants to break up with me. I prefer my partners being happy to my partners being with me.”

          People want to break up all the time for all sorts of reasons. Depending on the nature of the relationships many are not legitimate reasons to break up. If you are in a committed relationship, and most especially if you have children in tow, you’ve just got to grow up and make it work. Whether or not you want to. Whether or not its hard. Whether or not its a good long term deal for you or not personally. That’s what good people do, they honor their explicit and implicit commitments even when things get tough and they wish they hadn’t made them. They don’t put “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” in the wedding vows for no reason.

        • Nick T says:

          get their dicks wet

          Belatedly realized that this is locating all of the responsibility for polyamory in men. That’s… kind of silly.

      • ozymandias42 says:

        I actually have a partner who is monogamous by inclination but doesn’t care if his partner dates other people, so I can attest that this is not just navel-gazing on your part and that is a dynamic that actually does happen in the real world.

        • spandrell says:

          Pics of the guy.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          He is not comfortable with his pictures being shared on the Internet. You may, however, make any predictions you wish about his personality, our relationship, etc., and I will confirm or deny their truth.

        • asdf says:

          Maybe he isn’t comfortable, but he doesn’t say it. Maybe he’s comfortable in some ways but not others. Maybe his comfort could change based on time, circumstances, and mood.

          Just because the words come out of his mouth doesn’t mean you understand him. We came up with monogamy and cultural institutions to support it because mankind if fallen and we know the kind of biases that crop up over and over despite what anyone says.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          That’s a fully general counterargument.

          For instance: How do I know that you’re comfortable with monogamy? Just because words come out of your mouth doesn’t mean I understand you. After all, how could anyone have a happy romantic life without experiencing compersion?

        • asdf says:

          Comfort is irrelevant. It works, for society, over the long run. I want to have a harem of the 10,000 most beautiful women to screw whenever I want. That would make me comfortable. It’s also bad news for I would hope are obvious reasons.

          Most people who get married fall out of love eventually. However, you’ve still got to stick around and raise the kids, etc. So either you get over your own whims and desires, mature your notion of love a bit, and even sacrifice sometimes, or you continue to act like a petulant child who believes life’s purpose is to do whatever makes you happy. You can actually find some happiness living a good life and exercising self control.

          What constitutes “the good life” is a hard fought revelation. It took a lot of time and your lucky that your ancestors passed that knowledge down to you. Assuming that you’ve got a better idea about everything and that it isn’t just rationalization to justify petty emotional whims is the height of hubris. They made pride the main sin for a reason.

        • Oligopsony says:

          All of that may be true, and yet I’m still unsure about the relationship to polyamory. Alice begins a relationship with Bob begins a relationship with Carol begins a relationship with Daniel begins a relationship with Alice; each relationship grows, produces a child, wilts and dies. Alice, Bob, Carol, and Dan go about the statistically-speaking-rather-unfun work of parenting. Okay. So?

        • ozymandias42 says:

          How do I KNOW you find happiness living a good life and exercising self-control? Just because words come out of your mouth doesn’t mean I understand you! 😛 [/snark]

          Actually, I think “harem of 10,000 beautiful women to screw whenever I want” is the same problem as, say, Christian Heaven as commonly described. It sounds really nice when you hear it, but living it would be (for the vast majority of people) rather unpleasant. Just think about the harem politics as women jockey to be the one you sleep with! Not to mention that either you ignore 9,900 of them, or you not only don’t have enough time to develop relationships with your partners, you don’t have enough time that any individual partner knows which blowjob techniques you like best or the exact location of the sensitive spot on your neck.

          See, when you argue that happiness ought not be the purpose of relationships, and then you justify this belief with “…because sometimes committing to people even when they aren’t making you happy this very moment makes you happy!” I am absolutely not going to take you seriously.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Have to agree with Ozy on that last bit — sounds like a case of “fake values“.

        • asdf says:

          Of course I wouldn’t like the 10,000 women harem if its contingent on things I hate even more then it. The 10,000 woman harem example is “all other things held constant”. What is your point supposed to be here?

          “I am absolutely not going to take you seriously.”

          Teenagers often don’t take their parents seriously, but they should because the parents are often right and they are dumb teenagers. I don’t know your actual age, but I’ve got a good bead on your mental age.

      • Tarwatirno says:

        Jealousy is as natural as the breathing reflex.

        Not for everyone. I am perfectly happy to believe that it is quite natural for you. Fortunately no one is saying that it shouldn’t be. No one said that compersion instead of jealousy was morally superior, just something that some individuals prefer. (Obviously within limits, hurting someone because you feel jealous is definitely wrong, but that has more to do with the hurting someone part.)

        I have this guy Darwin I want to introduce to you.

        I don’t particularly care about my inclusive genetic fitness. I care about living a life that makes me happy. This could include things like polyamory, learning and discussing math, gardening, discussing the ins and outs of personal style with my partner, and not listening to PUA advice. Sex is one of those things but I don’t like it because it will increase my fitness, I like it because it is feels good and is a way to communicate with my partner. In the end though it is just one of the nice things that I do with her. YMMV

        But don’t be surprised if over time your partner falls over an alpha guy

        Hahahahahahahaha. It is difficult to sate how highly I doubt that. Interactions between my partner and an “alpha” would be hilarious though.

        However, if it was the only way to retain SOME portion of your GF you would let her screw around rather then lose her 100%.

        I would actively encourage my partner to pursue another partner that she felt compatible with. I love her, and empathize with her, so why would I not want her to pursue something that allowed her to feel something as powerful as a second romantic connection that I get to share in. Also, note that this is not even as maladaptive (since y’all seem to have trouble not conflating fitness and morality) as you think. A family that consists of more than 2 adults has more resources to devote to children, and more tolerance of something happening to one of the adults. I would want my partner to have someone that I like and trust to be with her if something happened to me.

        People are as good as their options.

        Better options according to whom? We meet each other’s preferences really excellently, but she could definitely get a more “alpha” guy. I have had my sexual orientation questioned over some of the exact things that she is *most* attracted to me for. I go shopping with her, I give her feedback on posts for her fashion blog, I carry her purse for her in public for her when it hurts her shoulders (This has a particularly funny story where a guy passed us on the street and said to me “Hey, Nice purse, hur, hur.” I then said to my partner “Yeah, and who is going to sleep with you tonight.” We both kind of wish I had said it to him instead.)

        I love my partner, and even if I had “better options,” they would not really be better because I already love her. Last I checked my partner was a human and was capable of experiencing that same emotion of love.

        monogamy doesn’t hold up when people cheat.

        Polyamory holds up even less well when people cheat. That is why it’s important that they don’t.

        Are you that aspie?

        Please stop with the aspie hate. The answer is probably an actual yes for several people participating in this discussion, and you are treating them as if they are emotionally damaged and/or stupid. Just because you have no interests outside of sex and are enough of an asshole enough to think that women aren’t actually people (or at least aren’t really capable of love… Oh wait asking for you to not mock someone you think is “low status” is probably waaay to much to expect, sorry.

        Consent on its own has got to be one of the shittiest excuses for action/inaction I’ve ever heard.

        Can anyone say “Rape Culture.”

    • Army1987 says:

      or hotornot or whatever there is these days

      IME those tend to be quite noisy — try uploading two copies of the same pictures and compare their scores.

    • Army1987 says:


      What exactly do you mean by that, ‘unusual’ or ‘inferior’? Because one doesn’t always automatically imply the other.

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      …and lo, the searing light of revelation did dawn upon Eliezer Yudkowsky as he realized why people who first encounter ev-psych upon the Internet as opposed to “The Adapted Mind” might believe it to be pseudoscientific sexist just-so stories. Who even taught this guy words like “variance”?

      Link again to evidential photo for those who missed it:

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        As far as I can tell, “psedoscientific sexist just-so stories” is the impression that a very large portion of the populace has about evpsych. Not necessarily because they’ve encountered evpsych on the Internet, but because they’ve encountered it in the popular media in general, and the popular media tends to highlight the “evpsych shows why girls prefer pink” kinds of stories.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Um… would you kindly wake the hell up, Eliezer. (Sorry for being rude, but… you did say this just kind of thing way before on LW… and you still act surprised.)

        For Cthulhu’s sake, Hanson links to Roissy from his blogroll! (Thanks to Mr. Sprandell for mentioning him, btw!) There’s a whole heap of this kinda “ev-psych” shit out there. If the rationalist/libertarian/whatever community wishes to put some social space between itself and this kind of thing…. well, it’s almost too late. Not that the LW-sphere looks *heavily* tainted by it at this point. But there’s definitely *connections.* Just saying.

        • >For Cthulhu’s sake, Hanson links to Roissy from his blogroll! (Thanks to Mr. Sprandell for mentioning him, btw!) There’s a whole heap of this kinda “ev-psych” shit out there.

          For the curious, what is the state of the argument against heartiste’s brand of evo-psych? Besides enjoying “the shiv” a bit too much, the only arguments against the actual substance that I’ve seen amount to “insufficiently leftist”, “lol so ignorant pseudoscience”, and “look at this evil straw-man”.

        • Multiheaded says:

          “All women naturally want to be abused and despise everyone who couldn’t abuse them”, or was it “women are incapable of deep emotional attachment”, or was it “women hate each other”, or was it “women can’t stay faithful of their own accord”, or was it something else? I don’t really give a fuck, I’m not going to re-read any of his shit to find out what he really means in his heart of hearts. A halfway decent human being just wouldn’t produce that first impression. And if you think that disliking such BS is “leftist” somehow, are you saying that most conservatives – like, elitist, old-fashioned, anti-socialist people – wouldn’t be mad about this?

          (Just as a data point, I’ve heard that he claimed Hitler’s problem was that he was too beta and had no PUA around to show him how women work. With anyone else it would be self-parody, but that shithead might well be fucked in the head enough to view the world like that.)

          God, how the fuck can men hate women to such a psychotic degree?

  18. Max says:

    I think you may be treating the jealousy issue pretty much the way you used to see the whole sexual identity issue, which you covered in another post a while back.

    Jealousy in the polyamorous community may not be a big deal, and I can easily relate to that. But I also have experience with people who’re so profoundly, viscerally jealous that it seems about as implausible that they could learn to separate it from their relationships as it does that they could learn to be asexual. The people who even experiment with polyamory probably have no overlap with the people who buy CheckMate infidelity testing kits to use on their partners’ underwear.

  19. Gilbert says:

    So I’m the guy who wrote the comment Scott mentions in section III. Partial apology: I was in a foul mood and the entire comment has a very mean tone. I shouldn’t have talked that way.

    Now let me make it worse with some explanation: I’ll grant that the armor of polyarmory is fake “only” in the way gay marriage is fake. In fact that was the point, I was talking about slippery slopes. So I won’t deny that poly relationships can be all gooey and happy and even caring. But then the love-cleansed ems Scott worried about yesterday would be perfectly happy too, utility-wise removing their love instinct would be the right thing to do. It’s still a distopia because utilitarianism is bunk and their fixed preferences are wrong themselves, so maximizing them just misses the point.

    I think our society vastly overrates love-the-feeling at the expense of love-the-virtue, which is in large part about sacrifice. The entire point of love is that at some point loyalty>happiness. I also think the virtue-maximal version of romanto-erotic love is opposite-sex, live-long, exclusive, and open to children. I won’t argue those points right now (It’s the whole natural law thing), but my point is that if there is an objective standard of romanto-erotic love and it involves exclusivity, then everybody being happy is irrelevant to non-exclusive romanto-erotic love being defective, just like the ems being happy is totally irrelevant to them being defective. So my scare quotes were about something quite different from the point Scott thinks me empirically mistaken on.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I sort of figured you meant something like this, but you seem to be making two different claims I’m having trouble teasing apart.

      The first is “love is about sacrifice”. Are you making the empirical claim that, say, Mike would be less willing to sacrifice his life for Hannah than a given monogamous man would be willing to sacrifice his life (or whatever) for his wife? If so, I’m going with the “empirically wrong” thing again. I don’t *think* this is what you’re saying, but I’m having trouble coming up with a better interpretation, unless it’s “Mike is unwilling to sacrifice having other partners for his love”, which to me seems equivalent to “Mike is unwilling to sacrifice having his thumbs cut off for his love, since he has not yet done so” – if it’s unnecessary, it’s not a sacrifice.

      Actually, I should go a bit further here. Leah frequently writes about love as a sort of slow-burning, companionate thing as opposed to the Romeo and Juliet “Let’s spend all our time together gazing in each other’s eyes” bit, and I absolutely agree with her on this. Are you claiming that polyamorous love empirically lacks this sort of more virtuous long-term sort of character, or are you claiming that it might be empirically exactly the same, but that it lacks a metaphysical perfection that monogamous love has?

      (I agree that if we define “love” as “monogamous love”, polyamory is less loving, but this seems actively misleading).

      I’ll just end by saying that we (the people in favor of romantic gooey love) had the word “amor” way before you (the religious people) did, and there was that whole medieval tradition of making a big deal out of how “amor” was lexically the inverse of “Roma”, and so let us keep that one and you can come up with some other word to talk about natural law if you want. So there 😛

    • michael vassar says:

      I agree with the importance of focusing on virtue over happiness, in some respects, but I don’t buy your theory regarding the nature of virtue-maximal romanto-erotic love. I invoke almost all non-Christian culture against male monogamy, and the old testament, in particular Abraham, against female monogamy (though in that story, male non-monogamy works out badly, but we aren’t lead to believe this is because it’s intrinsically non-virtue-maximal). I doubt anyone has a good idea as to what’s actually optimal. My best guess is that there are LARGE gaps between virtue-optimal romantic love, which would probably be close to fitness maximizing for its participants, and social-welfare-optimal romantic love.

      • Sarah says:

        Hm. From a social welfare perspective, you want children to be cared for, and adults to be sane, productive, and cooperative. That probably points towards young, child-producing marriages.

        Your problem really is Madame Bovary.

        People who can’t really handle idealistic romance or sexual fulfillment but still try to live out the novels. (A cynic would say nobody can handle it.)

        I think in a lot of areas in life, there’s a healthy optimal middle path, best E.V. for most people, and then there’s an “ambitious” way that can be really awesome but also catastrophic if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is how a lot of religions think of contemplative practices, for example. I think that also applies to, say, getting a doctorate or becoming an artist. If you make the “ambitious” path costly and somewhat socially penalized, you have some hope of filtering out those who really shouldn’t be doing it.

        I think there’s an egalitarian-conservative perspective that says “Nope, you can’t *have* a high-variance path, basically nobody can handle it, and even if someone could, they’d set a bad example and ruin society.” Except that doesn’t match the example of history (where there have always been aristocrats, and jesters, and courtesans, and hermit priests, and generally small clearly labeled exceptions to the rules). I think the more stable solution is more like “You can do weird stuff, but you’ll have to join the Weird Club, and it will be difficult, and you’ll be sort of cut off from the normal world” or “You can do weird stuff, but you’ll have to work like hell and wait a long time to prove you’re ready for it.”

        • asdf says:

          Finally, a good comment.

          In many cultures they allow small castes of “experimenters”, but keep them segregated somewhat and make sure that they don’t become two high status (example, in Japan merchants could accumulate much wealth, but were still considered lower caste then farmers).

          The problem with weirdoes is the more they advertise their weirdness and promote it (say, with blog posts) the more of a danger they are to society and the more they have to be overtly repressed.

      • Gilbert says:

        I don’t quite get what you mean with Abraham. The closest thing to female non-monogamy I remember is where he lies about Sara being his sister rather than his wife and the local big shot almost integrates her into his Harem. But a) that is clearly portrayed as a (metaphorical) fuck-up and b) my understanding is that he does so specifically because he expects the local big shot to be more respectful of female monogamy than of his life. That actually speaks to a fairly strong norm of female monogamy.

        As for male non-monogamy, yup, that’s where the whole patriarchy thing starts to be plausible. For most of human history men got what woman owed them in that regard but didn’t reciprocate. They also had slaves. This is one aspect where you see that early Christianity was particularly woman-friendly. (See here for a humorous take on some other ways.)

        • Berry says:

          It actually occurs three times that I know of in the Old Testament (see here), once with Abram and Pharoah, once with Abraham and Avimelech, and once with Isaac and Avimelech.

  20. Mike Blume says:

    Fun fact: Not only are Scott and I living in the same apartment and sharing three partners, Scott also talked me into joining a game of Diplomacy with him. Because apparently we like to live dangerously =P

  21. Nobody says:

    If it works for you, great.

    Having said that, since it’s what you have your brain has a very high drive to make you believe that it works for you, even if it doesn’t really – and I apologise if that comes across as snide, I’m saying that because you’re not impartial we have to take what you say with a grain of salt. People are big on affirming, defending and yes, even proselytising their beliefs, if you get my drift.

    Jealousy and envy are facets of our competitive nature, and monogamy seems to me to dampen the prospect of those getting out of hand. If that’s not a problem for you, again, great, but I strongly doubt it would have worked for me. But maybe that’s a personal flaw and from a future perspective I’m a dinosaur who doesn’t know his time is almost up.

    I do think you’re fortunate if you’ve managed to find stability in such a relationship. Life has a habit of throwing spanners in the works even of monogamous relationships, and given the complexity of people I have a hard time imagining a polyamorous relationship that would be more stable than a monogamous one without some very special people in the mix. I also wonder how children factor into the equation, but it might be a bit early to ask you that.

  22. Sarah says:

    It is unkind to insinuate that people’s personal romantic lives are bad. Still more unkind to insinuate that they or their loved ones are uncool or ugly.
    For myself, I have no interest in justifying how I live and love. Cuts too close to home. Why choose to make strangers a jury over my life?

    • im says:

      Indeed, and still more unkind to claim that their happiness is self-delusion.

    • spandrell says:

      Truth > Kindness.

      If you guys gave a shit about anything but feeling good about yourselves, you would be consumed by curiosity about why your sexual reward circuit is so different from anyone else’s

      • ozymandias42 says:

        who says I’m not?

      • im says:

        O really? And why do you desire truth?

      • michael vassar says:

        In my observations, dominance and coolness are more of a threat to truth than kindness is, though all are threats.

        I think that they have LOTS of things to be consumed by curiosity about. I certainly do, such that their sexual feelings treated as sample anomalies don’t really make the list.

        Actually, if an adult (like Scott) is consumed by curiosity, they should be consumed by curiosity as to why their curiosity is so different from (almost) anyone else’s, as that’s much rarer than the poly stuff and seems potentially more interesting and more useful as well.

    • asdf says:

      Modesty is a virtue? You don’t say.

  23. “Be financially supported by your partner” a tenable career plan? I don’t think most people financially supported by their partner planned on it as a career. I think they were forced into it by economic realities.

    Full time infant daycare costs around $27,000 to $30,000 per year in my local community. We’ll save 1-2k with the 5k daycare FSA but other than that, we’re screwed. Maybe you think I’m kidding or exaggerating (I would have thought so myself two years ago), but the reality really sucks.

    This means if your partner makes 70k and you make 40k, you will literally be paying for the privilege of working. (And this is with just one infant — try adding another.) Avoiding one parent becoming financially dependent on their partner is a luxury of the very high earning. When daycare costs this much, the financially wise choice is often for one partner to pursue a “career” of financial dependence. In other words: it’s not a damn career plan, it’s a forced choice for many parents.

    I hope the numbers I’ve linked to come as a reality check regarding child-rearing and stay-at-home-parenting and it changes your dialogue a bit in the future. It’s a sad situation that so many are forced to quit their careers to perform childcare, and surely it’s a waste of human capital to invest a lot into training and education only to have a parent forced to give up their career. This Op-Ed resonated with many (although it quotes far lower daycare expenses than I’m personally faced with):

    This was mostly meant as an aside to the poly conversation. But these difficulties mean it’s really important for people to find very committed relationships to assist in childcare if they’re planning to have children. (An alternative is relying on your parents and siblings — but most view that as the back-up plan.) Just speculating, but this might mean focusing on a single/primary relationships is a safer strategy for a significant fraction of people.

    • Randy M says:

      “It’s a sad situation that so many are forced to quit their careers to perform childcare, and surely it’s a waste of human capital to invest a lot into training and education only to have a parent forced to give up their career. ”

      Except, of course, for the children who actually get to be raised by a mother (or less commonly father).

      • Really? You think kids with both parents working are worse off? Having *both* my parents pursue admirable careers meant they were excellent role models for me. And as an adult I love to talk to both of them about their professions (just as they like to talk to me about mine), it enriches their relationships with the world. No, I don’t think I would have benefited from one of them staying home to care for me during the workday.

        • Randy M says:

          Yes, of course I do. For one thing, what minority of people have both their parents (successfully) pursuing admirable careers, rather than just working to make ends meet? How many people are rather working at jobs that just aren’t all that interesting?

          For another, once children are young adults, nothing’s stopping the parents who had provided child care from pursuing careers, lousy economy aside, that they can then discuss with their adult children.

          Also, you discount the possibility that motherhood could be interesting, enlightening, and worth discussing. How… provincial. I assert guiding and shaping three young minds and personalities, and tending a home is every bit as interesting as a great many careers that men and women end up in, teacher, HR manager, file clerk, lab tech, what-have-you.

          Finally, unless you argue that adult involvement is irrelevant to child raising– an extreme position even for nature uber alles side–can you say the child either during their childhood, spared bullying, feelings of abandonment, and whatever; or later due to more one on one attention sees no benefits? (sorry for the hard to parse sentence; in other words, I think the burden of proof falls on those who think individual attention by an interesting party is equivalent to being tossed in a room with 30 other kids and one paid adult).

        • michael vassar says:

          Am I allowed to think that kids with even one parent working are worse off? I really do honestly think that maximally virtuously responsible parents should probably both work as needed, freelance, in most but not all situations. Of course, it’s insane to go around pointing out all the time that people aren’t being maximally virtuously responsible, so I normally don’t.

        • Randy M says:

          @ Michael Vasser–yes, but apparently I’m not allowed to reply to you directly. But I think what you are pointing out is one of the problems ffo industrialization, and people working outside the home. But I think one interested parent is significantly better than outsourcing and not terribly inferior to two full time.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      “It’s a sad situation that so many are forced to quit their careers to perform childcare, and surely it’s a waste of human capital to invest a lot into training and education only to have a parent forced to give up their career.”

      I don’t see the big problem. For families, most of the extra income of having a second working parent goes into housing, because land is zero-sum. This is why it used to take a single income to get decent shelter back when only men were expected to work, but as soon as it became the norm for women to pursue careers also it took a nontrivial portion of their combined income to afford housing. As for the economy, the extra capital is spent on more positional goods for the rich rather than anything which improves life quality.

    • Army1987 says:

      I don’t think most people financially supported by their partner planned on it as a career. I think they were forced into it by economic realities.

      If you’re only talking about people currently below the age of (say) 55, I might agree, but if you’re talking about most of all people financially supported by their partner, I’m not so sure. I kind-of doubt that my grandma was always eager to get a job but was never able to find one so she needed to resort to be supported by my grandpa.

    • Berna says:

      I haven’t read all the way to the end of the comments yet, but it occurs to me that poly relations could be great for children. Maybe one of the parents would be willing to stay at home full-time to care for them, and if not, with more adults around it would be easier to arrange things so that there is always at least one around.

  24. Randy M says:

    “What changed? It just started seeming normal.”

    I don’t really want to discuss your personal life (since you seem a decent chap and have an interesting blog), but the arguments above sure sound like arguments not to have gay marriage normalized nor to promote alternative lifestyles.

    That is, there seems to be rather more fluidity in these social norms than is commonly admitted to, and not all of them might be as beneficial as the Irish–or even remotely analogous to that particular set of immigrants.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If homosexuality is at least in part an inborn tendency, I expect it to be much less fluid than poly/nonpoly.

      That having been said, I agree that relaxing the social norms against homosexuality has increased the slice of the Kinsey scale willing to publicly identify as homosexual, I just don’t really care.

      In fact, I thought the gist of the whole gay rights position is that, absent the total extinction of humanity because no one’s having kids anymore, who cares who is or isn’t gay?

      (I agree you can make an argument about long-run collapse of fertility below replacement rates, but in the long run we’re all dead or posthuman)

      • asdf says:

        “who cares who is or isn’t gay?”

        There are many problems in the gay community. It isn’t exactly a bastion of traditional virtue. Anyone who has spent any time in the village has seen the degeneracy. That destabilization spreads to the straight community.

        If you ever studied how AIDS got so big in the gay community you would see them as disease vectors as well. And it wasn’t just AIDS, gays are STD factories. And I don’t want to have to bring over the quotes from gay blood bank operators who allowed AIDS to spread to straights through blood banks because they thought it would increase support for tackling AIDS which mostly affected gay men.

        When my Irish ancestors wanted to be accepted they stage parades where they wore uniforms and tried to prove how American and patriotic they were. Have you been to a gay pride parade? If that is how they choose to represent themselves at their finest to the public I see little reason why there is such sympathy.

        • im says:

          Gay pride parades are not meant to look appealing to the public. They are are a way of gloatingly intimidating the public to accept your self-rule. I say that as the greatest compliment.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          To which I say “who cares if some people want to march around naked at Pride?” It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my bone.

          Lesbians have a lower STI rate than straight women. How does this affect your opinion about gay people?

        • michael vassar says:

          Here’s to the destruction of that conception of virtue which is called ‘traditional’ by most people using the term in today’s discourse. I would MUCH rather have naked neighbors than (shudder) patriotic ones. They seem much less likely to provoke wars and get me killed or economically ruined, and much more likely to have interesting ideas.

        • asdf says:

          “They are are a way of gloatingly intimidating the public to accept your self-rule.”

          Because adult body aside you still have the character of a child. This is the kind of thing children do.

      • Army1987 says:

        I agree you can make an argument about long-run collapse of fertility below replacement rates

        Even that would sound kind-of ridiculous to me. Even if 20% of the population was gay, the fertility rate would be within a factor of 0.8 of what it would be if 0% of the population was gay all other things being equal, and surely there are so many factors affecting the fertility rate more than that that focusing on this particular one would sound kind-of arbitrary to me.

      • Randy M says:

        I wasn’t so much arguing against homosexual marriage, just saying that one particular argument for it is also taken down here (the “what does it matter if society approves it, these things are fixed”).

  25. Anonymous says:

    >I was going to make an analogy to desegregation here, how white people thought having black kids in their schools would be a disaster, and then it happened, and the world didn’t collapse into a hell dimension or anything, and after a few years it just seemed like the normal order.

    Schools did roughly collapse into a ghetto hell hole dimension proportionally to the number of black students attending them. People who were pushing desegregation lived mostly in areas where blacks were a minority, or were rich and educated enough to flee to suburbs when it happened, so they didn’t have to deal with the consequences that afflicted the poor white people they threw under the bus in the name of signalling their progressiveness.

    This is, of course, one of those topics a man is simply not allowed to mention, lest he be crucified by the court of public opinion.

    • im says:

      But… you just did.

      Probably actually more about intersection of class and race? Some stuff suggests that students need to be educated in good schools from the beginning and need other support systems from an early age otherwise better schools are wasted later on.

  26. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    You might want to make a distinction between serial monogamy, which is the predominantly accepted relationship model in the modern West, and some old kinds of monogamy which usually involved arranged marriages and very hard divorces. It may be that the particular kind of polyamory you practice is a clear win against one but not another.

    Sadly, the sort of idealized life-long monogamy born out of true love which one can find in movies targeted at children and in shoujo anime/manga doesn’t appear to be have ever been at all widespread.

    • im says:

      I don’t think it actually works. With right tech, could modify to make it work.

      • michael vassar says:

        I’m convinced that it can work, but it’s probably harder to execute properly than some types of poly relationship and easier to execute properly than other kinds. I haven’t seen it work many times though.

  27. spandrell says:

    For all your rationality and stuff you do seem to accept a lot of concepts at face value.

    What’s “love”? Is in some kind of ether, uncaused, eternal spirit that gets into your soul and makes you happy? Or is it a brain circuit that consistently responds to stimuli in a certain pattern? And what is that pattern?

    Let me repeat the most important question:
    Who are the cute chicks sleeping with? Who are the cool guys giving attention to?

    Of course most of you fellas are probably 1/2 SD above me, for all I know above a certain IQ threshold with enough group pressure you become able to rewire your brain so that it doesn’t respond to basic biological instincts. I doubt it though.

    On primitive tribes, I do know that most Australian aborigines are polygamous where old men monopolize the women and don’t share them. In any tribe where the women are incapable of feeding their children by themselves (i.e. they need men’s providing for them), some exclusive arrangement has to arise. It’s not rocket science.

    • ozymandias42 says:

      Gatherers, the vast majority of whom are women, provide between sixty and eighty percent of calories in forager cultures. Producing less than half the calories the family consumes is an interesting definition of “providing.”

      Love is a Thing My Brain Does, of course. It is a response to particular stimuli– I actually understand my sexual/romantic attraction to an annoyingly predictable degree. (I miss being surprised.) I am confused about what this has to do with polyamory.

      I feel like you need to operationalize “cute” and “cool” for me here. Those are terribly subjective terms. (I predict you will protest that they are, in fact, TOTALLY OBJECTIVE. If that is the case you should have no problem providing me with a working definition.)

      • spandrell says:

        “Ember chose to ignore the significance of the geographical bias in the Atlas. Fifty-seven percent of the hunter-gatherer cases in the Atlas are from at or above 42° latitude compared to only 17% of the total cases at or above that latitude. Eighty-four percent of the hunter-gatherer cases in the Atlas are from North America, while only 25% of the total cases are from that continent (see Table I). The statistics from North America do not differ significantly from worldwide figures, however the correlation of latitude with the importance of gathering shows up dearly. Hunting and fishing are rated as exceeding the contribution of gathering among only 48% of societies below 42º but among 98% of those at or above that latitude.”

        Where do your ancestors come from?

        • ozymandias42 says:

          Um. You do realize that’s the bit that the article is, in fact, debunking?

          To quote the conclusion:

          “I have summarized evidence which demonstrates that the importance of vegetable
          resources gathered by women as sources of food energy is not confined to Bushmen or
          Australian Aborigines. Nor do plant foods play an insignificant role everywhere above 40°
          latitude. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas “subsistence dependence” code summaries to the
          contrary, the food-collecting societies of the southern half of the Columbia-Fraser Plateau of
          northwestern North America (at ca. 45° – 48″ N latitude) obtained in the neighborhood of 70%
          of their food energy needs from plant foods harvested by women.”

    • Mike Blume says:

      Spandrell, what is your thesis in this thread? Is it “y’all are probably ugly”, “y’all are probably weird aspies”, or “y’all are selfishly contributing to the downfall of western society”? You keep swapping among the three, and it’d be easier to argue if you’d pick a point and press it properly.

      It’d also be easier to argue if you weren’t constantly haranguing everyone. Honestly, you’re tempting me to argue as hard as I can *against* polyamory simply because this thread deserves a better class of villain.

      • spandrell says:

        The three points are true, why reduce it to one?

        And do say, would you share your gfs with your pal Scott if it would affect your sexual access frequency?

        • ozymandias42 says:

          I think he’s trying to insult us with the whole “ugly weird Aspie” routine, but I cannot find anything insulting about being on the same spectrum as many people I highly respect, being able to do what makes me happy regardless of social norms, or Spandrell not wanting to fuck me. In fact, all three of those sound like compliments.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Okay, so I’m reluctant to give you pictures of people I know without their permission, but here’s an alternate test you could try.

      Go to OKCupid, put the search parameters you usually use for women whom you find attractive, search for “anywhere in the world” and matching the keyword “polyamory”. Count how many women in the top 100 results you consider attractive.

      Then run the same search with another keyword that controls for the relevant factors. This would be the hard part. I originally used “astronomy” to control for geekiness, but I’m worrying it selects for higher social normativity than poly does and I tend to be more attracted to less countercultural looking people. “Anarchism” might be a good one.

      Is your claim that in this experiment you would find slightly fewer attractive women in the “poly” search, or that you would find exactly vastly fewer, maybe zero?

      In either case, I would be interested in your publishing the results of this experiment on your blog. Obviously it would have to be controlled, with you evaluating people’s attractiveness without knowing which search they were taken from. I can help you with this if you want.

      • spandrell says:

        Making me look at 100 polyamorous women is not my idea of fun. Even if I took the trouble you’ll just start nitpicking about “come on she’s really cute you’re just a heteronormative fatphobic repressed white male” and whatnot.

        But hey you do seem to have a wider range of taste in love matters so be my guest and do it yourself. I’m sure you understand what is conventional attractiveness and rank accordingly. If you find it real hard just watch some regular porn.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          If you like we can control for the “nitpicking about attractiveness” issue by having one of us collect the pictures and send it to you, and then you can identify which ones are poly and which ones are mono.

      • daenerys says:

        Another option is to do a match % search twice: In one time answer poly-relevant match questions as Mandatory poly or open. In the second search, answer the poly-relevant questions and Mandatory closed/monogamous.

        I would think it would be most interesting if both a poly person AND a mono person who have answered a significant amount of other questions already on okc both ran the two searches. (of course, there would have to be some blinding procedure)

        My hypothesis is that poly people are more “geeky” in general, but once you control for geekiness are no more or less attractive than their monogamous counterparts.

    • Anonymous says:

      *ahem* musou tribe in china *ahem* look it up.

  28. ChickPea says:

    “I can’t even get angry with people who say polyamory is incompatible with true love. They’re just empirically wrong, like someone who remarks confidently that hippos have six legs. They’re not evil or even deluded. They just obviously haven’t seen any hippos. You don’t really want to argue with them so much as take them to a zoo, after which you are confident they will realize their mistake.”

    Pauli had a phrase for that sort of wrongheadedness: “That’s not even wrong.” 🙂

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      That’s for ideas which don’t correspond to reality in a clear enough way to be true or false, which is the opposite of what Scott’s saying.

  29. asdf says:

    Let me give you all a concrete example.

    A relationship ago I spent the summer dating a woman I met online. Everything seemed to be going great. At the end of the summer I learned she was with another man and had three kids. She lied about this on her profile and for our whole relationship, as well as to the man. Then when I was close to finding her out she confessed and wanted to leave her husband and be with me. I of course dumped her. I believe her partner eventually found out and it wrecked the family. Three kids will grow up in a broken household now.

    I can already here the objections:
    “Polyamory is build on trust and mutual consent. This is not an example of polyamory.”

    Yes, it is. It’s polyamory in the real world with real people. Real people lie. Real people cheat. Consent and communication is a messy issue for real people. This is how this swinger lifestyle turns out for most. And I can tell you that this person built up a habit of it before “committing” and that habit never went away. We know from the data that people that sleep around lose their ability to commit to someone, and raising a family takes commitment.

    If your pet theory requires all sorts of “conditions” to work it might make sense to take some time analyzing those conditions and whether they are actually true in the real world.

    • Deiseach says:

      To be fair to the polyamorous, I can’t see your case as being an example of how polyamory really would work. It seems like good old fashioned adultery.

      You didn’t know she was partnered. Her partner didn’t know she was having an affair. She concealed the existence of both of you from the other. I don’t know if you would have pursued a relationship with this woman had you known, but she never gave you the option. She presented herself as free and available; it’s impossible to tell if she only wanted a fling and developed deeper feelings for you, or was on the look-out for a better opportunity to leave her partner, but it all blew up in her face.

      You (justifiably) felt deceived. Her partner (justifiably) felt deceived. My understanding of polyamory is that the parties go into it at least aware that the sexual/romantic relationship is not exclusive; how jealousy, etc. works out in reality may then intervene, but it’s not quite the same thing as what happened here.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Isn’t this like arguing against consensual sex by telling a story about how you got raped? Or arguing against economic transactions because someone stole from you once?

      “Consensual vs. nonconsensual” isn’t a trivial difference between polyamory and adultery. The whole *point* of polyamory is consent and knowledge; otherwise you’re just doing monogamy very very badly.

      • asdf says:

        What is consent? What is honesty? What is effective communication? What are expectations, both explicit and implicit?

        This stuff is hard enough in monogamous relationships. It’s messy and impossible to define. Emotions aren’t these aspie true/false statements like you want them to be.

        I could go on for example after example, but its simpler to conclude from past history that either you lack the ability to understand emotional nuance (many aspies simply have this part of their brain broken) or you so strongly don’t want to perceive it that you won’t allow yourself. Either way one can only hope you mature over time and you have as little effect (and thus damage) on public policy and cultural trends.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          I… really don’t think “don’t lie to your partners” is a complicated issue.

          Like. There are definitely complicated emotional issues in relationships! This is a thing poly people are aware of! (One of my friends says that relationship processing is the polyamorous equivalent of foreplay.)

          But like. If your idea of “messy and impossible to define” is “should I promise something to two different people, both of whom consider Thing to be really really important and would feel sad and betrayed if I broke the promise, and then lie to them about whether I’m fulfilling the promise?”… Like. I’m pretty sure there’s a really easy right answer there.

        • asdf says:

          “I… really don’t think “don’t lie to your partners” is a complicated issue.”

          Are you that aspie?

          Have you ever seen the movie Rashomon, the truth is a very fuzzy concept. Sometimes people don’t even know what the truth is from their own POV. Truth? Lie? Is it even possible to classify someone talking about their emotional state as true or false.

          Consent on its own has got to be one of the shittiest excuses for action/inaction I’ve ever heard. The concept of complicated situations and emotions just can’t seem to penetrate that aspie brain of yours. “Consent” is a loaded concept that exists within changing circumstances, complex & fluid emotions, communication complications, and variable truths. If all you’ve got as justification for flying in the face of thousands of years of human tradition and accumulated cultural knowledge is a slippery concept of consent that is just ridiculous.

        • ozymandias42 says:

          asdf, upon being caught having sex with woman other than his monogamous partner: “Have you ever seen the movie Rashomon, the truth is a very fuzzy concept. Sometimes people don’t even know what the truth is from their own POV. Truth? Lie? Is it even possible to classify someone talking about their emotional state as true or false? Therefore you shouldn’t be upset that I lied to you, honey! It’s all just a point of view that my dick is in her pussy.”

        • Tarwatirno says:

          Therefore you shouldn’t be upset that I lied to you, honey! It’s all just a point of view that my dick is in her pussy.

          ozymandias42: If only I could upvote this.

      • Take a page from the feminists; the line between “consent” and “not-consent” gets pretty blurry when social pressure is involved.

        I silently suffered through poly and offered my reluctant “consent” because I didn’t have a philosophical basis on which to defensibly say “no”. It still hurt, and still had exactly the result heartiste would have predicted.

        It doesn’t help that people (eg, you) are throwing a lot of philosophical weight behind the delegitimization of jealousy.

        • Multiheaded says:

          I silently suffered through poly and offered my reluctant “consent” because I didn’t have a philosophical basis on which to defensibly say “no”.

          Take a more relevant page from the feminists: you never need an excuse to say no! There is absolutely no reason to put trust in your partner if they don’t reprociate your sacrifices! Any relationship counsel from a decent person would’ve been along these lines. You needn’t have put up with any abuse or manipulation you might’ve perceived. If you feel you can’t work things out together with a person, you have zero obligation to “suffer quietly”, no matter what they might say.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Multiheaded, your first sentence is absolute, but the rest are conditional and pretty seriously undercut the first one.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Oh… the way I see it, the first one is about what rights a person has, the latter ones are about the ethics of excercising rights; you always have the right to say no and it comes first… but I do feel that saying no the wrong way under the wrong circumstances to a well-intentioned person might be a bit of a jerk-ass thing. But even (relative) jerks should have the means to protect their rights. We can judge some behaviours as not-so-nice without doubting their legitimacy.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Multi, sorry, I shouldn’t have been so coy: your comment is exactly what Nyan is talking about.

          Scott, I’m disappointed in you.

        • Multiheaded says:

          [Passive-aggressive retort]

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Douglas, I honestly don’t understand why.

          It sounds like Nyan is saying that we shouldn’t have polyamory, because it pressures people who don’t want polyamory to engage in it anyway, which violates their consent.

          I’m saying that not having polyamory “pressures” people who do want polyamory not to engage in it, which violates their consent too, with much more finality and probably on a much larger scale. This seems pretty classic Fake Consensualism to me.

          What happened to nyan is sad. If he’s saying that it means poly people shouldn’t proselytize in a coercive manner, I somewhat agree although there’s a difference between proselytizing and defending yourself which I feel is being somewhat elided here. But if he’s saying that his experience is a reason for other people not to be poly (which I admit he hasn’t said outright, and I may be completely wrong in reading the implication) then that seems very basically wrong.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Was it so hard to spell that out rather than dropping a drive-by link?

          I don’t know whether he is attacking third party poly, but regardless, his points are relevant to other concerns, such as the one you mention. He explicitly complains about “the delegitimization of jealousy.” What I think of as the poly party line is pretty sympathetic jealousy in general and to Nyan’s situation in particular and specifically warns people getting into poly about it.

    • Ben L says:

      So, what you’re saying is that polyamory can’t work because Scott et al. aren’t “real people” who lie about all their commitments? So what is your objection – that making polyamory an acceptable life choice will merely lead to an increase adultery? That seems unlikely, honestly. Why would we expect people who are adulterous in a monogamy culture to be *more* adulterous in a poly culture?

    • Aaron Brown says:

      Thanks for this example of how monogamy doesn’t work in the real world. Those silly monogamists!

  30. Sarah says:

    I have percolating in my head, incomplete, a theory of How To Do Love Well.

    Social conservatives (and I mostly mean Catholics who believe in Natural Law, since that’s who I’m familiar with and I think those are the ones making the strongest arguments) have one thing right, I think. They believe that romantic relationships *are* a thing you can do well or poorly. It’s not just “if it’s consensual, it’s ok” — they actually believe that *good* relationships, good marriages, can aspire to be much, much more than that baseline. And I think that’s correct. There’s a lot of technically consensual sex that is still bad for human flourishing — sexual interactions that are ugly or degrading or shallow or just unambitious.

    Love done well probably has an ethical dimension (lovers should make each other better people, just as friends should, like in “De Amicitia”).

    It also should involve sensory and emotional pleasure — and the richest pleasures involve some subtlety and complexity. The best food in the world is not a spoon of sugar.

    As such, total absence of self-control in romance or sex probably prevents the possibility of Doing Love Maximally Well. Just as you would never have a chance to be a gourmet if you hadn’t figured out how to resist M&M’s. I think that’s probably the strongest argument for sexual conservatism. Kate Hepburn: “Without discipline, there’s just no life at all!”

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that this leads inevitably to the idea that June and Ward Cleaver are the best form of love.

    My intuition is that Optimal Love is going to be something that’s hard to take for granted. Something that doesn’t pattern-match well, something that you have to be conscious of and can’t do on auto-pilot; like “barefoot running” in the Venkat Rao sense. More like Dante and Beatrice — or like John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor — something sui generis, something you created between you. And that actually points towards avant-garde romantic setups as inherently better, because you have to *think* about them. (The way poly people brag that they actually communicate because they can’t run their relationship on defaults.)

    Optimal Love, if you could get it, would be so much stronger and more beautiful than anything else that it would seem ludicrous to worry if you were “alpha” or not.

    I was a child and she was a child
    in that kingdom by the sea
    and we loved with a love that was more than love,
    I and my Annabel Lee,
    with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
    coveted her and me.

    • Yotann says:

      It concerns me when people have such high expectations of relationships. Whether it’s the idea that loved ones have to be therapists or the whole “soulmate” bull, I think expecting too much from one person will almost always lead to disappointment. From “Social Class and Marital Conflict”:

      As a graduate student I remember reading a research report by some eminent academic psychologists describing a study in which couples were measured on how much time they spent “processing each others’ feelings”, i.e., listening to each other quasi-psychotherapy style, promoting self-awareness and personal growth etc.

      As the researchers expected, more educated and financially better off married couples spent more time in such interactions than did working class couples. But what shocked the researchers was that when asked to assess the quality of their emotional relationship and communication, the working class couples were much more satisfied. The blue collar couples viewed marriage mainly as (horrors!) a place to attain financial security, raise children and have some fun, so it didn’t bother them that their spouse wasn’t making like Sigmund Freud. The better off couples in contrast had this expectation (as the researchers probably did in their own marriages), and it was apparently too hard for many of the spouses to meet it.

      It’ll be nice if I can find someone who has everything I could want in a partner, but I don’t expect to. Instead, I’ll search around and settle on the best relationship I manage to find, with some friends to compensate where my partner is lacking. If my partner is lacking in any romantic/sexual areas, polyamory seems like it would help, except that I’m concerned about my jealous tendencies and the complexities it could add to childrearing.

      • Sarah says:

        Ah, well, I don’t think practical, functional relationships are bad. They certainly beat impractical and dysfunctional relationships!

        “Soulmates” aren’t bull, at least understood reasonably. “Perfect person with no flaws or irritating qualities” — nope, doesn’t exist. “Kindred spirit, companion, ally, person who ‘gets it’ when few others do” — that absolutely exists.

        • Yotann says:

          To clarify: by “soulmate bull” I meant the idea that there’s one “best” person out there, or that there will necessarily be someone who has all the nontrivial things you want. I assume most people who say “I will find my soulmate” are using this interpretation, at least unconsciously.

          Incidentally, I see you too have been “liked” by asdf. It was a traumatic experience at first, but after a long internal struggle I managed to overcome it and reaffirm my self-worth. If you have a hard time coping with it, just remember that we’re here for you.

      • asdf says:

        Another good one.

      • anon1 says:

        “Making each other people” doesn’t have to be some kind of pseudo-therapy. It’s more like… because I know that someone whose opinion I value cares, I am motivated to follow through on my commitments and to improve myself. I have a good example before me to live up to (this doesn’t require my partner to be better than me; he just has to have a different set of flaws).

    • asdf says:

      I am liking you Sarah.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Don’t worry, Sarah, most people here are probably OK with you, and praise from this piece of shit won’t make us think any worse of you. Well, not me, at least. 🙂

  31. Kaj Sotala says:

    I was recently linked to this very nice breakdown of various factors that a relationship may include: sexuality, touch, limerence, emotional vulnerability, thought-sharing, resource sharing, commitment, prioritization, time, common interests, group membership, exclusivity, negotiation.

    Looking at it, it gets even more amusing that some folks here are so insistent on singling out sexuality as the only possible criteria for a relationship, when there’s really a broad spectrum of possible relationships.

  32. Moshe Zadka says:

    I guess I’m in this really weird position where polyamory for other people does not bother me one bit — I would not be upset if my daughter was into it — but I have carefully considered it and decided I don’t want it, even after seeing people in successful poly relationships. I view polyamory the same way I view same-sex relationship — if you are into it, you can have good relationships and if you are not into it, you can also have good relationships.

    I must admit that so far, I have met nobody who has exactly my attitude. Most of my poly friends think all of us mono people are making a mistake, but one they are willing to tolerate in order to be good friends. My wife, who is a fairly open-minded person, stated that she would be upset if our daughter went poly (though she does not have a problem with having poly friends).

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I view polyamory the same way I view same-sex relationship — if you are into it, you can have good relationships and if you are not into it, you can also have good relationships.

      I share that attitude. Based on my experience so far, mono/poly seems like a personal orientation much like hetero/homosexuality, though possibly somewhat more flexible. But some people just plain aren’t interested in more than one person at a time. Even if they were, poly requires far more communication etc., which isn’t necessarily everyone’s thing.

      Different things work for different people, as always.

  33. wallowinmaya says:

    Almost everytime I read something about your private life I become rather envious. But also incredibly happy that there is soo much awesomeness in this world – or at least in Berkeley.

  34. Dan says:

    The author and his pals are behaving foolishly in my opinion. Mostly due to childishness that they will grow out of, I imagine.

    “In practice none of this matters, because driven by some innate urge most polyamorous people I know end up having one

  35. Dan says:

    The author and his pals are behaving foolishly in my opinion. Mostly due to childishness that they will grow out of, I imagine.

    “In practice none of this matters, because driven by some innate urge most polyamorous people I know end up having one primary relationship along with whatever others they are involved with. Mike and Alicorn are each other’s primaries, and that is going to develop into being each other’s spouses”

    Then logic says you should go ‘all-in’.

    There is a very finite amount of time and energy that each person has. There are opportunity costs and time and energy with another person necessarily take away time and energy from the one you care about most.

    To make a bad analogy with investing: investing in an index fund is a solution for zero information investors, but if you have insider information that something is good, you should focus there. The reason you diversify in investing is because you are hedging your bets. That is rational, but it is not a very confident statement about your first, primary investment.

    The whole notion of finding someone special is that you have insider information that they are, well, special.

    Polyamory is equalist idiocy. Equalism is factually incorrect. One person will be closer to what you want than the next. To take resources (your time, energy) away from the more special person and direct it toward someone less special to you is just the equivalent of poor management.

    • Alex says:

      “Polyamory is equalist idiocy. Equalism is factually incorrect. One person will be closer to what you want than the next. To take resources (your time, energy) away from the more special person and direct it toward someone less special to you is just the equivalent of poor management.”

      This argument would seem to suggest that we should have at most one friend.

    • ozymandias42 says:

      …what if what I want is multiple relationships though?

  36. Alex says:

    I just read a very deep and though provoking discussion between a polyamorous person and a monogamous person. Its pretty long, but it brings up a lot of salient points that I hadn’t though of before such as:
    “In a polyamorous relationship, would you be comfortable with your partner inadvertently sharing details of your life with his/her other partner who you may not know well?”

  37. Pingback: The Hedonistic Hypothetical – Ozy Frantz's Blog

  38. Cris says:

    I’ve read through this post and all comments and am completely baffled by those that are dead set on proving the author and his partners/friends wrong. Why? As someone else posted, we are all wired differently. Some people, like myself, are completely suited to monogamy. Some people are not. No one is telling me that I MUST find multiple partners and I am not telling anyone that they MUST choose just one.

    If I am completely happy and satisfied with a relationship that sexually only includes missionary, PIV sex, and my partner is also completely happy and satisfied with that, then we have a fantastic relationship. If one or both of us is NOT happy and satisfied, then we do something else which could include changing up the sex life or splitting up. That applies to all individuals. And the people in poly relationships are individuals making their own choices, they are not indicative of any societal “shoulds” or “should nots”.

    The issues with the detractors here seems to be if ‘EVERYONE’ does this then bad things happen. Well ‘EVERYONE’ isn’t going to do ANYTHING. Monogamous heterosexual couples may be into BDSM, anal sex, oral sex, or no sex at all. All of those are fine if they are fine with the people involved.

    The original point was that exposure to something makes it become normal. I agree and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. Just because homosexuality is normal these days doesn’t mean I want to be homosexual, it just means I’m fine if someone else is. Or maybe I do try it because it’s so normal, but since I’m NOT homosexual, it won’t work for me and I’ll do something else.

    I’m sure a lot of people have been in poly relationships and discovered that it didn’t work for them, just as a lot of people in monogamous relationships discover that they are not fulfilled. So you do what works for you in your best interest and you do it in an honest, ethical manner.

    Why is this so hard?

  39. Ammy says:

    Love this! Thanks for writing it. In my youth I hit all the same moments – 1. ew. 2. whatever works for you. 3. Oh wait… I get it. 4. Well duh, wait… why doesn’t everyone grok this?

    Nowadays my husband and I are monogamish mostly from the demands of raising a tiny human. We don’t get to sleep, let alone meet new people. No biggie. We’ll get there again someday.

    For me, the jealousy was the big red herring. When an ex, who I dated for reasons like he was a great guy I really liked but who I broke up with for reasons like he wanted to have kids and I didn’t (irony! you’re soaking in it!), found someone new to date who seemed totally awesome, I was overjoyed for him. Seeing that blush of “She might be The One.” was always one of my greatest joys, and this never followed the prescribed pattern of I should be insanely jealous and crazy about it. Getting to experience that joy while still in a relationship with someone is even better. They come home and tell me of the amazing night they had and I grin from ear to ear, soaking up all of their new relationship energy. It’s magical.

    Poly – it ain’t for everyone, but when it works, it’s faboo!

  40. Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

    Hoooly smokes this comment section. How can we inform the world that this is not what scholarly evolutionary psychology is like?

    • komponisto says:

      We can’t. We can only inform (at most) that small subset of the world that is interested in finding out that fact, and that subset probably knows it already.

      (Assuming the said fact is true. I’m taking your word that it is, even though I haven’t read much scholarly evolutionary psychology other than books by Steven Pinker.)

  41. mark says:

    relationships are like a repeated prisoner’s dilemma game. it is easier to monitor behavior under monogamy than under polyamory, and so monogamy should lead to less defection. for example, when there are 2 lovers living in a house, it’s obvious who left dirty dishes in the sink. when there are 4 lovers living in the house, it’s not at all obvious who left dirty dishes in the sink.

    • mark says:

      to elaborate, when it’s obvious who is responsible for the dirty dishes, it’s easier to punish them for it, making it less likely they’ll leave dirty dishes in the first place

    • Fnord says:

      That has absolutely nothing to do with whether the housemates in question are having sex. That would be an equally good argument for monogamy in friendship.

      • mark says:

        the argument is that living with one roommate -whether you have sex or not – is more stable than living with multiple roommates. i don’t think there’s anything counterintuitive or hard to grasp about that.

        • Mike Blume says:

          Yeah, but if you find having only one roommate kinda lonely, you, y’know, deal with that. Not the end of the world.

      • mark says:

        but the argument applies to sex as well. if you sleep with one partner, and you get an STD, you know damn sure that it came from your partner. if you sleep with multiple partners, and you get an STD, it’s unclear who brought in the STD. thus it’s harder to police against such behavior.

        • Fnord says:

          But it doesn’t apply UNIQUELY to sex (and romance). And yet sex and romance are basically the only relationships where monogamy is expected.

        • mark says:

          of course it doesn’t apply uniquely to sex and romance, but sex and romance are the types of relationships where you most frequently encounter prisoner dilemma situations.

        • Fnord says:

          sex and romance are the types of relationships where you most frequently encounter prisoner dilemma situations.

          Citation needed.

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  43. Anon says:

    I literally want to see you kill yourself. I’m serious.
    You, and everyone else like you, are fucking disgusting wastes of space that are causing the decay of decency in the human race. I’m not going to argue with you, or say that it’s just my opinion or that it’s even up for debate. I just wanted to write to you to let you know that someone out there will give a standing ovation to see you slowly dying from the sexually transmitted infections and diseases you’re obviously dosed in from your whorish “choice” of lifestyle.

    Because of your obvious pride in partaking in polyawhory, I’m going to make sure I cause the most suffering to every whore like you that I meet in life. I’m going to cause them absolute HELL. At first I was going to just ignore you “sick-fucks” but your wonderful post on how everyone should just accept the fact that you “CHOOSE” to be a slut has ignited a flame of vigilante justice in my heart. To not just insult and degrade whores like you anytime we meet, but to do subtler and lasting damage to not only you and your self-esteems…but to your image. Not that it’s necessary, at least a small chunk of humanity can see you for the selfish and greedy sick-fucks that you are.

    So every time I meet someone and they proudly or shyly admit that they like fucking anything they can get their whorish hands on aka polyawhory, I’ll ruin them. They won’t realize who it is of course. But I will, and I’ll take all their undeserved happiness away while I’m at it. Because of YOU. 🙂 Thanks for the motivation!

    • Aris Katsaris says:

      Wow, the above comment is impressively cute in its unrelenting bwa-ha-ha pretend evilness.

      Anyway, thanks for a healthy reminder that there exists indeed evil in the world — I occasionally seemingly need to be reminded of this, even though I live in a country which has Neonazis with real political power who go stabbity-stab on immigrants on a daily basis. Strange how it’s often some petty lying troll in a forum that helps remind me of human villainy — petty trolling reminds me of evil when the knowledge of mass murders do not. Near-vs-far…

    • Leo says:

      “Polyawhory” sounds like people who say “Whoo!” a lot. Whoo!

    • MugaSofer says:

      You … realize Scott is a guy, right? I mean, you keep calling him a “whore” and a “slut” … those are usually female-specific insults.

      Oh, and you’re a terrible person, yada yada. Actually, probably a troll, but that’s kind of terrible in and of itself.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Manwhore” is a relatively common term

      • Multiheaded says:

        Actually, probably a troll, but that’s kind of terrible in and of itself.

        Well, yeah… except that it might not be terrible “in and of itself” but basically the same kind of terrible.

        I’ve always felt that the various statements of “Oh, it’s just trolling/internet comments/whatever” in the wake of some major and vile asshattery don’t actually carry any meaning. Even when they’re made with good intent, like yours, and aren’t just a cue for people to let shit slide.

        Somewhat related write-up:

        • yli says:

          A reasonable interpretation of “just a troll” and “just internet comments” is that trolls will always exist and will always post obnoxious crap unless some really extreme measures are taken, like forbidding anonymity or educating every single person in the world so thoroughly that not one of them will ever post anything bad on the internet. A lot of people seriously advocate milder versions of these and point to troll comments as justification, and it’s useful to point out that troll comments will never stop unless things are taken to absurd lengths.

          People also argue that troll comments are evidence of greater social problems like anti-wiggin bias, and while it is might be a real problem, if your standard for deciding whether it’s still a problem is “are there trolls writing comments hateful towards wiggins on the internet”. you will continue to believe that it’s a massive problem no matter what happens, because the troll comments will never go away. People look at this and see that you have an inexhaustible outrage factory to fuel endless demands and accusations, and their criticism of this can come out as “it’s just internet comments”.

          OTOH I agree that internet comments can be seriously hurtful and people don’t always acknowledge this. But this attitude is less popular than it used to be and will continue to diminish, I think. Look at how people use the term ‘cyberbullying’ with a straight face now, even though in 2006 it was mostly used ironically.

    • You shouldn’t use quotation marks to emphasize a word. Quotation marks are for quotes, not emphasis. I suggest that you use italics instead. Instead of “you ‘CHOOSE’ to be a slut”, it would convey your meaning better to type “you choose to be a slut” or “you choose to be a slut”. I personally prefer italics, but both are valid options.

      I’m not sure if your quotation marks around “sick-fucks” are meant for emphasis or for some other reason, but either way, they are superfluous.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You seem to think this Anon is a prescriptivist. I have trouble putting my thoughts into words into words, but I think my conclusion is that this is not a useful axis for classifying this one.

        Yes, the use of quotes is weird. The first “choice” looked like scare quotes, but they don’t combine well with emphasis (“CHOOSE”) and the “sick-fucks” is truly bizarre.

        PS – bold is not a valid option.

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  45. makthetackystop says:

    Being poly in Berkeley seems like a pretty good place to try it.

    I don’t know what to say other than that I’ve never had a positive experience with someone poly who hit on me. Every time it just comes across as weird, uncomfortable, I wonder why I keep getting targeted for this. I guess I just have to make peace with the fact that this is not for me (and that I’ve never seen it work) and that I’ll have to just say no endlessly and be disappointed that people weren’t just interested in becoming my friend.

    I have no ethical need to govern everyone’s world, but it does really change social dynamics and make my life less pleasant. What ever happened to “Hey, hows it going? You are a really cool friend!” instead of “Gee, you seem like an ‘open minded girl’, can me and my wife take you home afterwards (wife looking jealously on with fake smile on her face, or she’s clearly gay and not that into her hubby). And it makes a lot of my friends seem like tacky, selfish people with an agenda always needing to push the envelope, ask for MORE. It seems to me that people are simply not appreciating life and always wanting more, more than friendship, more than what the conversation warranted.

    I’ve also seen so so many great people get really hurt and used, often men by women actually. I’ve had really lovely romantic connections with people stifled completely because there’s just no time for everyone and people get so confused that it becomes unpleasant as they journey towards non-monogamy.

    I get hit on all the time by poly people because I am attractive and have a hot body and they assume that I’ll want multiple lovers. I have been endlessly hit on since I got this hot body 21 years ago at puberty, it does not make me feel loved and I don’t want to capitalize on it, I know where it leads. Honestly at this point, I just want to tell off the next person or couple who does it. Its so annoying and uncomfortable-making, and really kills the moment and friendship that is developing. Boundaries, either good friendships, or a good partner, is what is meaningful to me.

    This also increasingly happens to all of my girlfriends, who are also attractive and so used to, and bored of being hit on. Someone who wants to really love and get to know us, and be there when we have a bad day, that is rare. I mean, who the hell enjoys the question “will you be my girlfriend #2, #3?” I know I can turn around and do the same thing but I could never bring myself to for a reason explained below.

    I would love it someone just really wanted to get into an appreciate me, and vice versa. If problems of fidelity come up, my experience is that communication solves the issue. I usually desperately want to cheat on my partner when there has been some sort of distance over a prolonged period of time with no dialogue or resolution. I’ve never cheated for that reason because I know if we talk, I’ll feel all of that attraction return to them.

    I’ve had lots of opportunities to be non-monogamous and I always come back to the question of: yes, I love all of these people but what if they both got cancer at the same time? How would I realistically be there for them? I couldn’t. So, I think unless someone is a billionaire with unlimited free time the issue of saying “I love you” in open relationships is full the question of “how much”? I also think its hilarious when people say that monogamous relationships don’t work. They do work a lot. For years. I’ve seen them work for a lifetime many times. I haven’t seen most poly situations making it a few years without becoming awkward, hurtful.

    It just seems like a tremendous amount of false idealism when in reality poly relationships do sometimes work, and aren’t wrong, but are done really really badly and in a tacky and hurtful way most of the time, at least where I live. Maybe not in Berkley.

    I’ve just lost a really beautiful person who liked me for 5 years, got divorced, told me, but also wanted to have an open relationship. I liked him so much that I was okay with it. What happened was that another person made him the 4th partner of her and had sex with him right away – post divorce. We had been taking our time, getting to know one another. He became completely wrapped up in the situation, very unhappy, and confused, and became so afraid of hurting me as he was being hurt that he completely dropped pursuing me. He’s faithful to her while she is off in with partner #1 for a month. She has since dumped partners #2 and #3 to be with him more often which also seems horribly unkind to all involved. He’s clearly very unhappy but also now very attached to trying to hold onto this other person. He went from someone who was really getting his life together to someone who was drinking all the time. I think he’ll eventually stop talking to me because he’s embarrassed for what he has chosen. The fact is, I know we’ll both regret this, losing one another and the chance to be lovers, partners, just get to know one another in a non-complex way, walk under the stars. I’m losing a really beautiful person, he’s confused, avoiding me, then calling me up drunk telling me how confused and unhappy he is, confiding in me about this person. He has acknowledged that because he slept with her he is now very committed.

    I think we completely under estimate the power of sex and emotion and our own fragility. I also think that recently hurt people can be very used and manipulated by others with sex. I see women who seem to do better in these scenarios than men do somehow.

    So, yes, I can have many boyfriends if I want, I can have a harem. But I’ll just never ever do this. I love and respect men, and I don’t think they or myself, and completely invulnerable and I’m looking forward to making soup for the man who I love monogamously on the days when he is ill.

    Also, if I have NEVER met poly people who didn’t drink a lot…I’m sure there are many exceptions to this… but I have not seen those hippos. And there have been a lot of fakes.

    I know this is not everyone’s experience but this has been mine, and increasingly, my friends. So, if you are poly and have managed to increase love in the world then great, but if you are poly and see yourself in the above scenarios then this is my, quietly raising my middle finger to you and telling you to get your crap together and learn how to truly appreciate, and get to know at least one person, even if it doesn’t last forever. Just try. Stop hoarding beings, stop trying to fill your fear of being alone or without someone to hang out with for 30 seconds. People are fragile, learn to care for them, its hard, do it anyway. Excuse any spelling mistakes, I have to get to work.

  46. Joe from London says:

    I agree with the troll that poly people tend to be less attractive. I think this is partly because some people reach poly through kink, and I’ve met enough kink people to feel confident saying that they’re pretty unattractive, especially if you control for their high intelligence/ socioeconomic status. I think this may be because kink people are more ‘accepting’ and less likely to look down on women for, say, being obese, and so women are more likely to gain weight. I’m sure obese women have a hard time and experience a lot of discrimination…but I still don’t usually find them attractive.

    If you do run an experiment to compare poly/mono women, I’d be interested in being a participant. I’m poly and I would love to find I’m wrong.

  47. C.B.D. says:

    This article is so riddled with flawed basic assumptions and erroneous information that I don’t even know where to begin dissecting it. I suggest you read a bit more about the history of polyamorous relationships before you start making flat statements about what is “wrong” with it.

    This should get you started:

    “Relationships of some form of non-monogamy have been around for as long as human civilization has been around, some of which were even honest, multi-partner relationships and not cheating. Today’s concept of monogamous, nuclear families is a very recent development … within just this last century! It is important to note that “it has always been so” is not a good enough reason, by itself, to continue doing anything. But it is false to say that monogamy has “always been so”, because the fact is, it hasn’t.”

  48. I was poly for almost 20 years, and I saw a strong negative correlation between poly and attractiveness across several different subcultures. I understand why poly people wouldn’t like hearing that, but be good rationalists and don’t get offended.

    This might not be a direct selection effect of low attractiveness to poly, of course, it could be that geeky people put less time into appearance and also are more likely to use novel mating strategies (Kanazewa’s IQ/novelty hypothesis). But whatever the reason, and however rude Spandrell was in how he expressed it, the correlation is strong enough to make me chuckle at the sight of supposedly observant and objective rationalists denying it.

    I have also seen extraordinarily few decade+ poly relationships, with or without kids, despite seeing hundreds of poly LTR attempts. They certainly exist, but the frequency seems like that of becoming a pro athlete yet while being characterized as being like saving a million dollars by age 40.

    • Greg says:

      “Few decade+ poly relationships” as a percentage of all poly relationships could very well map favourably against the percentage of decade+ mono relationships within their own group. It’s tough to say, since poly is still working on acceptance and the number of silent long-term poly relationships is unknowable.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Why bother to pick the slightly higher of two small percentages when we already know that giving people the option to legally and socially commit themselves to life-long relationships, with harsh social and legal penalties for defection, reliably works to produce decade+ relationships?

        • ozymandias says:

          The option to legally and socially commit oneself to lifelong relationships with harsh social and legal penalties for defection isn’t actually incompatible with nonmonogamy. Indeed, cross-culturally it is highly correlated with nonmonogamy. (Prostitution, mistresses, polygyny…)

          Monogamous people who are similar to most poly people (educated, middle-class+, etc.) have a very low divorce rate.

          I suspect that Mr. Friedman’s data possibly reflects traits of his own social group, because I know lots of poly people in decade-long relationships. (I’m also not sure how one defines ‘poly LTR attempt’– like, I’ve had LTRs break up that weren’t intended to be lifelong relationships, and I feel like it would be unfair to count those against polyamory’s ability to maintain lifelong relationships as a whole.)

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