Many of us are familiar with Donald Rumsfeld's famous (and surprisingly useful) taxonomy of knowledge:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.
But this taxonomy (as originally described) omits an important fourth category: unknown knowns, the things we don't know that we know. This category encompasses the knowledge of many of our own personal beliefs, what I call unquestioned defaults. For example, most modern Americans possess the unquestioned default belief that they have some moral responsibility for their own freely-chosen actions. In the twelfth century, most Europeans possessed the unquestioned default belief that the Christian god existed. And so on. These unknown knowns are largely the products of a particular culture; they require homogeneity of belief to remain unknown.
By definition, we are each completely ignorant of our own unknown knowns. So even when our culture gives us a fairly accurate map of the territory, we'll never notice the Mercator projection's effect. Unless it's pointed out to us or we find contradictory evidence, that is. A single observation can be all it takes, if you're paying attention and asking questions. The answers might not change your mind, but you'll still come out of the process with more knowledge than you went in with.
When I was eighteen I went on a date with a girl I'll call Emma, who conscientiously informed me that she already had two boyfriends: she was, she said, polyamorous. I had previously had some vague awareness that there had been a free love movement in the sixties that encouraged "alternative lifestyles", but that awareness was not a sufficient motivation for me to challenge my default belief that romantic relationships could only be conducted one at a time. Acknowledging default settings is not easy.
The chance to date a pretty girl, though, can be sufficient motivation for a great many things (as is also the case with pretty boys). It was certainly a good enough reason to ask myself, "Self, what's so great about this monogamy thing?"
I couldn't come up with any particularly compelling answers, so I called Emma up and we planned a second date.
Since that fateful day, I've been involved in both polyamorous and monogamous relationships, and I've become quite confident that I am happier, more fulfilled, and a better romantic partner when I am polyamorous. This holds even when I'm dating only one person; polyamorous relationships have a kind of freedom to them that is impossible to obtain any other way, as well as a set of similarly unique responsibilities.
In this discussion I am targeting monogamy because its discovery has had an effect on my life that is orders of magnitude greater than that of any other previously-unknown known. Others I've spoken with have had similar experiences. If you haven't had it before, you now have the same opportunity that I lucked into several years ago, if you choose to exploit it.
This, then, is your exercise: spend five minutes thinking about why your choice of monogamy is preferable to all of the other inhabitants of relationship-style-space, for you. Other options that have been explored and documented include:
- Non-consensual non-monogamy, the most popular alternative.
- Swinging, in which couples engage in social, recreational sex, mostly with other couples.
- Polyamory, the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. This category is extremely broad, but the most common variations include:
- Polyfidelity, in which >2 people form a single committed relationship that does not allow outside partners.
- Hierarchical polyamory, in which each individual has (usually) one primary partner and some number of secondary partners. These labels typically reflect the level of commitment involved, and are not a ranking of preference.
- "Intimate networks", in which each person maintains some number of independent relationships without explicit rankings or descriptions, such that a graph (the data structure) is the best way to describe all the individuals and relationships involved.
These types of polyamory cover many of the available options, but there are others; some are as yet unknown. Some relationship styles are better than others, subject to your ethics, history, and personality. I suspect that monogamy is genuinely the best option for many people, perhaps even most. But it's impossible for you to know that until you know that you have a choice.
If you have a particularly compelling argument for or against a particular relationship style, please share it. But if romantic jealousy is your deciding factor in favor of monogamy, you may want to hold off on forming a belief that will be hard to change; my next post will be about techniques for managing and reducing romantic jealousy.
I don't think that any relationship style is the best for people in general, any more than any food is the best-tasting for people in general. However, I do wish that people were more aware of the possibility of polyamory, as well of the fact that many people do fall in love with others even when they're already in a committed, loving relationship with someone.
I've seen too many times the situation where two people are in a relationship, one of them falls into love with a third person, but the committed couple can't talk the matter through with each other simply because they don't even have the concept of someone in a loving relationship falling into love with a third person. It's just automatically assumed that if that happens then something's horribly wrong with the relationship, and the only alternatives are to kill the new love or to abandon the relationship in favor of the only love.
There is indeed something bizarre with the concept of jealousy and one-person-forever ingrained in the common view of "love." This misconception has probably led to a tremendous amount of misery in the form of needlessly shattered relationships.
Those talk about the presence of the pair bond being determined by the presence of oxytocin, but they don't say that it's zero-sum (unless the first linked page gets to that - I've only read about 1/3 of it, but given the topic I doubt it'll be able to draw that conclusion). The first linked page does say something about the presence of a pair bond being potentially affected by time, in that voles can become pairbonded by spending enough time around another vole even without a traditional bondmaking activity, but that doesn't necessarily imply that time has anything to do with the strength of the bond once it's created.
I think your model isn't complex enough to describe the reality of the situation.
You're forgetting the (very likely) possibility of hitting diminishing returns at some point. If you want to maximize the amount of romantic love and there are diminishing returns, then it pays off to diversify at some point. Polyamorous people have also reported experiences where having a second relationship actually strengthens their first relationship, even if the three were not all in love.
Furthermore, you are presuming that people can just choose to spend all their time with a single partner, and any time spent with a second partner is gone from the first one. This is not so. For instance, suppose that A lives in San Fransisco where B also lives, but because of their job, A has to take the occasional extended trips to Moscow where C lives. That means A and C can see each other on occasions when it simply wouldn't have been possible for A and B to see.
Or suppose that person A prefers spending nearly all of their free time in the company of other people, while their partner B prefers to spend half of their free time doing things on their own or with other people. In that case, A also dating person C who has the similar preferences as B will maximize everyone's enjoyment and romance.
I would be very suspicious of claims that, in general, the strength of a romance would be a monotonically increasing function of time spent together. Most couples do not want to spend all their timed glued to each other, at least not after the initial NRE has worn off.
I feel that I am naturally monogamous - or possibly just patterned after my parents, who as far as I know are monogamous with one another. But I think that it would only be moderately difficult to perform the mindhacks to be comfortable with some types of polyamory, if the practical obstacles (e.g. how to deal with eventual children, prevent disease, present to the outside world, etc.) were all taken care of to my satisfaction.
I've been in a heterosexual relationship wherein I (but not the other party) had standing permission to have sex with other women, but I didn't find myself in a position to exercise this option in practice. (I did hit on a girl during that relationship, but she was located out of state.) This did not seem that difficult to adjust to psychologically. Possibly, this is because I attached no particular romantic emotion to hypothetical girls I could sleep with; they would serve as the functional equivalent of boyfriend-approved sex toys (whose needs and preferences would be more salient, because of course they'd be people, but nevertheless, they wouldn't occupy the same central role in my mind as an actual girlfriend would.) It's also possible that I would h... (read more)
This seems like the core point. Monogamy isn't necessarily optimal, but it's a good satisficing solution to a bounded rationality problem.
Does your conception of monogamy extend past the Singularity? When you say you want your relationships to be permanent, does that mean you seek an actual eternal commitment as opposed to just human-level permanent?
Actual eternity sounds pretty swell now. I don't know if it'd still sound swell after 500 years. (After that long, I might have my life sorted out well enough that I'd welcome the introduction of some complications.)
I was surprised no one had brought it up sooner. If we're talking about permanence, let's actually talk about what that would mean.
It says something about the way I think, that to me it seems like a primary reductio of monogamy that it wouldn't scale to a million years.
Does it say something about the way I think that I don't consider million year monogamy particularly absurd at all? A desire for a monogamous relationship is by no means an incoherent or implausible preference to have. And these people have a superintelligence as backup. I wouldn't say it seems likely but reductio definitely doesn't work here.
You may wish to rethink your assumption that American population norms apply to readers of Lesswrong. I'm pretty sure that people here are more likely to be "Rah, polyamory!" than to be knee-jerk in favor of monogamy. Also, I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of nillamorous people here who you are completely ignoring, myself included.
Including within the non-amorous (I like this better) those who are so "by circumstance" is nonstandard and pretty confusing. A committed monogamous or polyamorous person defines herself as such whether or not she is currently in a relationship. For the sake of consistency, your status as non-amorous should also be independent of whether or not you are currently seeing someone; that is, you should only call yourself non-amorous if you are so by choice.
I'd like to consider a related question: why did our society "choose" monogamy as a social norm? One major clue is the high correlation between monogamy and economic development--virtually all modern industrialized societies have adopted monogamy as a social norm, whereas most societies throughout history have practiced polygyny. But what direction does the causal relationship run? (*)
Does it make sense to start tearing down this norm before we get that question sorted out? Several commenters have said that they're not for or against polyamory, but they are for being aware of and considering the possibility of polyamory. But one way to enforce a social norm is to teach people to think in such a way that they do not even consider the possibility of violating it.
* See http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/webfac/bardhan/e271_f05/tertilt.pdf for one attempt to answer the question.
This is a good and important question. As the paper you linked to indicates, monogamous societies tend to have fewer children than polygynous ones; this, in turn, leads to a host of economic benefits.
But we should distinguish between polygyny and polyamory, which are not at all similar practices. The Trobriand people have a relationship-style that has much more in common with polyamory than polygyny, and this seems to be a direct result of their belief that sex does not cause pregnancy (which they possess because their diet greatly reduces the odds of conception).
While the Trobriand people are not economically well-developed, I think that their relationship-style is a result of that of lack of development and not the other way around. Consider: economic development would lead to a more varied diet, which would then restore conception rates to more normal levels and demonstrate a connection between sex and childbirth; prior to the advent of widely-available contraception, economically developed cultures and the varied diets that accompany them were incompatible with relationship styles similar to the Trobriand people's.
If this explanation is true (and I acknowledge that the evidence... (read more)
EDIT: OH my God, I forgot the special LW markup, ARGH. Comment has been edited.
I have an enormous amount of experience with the polyamory community and with observing polyamorous relationships, but I was convinced that I myself had a "monogamy orientation" until recently, when I became less sure. Regardless of whether or not a person is "oriented" towards monogamy or polyamory, however, I think it's useful for both monogamous and polyamorous people to discuss relationships in the kind of depth that is common in the poly community; in other words, discussions in the poly community can offer a lot of insight on how to thoughtfully organize a relationship.
The two best polyamory FAQs I've seen are here and here.
The best swing FAQ I've seen is here.
Here is an excellent example of a polyamorous relationship contract, in which both parties carefully set priorities, discuss triggers, and define their terms.
Just read through these links, and I have to say that the concept of "fun" leapt out at me as being largely missing.
I suspect there's a major problem where a lot of the people who spend the most time writing about polyamory or BDSM or, hell, sexuality in general, are people who literally have nothing more important in their identities. They're trying way too hard to sound adult and serious. You want to scream at them to just lighten up.
I'm starting to get that dreadful "I could do better than that" feeling which makes me do things like write Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality or explain Bayes's Theorem...
Interesting point. I think part of the problem is that sex theorists have to work very hard to get ourselves taken seriously, so many of us overcompensate. Another problem is that while sex is totally fun, sex also comes with an enormous potential to harm, so it's important to take it seriously at least somewhat.
Also, sex is a highly-triggering area for most people. I specifically try to include some humor and/or sexy anecdotes in my writing, but I find that I am considerably likely to be misinterpreted when I do so, and when I'm misinterpreted it can get really bad really fast ("I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU JUST MADE LIGHT OF ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS!11").
One of the projects I'm outlining right now is a BDSM erotica novella in which I try to include as much theory as I possibly can while still keeping it sexy. We'll see if I succeed.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Sexuality?
I'd just call 'em "dull feminists" and get on with my life.
Women are much less likely to be capable of achieving orgasm through penetrative sex than men, so the ban on penetrative sex for her may be less asymmetrical than you seem to think. After all, if she can easily achieve orgasm by several methods other than penetrative sex, but he prefers penetrative sex over other methods, then while there may be some jealousy active in the penetrative sex prohibition, it may also not be that much of a "sacrifice" for her.
It is also entirely possible that she feels more jealous when she knows her husband's partners well, and therefore the requirement exists for him to know her partners, but not for her to know his partners. Different people react differently to these things.
It is also entirely possible that they have a BDSM relationship as well, and that he is the dominant partner. A lot of polyamorous BDSM relationships restrict the submissive partner more than the dominant partner.
Finally, I don't personally read the veto as existing to ensure that both parties always take the other's desires into account .... Remember that poly relationships tend to be much more highly-communicated, verbally, than the average mono relationship. I read it as intended for partners to be able to veto, not intended to force partners to think about each other. After all, if they weren't thinking about each other, they wouldn't have written this contract in the first place.
Warning: broad, slightly unfounded generalizations forthcoming. But I think they're insightful nonetheless.
I think that most people's beliefs are largely determined by reward, power, and status. I want to state explicitly that I don't endorse these social standards, but I think they're pretty solidly established.
For virtually all women, sleeping with multiple men is not high-status. Being with a man who is seeing other women is a marker that she can't get him to "commit" to her, and is therefore somehow deficient. For a substantial majority of men, they are not sufficiently attractive enough (overall, not specifically physically) to entice women into such a lifestyle. In other words, because women feel like they take a huge status hit being with a poly man, your average woman will only consider such a relationship with a man who might otherwise be out of her league. Thus, since most men date women roughly within their own league, most men do not have the opportunity to pursue this.
Men at the top, on the other hand, are probably chasing tail more than they're chasing love or romance. Also, at least based on my knowledge of such men, they don't view female infidelity as bei... (read more)
Polyamory is relatively common in science fiction fandom, though I think it's common more by contrast with the mainstream society. 
Possible status implications: Fans get status by not being like non-fans-- specifically by pursuing some kinds of pleasure more than they do. Or it might be affiliation with Robert Heinlein, in which case we should see a generational effect.
Null hypothesis: Fans aren't more likely to be polyamorous than non-fans, they're just less discreet about it.
Fandom seems to have a lot of pagans and libertarians. Actually, as far as I can tell, neither are all that common.
This is reminding me of a bit in a Samuel Delany essay. This was written some decades ago-- he mentioned that he was apt to overestimate the proportion of women in a crowd.
It seems to me that seeing how accurately people can estimate the proportion of various easily identified groups in a crowd could be a test of background levels of prejudice.
This reinforces my point; it does not undermine it. I agree that it is a common error to view status as an single linear continuum. Members of subcultures have different status continua. If, however, you do not join that subculture, its continuum is irrelevant to you. Thus, for the vast majority of people who do not subscribe to the subculture of polyamory, what I said is essentially correct. If something inspires them to join this subculture, their values may change.
If you consider how the median person's social circle (or date!) would react to the revelation that they are polyamorous, I think it proves my point. Most women on dates with men who called themselves poly would likely react, "Maybe, but not with me," but would be more receptive to the idea if they were less concerned about having kids and if the man were more desirable than their typical options. I expect most men would either reject a woman who described herself as poly out of hand, or else see her as... (read more)
But how much of the status within the subculture is a reflection of the same traits that enhance one's status in the mainstream society? Honestly, I don't think the answer is zero even for subcultures much more extreme than polyamorists.
Moreover, since subcultures don't function as closed autarkic worlds (except for some religious sects), their members still have to struggle to make a living and maintain their functionality within the mainstream society. Are you really saying that people in polyamourous relationships are largely indifferent to how successful and well-adjusted their partners are in the broader society outside the subculture?
I certainly don't doubt this, but surely the traits and skills that enable one to elicit and maintain attraction from multiple concurrent partners in the polyamorous subculture are... (read more)
Trouble is, many important status-enhancing behaviors are as natural as breathing air for some people, but mysterious, unnatural, and hard to pull off for others. People of the latter sort have to commit significant thinking and effort if they wish to achieve the same results that others get by simply going with the flow.
When people whose natural behavior is decently good status-wise say that they're "not terribly sensitive to status," it's as if someone with good language skills said he was not terribly sensitive to fluency of speech, without stopping to consider the fate of folks suffering from noticeable speech impediments. The analogy is not perfect, in that many more people suffer from impediments in social behavior than in speech, but the basic point holds: just like generating fluent speech, navigating through human status games is a task of immense complexity, which however some peo... (read more)
For the record, I was diagnosed with Asperger's about a decade back; believe me when I say that I'm one of those people who's had to "commit significant thinking and effort if they wish to achieve the same results that others get by simply going with the flow."
If anything, I'd say that having to deal with status in a conscious and deliberate way has caused my status-indifference: I have a very clear picture of how shallow that game is. I only play it when I need to.
I'd agree with Nancy that polyamory isn't consistent with maximum achievement. Devoting resources to intimate relationships always has that effect, even if you only have one at a time; polyamory necessarily requires more of an investment. It's a trade-off that I'm more than happy to make, but your priorities may not agree. It's (potentially) a good reason not to be interested in polyamory.
They're just doing it to show off.
That wasn't just a joke, though to judge by the upvotes, it's a better joke than I thought it was.
Telling people that their motives are less reputable than they thought is a way of lowering their status and raising your own. It's tiresome from Marxists and Freudians, and at least for me, too much of it produces a feeling of intellectual claustrophobia. Motive-mongering can prove anything, involves unproven guesses about what other people are driven by, and leaves out major parts of the world.
In particular, status is about non-rational motives for acceding to people. If everyone was completely run by status considerations, nothing useful would be getting done. (There's that Gladwell essay I can't find which suggests that status competition is especially pernicious when people have nothing useful to do, as in high school, prisons, and the court of Louis XIV.)
Status is an important feature of how people live with each other, and it makes perfect sense to want enough skill at it to live a good life and accomplish what you care about.
However, there's got to be a complex interaction between status (some but not all of which is based on proving that you can afford to waste effort and reso... (read more)
Eating is rarely used as an explanation for anything around here, whereas the word "status" often appears in proposed answers to various questions: why hasn't there been a male counterpart to the feminist movement, why are most women monogamous, and so on.
My experience in the past few months has been that in many cases, such explanations turn out to be vacuous, the statements made in support of them (e.g. "women are institutionally lower status than men") readily debunked, or at best true only if you pick precisely the right one out of the many meanings of "status". (So that, to make an effective argument, you should really use the more precise term in the first place - prestige, reputation, wealth, political power, or what have you.)
The term often masks sloppy thinking of the virtus dormitiva variety: it replaces a question about a puzzling or poorly understood phenomenon with an "answer" that is really just a bit of jargon, and fails to advance our understanding by identifying a regularity relating more primitive objects of our experience. (In the case of the feminist movement, "who has the right to vote" turns out to be that kind of regularity, for instance: it's not even particularly hard to improve on "status" as an explanation.)
I have reached a point where I now suspect the mere appearance of "status" in an argument on LW is a useful heuristic to detect sloppy thinking.
Your dark arts don't work on me. Eating? Why should eating be used as an explanation for everything? It's just not as relevant. In fact, in many conversations using the word status I could instead describe the relevant insights in terms of eating. It would basically involve writing a paragraph or two of detailed explanation and using search and replace on all instances. But I shouldn't do this. We use words to represent higher level constructs because it saves time and allows us to fit a greater amount of understanding into our limited ~7 slots of working memory.
How can I reply to that except with a clear contradiction? "We don't use 'eating' therefore we shouldn't use 'status'" is sloppy thinking. Using the word 'status' to refer to a whole body of strongly correlated behaviours and the interactions thereof in social animals is merely practical.
Morendil has b... (read more)
Indeed. May I note I wasn't the one to drag nutrition into this argument? As far as I can tell you're echoing my objection.
Fact check: I registered around mid-september, and started voicing my skepticism of (some) status-related claims in early March.
But I'll choose to take your observation as flattering - my writings on the topic must have been memorable to loom that large. :)
Still, it's grossly misleading to summarize my views as "don't say status". I am not yet arrogant enough to ban a word that boldly. However I'll have to agree with Eliezer that "concepts are not useful or useless of themselves. Only usages are correct or incorrect."
I'm pretty sure you would agree too.
My "agenda", if I have one, is to better understand how the world works. If the concept "status" can be recruited in this effort, I'll be glad to use it. I went to the trouble of procuring the Johnstone book, of scouring the Net for explanations that I couldn't find here when I asked for them, and of writing up my observations and c... (read more)
The second person pronoun grates throughout this post; it's a "chalk hitting the chalkboard at the wrong angle and making your hair stand on end" kind of feeling, and the snippet quoted is where it's at its most pronounced. (I downvoted it earlier, but it's taken me a while to put words to my feelings.)
So your encounter with Emma led you to discover one of your "unknown knowns", or basic assumptions. But your writing comes across as making a much greater number of unwarranted assumptions about your reader. One of these you have the grace to make explicit: "romantic jealousy is your deciding factor in favor of monogamy". Your Emma-epiphany might possibly grant you some kind of right to lecture a reader who is much like you with the exception of still holding that belief.
But what about your other unknown knowns? Just how many of the features of your own situation are you tacitly assuming also apply to your reader? What compelling arguments in favor of monogamy might you bring up if you put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a 40- or a 60-year old reader of LW? One who lives in a rural area and plans to run a farm for a l... (read more)
The only conclusion I've reached is that polyamory is a good choice for some people, and that it might be a good choice for more people if they had some way of dealing with (irrational, unpleasant) feelings of romantic jealousy. Ignoring jealousy entirely, there are still good reasons to be monogamous; a number of them have been pointed out elsewhere in the comments.
My point here is only that you have a choice, and you are better off knowing that you do. Part of knowing about that choice is understanding what the other options are; I'm only proselytizing for polyamory in the sense that I think people are better off when they can make informed choices.
I find even monogamous relationships burdonsomely complicated, and the pool of people I like enough to consider dating is extremely small. I have no moral objections to polyamory, but it makes me tired just thinking about it.
Personally, I find polyamory simpler, mainly because it avoids the biggest problem in monoamory: is this person "good enough" for me to spend all my time in a relationship with them, or should I hold out and wait for someone better? The prospect of trying to make a decision like that makes me tired just thinking about it. :)
I agree: the simplicity or complexity of monogamy vs. polyamory depends on the intuitions and values of the people involved, and the dimension on which we are measure simplicity and complexity. If a relationship structure creates tension, drama, or conflict between or within the people involved, then it becomes emotionally complex.
A monogamous relationship is like a polyamorous relationship, except it has an additional constraint: you can't see other people (well, actually it's a set of more complex constraints, such as when talking to other people or flirting with other people is acceptable). In a polyamorous relationship, both partners are under less constraints, which potentially makes things simpler.
Even though poly relationships may be subject to less constraints with each individual partner, having multiple partners introduces more complexity.
Perhaps the simplest sort of relationship is a relationship that is polyamorous in principle, but where neither partner is actually seeing another person in practice.
I love those relationships. Where you are not seeing other people because you just don't want to.
I don't think it does avoid this problem. It's nice to know that if someone cute propositions you, you'll be able to say yes, but If you're always wondering if you could do better, you'll put yourself on a hedonic treadmill that will never make you happy. Sometimes you have to say "this is the person, or these are the people, I love; I'm no longer looking for more".
It's not so much always wondering if I could do better, as it is having a long list of things I'd like to have in a partner (having an interest in Singularity stuff, having certain hobbies, having certain kinks, and so on and so on). Empirical results so far suggest that a really good match can fulfill maybe 85% of the things on the list, but nobody can fulfill every point, especially since some of the things are mutually exclusive. I'd like to have somewhat with a sciency sort of background for the shared way of thinking about things, and someone with background in the humanities for a way of thinking about things that's different from mine. (One could have both backgrounds, of course, but such people are rather rare.) I like kids but wouldn't want to live with them, so I'd like a partner with kids who doesn't live with me, and for all the usual reasons I'd also like to have a partner who does live with me. There are probably also some other mutual exclusions I'm not consciously aware of.
If I were monogamous, I'd have to settle on a single person and then spend time wondering whether this particular combination of things I want is the one making me the most happy. With poly, I can... (read more)
I'm not understanding this. Suppose that you have numerous friends that you care about: would you have to say "these are my friends; I'm not looking for more"? Would you then not be open to making more friends or meeting more people?
While I can understand the problem of never thinking what you have is good enough, I don't see how being committed to improving your relationships and continuing to find more compatible partners causes this problem.
In the spirit of the original post: Why not?
A little bit of silliness here. The conflict in the movie "John Tucker Must Die" is set up when it is revealed that the titular John Tucker, the most popular guy in high school, has been secretly dating three different girls at the same time. When the three girls find out about each other, they team up and decide to get their revenge on John. Not-all-that-funny hi-jinx and generic romantic comedy moments ensue. When it's all over, one of the last scenes of the movie illustrates that John Tucker has "learned his lesson": he has three (unnamed) girls hanging on him all at the same time, showing that he's now being honest about his non-monogamy.
The biggest disadvantage of poly I perceive is that it increases the total drama in your life. If you're monogamous, then so long as things are good between you and your one partner, you're good. If you're poly, drama can come into your life via problems with any of your partners, or if you or they have problems with any of their partners.
On the up side, with poly you can just focus your time on attention on the relationship that isn't dysfunctional at any given time. In that way of looking at it a monogamous relationship constitutes a single point of failure. Of course saying no to 'drama' takes a lot of maturity and strong boundaries to master.
In general I've found that it's the relationship that isn't going right that most needs time and attention. Of course it helps a lot that you can draw strength from other partners during that time, but this is a role that friends can also fulfil.
In my experience, you can say no to drama all you like, but sometimes it comes around anyway, and to care for those you love sometimes you just have to deal with it!
If you're seriously interested in learning them, I suggest David Deida's book "Way of The Superior Man" as a conceptual primer, and the AMP "inner game" video series as practical illustration and coaching. Note, however, that the skills in question are more about maintaining your own emotional state and connection to your partner, than about getting anybody else to behave in a certain way.
As the AMP people point out, men's response to drama is often to close themselves off from their caring, in order not to get sucked in to emotional turmoil -- but this is just as bad for the relationship as it is to get sucked in or to give up/give in. Their training approach is to make it possible for you to stay open and connected, without being sucked in, giving up, or closing off.
It is not easy, but it is very rewarding. Initially, the tough part is that you go through a period of getting more drama in your relationship, because as your partner realizes it's "safe" to express things emotionally, she may increase her expressiveness. I personally went thro... (read more)
That does not explain why "drama" is more likely in a sexual relationship than among people sharing the same office or among roommates.
Sex is good at creating "drama" because it opens emotional connections: the beliefs and behaviors of one's lover become terribly signficant to one. Women (or more precisely, women still in their child-bearing years) are particularly apt to have strong emotional reactions to changes in the relationship and the behavior, beliefs and moods of their lover.
A lover is likely to do something irrational or desperate in response to a change or perceived change in the relationship with a loved one for the same reason that a person is likely to do something irrational or desperate when faced with any other life change that has great emotional significance, like the prospect of losing one's housing, winning the lottery or getting charged with a serious crime.
BTW, this tendency for the woman in a heterosexual relationship to attach strong emot... (read more)
I should probably provide a corollary to this. It's an interesting question and deserves more than a pithy one-word response.
It is difficult enough to coordinate the work diaries, social calendars, birthdays, anniversaries, dietary requirements, travel plans, in-laws, etc. of two reasonably busy people who live in close proximity to one another. The more people and locations you add, the more it compounds any orchestration problem.
I claim romantic relationships do not enjoy the benefits of economies of scale, and the overhead of each additional relationship actually increases logarithmically. I also claim additional partners are subject to diminishing returns. In fairness, if this is accurate, it is less of a case against polyamory and more of a case against an arbitrarily high number of partners. Still, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the optimal number of typical partners for a given person is between 0 and 2.
Much like the international system, my lovelife has no police force. I am generally quite pleased with this state of affairs. In a monogamous relationship my partner and I each have a single trade partner for our roma... (read more)
The vast majority of people in the US perceive monogamy as a moral issue, and believe that Christianity requires monogamy. Many Christian missionaries have struggled to convert the groups they were evangelizing around the world to be monogamous. Yet, the Old Testament condones polygamy; and the New Testament does not forbid polygamy.
The verses Christians cite "against" polygamy are Titus 1:6 (Paul, "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife"), 1 Timothy 3:2 (also by Paul, "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife..."), and 1 Timothy 3:12 ("A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.") all say the same thing: Elders of the church (not ordinary church members) should have "but one wife".
Does "but one wife" mean "but one wife at a time", or "should not have remarried after a divorce or death"? These same verses have been used to argue that remarriage after a divorce or a spouse's death are forbidden, because a man would then have had two wives, and not be "the husband of but one wife". Jesus himse... (read more)
I asked myself, "Why not be polyamorous?" The answer I got back was "Don't think about that; it will worsen your relationship." I'm listening.
What if it is? What if polyamory would save her current long-distance relationship from falling apart?
I don't know that it would, but it might. I've certainly seen polyamory work wonders for couples dealing with the long-distance thing.
Refusing to think about something because you're afraid of what you'll discover is seldom a helpful strategy.
My comment will drown in this huge thread, but here it is anyway.
I choose monogamy and I know why I am choosing it.
I am an animal, driven by powerful impulses and emotions. I am programmed a certain way, and I must understand my program in order to anticipate my reactions (and how to maximize my happiness, whichever way you want to define happiness). Everything I do, even trying to be rational, I do because of deep emotional motives that I might rationalize away or of which I am often unaware.
The same is true for the man I bond with. (It's true for everyone imo.)
My husband and I have been interested in open relationships from the start, but it took us three years to try it. We approached it carefully and discussed it from every angle, including no-questions-asked veto rights. To me, having a loving partner who makes me laugh, someone I share my secrets with, and wake up next to every day AND having the thrill of new experiences seemed like living life to the fullest. Life is short, I reasoned. Why not be decadent? Why not enjoy our fertile and attractive years? I knew from the start that I would always find other men attractive. I can be committed to one person and desire three ... (read more)
For people who are embedded in a social structure, it can be costly to step outside of it. Many people will justifiably choose monogamy simply because, given the equilibrium we're in, it is the best move for them...even IF they would prefer a world of polyamory or some other alternative.
To go off topic for a moment, the same could also be said of religious belief. I know the people here feel a special allegiance to the truth, and that's wonderful, but if we lived in 12th century europe it might not be worth rejecting religion even if we saw through it. For that matter, people in the modern day who are particularly entrenched in a religious community...may wisely choose not to even think about the possibility that they're wrong. Wise because, taking this equilibrium behavior as given --- accepting that no one else in the community will seriously consider the possibility of being wrong --- means that deviating will be scorned by all the people whose opinion the deviator cares about.
I applaud people who are devoted to truthseeking, but I do not condemn the rationally ignorant, or for that matter the people who choose to be monogamous simply because that's what society expects of them, rather than because it's "what they really want" or "who they really are."
I'm nonogamous, and I didn't choose.
I'm looking forward to your post on reducing jealousy. I've been interested in polyamory for quite a while now, and I'm already quite convinced that it's a good idea in theory (i.e. that if we could globally change human psychology such that we become more naturally inclined to polyamory, or at least more capable of it, the world would probably be happier overall; happier than if we globally changed human psychology such that we become more naturally inclined to real monogamy? I don't know). But I've never actually had a chance to try being in a poly relationship and I'm not quite sure I'd actually succeed in being comfortable with it.
Edit: This post also makes me wonder if there are any (possible, not necessarily already discovered) generalized strategies for detecting unknown knowns, or at least unrecognized default behaviours, other than just going through your daily routine and making a point of frequently wondering why you're doing the things you're doing. (Though even that I don't do enough.)
Compare your beliefs and behaviors with those of people who are succeeding at things which you are not. (And which, presumably, most people in your culture also do not succeed at.)
For example, if you (and most people) aren't wealthy, consider the beliefs and behaviors of those who are.
This doesn't always give you a route to change, of course. I have noticed that most people who are standout successes in any sort of internet-marketed, information-products business (or at least, the ones I want to emulate) seem to personally (and quite sincerely) value various forms of philanthropy, and many of them claim it's impossible to be really successful without it, despite the lack of any logical or direct connection between the practice of giving, and their personal getting.
This drove me crazy for years, both because the often-mystical justifications given simply made no sense to me, and because I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea of personally wanting to give money or time away without ... (read more)
Somewhat OT: this is not really Rumsfeld's taxonomy. My first knowledge of it is probably from the 1997 book, "To Do, Doing, Done" -- which in turn cited the space program as the origin of the taxonomy, and also of a phrase, "deadly unk-unks" used to describe the unknown unknowns.
What about nature vs. nurture? I don't have to struggle to not be jealous whereas many people just can't do polyamory because of intense feelings of jealousy. I don't think there's a single polyamorous or jealousy gene, but like homosexuality, there might be a complex array of related genetic factors.
The jealousy response also tends to be different in nature between the sexes.
Jealousy warns a woman that she is vulnerable to losing the resources (and the signals like love, attention, time and sexual desire that are her practical measure). Males require the same warnings from the instincts (to a lesser degree for a slightly different reason). But on top of that males must be warned that their huge investment of resources may be vulnerable to being utterly wasted when another male impregnates their investment. There is a stronger evolutionary motive for territorial instincts to assert themselves.
A light went on above my head as I read your comment. Thanks. Now I understand why I mysteriously stopped feeling jealous ever after I let go of the provider mindset towards women. If other men here are troubled by strong feelings of jealousy, maybe they could try the same.
This is the sort of thinking that moral conservatives think is dangerous, and I think their arguments are underrated. Can anyone point me to that quote? It's like 'you should leave walls standing until you can see the purpose for which they were built'. (I would add that it's extremely easy to attribute incorrect reasons to Far wall-builders, like evolution or God. And things are allowed to exist for more than one purpose; most things only happen because many reasons cohere.) "Although Logos is common to all, most people live as if they have a wisdom of their own." Link. I'm a fan of something like conservative Taoism.
You may be thinking of this passage from G. K. Chesterson's The Thing:... (read more)
I found out about poly pretty early and had a generally positive impression of it... in theory.
I do monogamous relationships, at least for the foreseeable future, because I'm pretty much a one-thing-at-a-time person. I don't really multitask -- it's the same phenomenon. I want to focus on one person, and get more intensity out of the relationship.
The other thing is, I'm very private -- I don't like having to tell people about my comings and goings and certainly not my sex life. The whole part about checking in with your primary would rub me the wrong way.
I agree with the OP that people assume monogamy as the default is an interesting relic. I often speak to atheists that hold many distinctly Christian notions without realizing it and having no real justification for them.
I may get downvoted for what I am about to say, but feel the need to disclose since I wish to check for faults in my reasoning as well as any ethical objections (I request you thoroughly explain the reasoning behind such objections from first principles up).
If I only want safe sexual pleasure I am better off financially seeking professional services.
If I want companionship in itself I have many friends both male and female which provide similar psychological benefits.
Bonding can make such exchanges more stable and long lasting, but considering the high divorce rate and turnover rate we see in modern socioeconomic conditions this is probably not something to depend on.
The only reason evolutionary speaking to bond with someone is to increase the odds of our genes spreading.
There is no such thing as a special someone. I could live relatively happy lives with a non trivial fraction of the population either in monogamous or alternative arrangements.
Romantic love is... (read more)
Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you've done an affective death spiral around evolution (please note - it is possible to have an ADS around a true idea!)
Evolution by natural selection is a convenient description of the mere statistical phenomenon that genes which code for traits beneficial to themselves, tend to live to the next generation. It has exactly the same "goals" as, say, Regression toward the mean - i.e., zero.
You do not have to do what evolution "wants" (as one might say in anthropomorphic shorthand), although your values do bear the stamp of this wild and wacky algorithm.
Perhaps the desires you express above are really your desires, but I am suspicious that they actually represent what you think you should desire "rationally," based on the mistaken idea that maximizing inclusive genetic fitness is some kind of moral imperative. It's not! You... (read more)
This line made me blanch. Yes, but, but... are you trying to say here anything more than "the only reason evolutionary speaking for anything we do is to increase the odds of our genes spreading"?
There's a correlation between being a LessWrong contributor and being polyamorous. I've noticed at least eight polyamorists among LessWrong users, including two among the top ten contributors. That's a zillion times the frequency of polyamorists in the general population. The correlation comes, I suppose, from LessWrong-readers being more likely to question social norms.
Or possibly just from LessWrong readers having read more science fiction. While reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is not always sufficient to get people to question the monogamy default, it certainly doesn't hurt.
This is pretty anecdotal, but on one time we noticed that being on the Finnish IRC channels for any of the following subjects meant that you had an unusually high chance of also being on any of the others: transhumanism, the Pirate Party, polyamory, BDSM, atheism and I think role-playing games. (I'm personally on all but the atheism one.)
The first thing that came to mind on seeing Kaj Sotala's list is "ah; these are people who like to have fun and think about cool things". But that's more of an indication that I've internalized this clustering of interests, rather than an illuminating hypothesis.
Some of my relationships are monogamous. The main advantage to them is that they take less time and effort. They can also reduce drama
Unfortunately monogamy involves creating an artificial monopoly on physical and emotional intimacy. The problems with monopolies that you learn in economics class apply to relationships too and constitute or cause a lot of the 'drama' of relationships. The Nash equilibrium in games modelling monopolies are very different from those without a monopoly and human instincts often reflect th... (read more)
How in the world do you ethically perform a study that shows this?
Err... Oops. I just went to google to try to find the relevant references. Let's just say that anything you can find on that topic on google would constitute "generalising from fictional evidence".
Take a group of women who are not in monogamous relationships and who are having sex with men who have other partners. Randomly assign half to group A and half to group B. Take one partner for each woman. Instruct the partners of the women in group A to not have sex with any other women for two weeks, and instruct the partners of the women in group B to have sex with their other partners frequently for two weeks. Ask the women to self-report how pleasurable they find the sex, and how often and powerfully they orgasm. Tell everyone participating in the study about this procedure, and get their consent to it.
The very fact that 'sent to the doghouse' exists as a cliché is the most obvious illustration. I'll add that this kind of thing is often bad for both parties. Our instincts aren't there to make us happy, they are there to gain power, resources and reproductive advantage. Using sex and emotional intimacy to gain power is a common failure mode in relationships and can make both people miserable to a lesser or greater degree but it does work.
(This fact is completely bizarre to me. If anyone tries to punish me to gain control or coerce me in any way they instantly lose any influence they had over me based on goodwill and I automatically feel free to use any or every means available to get what I want. That is, they have absolutely no ethical rights until such time as they are not coercing me. But I learned in primary school that other people are often quite willing to be controlled by punishment.)
For monogamous relationships, the cost of having an additional partner is much higher: you have to forgo your current relationship, and possibly experience drama and a period of being partnerless. Polyamorous relationships mitigate the cost of having an additional partner.
As a result, a monogamist knows that his or her partner is limited to them for the time being, because the costs of ending a monogamous relationship can be so heavy. A monogamous partner gets a lot of leeway to slack off, take their partner for granted, fail to satisfy their partner, or be a jerk, just as long as this behavior doesn't create a cost to the other partner that is heavier than the projected costs of a breakup.
Monogamist partners have the ability to partially shut out their competitors. When you know that your partner isn't able to to sample other potential partners for better matches, you don't have so much of an incentive to fulfill your partner's preferences.
Of course, polyamorous partners may also have leeway in how well they satisfy their partners' preferences, because the partner doesn't expect to be satisfied in every area by them. Yet the polyamorous person who isn't satisfying a certain preference of their partner isn't expecting that their partner stays stuck in that dissatisfaction, because the partner can go elsewhere, at least in principle.
That's a good way of putting it -- and it leads us to the fascinating question of why people who express great concern about inequalities in material wealth under economic laissez-faire almost invariably don't show any concern for the even more extreme inequalities in matters of love and sex that inevitably arise under sexual laissez-faire. I think a correct answer to this question would open the way for a tremendous amount of insight about the modern society, and human nature in general.
Michel Houellebecq has an interesting paragraph about this issue in his novel Whatever:
This is just a failure of imagination! There are all sorts of ways a government could redistribute sex, should it so choose:
Economic incentives: pay or give tax breaks to people who have sex with the sex-poor. (If you're worried about economic coercion, you can limit the payment to those above the poverty level, or create more welfare programs so no one has to depend on sex to meet a certain living condition.) Penalize or charge extra for the sex-rich.
Social and moral incentives: create a publicity campaign through advertisements and mass media to try to change people's views on sex and attraction.
Leveling out attraction levels: teaching social and flirting skills to the sex-poor and providing them with plastic surgery, personal trainers, or other cosmetic resources. Alternatively, lower everyone to the same level, as in the Kurt Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron.
Changing men and women's sex drives and sexual selectivity with neurosurgery, hormonal treatment, or childhood conditioning.
I'm not sure if there is any actual evidence for this conclusion. In a polyamorous world (and considering for simplicity only heterosexual relationships), if women of all levels are strongly inclined towards the upper tiers of men, to the point where they prefer a polyamorous arrangement involving more women than men, but restricted to men of higher appeal, this can lead to far more inequality than any monogamous world. In this scenario, it may happen that men from the lower tiers get shut out of access to women altogether, while those from the top enjoy arrangements involving many women and few men, or even exclusive polygynous arrangements. Among women, too, there would be a severe stratification with regards to how favorable arrangements are realistically available to them depending on their attractiveness.
Considering the evidence from quasi-polyamorous behaviors that are widespread nowadays, i.e. serial monogamy and promiscuity, this scenario doesn't seem at all unlikely to me. Of course, these behaviors are not identical to what would happen in a hypothetical polyamorous society, but they still provide significant information about the revealed preferences of both men and women.
Steve Landsburg makes a fairly plausible case that monogamy is essentially a cartel formed by men to prevent them having to work too hard to keep onto their wives:
If true, this would suggest that women have more to gain from polyamory than men on average (although high-status men might well have the most to gain).
Polygyny (not necessarily generic polygamy) is to women's genetic advantage insofar as the selection of husbands depends on things that correlate with valuable genes. It is not necessarily to our advantage in other ways or under other circumstances.
Women weren't the ones who set up those harems.
Evolutionary fitness is not morality. It doesn't have a thing to do with our preferences. We are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers.
No, there's an even better system that women could adopt. They could just adopt one low-fitness male each as a husband and financial provider, and then continue to have sex with ultra-high fitness males, where fitness is determined by a screening process that women put potential suitors through. In this hypothetical scenario, some men might even form an underground community of rationalists and try to reverse engineer and crack the female screening system, and get the last laugh in the end.
Actually, PUA discussions of MLTR (at least the few I've seen) seem to completely ignore the question of whether the women involved have other partners or not, although I suppose that is not strong evidence in either direction.
Perhaps the authors assume that "of course" exclusives are the default (and thus don't mention it), or perhaps they assume that "of course" things should be egalitarian by default (and thus don't mention it).
(And of course, there may be discussions I haven't seen, since my limited study of the PUA field is focused mainly on personal development and in-relationship applications, and limited to free materials almost exclusively.)
This is a generalization, but men who can stick to their principles are generally more attractive.
Look at it this way: if you can actually "get away with" having relationships that meet your preference, then this is social proof that you are being judged valuable enough ("in the marketplace") to be worth having non-exclusively.
Conversely, if you accede to a request for monogamy, this is evidence that you do not consider yourself that valuable, or that you are unable to get other people to agree with your value assessment.
In short: acceding to a request for monogamy in overt contradiction of your preference is a statement of low self-esteem/confidence, and would be expected to reduce your attractiveness even to the person who made the request for monogamy.
Did the passion in those relationships increase or decrease following your concession? I would guess it decreased, and by more than would have occurred had you not made explicit your preference for polyamory.
If... (read more)
I would guess that poly relationships where one partner prefers monogamy, but is "settling" for polyamory to be with a particular person, are not likely to work well (and vice versa). But this ignores that some people, even "cute" people, may actually prefer polyamory, even if they can get monogamy.
Does anyone else feel like this just a weird remake of cached thoughts?
Cached thoughts are default answers to questions. Unquestioned defaults are default answers to questions that you don't know exist.
I hereby volunteer to proofread future comments of yours.
If one defines a graph with each individual representing a node, and an edge connecting two individuals who have had sexual contact, then the large majority are part of a huge connected cluster. This is why STDs are a problem. If a group of people agreed to limit their sexual contacts to others within the group, and if they were all tested beforehand, they would achieve a high degree of structural protection from STDs.
Here is a paper which observes this in a high school. Here is just the graph. An animated gif of the development over time. One thing that disturbs me about the paper is that they make no mention of asymmetric claims by the students. (ETA: actually, they did, see cupholder)
I generally prefer fewer closer relationships than many less involved ones. I enjoy getting to know people really really well and then spending lots and lots of time with them. This extends beyond romantic relationships, for example I have only three close real life friends. Also I have a strong desire to have lots of children.
There are also non-trivial opportunity costs in terms of my relationships with others for going for a non-standard option. I'm already having difficulty getting my immediate family to recognize and respect both of my current relatio... (read more)
This is my current reason for choosing monogamy: my sex drive, and general interest in the touchy-feely part of romantic relationships, is so much lower than the average that I have a hard time sustaining one relationship, and don't see what the benefit to me would be from having more people to have sex with. The emotional connection of romantic relationships is different, but isn't that what very-close-intimate-but-platonic-friendships are for?
The majority of my motivation towards monogamy comes from jealousy, and so I'm interested in seeing your next post (although I'm not sure whether I want to self modify ie murder pill). However, another advantage to the complexity of monogamous relationships is fun. The dating game is an opportunity to play complex games of strategy. Is it difficult? At times. Do you get hurt? At times. Is it worth it? I think so.
Shades of Slavoj Žižek pointing out unknown knowns as the basis of ideology.
This sounds very defensive to me; you might wish to examine why that is the case.
To reply to your argument, which is really just guilt (of poly folks) by association (with conspicuous consumption):
(1) Non-monogamous people will experience a high social cost at present for admitting the fact. You can hardly compare them to "rebelling" consumers. Saying you want to choose a polyamorous sexual relationship is not analogous in social cost to buying $2,000 shoes, it's analogous to buying a butt plug in front of your friends and family. It takes genuine mettle.
(2) Just because consumer culture emphasizes enjoying yourself, doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself (reversed cupidity is not eudaimonia). In the case of consumer goods, it means real reflection on what you actually enjoy, for how long, and what are the ethical implications? For sexuality, it means re... (read more)
I nearly missed this in the middle of that dense paragraph so it is worth a quote!
I hope you don't mind if I make some observations and suggestions about the form of communication you're using, since there appears to be a little bit of culture clash at work right now. (I acknowledge up-front that a discussion of form isn't a critique of content, and at any rate, I'm neither a practitioner nor an evangelist of polyamory myself.)
In a threaded conversation, brevity is the soul of communication: a few clearly stated points are much easier to reply to than a long essay. (Your first comment communicated much more clearly than the subsequent ones; it's no coincidence that it was upvoted.) I completely understand the desire to expand more and more on a point in order to be more persuasive and less misunderstood, but in this format it's usually much more effective to keep it short at first, then reply to specific questions and objections. (Here on the Internet, there's much more of a tendency for people to gloss over long sections of text. You can mitigate this to some extent by bolding or italicizing the key points; clicking the "Help" link below the comment box tells you how to do this here.)
Second, the repeated "What If" questions stand out fr... (read more)
This is (obviously) your prerogative; however, I would ask that you give it a bit more time than that. I'll just be blunt about why: you need LessWrong or something like it.
Okay, I know how annoying it is to be told about your own psychology by a stranger, but here goes. Your stated opinions, while extremely interesting and clearly well-educated, are of a form that makes it apparent you're starting with a bottom line and working upwards to arguments. That is, in the particular case of polyamory, you seem to be starting with annoyance at polyamorists and, as orthonormal implied, throwing out plausible arguments to see what sticks. The ethic of this community is to use rationality to become right rather than prove ourselves right. We don't always succeed at this, but we try.
Consider a thought experiment.
Think of all the hundreds of opinions you have on various issues and fact questions relating to science, public policy, economy, ethics, culture, sexuality, etc.
Realistically, you are dead wrong on at least one of those opinions (just like you know everybody else is). If you can't accept that as lik... (read more)
Why did I choose monogamy? I haven't. That implies I've got a mate to be monogamous with. ;)
If I could get into a relationship with a harem of hot bisexual chicks, I'd do so. Of course, I'd also just as happily get into a relationship with one girl. Either would be better than nothing.
Slavoj Zizek has talked a lot about the missing term in Rumsfeld's taxonomy.
I'm a male who is fortunate enough to never feel jealousy, attractive/skilled enough to make girls want to sleep with me, and volatile enough that I can't handle any drama no matter how small. So I went for the most logical choice: have many fuck buddies at once without getting "romantic" with anyone.
For some reason, most girls that end up sticking with me like the fact that I'm sleeping with other girls too. I discovered that more or less by chance. At first I didn't tell anyone anything about anyone else, "don't ask don't tell", but t... (read more)