This is a post about applied luminosity in action: how I hacked myself to become polyamorous over (admittedly weak) natural monogamous inclinations.  It is a case history about me and, given the specific topic, my love life, which means gooey self-disclosure ahoy.  As with the last time I did that, skip the post if it's not a thing you desire to read about.  Named partners of mine have given permission to be named.

1. In Which Motivation is Acquired

When one is monogamous, one can only date monogamous people.  When one is poly, one can only date poly people.1  Therefore, if one should find oneself with one's top romantic priority being to secure a relationship with a specific individual, it is only practical to adapt to the style of said individual, presuming that's something one can do.  I found myself in such a position when MBlume, then my ex, asked me from three time zones away if I might want to get back together.  Since the breakup he had become polyamorous and had a different girlfriend, who herself juggled multiple partners; I'd moved, twice, and on the way dated a handful of people to no satisfactory clicking/sparking/other sound effects associated with successful romances. So the idea was appealing, if only I could get around the annoying fact that I was not, at that time, wired to be poly.

Everything went according to plan: I can now comfortably describe myself and the primary relationship I have with MBlume as poly.  <bragging>Since moving back to the Bay Area I've been out with four other people too, one of whom he's also seeing; I've been in my primary's presence while he kissed one girl, and when he asked another for her phone number; I've gossiped with a secondary about other persons of romantic interest and accepted his offer to hint to a guy I like that this is the case; I hit on someone at a party right in front of my primary.  I haven't suffered a hiccup of drama or a twinge of jealousy to speak of and all evidence (including verbal confirmation) indicates that I've been managing my primary's feelings satisfactorily too.</bragging>  Does this sort of thing appeal to you?  Cross your fingers and hope your brain works enough like mine that you can swipe my procedure.

2. In Which I Vivisect a Specimen of Monogamy

It's easier to get several small things out of the way, or route around them, than to defeat one large thing embedded in several places.  Time to ask myself what I wanted.  A notable virtue of polyamory is that it's extremely customizable.  (Monogamy could be too, in theory, but comes with a strong cultural template that makes it uncomfortably non-default to implement and maintain nonstandard parameters.)  If I could take apart what I liked about monogamy, there seemed a good chance that I could get some of those desiderata in an open relationship too (by asking my cooperative would-be primary).  The remaining items - the ones that were actually standing between me and polyamory, not just my cached stereotype thereof - would be a more manageable hacking target.  I determined that I could, post-hack, keep and pursue the following desires:

  • I want to be someone's top romantic priority, ideally symmetrically.  [This is satisfied by me and MBlume having an explicitly primary relationship instead of each having a bunch of undifferentiated ones.]
  • I eventually want to get married.  (This one isn't in the works as of this time, but isn't precluded by anything I'm doing now.  Open marriages are a thing.)  Relatedly, I want to produce spawn within wedlock, and to have reproductive exclusivity (i.e. no generating half-siblings for said spawn on either side of the family).  [MBlume was fine with this mattering to me.]
  • I want to be able to secure attention on demand - even though I didn't anticipate needing this option routinely.  My model of myself indicated that I would feel more comfortable with my primary going off with other girls if I knew that I was entitled to keep him home, for status- and security-related reasons.  Actually requiring this of him in practice is rare.  [We invented the term "pairbonding" to refer to designated periods of time when we are not to be distracted from one another.]
  • I want to be suitably paranoid about STIs.  [We worked out acceptable standards for this well in advance.]

These things weren't the sole components of my monogamous inclinations, but what was left was a puny little thing made of ugh fields and aesthetic tastes and the least portions of the above.  (For example, the first bullet point, being someone's top romantic priority, is 95% of the whole wanting to be someone's exclusive romantic priority.  That last 5% is not that huge.)

The vivisection process also revealed that a lot of my monogamous inclinations were composed of the bare fact that monogamy had always been the specified arrangement.  Being presumed by the agreed-upon boundaries of my relationships to be monogamous meant that if either party went off and was non-monogamous, this was Breaking A Rule.  My brain does not like it when people (including me) Break Rules2 or try to change them too close to the time of the proposed would-be exception, generally speaking, but doesn't object to rules being different in different contexts.  If I entered a relationship where, from the get-go, poly was how it was supposed to work, this entire structure would be silent on the subject of monogamy.  Pre-vivisection I would have considered it more closely embedded than that.

3. In Which I Use My Imagination

Humans respond to incentives.  We do this even when it comes to major decisions that should be significant enough in themselves to swamp said incentives.  Encoding the switch to poly as a grand, dramatic sacrifice I was preparing to make for cinematic reasons (advance the plot, make soulful faces at the camera, establish my character to the rapt audience as some sort of long-suffering altruist giving up a Part Of Who I Am for True Love) was admittedly appealing.  But it wasn't appealing to the bits of my brain that were doing the heavy lifting, just to the part that generates fiction and applies the templates to real life whenever possible.  Better to find ways to cater to the selfish, practical crowd in my internal committee.

Polyamory has perks.

So I imagined a model of myself with one modification: the debris of my monogamous inclinations that were still left after I'd pared away the non-intrusive parts were not present in this model.  Imaginary Model Alicorn was already finished with her hack and comfortable with plugging into a poly network.  Contemplating how she went about her life, I noted the following:

  • She got to date MBlume.  (This one was important.)
  • When I considered who else besides MBlume I might want to date if I lived in the relevant area and was poly, I found that I had a list.  In several cases, the people on the list were folks I couldn't date if they were going to be 100% of my significant others or if I was going to be 100% of theirs - some had the wrong gametes or other features for hypothetical future spawn-production, some were already thoroughly poly and weren't about to abandon that (or, where applicable, other partner(s)) for me, some were incompletely satisfactory in other ways that I'd find frustrating if they were my sole partner but could overlook if they were supplemented appropriately.  Imaginary Model Alicorn could date these people and wouldn't have to rely on hypotheticals to learn what it would be like.
  • She acquired a certain level of status (respect for her mind-hacking skills and the approval that comes with having an approved-of "sensible" romantic orientation) within a relevant subculture.  She got to write this post to claim said status publicly, and accumulate delicious karma.  And she got to make this meta bullet point.
  • She had a way to live comfortably in the Bay Area within arm's reach of lots of her friends.
  • She had a non-destructive outlet for her appetite for social drama3.
  • She had firsthand information about both ways to orchestrate her love life, and even if she wanted to go back to monogamy eventually for some reason, she'd be making an informed decision.
  • She had to check fewer impulses and restrain fewer urges to remark on the attributes of people around her, because the consequences for being interpreted incorrectly (or correctly) as expressing romantic or sexual interest in arbitrary people weren't as big a deal.

So I spent some time thinking about Imaginary Model Alicorn.  When her life started seeming like a pleasant fantasy, instead of a far-out alternate universe, that was progress; when it sounded like a viable plan for the near future, instead of an implausible flight of fancy, that was progress too.

4. In Which I Put Some Brainbits in Mothballs

At this point my interest in being poly was thoroughly motivated and I already had a comfortably broken-in new self-model to move into - if and when I managed the hack.  It wasn't done.  I still had to get rid of:

  • My aesthetic keening for a perfect, pretty, self-contained monogamous setup4.
  • Resentment that I ought to have to self-modify to get some things I wanted, instead of the universe being set up so I could comfortably retain my factory settings.
  • The difference between "top priority" and "exclusive priority".
  • My impulse to retain the right to claim victim status if certain things went wrong (e.g. if I were faithful in a supposedly monogamous relationship, and then I wound up with an STI because my SO slept with someone else, I would be the wronged party and could tremble my lip at my faithless partner and demand the sympathy of my friends, instead of being a casualty of an accident yielded by allowable behaviors and entitled to nothing but a sigh of regret).
  • Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary.
  • Loss aversion, which wanted to restrain me from giving up the potential to date people who would consider ever having been poly a dealbreaker.  (Note: I implemented what I believe to be a reversible hack, so I didn't have to worry about not being able to enter a monogamous relationship if that ever seemed called for).

Respectively, here's what I did to get these brainbits to stop struggling long enough that I could box them up and put them into deep storage (forgive the metaphors in which I appear to make faces at myself.  I did not actually need a mirror for any of this; those bits are symbols for the attitudes associated with the mental actions):

  • Replacement.  Cultivated a new aesthetic according to which polyamory was the "prettier" style.  (Each aesthetic has the weakness of working primarily when the people around me are all doing the same thing, and I don't know how to fix that yet; but I was going to move into an area and subculture with lots of poly people anyway.)
  • Rolled my eyes at myself and listed prior self-modifications I'd undertaken, then asking if those goals were less important to me than getting the benefits of being poly or if I regretted those prior hacks.
  • Raised an eyebrow at myself and asked what, exactly, was the added value of exclusivity.  Question dissolved on sufficiently skeptical inspection.
  • Pointed out that victim status is not actually particularly valuable.  I have acquired a better caliber of friends than I had when this brainbit appears to have crystallized, and could reasonably expect sympathy from most of them whether or not I was technically the victim of someone else's wrongdoing.  And I can tremble my lip as much as I want, for all the good that will do.
  • Weighed the badness of losing an SO to someone vs. just plain losing one due to dissatisfaction; determined difference to be insignificant, at least without more detailed information about the "someone" which I could not generate ex hypothesi.  Noted that I would hardly improve my odds of retaining an SO by demanding a relationship style dispreferred by said SO.  And the relevant individual had indicated his preference to be polyamory.
  • "Who exactly are these people?  Do I know any of them?  Not any who I'd want to date in any recognizable scenario.  Okay then, the class as a whole is to be counted a less valuable opportunity than the class of poly people (which notably includes MBlume)."

5. In Which Everything Goes According To Plan And I Am Repeatedly Commended For Having Magical Powers

Field-testing has confirmed that I'm doing something right: I'm happy and comfortable.  (Also, spontaneously all kinds of popular.  If I'd known I could get this many people interested by hacking poly I might have done it sooner.)  I would reverse the hack if my primary decided he wanted to be monogamous with me, but otherwise don't see a likely reason to want to.


1I'm counting willingness that one's sole partner have other partners (e.g. being an arm of a V) to be a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy.  I think this is the more reasonable way to divide things up given a two-way division, but if you feel that I mischaracterize the highly simplified taxonomy, do tell.

2The details of what my brain considers to be Rules and how it protests when they are broken or self-servingly altered are mildly interesting but irrelevant to this post.

3I don't think I'd describe myself as enjoying drama, but it's interesting and I'm drawn to it, and if I don't keep track of this carefully enough I go around starting it without realizing what I'm doing until too late.  Generating actual drama is a good way to hurt people, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the same appetite appears to be indulged by working out the intricacies of relationship parameters, and keeping track of the structure of a polycule in which I am an atom, even if no drama per se exists.

4If the comments I linked when I first mentioned this aesthetic don't adequately explain it to you, perhaps listen to the song "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors.  The exact details in the lyrics thereof are not what I ever had in mind (it's designed to highlight and poke fun at the singing character's extremely modest ambitions) but the emotional context - minus the backstory where the character currently has an abusive boyfriend - is just right.

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(Also, spontaneously all kinds of popular. If I'd known I could get this many people interested by hacking poly I might have done it sooner.)

The following is a public service announcement to all women who naturally like at least some shy nerds.

If you are (1) polyamorous and (2) able to directly ask men you find attractive to sleep with you (instead of doing the sheep dance where you freeze motionless and wait for them to approach) - or if you can hack yourself to be like that without too much effort - it is vastly easier than you imagine to acquire an entire harem of high-status and/or handsome nerds.

(For some but not all nerds, this may require that you be reasonably attractive. Most nerd girls I know are reasonably attractive and think they are not. So if you think that you're overweight and hideous and yet oddly enough nerds spend a lot of time talking to you at nerd parties, this means you are pretty.)

This concludes the public service announcement.

Worthwhile clarification: It is not necessary to ask them to sleep with you right off the bat. You could ask to snuggle.

Sure, and I also didn't mean to imply that this should happen on a first meeting, only at the point where you find yourself thinking, "Hm, I think I would prefer having sex with this person to not having sex with them," regardless of whether that takes a long or a short time.


This remains true for gay male geeks, by the way.

Is there a trick to identifying gay male geeks? I find that sometimes I can go to four or five nerd parties and still have no idea about the sex lives of half the people there -- the shy male nerds I know tend not to talk about dating unless they're forced to. Maybe I'm going to the wrong parties.

Back when I was in the market, I found that asking male geeks whose sexual preference I didn't know on dates worked pretty well. Not, admittedly, the most efficient possible mechanism... and not entirely reliable, as it landed me a few dates with self-identified straight male geeks, which puzzled me... but still, it worked pretty well.

Of course, I only tried this for male geeks I was interested in dating, which may have introduced relevant selection biases.


as it landed me a few dates with self-identified straight male geeks, which puzzled me...

Isn't that just bizarre?! The same thing has happened to me.

Is it conceivable that some of them thought it was an invitation to socialize rather than a date?

In the cases I was thinking of, no, not really.

Yeah, what? That's definitely not something I would have predicted. What were their detailed reactions?

I don't find that surprising at all. We don't have full conscious access to all our preferences: we can just make guesses based on previous data. Realizing that there are men of the same sex that you might be attracted to doesn't seem any different from realizing that although you generally dislike science fiction, there are some sci-fi stories that you enjoy.

Straight/bi/gay is a classfication scheme that often works, but by collapsing a sliding scale into just three categories it necessarily loses information. A person who is only attracted to people of the opposite sex, and a person who is attracted to people of the opposite sex and to 0.1% of people of the same sex are usually both lumped in the category of "straight".

I have occasional fantasies of men and enjoy some varieties of shounen-ai/yaoi, but I'm almost never attracted to men in real life, though there have been a couple of exceptions. I can never figure out if I should call myself straight or bi, though straight is probably closer to the mark.

Also, sexual orientation is not a static thing, but something fluid that may change throughout life. This is particularly the case for women, though possibly also for men... (read more)

I've identified as that before, but I find it doesn't really apply well anymore. Instead of slapping labels onto finer and finer grained levels of the fluid scale, I just have a clearly defined set of things that I will do with men, and a clearly defined set of things I will do with women, and that's sufficient for me.

Mostly Kaj said what I was gonna say.

In terms of detailed reactions... well, I could summarize the common thread as "If I were going to hook up with a guy it would probably be you, and I'm not unattracted, which is surprising, and, hey, sure, why not?" followed some time later by "Nah, straight."

I generally took it roughly in the same spirit that I make a point of tasting foods that I don't like when someone who does like it identifies a good example of it, just to see whether I still don't like it... because, hey, sometimes I discover that my tastes have changed while I wasn't looking.

That said, I far preferred the ones who were clear about that being their state. (In their defense, most of them were.)

I know, right? As a straight male, I keep doing this.
I'm like Kaj Sotala, and much of what TheOtherDave said applies to me.
The studies I know of have found that while many people can identify orientation (EDIT: sorry, only gay/straight, don't know of any non-binary studies) based on facial appearance, voice, and other outward signs with better-than-average accuracy, participants tend to have a hard time identifying specific traits that led them to judge. I also would be interested in any such result.

So if you think that you're overweight and hideous and yet oddly enough nerds spend a lot of time talking to you at nerd parties, this means you are pretty.

Are you saying that nerd males do not talk to non-pretty nerd females for other reasons (i.e. they are smart and funny or whatever), or simply that they don't do it a lot?

That's a good question. I am hard pressed to think of any nerd females I've known well enough to observe them in any detail, who I would actually consider non-pretty. So to rephrase the test: If you go to nerd parties and male nerds who don't already know you seem to gravitate in your direction and then continue to be there despite not having an obvious personal stake in the ongoing conversation, this is because you are pretty.

Also, short of actually having half your face burned off a la Two-Face in the Batman series, being visibly smart and funny will boost your apparent prettiness by quite a lot.

I am hard pressed to think of any nerd females I've known well enough to observe them in any detail, who I would actually consider non-pretty.

I'm torn about saying this because this kind of message probably good for everyone's self-esteem and I think nerdy girls on average should be more confident, but... what's with all these pretty nerds? Is your standard for pretty relatively low or are you just really lucky? In my experience and in common stereotype nerds of both genders are, on average, less physically attractive than the rest of the population, once you control for socio-economic conditions that influence things like diet, hygiene and exercise. Good looking people tend to end up on anti-nerd life paths earlier in life, less good looking people have less of their time taken up by socializing leaving them with more time for nerdy activities and more incentive to develop other aspects of themselves (since they can't coast on physical attractiveness). I've consistently found that less physically attractive people are more intellectually interesting.

This doesn't mean your advice is bad- nerdy girls are awesome and totally are capable of getting together with lots of nerdy guys. But I don't think we need to mythologize the nerdy female this way and it seems a bit patronizing to pretend the self-assessment of nerdy women has no grounding in reality. Just like how not everyone gets to be smart, not everyone gets to be physically attractive.

Your standards are probably higher than mine? As far as I can tell, most women are attractive. I can think of ones who aren't but they seem like exceptions. You can kinda see why it would work that way.

As far as I can tell, most women are attractive.

Did you actually mean ‘most women’, rather than (say) ‘most women of fertile age’?

5Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I accept your correction, albeit not literally "fertile age" (many over-40s are attractive, I admit not over-80s). I also note that I personally do not seem much sexually attracted to some younger female rationalists that seem to attract other males in the community - my "too young" threshold for sexual attraction seems set to a higher age than average. (Note which I should not have to include: This is not the same as not liking said women! You can like somebody without wanting to sleep with them.)
Young female rationalists, plural? There's more than one of us? :P In seriousness, I suspect that the definition of "attractive" is being used quite widely here. When someone talks about a woman being pretty to look at, they're probably talking about something mildly different from her being aesthetically pleasing - which is, again, different from said woman being conventionally attractive - and all of these are in totally different ballparks from a woman being happy and pleasant and that doing halo-effect things to her prettiness. ETA: using the word "attractive" to refer to all these things feels like it could lead to a "My subjective experience is realer than yours" argument ('Parsley is delicious!' 'No it's not!'), or a signalling war ('I have good standards!' 'Well, I have realistic ones!')
Mine too (at least if “average” is meant among males my age, i.e. in their middle twenties), but I'd also say that there's more variance among older women than younger women: I find almost all 18-year-olds pretty-but-not-extraordinary, whereas I find lots of 30-year-olds either gorgeous or ugly.
Agreed. Also notable is that at least my mind conflates "funny/intelligent/interesting" with "attractive", entirely involuntarily.
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I'd agree with your observations, except: is it wise to control for socio-economic conditions? "Well, [he/she] is gorgeous, brilliant and kind, but that's probably all because of being born within a family with positive attitudes toward physical and mental fitness, being given the free time and economic wherewithal to self-improve, and being placed in peer groups that would encourage such improvement, so I guess it doesn't really count."

Life doesn't work like a D&D stat Point Buy system - although you're right that it's sometimes similarly possible to trade INT for CHA or vice versa, that doesn't make them inversely correlated. Some people are lucky enough to have more of both to begin with, and many people are lucky enough to grow up with influences that increase both.

On the other hand, even physical beauty is partially subjective. Maybe Eliezer's perceptions of it are subject to some sort of halo effect? The "known well enough to observe them in any detail" caveat seems to suggest a factor in that direction. Aside from effects of fashion, lighting, etc., real physical beauty is a superficial thing that you can judge with a glance, not something that only becomes apparent after the more important characteristics have shown themselves.

I see another, rather obvious interpretation given the clause "well enough to observe them in any detail".
Pretty is an intensely halo-ed trait, and people find those they know well more attractive than strangers.

Weirdly enough, I know someone who had their face seriously damaged (albeit not to the ludicrous extent shown by Two-Face) and he reported that it actually made him much more sexually successful, since it gave him an instant conversation starter with just about anyone and the story of how he got it painted him in a very good light.

I think that even in the current cultural context one should still expect the impact of "battle scars" on physical attractiveness to depend strongly on the gender of the person displaying them.

A good point; that said, a surprisingly large number of heterosexual or bisexual males I know are very much attracted to signs of "toughness" in females, including scars, fighting ability, etc.

I always counsel young males with still-healing injuries that will leave scars to think of good stories. As for females, most straight men I know are attracted to signs of toughness that don't otherwise confound the usual health-and-fertility signs (skin and hair), so scars might not always work. But anecdotes from LW commenters are not likely to be representative of the general conversation. Many women I know in SoCal that have impressive degrees from awesome schools hide their credentials for fear of scaring off men, and are surprise than I am surprised. That's still the world we live in.

If I were feeling super snarky I'd say "That's SoCal". But your point is well-taken.

Even if you do have half your face burned off a la Two-Face in the Batman series, being visibly smart and funny will boost your apparent prettiness by quite a lot.

I find that most people have some things attractive about them. If they are interesting and kindly disposed toward me, it is not hard to focus on the attractive features, and blur out the less attractive features. It works very much like the affective death spiral, but with no real negative consequences.

Once you find enough things attractive about someone, you enter the spiral, and you begin to notice the very attractive square line of Harvey's non-burned jaw, and just don't even notice the scary skeletor burn face anymore, or you might even find little parts of it that start to look interesting to you.

Well, this all assumes a counter-fictional Harvey that doesn't go fully dark-side, or recovers at some point to something like his former moral and mental self.

And no matter who you are, there's someone out there who thinks you're hot.

(while talking about the Harry Potter movies, before she'd started on MoR)

Erin: ...I did like the fluffy things, though.

Me: Fluffy things?

Erin: I forget what they're called.

Me: (thinks for a bit...)

Me: Dementors? The flying corpses in shrouds?

Erin: Yeah! Dementors are cute.

Me: Puppies are cute. Dementors are not cute.

Erin: Puppies are food.

Me: Help me, I've been shipped to Bellatrix.

Are there any paperclip-maximizer-lovers? How about paperclip-maximizer's-humanoid-robot-lovers?

In my experience, women generally much more naturally focus on good features and ignore average ones, though men do too. That said, I dated a hand model with a lazy eye...never saw nicer hands in my life! The eye was a bad feature from pretty much any human perspective, it's not logically impossible for a person to have all their features be such features. Also, I think rats are adorable. Any other rat lovers out there? There's possibly even someone out there who likes "<X" as a favicon more than "Lw". Outlandish, I know, but there's probably one person out there.
I find this hard to believe.
I do exist!
And now there is a favicon that is worse than all favicons that have come before. Clearly we are approaching the capability to have a recursively self-worsening favicon. Huzzah!
Rat lover here. They're adorable little creatures, and have distinct personalities and quirks. The only shortcoming of rats is that they don't live that long, so you're having to deal with the death of your cherished little friends every 2 or 3 years or so. For anybody who likes rats or is just curious to learn more about them, I highly recommend the most awesome
Rats are adorable. Disregarding fur texture, I'd be hard pressed to choose between a rat and a guinea pig, for cuteness.
Seconding this from direct experience -- and I would also add that what people find attractive is much more subjective than is commonly taken for granted.

This this this. I've spent quite some time watching with amused detachment as several of my female friends bluster around this type of interaction without ever really understanding. My advice that "hey, acquiring sexual partners is really not hard if that's what you want" generally goes unheeded, but those who do "get it" end up being shocked as how easy things really are.

I've had the same experience with 'geeky' males (including myself) at college entry age. They discover its actually not especially hard to have casual sex once they get over the mental block at the idea of people finding them attractive (which seems quite common). Although 'serious' relationships seem more difficult and/or less learnable.
A lot of people say that it's easy. They never say how to do it. It's like they thought just saying "It's easy" constituted a viable explanation of the method. Also, I'm not really interested in casual sex, so if you're right that serious relationships are much harder, that's a problem.
Very brief reply:* It's described as easy because you can learn it via observation and/or experimentation. Very basically you chat friendlily and escalate physical contact. A lot of this is context dependent, university students at clubs are probably far more interested in sex than random members of the population. What are your specific issues? For a non-creepy guide try Clarisse Thorn's "Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser" *I'm travelling at the moment so can't come up with a detailed response.
I guess I do have that mental block of not feeling attractive. At least, it may be a mental block; but how would I know if I'm just... not actually attractive? (This is a problem for me. I want hard data and I don't see how to get it. Social norms explicitly forbid anyone telling you that you are ugly, even if you are.) If it is a delusion, where does it come from? And how does one get rid of it?

While "acquire" and "harem" are words quite conflicting with the spirit of polyamory (and I know you were kidding), it's a good point.

Though, as a flirty poly nerdy guy, I have no personal interest in this message getting out. :-)

Actually, what's happening is they're giving the nerdy male 3-4 obvious body language signals telling him to approach. The nerdy male just misses them. Fellow males, please learn to read body language so that all these hot nerdy girls stop feeling like they're ugly because nerdy men don't respond to their flirting.
Sometimes. But since Eliezer mentioned girls who think they are unattractive some the signals are probably not nearly so clear.
You're suggesting the girls think they are unattractive because their unclear non-verbal signaling fails to yield positive feedback from men? This is plausible though Eliezer also mentioned nerdy men who are notoriously bad in this regard.

No, I'm suggesting that "Actually, what's happening" should be "Sometimes what is happening". It isn't only the nerdy guys who aren't playing the game correctly. Sometimes nerdy girls don't signal correctly either, especially those with low self esteem. And that's ok, just something that can be improved on.

Obviously this is an issue where nearly everything everyone says is a generality and accuracy could be improved by hedging.
How would one go about doing this? It would be useful, but I don't know where to start.
This is the best free, online resource I know of. But there are tons of books, even courses out there.
It's hardly flirting if it's body language from across the room and neither party has said a word to each other. At that point, you're not even sure they know you exist - and how could they be sure that you are aware of their existence? No, you have to talk to them - at least be in the same conversation as them! - to begin flirting with body language.
Nope. Not sure what to tell you if you're not already aware this isn't so. Maybe a study documenting it?
There are not such things as suggestive glances, eye-locking, inviting postures, etc.?
The "sheep dance " is likely a result of a huge amount of "happy" (Adrenaline, dopamine, Serotonin) hormones being released in the brain(or even "limerence" (see for example Physical effects section from the "limerence" article on Wikipedia)). It is a very enjoyable state which I would even try to prolongate as long as possible (meaning over the course of several encounters). Isn't it better to advice the male nerds to follow some of the courses on the bootcamps on how to dress or how to behave more masculine or to learn something from experts like lukeprog (for example: or some of his other (earlier) posts on LW)
If my husband had done that I likely wouldn't have been as interested in him.

Well, sure -- but other people would likely have found him more interesting. Congratulations on things having worked out for you, of course, but there are a lot of other good people who each of you could have married.

Finding good romantic partners is very probabilistic. Does increased masculinity increase a man's expected attractiveness to a random person? I think that, for men who aren't already very masculine, it definitely does.

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Thank you for writing this. I've been wanting to discuss rationality and relationships for some time now, but my first attempt had several problems with it you seem to have avoided or solved. For example, your intro paragraph disarms (for many people, hopefully) a few objections that my own post did not, for example "I don't like gooey personal details" and "You sound self-righteous, as though everyone should try to be like you."

Those who haven't tried polyamory may be curious to hear my own polyhacking story, told using a structure similar to the one Alicorn used. (Like Alicorn, I'm considering "willingness that one's sole partner have other partners" to be a "low-key flavor" of polyamory.)


I grew up a sexually repressed evangelical Christian, and therefore didn't date until fairly late (19, I think). My first relationship was traditional and monogamous and a rollercoaster ride of drama. I felt attracted to other potential mates but fought to remain faithful, we both experienced sexual jealousy, I started to feel trapped… you know, the usual.

When the relationship ended I realized that that kind of relationship didn't suit me. I didn... (read more)

Upvoted since I feel this post significantly improves several aspects of your previous post including sounding less self-righteous. It also benefits from mentioning the idea of polyamory earlier and going into more details about it. I read a single article on polyamory four or five years ago and didn't really see it mentioned much at all again until I visited this site. A lot of people will have no idea what this is, and some might confuse the word with polygamy.
I still sometimes confuse the word. Just never the concept.

She got to date MBlume. (This one was important.)

blushes furiously


/old shouting half deaf man/: Stop cluttering the comment section useless content! When I was young people didn't have emotions, and the ones that did didn't show them.

Still, if we ever need a counter example to the idea of rationalists as emotionless robots we can wheel them out.

[Edit, Clarification: meant that affectionately/positively, but seem to have got downvotes so that may not have come across, sorry.]

I have the feeling that this may not be the best post to show people who are predisposed to dislike rationality.


Valuable post. Self-revelation is hard! I commend your account in this kind of forum. There are many considerations here, first and foremost of which is that emotional makeup a) differs greatly between people and b) is more set than we care to admit; i.e. not subject to hacking. If Alicorn's is to this degree, more power to her. Before the rest of my comment (as a mono): this is most emphatically NOT a moral judgment about polyamory. Consenting adults, will defend to the death your right, etc.

Other considerations (for someone like me, which maybe you are or are not):

  • I'm often on the defensive when polys talk to me, because there is a good bit of evangelism and insistence that monos are morally inferior, emotionally immature, etc. I didn't get that at all from Alicorn's post but it's out there, perhaps as a counteroffensive to monos who do express moral judgment. (Smart polys, police this so we can all have a real discussion!)

  • In my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after al

... (read more)

In my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly!

This is true. Poly requires excellent communication skills to pull off successfully, even more so than ordinary relationships. I keep emphasizing that poly is not for everyone: not only because you need to be emotionally suited for it, but also because it often takes much more work than a mono relationship. For most people, poly is hard.

Captains of football teams and cheerleaders as the primaries. The rest of us, gazing adoringly upon them while we wait for our turn on Tuesday night. Then back to the romantic ghetto.

I've heard this claim before, but I can't help feeling that it's still thinking in a mono pattern even while trying to think about a poly world. The whole point of poly is that X dating Y doesn't necessarily make either X or Y unavailable to others. If the captain of a football team has five women, that means that he only has one-fifth as much time for each of them, meaning that t... (read more)

If the captain of a football team has five women, that means that he only has one-fifth as much time for each of them, meaning that they're likely to be available to others as well.

At first sight it seems that those women are 4/5 available for other men in the group. But this assumes that men and women have the same sex drive on average. If we assume that men have stronger sex drive, or that their sex drive increases significantly when many women are sexually available to them (I am not a biologist, but I think both of this is true), then there is less than 4/5 availability of these women for the rest of group.

In other words, to make all members of a poly society equally sexually satisfied, this society must have more women than men. With the same number of women than men, less successful men will be frustrated, even if all women are satisfied. (Of course, if you are a woman, or if you are the most attractive man in your poly group, this is not your problem.)

EDIT: In essence, "one fifth of time" does not equal "one fifth of sex". A woman may spend one fifth of her time having hot sex with the captain, and the remaining time in just-friends mode, or 90% just-f... (read more)

This is a little bit more complex.

Sexual desires are not a constant for each invidual person.

It seems (in the poly community) that awesome sexual experiences with one partner make one want more sexual things with the other partners rather than less.

Another, seperate point on biology: The 5 women that are spending so much time with this alpha male will find their menstrual cycles becoming synchronised (assuming, of course, that they allow natural menstrual cycling). This will therefore mean that they are all at their most sexually active simultaneously. Assuming that the peak sex drive of a woman is more than 1/5 of the constant male sex drive, this means that at least one of those 5 women will be unsatisfied during her days of peak sex-drive. Which is an important fact in the context.
Menstrual synchrony is controversial.
Or you could just adjust the bisexuality / homosexuality rates... I dare say an all-men all-homosexual polyamorous group would have to be entirely stable, at least so long as we're playing entirely to gender stereotypes. (Is there any actual research about women being less interested in sex, by the way? I've heard that dismissed as a myth a few times, born primarily of cultural conditioning, but never with any actual research either way)

I find that my (female) sex drive is incredibly mutable; I've been perfectly happy going a year with no sex, and at other times, in other circumstances (and with different available partners), been motivated to have sex daily. I suspect that the female sex drive is much more situational and partner-dependent than the male, and to model women as like men, but less horny, is a mistake.

Now I will do the Subjective Speculation Dance of Shame.

(electric slide) I like to shake my butt, I like to make stuff up (electric slide) Is there published data? Maybe! Doesn't matta! I'll pull it out of my butt! (butt shake!)

Please consider writing full lyrics and choreography and putting this on youtube.


You guys I think I made the shame dance too fun.

I looked it up, but I still don't understand what the electric slide is. I second Jack's suggestion.
This is awesome :D
This is my new favorite comment. Thank you! ^_^
This is possible, though I would note that sex is just one of the things one gets from a romantic relationship. Even if a poly society would leave more men without sex, it might provide more men with things such as close companionship. It is not obvious which one is more important. (Companionship is far more important than sex for me, though I'm probably atypical for a male in that regard.)
Another possibly atypical male here: To me, sex is a craving I occasionally get, but is no more pleasurable than any other fun activity. Companionship is a constant need. I don't always need someone there, but I always need to know that there would be someone with me if I needed them.
I will note that, from my own reading, I am under the impression that (among animals in general) males will invest resources in any child that might be theirs, while ignoring/killing only those children that are definitely not. As such I would be moderately surprised to discover that humans differed from this pattern, and cared only for children of known paternity.
The words "invest resources" mean something different for animals and humans. For animal male it simply means: allow the child walk on your territory; protect the child from predator attack; give the child some food. I would expect similar instincts from a human male. The difference is, we expect much more from human males, which has no base in instincts. We expect human male to find a better-paying job (with longer working hours or less pleasant work), and use the money to support child's various needs, such as e.g. education. If you have a piece of bread in your hand, and there is a hungry 3 years old child (possibly biologically yours) near you, the instinct tells you to give the bread to the child. But the same instinct does not tell you to change your job so you can pay your 18 years old child better college. We give our children far more than what our instincts say, and we also care about them much longer.
I have come across a report of empirical observations that directly contradicts this assumption: In his book "Polyamory: Roadmaps For The Clueless And Hopeful", Anthony D. Ravenscroft states the observation that women have the stronger sex drive - It takes 3 men per women to get the women fully satisfied.
I have no qualms declaring that claim to be blatant bullshit. I have yet to meet a woman who required sex more than three times daily (on an ongoing daily basis) in order to be satisfied and I would assert that women with that degree of insatiability or more would be rare outliers. Yet even that kind of pace is not hard to keep up (so to speak). While for most males the overwhelming biological imperative to seek sex is satisfied by less sex than that it takes only a modicum of accommodation or a hint of male pride to maintain a higher rate of sexual output. I'm not here denying that women may have a higher sex drive. I would not even deny the possibility that some people may require being successfully pursued by three different partners (by count of number of mates not the potential sexual output thereof). I am saying that Ravenscroft massively undermines his own credibility when he tries to claim that it takes three males per woman in a given sexual system for the women to be fully satisfied. I deny that he has data that supports that and if he did produce such data I would defy it - with the expectation that it would be overwhelmed by other contradictory findings. Wait, no, I take all that back. Women have ridiculously more powerful sex drives and can't help but throw themselves at guys at every opportunity. <My personal experience as an extraordinarily attractive potential mate has provided such a significant selection effect that it has completely biased my view of the world.> Not only that but when in relationships women need massive volumes of sex to be satisfied. <Such is my prowess at eliciting attraction.>
Unfortunately, after writing a long reply I accidentally discovered that accidentally pressing Ctrl + W closes Firefox without asking. So I will repeat the essence: When monogamy is a society's official norm, polyamory is self-selected minority. Maybe the selection process now causes something that would disappear if more people become poly. For example, maybe for women with higher sex drive polyamory is more attractive. Also maybe for sexually passive men who enjoy the idea of their love having sex with another male (while emotionally staying in love with them) polyamory is attractive. This could explain how one woman could satisfy three men... if two of them are only watching. Maybe women have the same sex drive as men, but still they are more picky. Even if a women would be able to fully sexually satisfy three top-quality men, I don't assume that an average woman would do the same thing for three average men. Maybe she would rather wait in line for her "five minutes with alpha". Most men would like the opportunity of having sex with many average women; women don't dream about having sex with many average men. But this is all just a speculation. I would like to see a polyamorous society that survives 10 years.
I find that unsurprising, though folk wisdom suggests sex drive by gender varies greatly over age, so it's weird to not see a qualification there. By the folk theory, which I have no idea if any research supports, that would be an unsurprising finding for male and female subjects in their mid-to-late-thirties, but the opposite would be expected for male and female subjects in the 18-24 range.
I was unclear on this point. As clarified above, I think you're probably right that 3 parents are better than two, for the kids. But ultimately, it's whether the arrangement is serving the parents' interests that will determine if kids are produced. The same person who loves being in long-term, child-free poly relationships might not want to be in a child-ful poly relationship, and in fact my intuition is that a lower proportion of people who are emotionally cut out for polyamory would eventually want kids. Need data.
If you're saying that the kinds of people who typically wish to be poly are the kinds of people who typically don't want children, that might be so, though I haven't seen any evidence for that hypothesis. Anecdotally, the "wants children" / "doesn't want children" ratio seems about the same as in the general population, or maybe as in the general high-IQ population. Your original comment seemed to talk about the suitability of poly for raising children, given that the people involved want children, though. But I actually think that the main benefit of having three parents is for the adults, not the kids. Child-raising is typically really, really tiring, at least when the children are still young enough to need constant supervision. Having a third person around would really help make things easier. At the same time, there are all kinds of studies around saying that most of the things we'd expect to have an impact on the long-term outcomes of the children actually don't, and I'd guess that this would fall into the same category.
speaking as a parent (and someone who is poly) if it helps the parents, it helps the kids. And kids like having more adults around as resources.
Can you please give examples of this? It sounds fascinating.
The Nurture Assumption covers a lot of ground, reviews a lot of the scientific literature, and concludes that for many, many traits of interest you can divide the factors effecting them into non-parental environment and genetic factors leaving squat for parental effects. It's a great book.

Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why. Maybe this is coincidence; maybe something has changed now that will be more conducive, but I think it's worth pointing out.

Primates (including humans) raised in stable, supportive environments are more friendly, trusting, willing to take risks. Those who grew up desperately alone, or with only a few allies-of-convenience who might run off as soon as costs outweighed benefits or better prospects appeared elsewhere, are less friendly, trusting, and willing to take risks. This mechanism evolved because using either strategy in the opposite environment means being isolated from the support of your peers and/or murdered at a young age, which is strongly selected against. Polyamory requires a large population of friendly, trusting-and-trustworthy potential partners; modern economic and political developments have produced an environment (in some parts of the world, anyway) sufficiently stable and prosperous that such a population can emerge and thrive.


(Smart polys, police this so we can all have a real discussion!)

Telling members of a social minority you're not part of what every member of that minority must do to be worthy of your time and consderation as a member of the social majority, is neither reasonable, rational or realistic. Just FYI. It's like asking "smart" queers to police the tendency of certain (stereotyped) gay men you have in mind to flame it up, or come to that, asking atheists not to be so militant...

Yes, many poly folks do think they're more evolved. Yes, this is just embarrassing at best, and sanctimonious and preachy at worst. No, the rest of us are not accountable to shut them down so you don't feel squicked by the whole thing.

n my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly!

This is a perspective some poly types share, that jealousy and polyamory are not compatible. I've never quite understood it; I experience jealousy sometimes (and I'm in five serious... (read more)

I'll call people on the offensive tropes not because I feel responsible on behalf of the Poly Conspiracy to do so, but because they are offensive tropes. We're almost playing Poly Trope Bingo now! (Although they don't actually seem to have the "poly = no jealousy" meme there, oh well.) I have said that poly doesn't mean no jealousy; poly means additional tools in the repertoire with which to deal with jealousy. Perhaps I can draw a long bow and say just as some bi people might describe themselves as gender-oblivious while others might self-ID as gender-aware-and-interested-in-more-than-one gender, my experience has been that some poly people self-ID as "did not install the jealousy patch" while others can be jealous but don't regard that as fatal to poly. I cannot find any research on this. Custody has been (successfully) awarded and children removed from parents in some (USA) areas simply by referencing open poly or revealing closeted poly. There are a lot of cultural and privilege challenges in poly for families with children.
I do too, when I encounter them in my social sphere (it's not merely offensive in my view, it's just a painfully stupid idea). What I dislike is the implied obligation to police a group of people with whom my only assured point of commonality is our nonmonogamy for their painfully stupid and/or offensive ideas so that a monogamous person feels better about poly people as a whole. How they feel about us is not my responsibility, and I'm already acting to counteract the stupid ideas bothering them for my own reasons. That seems like an accurate summary. As to the comments re: child custody, yeah, I'm aware of how grim it is for poly parents involved in a custody battle. :\ Several friends of mine have suffered for it, and a few remain on guard against the possibility.
I share your annoyance! However I also have an explicit policy of doing (or continuing to do) something I have decided is the right thing to do, even if in so doing I apparently reinforce stupid/annoying entitlement. I thought I should not allow irritation to be so powerful as to derail me from my chosen behaviour.
Okay. Good for you. That doesn't make the entitlement any less stupid or annoying. Note that "Whether I am doing something about this" and "Whether I feel like calling out stupid/annoying entitlement" are seperate questions. It is entirely possible to be aware of both. It is furthermore not necessary for me to prove my credentials on this point to the person making the entitled demand of me (even if only by implication). In summary: I know what I'm doing about stupid memes within the groups I frequent, including my fellow polyamorists, and I don't owe an accounting of that to a monogamous person who's ignorant and entitled enough to seriously demand, anonymously and in general, that "smart" poly folk police the memes he doesn't like so that "we can have a real conversation." For all he knows lots of poly people are already arguing the opposite to the "poly = more evolved" boosters -- how would he be able to tell the difference between people doing that, and being ignored or just having limited energy and desire and time in the day to spend all their lives seeking out and squashing that one meme that bugs him, and a world where they're not doing it at all? He wouldn't, because the meme is there regardless. If after reading this reply you still fail to understand that I am against the meme in question and believe it is worth countering within our community, I ask you to let it go -- I am not interested in taking this conversation any further, if you can't understand what I'm saying.
I see I have written poorly. I understand you're against the meme and I have no problem with anything you've written about your conduct or attitudes. My apologies, it seems I have come across as combative when I was aiming for "musing collaboratively". I think perhaps I had misread you as saying your motivation to combat the memes was reduced if that combat reinforced clueless entitlement. I thought that was an unfortunate result. Entitlement always annoys me, but I try to be explicitly suspicious of decisions I make out of annoyance, and I thought that was interesting in a more general case as well as for our subtopic. Perhaps I've been projecting; perhaps I shouldn't try writing on LW when jetlagged.
Ahhhh, okay. No, just that I don't feel it's necessary or helpful to signal my own participation to someone making such a demand, compared to signalling that they're being inappropriate. Not a bad policy at all.
Thanks for reading my (long) comment. RE the Laguna Pueblo, I will read up. Certainly it's not something that we've seen often. Whether this is because "things are different than they were before" or something else less plastic is another question. To be clear, my argument about the correlation between polyamory and child-rearing is not about how effective a poly environment might be at child-rearing. On the contrary, I'd be that a stable poly family would provide access to consistent capital and caretakers that a mono family cannot. However, the question remains of how it's in the individual parents' interests to enter into a given family arrangement. When it's not, they won't have kids, and the eventual parenting outcome remains moot; if moms and dads don't want to do it, it won't happen. My suspicion is that among those individuals so constituted that polyamory is a good match, having kids might not be part of their plan. (Again, early days, data needed, though this could be done with surveymonkey.) My objections to your comments: my "hey smart poly people, round up the jerks" comment was intended as a humorous way to point out the sanctimoniousness that you also recognize, and which damages the discussion. It wasn't intended as a serious proposal for the Grand High Poly Council to take up. (Note: I also don't really think there's a Grand High Poly Council, but I think we understand each other by now.) My second objection is to your statement that "[my] theoretical understanding of human sexuality has left [me] ill-prepared for making predictions about real-world cases like this". A less charitable person than myself might react to this as a personal attack. Suffice it to say, I must sadly report that I have a good track record of looking at relationships and identifying tensions that later end them. My predictions aren't based on personality clashes, but rather fundamental supply-demand tensions that would seem to be constant across any kind of arrangement wh
Leslie Marmon Silko is a good source there, re: pre-Christianization (and to some degree mid-and post-) sexual practices. I'd find that an easier statement to accept if I didn't see many, many people routinely make decisions about parenting (or becoming parents) that did not appear to involve such analysis. The only times I've seen parents really think and act the way you describe, was when they were financially-stable and comfortable enough in status from the start that any such alterations would change that (and even then, many of them wind up divorcing anyway if things go poorly instead of staying together for the kids' sake, something which may or may not be in the child's best interest as well). And even then, I've seen parents in such situations adopt polyamory or whatever; either they don't agree with your assessment, or they're not thinking about the decision in those terms in the first place. (FYI: This is what I meant re: your theoretical understanding of human sexuality -- it's not an attack on you, it's just me stating you appear to have an understanding of how people behave in these situations that's informed more by your big-picture theoretical beliefs about human behavior, than by a direct assessment of how people really behave -- at the very worst, I am accusing you of generalizing too broadly beyond the scope of what you know).
What's your source for this? Not trying to challenge you factually (it's a reasonable enough claim given the diversity of cultures out there), but I've found non-romanticized sources on all but a few pre-contact cultures fantastically difficult to find short of asking actual anthropology departments, and it's an area I'd like to know more of.
Leslie Marmon Silko's writing.
Thank you; I'll check that out.
Also, one little society isn't a very impressive track record. Monogamous societies and polygynous societies have ruled continents.

Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why.

As far as I know, explicit symmetrical anything hasn't existed for very long...

Right, that's the noise in these questions. Some things have changed since the paleolithic, so are we talking about conventions that fit with old social norms and economic systems, or something less plastic. I don't know that we know yet.
There's been a lot of discussion about how the reproductive function of sex might have shaped institutions of love and relationships. But I think an equally salient thing is that people age deteriorate and die. That one is pretty symmetric.
More likely they would end up a LOT of peolple's secondaries. Possibly with a mostly political 'primary' alliance with each other.
Can you elaborate on the model that leads you to this conclusion?

Captains of football teams and cheerleaders do not want to be the 'primaries' of lots of people. That's an awful lot of work. They also wouldn't make particularly good primaries - given that they are always so busy fucking other people. Furthermore, when it comes to 'primary' status they will want to reserve that for people who they gain status for being affiliated with - other elites.

I would expect a lot of people to realize they don't want to stay with the football player or cheerleader for very long. But in any case, you have to compare the result to what we have now:
1Eneasz12y Not sure if it's available voluntarily, but you could ask your doctor.
Hormones have a lot of messy side effects. It's like trying to adjust the vertical hold on your CRT with a claw hammer. A less drastic thing to try, which has helped many people with similar symptoms, is to deny yourself (maybe with a trustworthy outside observer for backup) access to all electronic-format pornography for a few months. See if that cuts back the drive a bit, clears your head.

Since I first read this about a year ago, it had had an interesting side effect. I am less able to enjoy fiction where the plot requires a monogamous assumption to function. Plots and Tropes like "Love Triangle", "Who Will Zie Choose?", "Can't Date Them, Not the One", and some "Cheating Spouse" and "Jealous Spouse" now seem weird and artificial to me (unless the poly option is considered and discarded).

I was never a huge fan of romance or romantic comedy, so this is no great loss. It is an interesting minor memetic hazard though.

By analogy with an Idiot Plot which dissolves in the presence of smart characters, a "Muggle Plot" is any plot which dissolves in the presence of transhumanism and polyamory.

Shortly after generalizing this abstraction, someone at a party told me the original tale of the Tin Woodsman, in which there are two men vying for the attention of a healer woman who gives them replacement metal body parts while constructing a whole new body out of the spares. In the end, she decides that the men she's been healing are mechanical and therefore unloveable, and goes off with the new man she's constructed.

"Ah," I said, "a Muggle Plot."

They're surprisingly common once you start looking. I originally generalized it while watching the romantic subplot in Madoka. Blah blah, not a real human, blah blah, love rival..

As cool as that term sounds, I'm not sure I like it. I think it's too strongly reinforcing of ideas like superiority of rationalists over non-rationalists. Even in cases where rationalists are just better at things, it seems like it's encouraging thinking of Us and Them to an unnecessary degree. Also, assuming there is a good enough reason to convince me that the term should be used, why is transhumanism-and-polyamory the set of powers defining the non-muggles? LessWrong isn't that overwhelmingly poly, is it?

Plots which are just about people not being rational are a subspecies of "Idiot Plots". Plots which are about people not behaving like SF con-goers are "Muggle Plots".

I don't really see the inherent superiority idea. Seems like there should be plenty of interesting ways to mess up everything with polyamory and transhumanism as well as with monogamy and bioconservatism, just like muggles and wizards both have failure modes, just different.
I thought for a while, and I really can't imagine any cases of works which would be unsuitable for all LWers that arn't worth hanging around and arguing about. I agree. We should be calling these people ignorant and criticising their work, not assigning them a permanent class division, shaking our heads, and going back to our camp.
8fubarobfusco11y The retconned version is a bit more of a transhumanist story. Nick Chopper abandoned Nimmie Amee after his series of cursed injuries deprived him of his heart — construed here as the seat of the emotions. He was (some time later) fitted with a new heart; but it was a kind heart, not a loving heart, and so he didn't return to her. Aside from the anatomic specifics, it's a problem of maintaining goals under self-modification!
Requesting clarification on a point in reply to this post because it doesn't deserve it's own Discussion post but I want to know, and since the core question is Muggle Plots I can't think of a better point. Basically, I'm not sure whether the following hypothetical scenario counts as a "Muggle Plot" (in Elizier's sense of a plot a rationalist would easily be able to avert) or not. The scenario: -An individual, A, splits into two individuals (called B and C for distinction). This is a philosophical style fission- in every sense in which it is physically possible, B and C are each identical to the original. -A was and B and C are selfish individuals. B and C get into a serious fight (let's say a fight to the death, though I think that's peripheral) over Selfish Gain X, a gain which one of them can have but not both by it's nature. There is no intelligent solution to the problem of X that gives both of them even 50% of what they want. Although many people here would argue that this is a Muggle Plot as B and C are the same individual, I see no contradiction in B and C's semi-utility functions in acting selfishly and ignoring the other's desires. However, given arguments that A, B, and C are the same person some people might call it irrational.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Not what I'd call a Muggle Plot, no. See also, The Fate of the Phoenix by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. Can be read without its predecessor novel.
Amusingly, I find I'm subject to this effect despite being happily in a monogamous relationship myself, simply by virtue of living in an increasingly poly-normative social environment. Culture-default handling of traditional gender roles often have this effect on me as well.
That kind of story doesn't assume that polygamy is nonexistent. It only assumes that polygamy is rare enough that it's pretty unlikely as a solution. If a similar percentage of people are willing to participate in polyamory as are gay, that's around 5%.. The odds that three random people in a love triangle, who aren't already selected for polyamory, are all polyamorous will then be 1 in 8000. That's small enough that the story really doesn't need to consider and then discard the option.
Judging from how many nominally monogamous people switched to being nominally polygamous in my social circle as the social norm changed, versus how many didn't, I strongly doubt that a plurality of the population is sufficiently exclusively and innately monogamous that considering alternatives is a waste of time. Then again, I also doubt that 95% of the population is exclusively and innately heterosexual. OTOH, I've never lived in a normatively bisexual community, so I have minimal data
Yeah, I have this problem too. I can still write mono characters, but I'm more thoughtful about it than I used to be. (I suspect I'd enjoy reading thoughtfully-written mono characters more.)

I find this very interesting. Polyamory is something that I've toyed with intellectually for a while, but I have several ugh fields around it. Namely, and this one has been borne out by this very post, that "going polyamorous" seems like the kind of thing monogamous females do in order to acquire polyamorous males. Perhaps if one was a sufficiently status-y female, one would be able to convert the polyamorous male to being monogamous. Of course, this comes with all sorts of issues (namely, making the polyamorous partner unhappy). I just haven't been sufficiently convinced that being polyamorous would make me happy for any reasons other than using that polyamory to attract a high-status mate that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to attract. I, like you Alicorn, have been too long seduced by the monogamy aesthetic.

Now, I will try to imagine the conditions sufficient in order for me to hack myself into being polyamorous. I imagine that they would be thus:

  • I would have to decide, for myself, that I wanted to be polyamorous before meeting some polyamorous male that I desired. That is the only way that I can reasonably trust myself to make a decision in my own best interes
... (read more)

I would have to decide, for myself, that I wanted to be polyamorous before meeting some polyamorous male that I desired. That is the only way that I can reasonably trust myself to make a decision in my own best interest.

That sucks. A compatible partner that is successfully poly is some evidence that poly could also work for you, as well as being something that brings the possibility to your attention. Yet by meeting them you have instead cut off the whole possibility. You'd be better if you never laid eyes on them! :P

This is just the way I like to relate to myself but I'd decide I was allowed to switch to poly if it was a good idea but that I'm not allowed to date poly-inspiration-X. For at least as long as a limerance period could be expected to interfere with judgement and also long enough that I could see if poly worked for me without the interference. That way my infatuation biases don't get to subvert my decision making either by temptation or by defensive reaction.

I would have to be convinced that there was no asymmetry. I believe this is my primary repulsion to polyamory. I envision myself in a situation where I want primary access to a partner who does not similarly wi

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Seriously... being poly doesn't add extra hours to the day!

You know, I had assumed that Time-Turners were invented by a Hogwarts Headmaster who despaired of getting the school schedules straight and one day before deadline stayed up until 6AM inventing the Time-Turner, and that he (gender coinflip-generated) succeeded because he was the first person to try for time travel just to get extra time and not to change the past, and that the invention within Hogwarts is why they get a traditional free pass on using them. But some polyamorous past wizard would be just as reasonable an inventor.

I like love pentagons and poly chains within the community. It creates a familial feeling. Of course nothing's actually gone wrong in my immediate poly family yet. You can easily see how this could go wrong.

And from my side I can see how it could go right. I visited Berkeley recently (bootcamp) and it was adorable.
There aren't many places where people would be comfortable making that comparison! But I suppose if it wasn't for the inbreeding risk, Westermarck effect and massive potential for abuse incest would be the perfect family bonding activity. You're living with each other already!
I lived in a co-op for several years & found myself in the midst of a poly community (quite separately) at the same time. I would almost be surprised if people didn't treat their closest friends & lovers like their family in such interconnected communities. To say so comes naturally when you feel that way, which we did/do. It's just the family you chose, not the family you were born into.
More to the point of the grandparent, they are the family members that you have sex with. (I usually prefer not be thought of as a brother by my romantic interests, nor do I find myself with the urge to grope my sisters.)

Mono vanilla uptight people also have family members they have sex with. They're called "spouses". When someone mentions their spouse as part of their family, listeners rarely recoil in accusations of incest.

The relevant characteristic of marriage here is the long-term, committed relationship with frequent contact (not necessarily cohabitation). Close-knit poly communities have several of these per person.

If people who are indirectly related by such relationships (e.g. siblings-in-law) get along well and see enough of each other, they usually have familial feelings toward each other (unless the families I know are weird). The relationship being sexual on both sides rather than sexual on one side and blood on the other has no reason to change this.

That is literally true, and saying that you have sex with your family members doesn't technically mean you admit to incest. That's why what I said was "There aren't many places where people would be comfortable making that comparison!"
That's completely reasonable, I'll agree with that.
Seconded. Seems like Alicorn's reasons for going poly are not good -- being head over heels for MBlume and him not being willing to go monogamous in return... meh. Alicorn, other poly folks, a question: I don't get poly (aside from the simple "some folks are just different from me" unhelpfulness). Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners? Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness. How could you be special if you're so easily replaceable by others in the harem? Enlightenment me, please, for I am confused. That said, if you're really happy, I'm happy for you, and I apologize for rocking the boat, if I have.

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes, but they don't need to have a monopoly in order to feel that their product is sufficiently differentiated.

But, based on Alicorn's own experience, even she would feel "...skeptical that there was enough interest for both the relationship and the subsidy to persist.", in the case of more than 3 "primary" partners. I guess that despite the cliche "there is enough love for everyone", in practice it wouldn't be realistic to expect a single person to share his attention/interest equally among n people, if n became too high.
If n is >10, then even with someone devoting all their time to relationships, they are still going to be giving a small amount. to each For n=1; the relationship will generally be saturated before all the time is used up, but for higher values of n it becomes more and more likely that all the time will be used up, before the relationship is saturated. Personally I couldn't handle more than 3 primary relationships, and I wouldn't even be able to handle 3 unless the partners also had other partners; to be there for them when I am otherwise engaged.
This is not directly on point, but it might be interesting to see if there are quantitative measures for how rich the various biographies of people with multiple personality disorder are. Research directly into relationships could be complicated by social factors, the difficulties of studying dynamics, political issues, etc. In contrast, the related subject of how much time one has to spend being someone to be a relatively complete person should be free from that. If it turns out that a person with MPD can carry, say, three complete personalities at most without them being caricatures or undeveloped characters, that would somewhat indicate a lower limit of three on how many full relationships with others one could have. If each human can be three really distinct people, and each person can have at least one relationship at a time, it seems like an emotionally adept person would be able to handle three relationships without having to fragment their mind. Or perhaps there are only enough hours in a day to form one normal personality, or perhaps there are enough for ten, I have no idea.
It is an interesting though... of course, there would be other, practical considerations... i.e., if we are assuming three "primary" relationships of the same "importance" (I couldn't find a better word... maybe "rank", "status") we would be dealing with four persons living under the same roof. Add offspring into the mix, and we would have eight, twelve,etc. people lving together... Even without considering the fact that it would be difficult to give each of the three lovers an equal and significant amount of attention (a day has only 24 hours, it's won't stretch to accomodate our needs), adding progeny into the mix... the only option I could see would be limiting the number of children to one per lover (no twins, thanks), and maybe adding a few years between each birth (otherwise the female partner would be in and out of the hospital). Of course, some of the male partners might decide they won't have kids (I wouldn't know why, since they would need to deal with the offspring of the other couples anyway), or, if we were talking about bisexual participants, there might be two female and two male partners, so the numbers might change a bit... Raising the offspring won't be an easy task, either. I mean, with four adult (autority) figures living under the same roof, some of whom might not be interested/capable/willing to deal with children (what if a part of the quartet wanted to reproduce and the rest did not?), who the child will likely come to see as "parental", despite what said adults might wish... What if there is disagreement regarding the way the child is raised? It's true that the "natural" parents would be only two, but the rest would likely have almost as much of a hand in their education, and seeing them on a daily basis, living together as a single family unit, they would feel (and be) entitled to set some ground rules anyway. In the end, I think there is a point beyond which things would not be manageable anymore. In that respect, Alicorn's decision see
Could you give some examples of how they do feel sufficiently differentiated? It is not clear to me how it works in practice, and while I could imagine scenarios, I don't trust my own imaginative accuracy when it comes to imagining much about poly relationships. Thanks.
To be honest I don't think I'm the right person to ask. I currently don't want that level of commitment or 'specialness' and at those times when I have I was monogomous. Others will be able to answer with what it feels like from the inside.

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes. Why would my being special to someone imply that they couldn't have sex and/or long-term relationships with people they found attractive?

#Why would my being special to someone imply that they couldn't have sex and/or long-term relationships with people they found attractive?# To quote Alicorn's original post: #I want to be someone's top romantic priority, ideally symmetrically. [This is satisfied by me and MBlume having an explicitly primary relationship instead of each having a bunch of undifferentiated ones.]# We are talking about a real need, a real issue here. While I consider the answer essentially correct, I also feel that dismissing the implied concern out of hand, as if it was not there to be considered, would be a mistake (after all, many of those considering polygamy are bound to feel that same way). Note that, as remarked, even here we have different levels, different shades, there is a difference between being someone's top romantic priorities and just a generic "one of the many". I guess that what the original poster meant was "unique", "exclusive", rather than "special". Alicorn's post remaked that being the "top" romantic priority is 95% of the deal. The fact that the relationship is not "unique", but that you are just one of two, six, n romantic interests might make someone feel as if they were easily repleaceable, interchangeable like a car's wheel, whereas, in fact, the feelings of those involved are no less real or intense. Simply because there are others just like you does not mean that you don't matter to your partner. In other words, it does not make you "not special", only "not unique", which, to some people, might appear like the same thing, but it is not. The problem lies in that remaining 5% that distinguish "top" from "exclusive" romantic interest. To some people, that uniqueness -the fact that the bond is unique, involved only you and your partner, and no one else- is something special and valuable in an of itself. The fact of the matter is that the value one places on exclusivity is highly subjective, everyone has to draw their own conclusions. An unstated question
To quote Alicorn: * I think I could have lived with being a member of a triad without explicit rankings; other arrangements would have been progressively less appealing and at some point I would have been necessarily skeptical that there was enough interest for both the relationship and the subsidy to persist. So I would guess, it all depends on the situation. Are we talking about a "primary" relationship, etc. I guess that at a certain point you could, presumably, start to quetion your role and importance in the relationship.
The thought of my partner sharing a particular level of connection (poorly specified, but I know it when I see it / imagine it) with another person triggers typical primate challenge behaviors in me. E.g., violence toward the other male. Along with feelings of having been hurt. Since I'm special to my partner, the implication is that she wouldn't want to make me feel hurt and highly violent. You've never felt romantic jealousy? Or did you hack it away like Alicorn? For males who do not share this trait, I wonder on the mechanism, and whether it might have some relation to measures of testosterone. Probably too simplistic, but a study I'd like to see nonetheless.

I've found that my jealousy, though much lower than seems normal, still varies considerably. And it correlates, as far as I can tell, with general self-confidence. If I'm feeling down about myself I feel much more possessive and attached to significant others. When I'm feeling good about myself I've been fine with open relationships. Of course, that doesn't mean that variable explains all jealousy variation in the population. As for testosterone: anecdotally I haven't noticed anything when my testosterone level increased following a change in diet and exercise.

This has been my experience too -- jealousy almost always comes from a place of insecurity. For a while my standard jealousy first-aid was just to make an extra trip to the gym/practice some other skill I could feel good about improving at.
1Paul Crowley12y
FWIW I've very rarely experienced anything like this reaction.

Don't poly folks want to feel special to their partners?

Yes. Which is part of why I allow competition. Personally, I find it easier to feel special when I know that my partner has other options, but still chooses to spend most/all of her time with me. I want my partner to be spending time with the person (or people) she is best matched with, even if it's not me. But if it is me, then I feel great, especially when I see my partner dropping one of her other options in favor of spending more time with me, or telling me that she enjoys spending time with me more.

But the reality is that they always have other options.
To be perfecly fair, from my relatively brief poly experience, there is also the other half of the coin: the disappointment of not being the one said partner choses, the potential jealousy (irrational, but, undenyably not exactly an emotion that can be controlled at will), and, as Alicorn's post highlighted, the fear of losing said partner -breakups do happen, and, in relation to another post, the situation between a mother and her sons is quite different because that bond does not fit this particular requirement-.
That is a new, interesting perspective to me. Thank you for joining in. (Thanks to all the poly folks who have been replying to me. Very cool, very helpful.)

As has been suggested by others: different people need different things to "feel special" in the sense you mean it here.

Some people have their sense of relationship-specialness diminished when their partner goes out to see a movie without them, or when their partner expresses the sense that someone else is attractive, or when their partner goes to the office instead of staying home with them, or when their partner chooses to spend holidays with his or her birth family, or when their partner socializes with someone other than them, or when their partner kisses someone other than them, or when their partner has sex with someone other than them, or when their partner establishes a long-term sexual or romantic relationship with someone other than them, or etc. or etc. or etc.

It's not particularly helpful to talk about what ought to diminish my sense of relationship-specialness. If I know what does in fact diminish it, and I can find a way of operating in the world that meets my needs given that (either by changing my preferences to suit my current environment, or changing my environment to suit my current preferences, or a combination), then I will feel more special than if... (read more)

I agree with most of what you say here. I did not intend to imply you ought to feel or behave a certain way, so apologies if it seemed that way. I just don't/didn't understand, and would like to. Thanks for chiming in. (Didn't realize how many poly folks were on the message board.)
Oh, don't worry, I wasn't feeling personally targeted. And just to avoid confusion: I'm not actually poly myself; I've been in a monogamous relationship for ~20 years and have no particular desire to alter that condition. But I live in a social circle where it is increasingly the default relationship option.

Because seeing my partner being emotionally or physically intimate with someone else (or knowing they were, even without seeing it) = immediate non-specialness.

I don't know why you would say this, and I strongly disagree.

I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers?

I apologize for rocking the boat, if I have.

Interesting benefit of polyamory: there's a lot less that can rock the boat (or sink it)! We enjoy a stability we did not have before.

I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers?

I didn't understand this line of argument before I was poly, and I don't understand it now. Yes. Of course if you have multiple children they're individually less special to you! You have less time and energy for each, less brain-space to store facts about each, and you aren't even culturally allowed to have a favorite! There's a sense in which you "love them all equally", sure, but I'd be willing to bet that something like 75% of parents would be unable to claim that under Veritaserum.

As for why it should be different for lovers, the psychology about lovers and children is very different. It's a conceit of our current sensibilities that we even use the same word to refer to how we feel about those, our siblings, our pets, and ice cream. There is no reason in principle why we couldn't have been hardwired for extreme strict romantic monogamy and still love lots of children.

Which is why I sometimes taboo that word and try and explain exactly how I feel about my S.O. in other, more concrete, terms.
Hmm... perhaps we don't mean the same thing when we use the word "special". If I pretend that you used a word unfamiliar to me instead and had to work only on context, where you continue with: ...then I'd have to agree with you. Certainly, I have less time and energy to devote to each child. For the record, I never claimed to love them all equally, or to not have a favorite. (They are all my favorites, in different realms, but even so... it would be absurd to claim that it just happens to all add up to be equal.) But I don't see what point you are making here. My point is that my love for the first child was not diminished by the arrival of the second. For some other definition of special (importance in my life), I would say that the first is just as special to me. The reason this is brought up (perhaps mostly by poly people with more than one child) is that one's capacity for love, for this "specialness" is not fixed! Another child comes along, and your capacity grows. Another long-term, committed partner, and your capacity grows. That is the point of the argument: capacity is not fixed in size. Certainly, but the point about specialness-capacity-increase is fairly general. I would apply it to lovers, to children, to favorite movies, to desserts, to symphonies... the more things we love (or are special or meaningful to us), the more our capacity increases. These things, these experiences make us grow. (Well, maybe not desserts; that's a different kind of growth.) And we accept that this is how we work in terms of children, movies, food, music... why make an exception for lovers? Ok. I suppose not. I suppose we could have been hardwired for extreme preference for only one flavor of ice-cream... Do you just really not like the comparisons between different categories of things we like/love/enjoy? Of course our feelings for these different categories are all very, very different, but the generalization seems valid enough to me. And especially: if they feel si
I have three children. Does loving one mean that the other two are not special to me?? Does a parent only have enough love for one child? Why should it be so different for lovers? Not the best example. Does it never happen that one child suffers because he feels that his sibling is "stealing" his parent's attention away from him? It's something I have seen it happen before, even when the mother does love her sons equally -while her love might remain, the same could no longer be said about her "undivided" attention, which is what causes the problem in young children, when they are informed that they are going to have "a little brother"-. While it is not a rationally sound stance, that kind of jealousy is certainly not an uncommon emotion. Furthermore, does it never happen that one of the sibling feels slighted because he is constantly compared to his more successful brother? While the mother might, in theory, love them both equally, life is not always as it looks on paper. It's not uncommon to have a situation where there is a "preferred" child (maybe because he excells in sports, like the father, whereas the other brother doesn't even like football, and prefers classical music). To put it clearly, it's also something Alicorn also underlined: # Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary. #. She later decided that the odds of that happening are lower than those that things might go wrong simply because of loss of interest. However, that does not mean that one should dimiss such concern out of hand with a "I don't know why you would say this", as if the fear of abandonment was not a real, "natural" emotion. Ultimately, the children in the example will always remain that mother's sons, no matter what. A romantic relationship is not like that. Breakups do exist, it's not as if the possibility that he/she might decide to pursue a monogamous relationship with a partner he/she met at a later date is might be a real
I suppose no analogy would be perfect, but saying that kids can be jealous doesn't seem to justify or explain rational adult emotion. I would certainly not agree that kids with siblings are ultimately worse off than those without! Getting back to the original point of seeing one's partner with another makes one feel non-special... I still don't know why someone (some healthy adult with decent self-esteem) would say this. My guess is that I am finding it hard to understand because I have been in that situation, and the OP (jmed) hasn't. So jmed is trying to guess what it would be like, but because it is so far our of his/her experience, he/she isn't doing a very accurate job. In my experience, such an event has no impact on my perception of my own specialness. Much like when a lover makes a new friend, or ... I don't know... discovers a new restaurant? These things are just (varying degrees of) nice and exciting.
I think that the issue here is something Alicorn explained in her post. "I want to be someone's top romantic priority, ideally symmetrically. [This is satisfied by me and MBlume having an explicitly primary relationship instead of each having a bunch of undifferentiated ones.]" I guess that the original poster didn't mean to say "special", but rather "unique" or "exclusive". In Alicorn's post, it is made clear that they don't have a "bunch of undifferentiated" relationships, but in my opinion, that's what the first commenter understood, and probably, thinking about it, the idea of being so easily repleaced made him think "she considers me like a car's wheel: I am not there? No problem, someone else will be". That doesn't have anything to do with his perception of himself, but with the perception of him he believes his partner might have. Maybe I should not have put there those comments about children's behaviour, because they seem to distract fromt he main point, I just wanted to note that even in a situation where fear of abandonment is not justified (the mother in question will always be their mother, even after the birth of her new child), there is still jealousy, as well as a subconscious fear. As pointed out by Alicorn, and considering adults and romantic relationship (which can, in fact, end), there is "Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary.". In this case, we are talking about an event that could actually happen, and has to be accounted for. In the end, Alicorn concludes that the odds of their relationship ending because her boyfriend might prefer another woman to her would be lower than those of them breaking out because of simple loss of interest. Also, in the thread where Alicorn's partner talked about his view of the experience, occasional feelings of jealousy had been mentioned. Who said that emotions were rational? When had they ever been? Just because you intellectually know that you mat
Ok, then I would ask how the OP feels if their SO talked to another person. Or became friends with. Or found attractive. Or flirted with. There are some things that we can expect to be unique or exclusive in just about any relationship. (Certainly there are many things that are exclusive in my own primary relationship!) So it's more a matter of changing where that line is drawn. And as far as this: "Anxiety about the possibility that my primary would be stolen away by some more appealing secondary." I would guess that monogamous relationships have to deal with this more (possibly far more) than do poly primary relationships. An appealing secondary is much less of a threat if your SO can get what they want from that person without having to break the primary relationship, if your SO can dispel the mystique, see that the grass really isn't so green, etc. An event that could actually happen in any relationship, not just poly ones. And like I said, I believe it's more likely in mono relationships (whose track records are not stellar). Oh, I'm sorry if I implied that! Certainly they are not. But dark, unhelpful emotions are to be overcome, not given into. The mono relationship model seems to encourage jealousy, while the poly model seeks to overcome it. I would guess that, as a group, monos are more jealous than polys, because polys must learn to overcome it! No, we can't just reason away dark emotions, but we most certainly can illuminate them. Sometimes, upon examination, they turn out to be so silly that they just disappear. Other times they result from real problems that need to be addressed. But in any case, it's best to try to understand where they come from. Jealousy can often be dispelled or dealt with. We are not helpless before it. It isn't just part of the human condition, or "who we are". Your guesses are probably accurate, and they make me a little sad... thoughts of mine in response: Loving others does not mean she loves you less. It most certainly doe
With "superiority", I was not exactly referring to your post, but to a general trend I noticed in other posts, where bisexuality and polygamy were (I think, admittedly, half jockyingly) publicized as "evolutionally superior" (?), at least if we were "immortal superbeings". According to mdcaton's post (quote: "I'm often on the defensive when polys talk to me, because there is a good bit of evangelism and insistence that monos are morally inferior, emotionally immature, etc.") that does seem to be a trend, though the Alicorn's post, nor your review seemed to contain any sort of "zealotic" element. To restate my opinion, I don't think of the polygamous arrangement as necessarily superior, nor inferior, mainly because it's a highly subjective decision to make, and what could work for someone might not work for someone else. On paper, it sure seems to solve many problems -which is why I agreed to give it a try in the first place-. To name a few: the fact that, through you might feel jealousy and some amount of fear (because of the potential risk that your partner might change her mind and unceremoniously "dump" you to enter in a monogamous relationship, which, considering sex and the general level of intimacy involved with "third parties", would in my opinion increase with respect to a "proper" monogamous relationship -by that I mean one in which the people involved are faithful and sincere with one another-, at least if said partner was not exactly sure about what she wanted from a polygamous relationship -so, arguably, this woudl not apply to a "proper" polygamous relationship either, I guess-... but that's debatable, and not really the issue here), cheating would no longer be an issue (though, if you were comfortable and open enough to sleep with other people in a polygamous, I doubt that would have been a cause of worry), and certainly, if something was to happen to one of the two, the other would have the support of third parties and you wouldn't need to worry abou
Zealous, you mean.
2[anonymous]12y No, I meant what I wrote.
Thank you, in that case, for giving me the opportunity to learn a new word (if only a synonym).
Have you ever felt jealousy? Romantic or otherwise? I don't feel it over my partner finding someone else attractive -- that's too distant and automatic to be a threat -- but a pursued relationship with someone else is too much of a threat to my relationship. I also don't see this as an unfounded insecurity that I should work on reducing; if you're more secure in your primary relationship than I would be in a poly scenario, I feel like you may not be updating sufficiently given available information about human relationships. Having multiple children doesn't threaten the loss of your previous children. That's why. I accept that this may be true for you. It does not appear to be true of most of the poly folks I've come across. I have seen a lot of drama and boat-rocking and boat-sinking. Hell, it just happened again, publicly, in Tortuga. It is possible that I have not come across a proper representative sample of poly relationships and have an inaccurate view. But I remain skeptical of your claim to this benefit for poly. Thank you for your perspective on the matter. I feel a bit like an anthropologist dropped into a foreign land.
Yes, both. But I don't see jealousy as this big emotional dead-end. "If you see jealousy, run the other way! Only evil will you find here!" Jealousy is a response. Like a rash or something. It's an indication that something needs to be dealt with. It could be the emotional equivalent of skin cancer... but it's more likely that it's the equivalent of a need to use a different brand of soap. Upon further inspection, it's often not that big of a deal. See, I think we are just looking at this from very different perspectives. Why would your partner need to leave you for another if they could just have you both?? It seems to me that monogamy and its "all or nothing" treatment of partners is what causes people to leave. Monogamy is not immune to partners leaving, to which divorce statistics attest. No, I would say that monogamy encourages leaving! Sometimes even demands it. I'm guessing we are updating on very different data. Monogamy is a disaster, contributing to tremendous misery and pain (not to mention waste of resources). And the polyamory I've seen has been largely positive. Not universally, but largely. On more than one occasion, I've even seen it save what monogamy threatened to destroy, with its insistence upon jealous, fear, and punishment. I have no idea what you are talking about with Tortuga, so cannot reply to that (sorry). But yes, it seems we have very different experiences with polyamory, and in both cases mostly anecdotal evidence. (Perhaps I have just been lucky!) But before you write off polyamory altogether, I would suggest that you take a harder look at monogamy and what it has left in its path.
Because they might like the other more, which would hurt me enough that I would not want to stay. Oh, it was written off long ago; my curiosity is academic, not for assessment with respect to personal change. I am in a successful, long-term monogamous relationship, and neither of us want that to change. I'm not sure what you mean by what monogamy "has left in its path." If you mean divorce rates, I can only repeat that my anecdotal experience with polyamorous couples has seen them split up at least as frequently.
And a child might (and often will) say the same about a new little brother or sister. This doesn't illustrate your proclaimed difference between the two situations. You're not losing your partner, you're leaving them. Just as a child doesn't lose their parents love, but they may choose to ignore that love because they are jealous of a younger sibling.
I don't see the child-parent relationship as usefully analogous to the romantic love relationship. If one of your partners murders your mother, but wants to stay with you, is there really a difference if you call what follows "losing them" or "leaving them"? You lost/left your partner because they committed a dealbreaker. I just have different dealbreakers than you do.
I see your murder analogy as less useful than the child-parent analogy, FWIW. Anyway, I asked, and you answered: Whoa, whoa, whoa... that is not an answer to the question I asked! You see, already, by examining the hypothetical situation, we are getting somewhere. :-) So are your fears truly about being left, or about feeling a level of jealousy and hurt that you don't think you can live with? (You don't have to answer me; the point is that, through asking these kinds of questions and examining your feelings, you can find the source of these feelings. And sometimes it's a surprisingly small thing that you really need!) You choose (and are allowed to change) your deal-breakers. And for the record, in case it sounds like I'm trying to convince you to try polyamory again, I'm really not. Not at all. While I don't think the reasons you gave are very good ones for avoiding polyamory, the fact that you are in a successful mono relationship that you are both happy with is all the reason you need, of course. :-)
Both, of course. The jealousy and hurt is, in part, a rejection to a fear of being left or rejected. And in part it's just base possessiveness, probably. I'm good with that. I'm answering questions about these feelings because I'm in a discussion about them with people who presumable don't feel them (or not in the same way). I'm not confused or in the dark about the source of my feelings on the matter. This is not the first time I've thought about my feelings, just as I'm sure when you explain why you're okay with poly, it's not your first time working through these thoughts either. Sure. But why would I, when I have zero desire to?
I wouldn't describe it as being "head over heels", at the time the decision was made. We'd dated before and I was very happy during that time, and I wanted it back. The universe is allowed to be set up so I have to make some changes to get things. It turned out to be set up that way. I wanted the gotten thing more than I wanted what I had to give up, and I had the power to make the trade. I will be better able to answer the question if you unpack the words "special" and "replaceable".
I'll try. Not sure I'll succeed, though, as it screams obviousness to my brain, so it's hard to understand the outside perspective wherein it is not clear. A partner stating he or she would rather not be with me than be with just me indicates that I am not particularly significant. Not special to him or her. Replaceable, pretty easily, considering how doable it is to not live like a swinger (the other side of poly, emotional & intellectual connection = good friends, no line-crossing necessary). I enjoy feeling like I am more important to my partner than anyone/anything else. I am under the impression that this is normal in humans, and that it feeds the default human tendency toward monogamy. Do you not enjoy this / prefer this to being one-of-many? From a different angle: If MBlume (or whoever your primary is at a given time) would be with you either way, monogamous or poly, which would you choose, given all the non-drama/non-jealousy & other apparent 'awesomeness' of your poly adjustment? Would you prefer to stay this way, or would you prefer an MBlume who was happy to give up all other men/women to be with just you forever?

I just looked over my shoulder and asked. Turns out your question is a practical one - MBlume says he would go monogamous for me if I wanted. If he'd said this before I hacked poly, I wouldn't have hacked poly. (He wouldn't have said it then - he needed the information of how our relationship has gone for the past month.) Given that I'm now poly, and that we both have other partners/prospects who we'd be somewhat distressed to give up, I'm not planning to reverse the hack. It's a matter of hassle and loss aversion mostly. But I do find it meaningful that he would monogamize himself if I were not sufficiently superpowered to have rendered it unnecessary.

Alternatively, he is able to offer this primarily because he knows it is unnecessary / your polyhack is an inseparable part of your value as a partner.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Sounds like a pretty definitive answer to the "You just went poly for the guy!" objection.

...I did just go poly for the guy. I just think that's okay.

6Paul Crowley12y
People move city to be with people; is this necessarily any different? Especially when you know lots of people living in that city going "move here, we love it here!"
5Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
I find this oddly cheerful. Go for it, then!

Sounds like a pretty definitive answer to the "You just went poly for the guy!" objection.

It does. Even though it doesn't refute the "You just went poly for the guy!" assertion at all. It could well fit with "I just went with poly for the guy and it is awesome! You should try it!"

Agreed. Yay. I am happier for you both now. (Is it strange that I have concerns about people I don't know very well, because I consider them part of my extended tribe somehow? I need to ask more people if they feel this way.)
I certainly find the same on other forums and communities. I am not sufficiently part of the lesswrong community to feel a tribe-connection, but I would feel such concern for a person who went to my local RPG club (even if I'd never met them) or who attended my favourite LARP (as long as I had talked to them at least once or twice)

and that it feeds the default human tendency toward monogamy.

From what I understand the default human tendency is is medium term monogamy (with cheating) combined with extreme promiscuity, particularly by the highest status males. Some polygamy thrown in too.

I think that "humans tend towards monogamy" and "humans don't tend towards monogamy" are both misleading, as they lump together two things which don't necessarily go together: being monogamous, and requiring monogamy of others. Instead, I'm inclined towards thinking that there's a tendency to require sexual/romantic monogamy from one's partner while still wanting to have sexual/romantic relationships with others.

Though some people seem to be strongly monogamous (in both senses of the word) by nature, others seem to be strongly non-monogamous (in both senses of the word), and some fall in between. So if there is a strong genetic component, there's also the possibility that some kind of frequency-dependent selection might be going on instead of just a universal tendency towards one thing.

Yes, humans are bad at plenty of things they want (or seem to / claim to want). Bad at rational action, yet members at this site strive to do better. Bad at ethical & consequentialist reasoning, yet many of us strive to do better. So being bad at monogomy is not a particular good argument for abandoning it. But maybe you didn't mean to imply that -- I speak to it because I've heard that claim from a few poly folks before. If so, disregard. If you just meant to clarify that, yes, humans are not perfect monogomists, then okay, we're agreed on that.
Um, no. And not anything about arguments for abandoning things either. It was a straightforward description of the approximate default human instincts with neither practical or normative argument implied.
This is what I meant by my last sentence, that humans are not perfect monogamists. Sorry I was unclear.
Ahh. Agreement!
Monogamous (for how long?) is probably a very important question in discussions of to what extent monogamy is natural for humans. Is there a convenient term for raising that sort of question and/or filling in that sort of blank?
To clarify: would you say that romantic love only differs from friendship in that you have sex with the one you love? Because to me, there is a massive difference between the two. Friends with benefits doesn't become romantic love instantly, and romantic love without sex is entirely possible. It's possible our brains are different, or possible you mean something else; or indeed, it's possible that you're wrong about yourself. To narrow it down, I'll give you a hypothetical: Imagine your hypothetical partner agreed to give up the sexual side of poly, and only have sex with you (perhaps you're the best sexual partner they've ever had, and have just the right sex drive for them, so they're perfectly happy with that situation). However, they keep going out on dates with other partners, spending romantic nights in with other partners, etc. Would you feel comfortable with that situation?
Could you clarify how "going out on dates" is different from hanging out with friends? Dinner, hang-gliding, museums, movies. "Date" implies you're considering a person as a potential physically-intimate partner. If that is ruled out (as you stipulated it is), you're not going on dates, you're hanging out with friends. Same as above, examples please. Thanks
A question before I continue: would you consider kissing, cuddling, snuggling, fussing, etc. as things you'd allow a partner to do with others or not? Just so I can cater my examples to the exact region of the distinction.
I consider some allowance for those things as part of family/friendship. Soo... kiss = cheek, the way you'd kiss a friend or cousin, no open mouth clearly sexual "makeout" kissing. Hugging is fine. Cuddling/snuggling are kind of borderline. Depends on context. But typically people don't sit around snuggling friends they aren't sleeping with or trying to sleep with.

But typically people don't sit around snuggling friends they aren't sleeping with or trying to sleep with.

I do this all the time. When I hang out with the correct subset of my platonic friends we casually flop onto each other and braid each other's hair and exchange backrubs. I have photographic evidence. One doesn't have to be weird about those things.

I want to be your friend!
You are my friend! You just live far away.
I need more friends like your friends.
I think I need to hack to be more like her friends. Snuggling and braiding sounds healthy!
But do you think it is common/typical/majority behavior? I concur with your unintended implication that female-female groups do this ("braid each other's hair, exchange backrubs") more often than male-female and male-male pairs do.

I platonically snuggle with some of my male friends too. And I have photographic evidence of some guys I know who are not dating each other snuggling, too.

I guess I don't know how typical it is. I don't know many normal people and suspect they're dull.

It isn't. I know a few normal people ("normal" along this particular dimension of personality/behavior, at least). You are correct in your suspicions.
Upvoted for this.
Especially the braiding the hair part...
Guys are less often braidable but I ask when they are.
That reminds me. My hair is just about long enough that I'd be able to accept if asked. Definitely due for a hair cut!
Perhaps not. But I am having to draw on an atypical hypothetical to try and find our exact point of disagreement. I hope you don't mind? Okay, so, refined hypothetical: The person you are dating is also, in their personal opinion, 'dating' an asexual man. This man has no interest in making out with them, let alone sex, but does enjoy romance, and cuddling up with them in order to share the feeling of emotional closeness. Your partner considers this relationship equally important to the relationship between the two of you, and makes sure to schedule sufficient time to spend with each of you. They celebrate their anniversary with this other partner, and your anniversary with you, as well as wishing to spend time with this partner on valentines day. They recently met this other partner's family, going to his brothers wedding with him; as his 'date'. Does this bother you?
Not at all. Yes. No one should be as important to my partner as I am. If you modify your scenario to involve an asexual male who likes to cuddle (or a gay male or a straight female, easier for me to imagine than a purely asexual male, although I know those folks do exist) and that that person is important to my partner but not as important as I am, then I would not have a problem with their cuddling at all, or being emotionally close.
That is very interesting, thank you for taking my hypotheticals seriously, and answering honestly. What you are asking your partner to give up is not the "swinging lifestyle" as you thought: you're also asking your partner to give up having anyone they consider as important as they consider you. I hope you can now understand why people make such a big distinction between swinging (where they have other sexual partners, who aren't as important as their romantic partner) and polyamory (where they have multiple romantic partners, who may not be sexual, but can be equally important to each other)
I knew about the distinction before, I just didn't realize how much polyamorous people disliked being associated with swingers, and phrased poorly as a result. There still seems to be more overlap (more poly folks who permit one-night stands in swinger-ish manner than monogamous folks who permit it). Do you find this not to be the case? Most poly partnerships keep their sexuality limited to the 3 or 4 or 6 of them, and would look down on a partner having sex with people they didn't intend to add to the long-term group? How common is it in your experience for the polyamorous to have non-sexual romantic partners?
Hmmm, I'm not entirely sure. In my social circle far more monoamorous people #PRACTICE# one night stands (in a swingerish manner) than polyamorous people. The polyamorous people may #allow# it; but when you can date whoever you want, and aren't forced to limit it to a one-night stand, why would you limit it? My social circle is, however, distinctly atypical, and so cannot really be construed as evidence of much. Groups suggest a closed loop, which is uncommon. However many poly people I know are uninterested in having sex with anyone who they don't feel a romantic bond with, simply because they have far more satisfying alternatives available. Maybe 10%, or so. Not massively common, but certainly not unheard of. Far more would be open to non-sexual romance, just haven't had one.
The association with swingers is a problem due to the fact it leads to people, such as yourself, failing to recognise the differences, and making factually incorrect statements. I'll answer your questions shortly in a seperate post; but I have a point I feel I may have failed to make, so I'll make it here: The post I first replied to contained this line that I quoted: You have since revealed that there is a level of emotional and intellectual connection that you consider line crossing. This is an important change in your position, so I think it is important that you put those two beliefs together, and realise that one of them must be wrong. Work out which one is wrong, and remove it; that is the purpose of this whole site :-)
It's not a change; there was no explicit comparison between connection to others and connection to me in that statement, so I didn't address it there. So, to clarify: My partner can have any level of emotional/intellectual connection with friends and family, as long as it remains non-sexual and I remain most important / without equal.
In the previous post your only restriction was that they not have sex with others. You have now stated that you have two restrictions*: that is a contradiction of your previous position. *and the restriction requiring that they give up anyone that is of equal importance to you is a massive one, far larger, to me and many polyamorous people, than the sexual restriction.
That my partner would have anyone equally important to me in the first place is highly unlikely, because we are not poly. How would such a high importance relationship form against a monoamorous backdrop? So it's really not a big deal in practice.
But you were talking about the hypothetical situation in which you were being courted by a polyamorous person, saying that you'd be upset about their unwillingness to give up their "swinging lifestyle"*, and therefore wouldn't date them. *(a description that was extremely inaccurate) Had you forgotten that that was the root of this conversation?
No, I wasn't. I think I see where that miscommunication happened. I mentioned that it is pretty easy not to have multiple partners (which I wrongly lumped, off-handedly, under the non-term-of-art "swinging"), and so that someone being unwilling to not pursue multiple partners would make me feel replaceable. I think you read my statement as "the person already has multiple partners, and I demand they give them up to date me." I didn't mean it that way. If someone already has a partner (or partners) that is (are) more important than me, I wouldn't be pursuing them or demanding anything of them in the first place. Aside: I mentioned earlier that I shouldn't have used the term "swing*", but you still seem hung up on it. Can we move past that? Apologies, again; I hadn't realized it would be so offensive to the poly crowd.
The term itself is not the problem. The problem was that your original post claimed that the only bit you objected to was the sexual aspect. Clearly, this is not the case, but, for reasons I am uncertain of, you still seem to be standing by your original statement as an accurate one. I am trying to make it clear to you that what you are asking them to give up is NOT just about the sex. What you are asking them to give up is the option to LOVE other people. Which is very different from just asking them to give up the option to FUCK other people.
No one asked me for a list of all conditions I place on relationships. So I stated one and not others. Accurate is different from complete. You are noticing incompleteness and accusing it of inaccuracy. I was not surprised / learned nothing new about my preferences when I noted that I need to be the most important person to my partner. Agreed. It's also about relative levels of significance. Not sure why you think that is not clear. I hope it is now clear that it is. As long as they don't love them as much as they love me, and as long as that love doesn't become sexual/romantic, then no, I am not. My partner can love her family and friends, as can I. But no matter how much she loves those friends, I would be quite surprised and hurt if she told me one of them were as important to her as I am.
Incompleteness claimed as completeness is inaccuracy. Your statement referred to poly as having precisely two sides, the sexual side (which you had a problem with) and everything else (which you didn't). It turns out you DO have a problem with the everything else side. That is incompleteness posing as completeness, which is inaccuracy. Why would you be hurt by this?: this is honest curiosity on my part, because I don't understand that sort of thinking. I can't see any harm to you, so I find myself confused.
Good thing I didn't claim, in my original statement, to be stating anything precise about polyamory or about my own list of preferences. Else I'd be in trouble. It is the harm of not being Most Important. This is something I value -- it makes me happy to be the center of my partner's world, and her mine. I consider removal of things I value to be harms.
jmed, you seem to consider admitting previous inaccuracy a bad thing. This whole site is based around the idea that coming in, one will be wrong, and leaving one will be less wrong. Why is it so hard for you to accept that what you wrote was wrong? Would you feel similarly harmed if your partner revealed that she considered all of her friends and family put together (as a collective, but not individually) to be more important than you as an individual?
Considering I already, in the comments of this one LW post, apologized to various folks for being unclear and using terms inaccurately ("swinger"), you seem to be mistaken. It isn't hard, when I actually agree that what I write is wrong, which certainly happens enough. Why is it so hard for you to accept that your interpretation can be wrong? Especially given all the oft-repeated basic LW knowledge on miscommunication and people-talking-past-one-another? Hmm. I feel like I would not be as hurt by that, because social network is important, but I would be surprised by it. I think my partner would abandon them to stay with me if such a choice were forced (let's say by some sort of relocation protection program whereby she is safe with me or without me, but once the choice is made, no contact with me or them can ever be made again).
Because I am looking at what you wrote, not what you think you wrote. You wrote that you'd want a person to give up the sexual side of poly, but not the other side. This says that there are two parts to poly in your mind, and only the sexual part is a problem. This isn't, in fact, true, the non-sexual side is also a problem to you; as the non-sexual part would still compromise your position of importance. However I suppose this has dragged on long enough, and there is unlikely to be any value extracted from this part of the conversation, so you may feel free to state your piece, and I will read it, but probably not respond unless you request me to. Okay, thank you for the information. It's a valuable insight into how other people differ from me. You are certainly the sort of person who I would call naturally monoamorous, and incapable of happy polyamory. By the sounds of it you and your partner are both happy with this, so :-D. EDIT: I suppose, to avoid being hypocritical, I should apologise for my incorrect belief that you were unwilling to accept being incorrect :p
Ditto. Yup yup. And :-D to you figuring out what makes you happiest, and finding others with whom to live that way. Accepted, and thanks again.
I've been making my way through this whole thread & haven't seen a few of the responses I would have made, so I'll just leave them here for posterity. Also, I haven't tried the quote syntax yet, so we'll see if this works cleanly... There are a few things I would say here. First, how does this really differ from monogamous relationships, other than in frequency? People get broken up with, neglected, and otherwise treated in bad ways in both kinds of relationships, not just the polyamorous ones. If anything, I'd think that being dumped & seeing your ex with another partner would be far worse alone than with other people who still care. Or on the more trivial side, if my partner prefers to do something without me one night, I can't call another partner to do something if I'm monogamous, because I don't have one! (Which isn't to say that I'm not cheating, the possibility of which seems like a huge mark against monogamy, at least if we're just going to sit here & ask what could go wrong, and how badly.) This is all to say that I feel just as replaceable & vulnerable in monogamous relationships as I do in polyamorous relationships. But what about feeling special when you're not unique to your role (at a given time)? I think the analogy (sometimes not an analogy at all) of friendships is better than the one about mothers loving their children that I'm seeing thrown around here. It also illustrates the point that some people do come up short. Some people are not the best friend of anyone, just as some people might not be a poly-primary for anyone, and who probably wouldn't have the easiest time finding a meaningful monogamous life partner either. But let's assume things go well in your love life & friendships. Just because I have other friends doesn't mean I'm incapable of being exclusive best friends with just one person, or that that person can't change over time. (This is, in fact, something I have had more success in with friendships than with monogamous relati
What??! Oh my, how differently this works for me. I am attracted to many, many people, and they are ALL irreplaceable, nevermind relationships, my very attraction to them is irreplaceable! People are fascinating and unique, and in every case there is a mixture of common, less common, and unique features that contribute to the attraction, as well as memories of experiences I shared with them. The idea that by pursuing an attraction to someone else in anyway means that any given attraction is not special is an insult to my feelings! In many cases, I love these people more than I can even express and would, were it not for limitations of time and persuasion, do more things than there are names for with them, and indeed whole different sets of such things with each one, and that's if I couldn't persuade anyone to do them in larger groups. I am unspeakably sad that I almost never get to do any of things, and unspeakably grateful that get to do even the more mundane things I ordinarily do with my friends, and indeed to have met them and interacted with them at all. I am not a very successful poly in real life, mostly I think because I have literally never met another poly and have therefore been operating on the basis of trying to convert monos, but when I occasionally have periods of success I am so elated that I barely know what to do with myself--alas, I fear in many cases I am not even able to communicate this to my partners. So please, please, if I love you, no matter whatever else I do, think anything but that you are not special to me!
Well, with my closer, romantic partners, yes. But being in the top 4 is special enough for me. I don't need to be someone's world, I don't WANT to be someone's world, I just want to be one of the people they think of first. A) harem is the wrong term IMO. There are poly people who have harems (and are thereby members of harems, for poly is generally symmetrical) but most I know don't bother with such purely sexual relationships. B) I am not easily replaced by any of my paramours. In one of my relationhips, I am the primary, the one who is lived with, and the one she comes home to. No other partner supplies that role. In the other relationship, I am her pet, her submissive, a perfect servant (a state I thoroughly enjoy on occasion, but could not live with 24/7). None of her other partners could adopt that role. Poly people will rarely have two partners alike. Each partner provides something unique, that no-one else does. And poly removes the big fear of monogamy: if one of my partners finds someone who supplies something I don't, they won't leave me for that person, because I supply something that person doesn't. The relationship will only end if it becomes a negative, rather than merely if it isn't the best available. IOW: Poly makes me feel LESS replaceable. Because I fill a unique slot, that isn't just the "relationship" slot, I can't be replaced by anyone else. If someone's poly situation is so vulnerable that your questions would knock them out of it, then it is probably a good thing that they be knocked out of it now; and have a chance to reconsider, before they get in any deeper.
Interesting. Thank you. Mainly I was concerned on behalf of Alicorn, because she just recently hacked herself into it, and also because she and MBlume had split up previously for whatever reason. That made it feel potentially more fragile than longer-established poly relationships, hence my comment.
Well, from the post, I would say that they are off for a good start. She put together a list of motivations, and she said she was already "naturally predisposed" for that sort of thing (I would guess a jealous person, or someone with strongly rooted convinctions about monogamy woulnd't have ever thought to give it a try, and would have just said to MBlume "no thanks", walked off, and tried to find another suitable partner). She might not have thought of poly in the first place, and the original motivation to enter into this kind of relationship might have had more to do with her desire to date MBlume (to her, it must have been a rather serious perk: she decided to go live in another place, she changed a rather important part of her life) than with her innate curiosity about that kind of life-style, but judging from her initial outlook, even before deciding to give it a try she didn't seem too adverse to it (I would say she might even have considered it anyway, some years down the road, given the right stimulus). And even in the events of things ending badly... well, it's not as if she couldn't go back to the way things were before. I will say this: she didn't mention any jealousy, on either part, and the "ground rules" she put in place seem to have reassured her of her status, so I would say that her odds are pretty good. The fact that she feels confortable enough with her boyfriend to tell him "stay home with me, tonight" or to put down some rules about marriage and the prospect of children seems to indicate that they have pretty good communication, which is the most important thing anyway (the situation might have been different had MBlume's girlfriend been in a primary relationship with him, at the time, because then Alicorn could have ended up in a "subordinate" position and I guess she woulnd't have enjoyed being the third wheel).
We were in a sort of pseudo-primary situation which wasn't working that well. She broke up with me just as Alicorn and I were about to start seriously talking about how this would work, so the point became moot (though it did trigger a lot of concern on my end over whether I might be rebounding).
I agree with all of this.
You said what I tried to say, but better. Thank you.
Yes, and I do feel special to my partners; there's been one in particular with whom that's not fulfilled and often a source of tension, but that has more to do with the realities of our relationship and the differences in our neurology. The majority of the people I'm seeing could scarcely do more to make it clear to me how important, special and loved I am in their eyes. You appear to be conflating non-monogamy with emotionally-shallow, superficial relationships undertaken primarily for sex.
I am in favor of a socially-connected human existence that involves an extended family/tribe of friends that one loves in different ways. What differentiates this from poly, other than sex?
Specifically, your assumption that having multiple sexual relationships negates the "specialness" of any sexual relationship that does occur. Virtually any meaningful association of humans connected primarily by filial, affectional or social bonds could be described this way. It's not specific enough by itself to differentiate polyamory from monogamy. I was responding to your actual objection: ...which immediately implies that having multiple sexual partners must somehow be synonymous with not desiring or having that sense of specialness. So insofar as you admit you don't get poly, your statement is honest -- but the assumptions underlying it are mistaken. Many poly people want the same thing you do (a sense of specialness) and do not feel it's jeopardized by seeing their partners emotionally or physically intimate with someone else. And yes, there are some poly or otherwise nonmonogamous people whose desires and preferences probably don't map to yours so readily. But some of us do understand what you want in a partnership, want it ourselves, and find it compatible with nonmonogamy.
Thanks for providing your perspective. I understand now that poly people get the sense of specialness in other ways, although how they accomplish it still eludes me on a visceral level. Intellectually, I see Alicorn and her insistence on being primary and on being able to demand exclusive time as accomplishing this sort of thing, but it still feels like not enough. But that's just (unhacked) me. Thanks again.
From my other dialogue with you, I suspect that the difficulty is that you seek a much higher level of specialness than many poly people do. To me, the level of specialness you seek would seem actively undesirable; while to you the level of specialness I enjoy might seem insufficient.
These were parameters that either of us would have insisted upon, BTW. I'd been in a more nearly "undifferentiated partners" arrangement previously and had felt really insufficiently cared-for.

Can we get a follow-up about how this working a year later?

Works great! Primary relationship still strong, have also three other boyfriends (primary has two other girlfriends). I am well pleased :)

Are you polysaturated yet? Most people seem to find 2-3 to be the practical limit.
I don't see very much of the two boyfriends who don't live in my house, so no. (They have other girlfriends to keep them occupied.)
How about now?

We got married almost a year ago :D. I can't keep track of who-all spouse is dating (it fluctuates a lot) but I have three other nodes on the Big Unruly Chart Thing, one of whom is also dating spouse. Going very smoothly :)

Congratulations! I might just have to go try it now.

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications of a greater adoption of polyamory in the sight of a much more important instinct than jealousy. Naturally I speak of female hypergamy and its effect on the distribution of losers and winners on the sexual marketplace among men.

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications...

Having seen a number of previous LW discussions about sex, gender, and related matters, I have given up attempts to participate in any future ones. I suspect most other people who would have been likely to open such discussions in the past have reached similar conclusions. Whatever the exact reasons might be, this is one cluster of topics where this forum just doesn't seem capable of approaching reality closer than what one reads in mainstream venues, or of rational discussion that won't be smothered by ideological preconceptions, moralizing, and internet drama.

On occasions, when I see some particularly egregious nonsensical claims about these topics that go unchallenged (and perhaps even get strongly upvoted), I am strongly tempted to respond, but given the past record, I try hard to resist the temptation.

I find it odd that no one is discussing the wider societal implications

Well, for one thing, its a piece on polyhacking and luminosity -- trying to understand the degree to which one can successfully change one's preferences, and to the extent to which this is individually worthwhile. It's not an advocacy piece on polyamory.

That said, polyamory (and queerness in general) really does offer opportunities for people to step outside many kinds of sexual status competitions. If there is a standard relationship 'package' that most people will have with exactly one person, and if there is social pressure to conform to and excel at that kind of relationship, then I can make an intelligent guess about your status by seeing how well your partner fits the stereotypes. E.g., if your boyfriend has two left feet and works at Blockbuster, you must not be very good at attracting the rich, suave type that 'everybody' wants, and so I'm probably doing 'better' than you are.

By contrast, if there are several different acceptable types of relationships, and any given person will usually have multiple such relationships, then the math gets too fuzzy -- it may not even be obvious to me exactly who you'r... (read more)

Within the sort of of communities where polyamory is popular, I don't think it will be a big problem for the mating market. There is some evidence that highly intelligent people are more androgynous. If so, then sex differences may be less sharp between intelligent people, which anecdotally makes sense. If intelligent people are less gender-differentiated in general, then perhaps their sexual preferences are more similar, too. If there are less sex differences in mating preferences, then there is probably less sex differences in selectiveness and less hypergamy.

In poly nerd communities, I don't know if there is a winner-take all situation for men, but it's hard to tell, since the gender ratio is so skewed. Let's imagine a community with 10 men and 2 women. Under monogamy, woman #2 dates man #10, and woman #1 dates man #9. What happens under polyamory? Do both women date man #10? Or do they both date men #9 and #10? Or #8, #9, and #10? Those all seem like plausible scenarios, and in the last case, there are actually less male losers than under monogamy. With a high male:female ratio, the women have their pick of 80+ percentile men.

Of course, outside this particular androgynous phenotype, the differences between monogamy and polyamory are likely to be more stark. Average people are already doing plenty of non-monogamous mating, so we can consider how well it's going for them.

When you put it this way it sort of sounds like poly nerd communities are/could be a coping strategy for the 'losers' of female hypergamous mainstream dating. Like, if we're worried about negative externalities from male losers in an increasingly non-monogamous (i.e. deregulated) sexual marketplace then a poly community where men outnumber women and women correspondingly have more partners than men seems like a decent idea.
You've flipped something the wrong way.
Thanks. Fixed.
Seems pretty obvious that hypergamy is what poor women do in societies that only let them gain control of resources through marriage. It's a rational adjustment to a sexist, unequal society, not some sort of instinct. Polyamory, especially the "open mesh" kind, dissolves the question of whether there exists a better match, or (most of) the fear of losing a partner to someone better. It's no longer necessary to consider whether this match outranks alternatives you haven't yet encountered, for both of you. It's sufficient to consider whether it works in itself.


Seems pretty obvious that hypergamy is what poor women do in societies that only let them gain control of resources through marriage. It's a rational adjustment to a sexist, unequal society, not some sort of instinct.

This is a hypothesis worth investigating, but how much data seems to support it? The research I've read supports the existence of hypergamy in both modern societies, and in pre-agricultural societies without high levels of gender inequality.

The Dalmia study cited on Wikipedia supposedly doesn't find women "marrying up," but since I can't read the full text I'm not sure how they were operationalizing "marries up." For instance, perhaps the study found that women don't marry up in wealth. But that doesn't mean they don't marry up in education, which is what this study found:

Contrary to popular beliefs, the increased concentration of women at the top of the education distribution has not resulted in a worsening of the marriage market prospects of more educated women. The “success gap” declined substantially in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The marriage market accommodated the shift through a decline in hypergamy at the upper end of the ed

... (read more)

I'm not necessarily talking about marriage or women seeking material comfort here. I'm referring to the mechanisms of female and male sexual desire and how they on average differ in more than just the parameters of the physical attributes the sexes seek in mates.

For most women their sexual attraction is in itself partially dependant on how desirable she thinks other women find the male in question. It also depends heavily on his status. And status as we know is basically zero sum.

My impression is that men are also influenced by how attractive other men think a woman is.
Semi-Anecdotal evidence of this: Tina Fey reports that she was never seen as "hot" until after she became famous.

Evidence that I suspect says more about Tina Fey's past insecurities than about scarcity bias. She is hot enough that she would have been seen as such even in school. Unless American high schools really are like they appear in movies. The hot girl isn't hot until she has a makeover involving taking off her glasses and letting her hair down!

When I was in high school, most of the girls around me seemed to me to be as beautiful as anyone I ever saw on television or in the movies. Most high school girls are significantly hotter than the woman of median hotness in the population as a whole (getting older tends to make women less beautiful), so they would have to be even hotter than that in order to stand out.

It's plausible that people weren't talking about in public where she could hear it about how good she looked until she became famous. Also, excuse me if I'm mistaken about this, but there's something about your phrasing which leaves me thinking that there's something weird about a woman who's attractive to you being insecure about her looks. There seems to be huge cultural pressure in the US for women to think they don't look good enough, and what's surprising to me is immunity to it.
No. I've met enough people who fit that category that I don't find it weird at all. A little annoying and something to be discouraged if convenient but not particularly weird. * The 'hot' evaluation is not a matter of who I find attractive but of who I evaluate as being considered attractive in general (or possibly what I think other people with think other people find attractive). She isn't exactly what I find attractive even though her general purpose hotness overflows into the wedrifid specific evaluation at least in part. * I was referring to an indication of the verbal behaviour of people encountering Tina Fey (people saying that she is hot) rather than whether Tina Fey personally considers herself hot. Sure, personal insecurity can bias recollections about what people say and do but that certainly isn't covered in my phrasing - that's all in your reading!
Tina Fey lost a bunch of weight just before she got on TV. Given that there isn't really anything else to explain.
That would do it. She'd have been pretty and even attractive with the extra weight but 'hot' is rather more specific in this culture.
Status is zero sum? I highly doubt it. I am certain that it's not something you can simply wave at with an "as we know".
It is, more or less by the practical meaning of being a ranking of all individuals in the group in question. You really can't all come first in a (rat) race. Encouragement awards don't count. The more interesting thing to consider is how our internal measures of status and outward indicators of status can be manipulated such that we can get better results from those instincts in a positive sum way. This is definitely possible, at least to some degree.
Before you posted that I'd have said it was a pretty obvious idea. Can you develop your objection more? The reason it seems obvious to me is that status is measured relative to the rest of the tribe. If you climb up the social ladder, that means someone got bumped down. Zero net change.

Imagine two islands, each with some tiny population - let's say, 10 each. Nobody ever interacts with anyone off-island, and the resources and living standards are the same. Now if I told you that people on island 1 are higher-status than people on island 2, does that strike you as a nonsensical statement? To me, it does not; it means that there is more mutual respect on island 1. I think that parsing that as "status" is justified, because it's not synonymous with how nice they are to each other, how much they like each other, or any other such variable (though of course it would tend to correlate with those).

You may disagree, but you should consider whether a definition of status which is tautologically zero-sum is likely to be blinding you to positive-sum interactions that are best interpreted as status-related (as opposed to friendship- or kindness-related).

"Mutual respect" could stand to be more rigorously defined. Here's how I would imagine it: island 1 has specialists who divide the tasks of survival among themselves according to comparative advantage; everyone can say "I'm the best there is (on the island) at what I do" and does what they're best at most of the time. Island 2 has a king and nine cringing slaves.
To me; it would, in principle, be nonsensical. However, in actuality, for this problem to be proposed, there must exist at least one person who knows of both island 1 and island 2, and it is that persons ranking that is being referred to. So they rank the people of island 1 higher than those of island 2. Perhaps because there's more mutual respect on island 1. Those are entirely understandable in a zero-sum model. Put simply: those people are co-operating to increase their status, yes, but by doing so they are decreasing the status of those they overtake. Note that I'm not sure which description of status is more useful yet, I just thought I'd chime in with some "thoughts so far"
Are those responses epicycles, or are they really part of your original model?
The first half is part of my original model. Status only ever exists relative to a particular community. Imagine the two islands, island 1 and island 2 came into contact; but the people of each island were extremely patriotic. On island 1, the people of island 2 would be low status. BUT on island 2, the people of island 1 would be low status. In the same way one can lose status in one community (ie. a church-based community) while gaining it in another (ie. the rationalist community) through a single action (ie. abandoning their past religious faith) The second part (explaining how a zero-sum model can justify behaviour that isn't LOCALLY zero-sum) is, quite simply, obvious to me; because it is so analogous to the zero-sum nature of energy in physics (energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but there are plenty of ways for you to get your hands on more of it)
Yup, good point. I have no idea what "should" count as the "gold standard" for status. If it had been the case that status was "really" a ranking, and therefore inherently zero sum, then it could produce one of those cases where people would be better off if they were consistently wrong about their actual status - if they consistently overestimated it. However, since status is a vastly fuzzier thing than, for instance, height or weight, it isn't at all clear what counts as correctly estimating one's status.
The main thing that comes to mind is that status is not a one-dimensional variable. Somebody may have high status among LW posters, low status among goths, and moderate status among window-cleaners. If you could arbitrarily construct social groups and assign people to them, as well as deciding everyone's status in each group, you could construct such a set of social groups that every human belonged to at least one group where he was high-status. Of course, in practice you can't do that, especially since people typically prefer hanging out in the social groups where they're high-status and avoid the groups where they're low-status.
I know what you're talking about and I think it's a mistake. Specifically I think it's an exemplar of a larger category of cases where a marginalized group's adaptation to unfavorable circumstances is mistaken by culture (and by evo psych, which has an alarming tendency to make excuses such things) as being a fundamental facet of their nature.

Historically male chances of successfully reproducing have been significantly smaller than female chances, at least this is what the difference in genetic legacy shows.

Also male variation is greater than female variation on practically any trait.

This together with our (perhaps culturally maintained) intuitions about unexceptional men being worth less than unexceptional women point to men being disposable.

I'm confused by you using the word 'adaptation' and differentiating that from a fundamental facet of their nature. If women predisposed to be hypergamous outcompeted women predisposed to not be hypergamous (because hypergamy is the game-theoretically correct plan), then shouldn't we expect there to be more women predisposed to hypergamy now? The counterargument would have to be that sexual selection strategies can't be inherited.
I was perhaps confusing in my use of language. To clarify, I mean volitional behavioral adaptation, not evolutionary adaptation. Or to spell it out, the people in the marginalized group have made a (contextually) sensible decision to advance their agendas by seizing the opportunities for power, resources, status etc which the restrictive social system leaves open to them. For example, a poor Indian woman gaining resources through marriage (because she can't dream of being independently rich by her own effort), or a working-class woman in England trying to marry a footballer and raise her status (because social mobility is broken and it's that or a career in Asda). Because people can and do adapt their behavior very simply and quickly, and we have an inheritance for this kind of flexibility, there isn't a need to produce a hypothesis of inherited behavior. And in fact, producing that hypothesis pretends that a social misfeature, sexism and its side effects, is somehow hardwired and thus blameless. Which is hogwash.

producing that hypothesis pretends that a social misfeature [...] is somehow hardwired and thus blameless

You can't derive an ought from an is; the hypothesis that a trait is "hardwired" (that is, that there exists a biological predisposition towards that trait) does not imply that the trait is blameless. Failure to appreciate this point leads to confusion: in particular, we must be careful not to reject hypotheses that might be true, just because they are unpleasant or even horrifying to contemplate.

Since our culture links misdeeds to volition, things not volitional are generally considered blameless. But I wasn't implying that the hypothesis is right, quite the opposite. I was implying that people are making untrue excuses by deflecting blame onto spurious made-up instincts.
How do you explain men marrying down?
They don't care about status so much? My previous flippant response misread Jack's comment
One assumes- but why? Surely there are just as many poor Indian men who can't dream of being independently rich by their own effort, shouldn't they be marrying the daughters of footballers?

TV Tropes explains male gold diggers:

It's common for modern viewers to think of gold diggers as female, but this is only true in modern times. In historical eras where men controlled all their wives' money, and received dowries upon marrying, they were much more likely to be gold diggers than women. The actual term "gold-digger" is rarely applied to men however; a male gold-digger is normally called a "fortune hunter". If you go back far enough, you'll find that all gold diggers were men, because marriage was originally an agreement made between the groom and the bride's father, with the bride having little to no say in the matter. It's therefore common in historical texts for the male to be the gold digger, but it isn't always spelled out. An excellent example is in Emma, where Mr. Elton is never actually referred to as a gold-digger despite copious evidence that he is. Austen probably thought it too blindingly obvious to mention.

Maybe because the culture tries to influence men into not depending on their wife's family for money? An example of vows made in some Indian weddings: During kanyadaan, the bride’s parents give their daughter away in marriage. The groom makes three promises – to be just (dharma), earn sufficiently to support his family, (artha) and love his wife (kama). Of course, this kind of expectation is hardly unique to one culture. My thinking is that many cultures that encourage women marrying up will encourage men marrying down. In a culture that encouraged women to marry down, men would likely be encouraged to marry up.
Not strictly true. I'm from India and have heard many stories of men asking their fathers-in-law for money for large expenditures such as building/buying houses. Both in my extended family and in my friends circle. Also, the dowry system in India is a strong evidence against this hypothesis. The amounts of money that are paid in some parts for highly educated young men boggles the mind. The dowry amounts seem to depend both on the bridegroom's qualifications (higher for doctors etc) and also on the bride's own attractiveness.
Interesting. Thanks for your perspective. I think you probably know more about this topic than I do. What do you think the expectations are for the husband, and for the wife's family? It seems that there is an expectation that the husband is able to earn money (ie. since you mentioned that large amounts of money are given to highly educated men, my assumption is that the wife's family is expecting him to earn money with his education, but if you think that's untrue I'd be interested to know your reasoning). However, you seem to be saying that there is also the expectation that the wife's family will help him with money. Is this expectation generally only for a short duration of time or is it considered a long-term obligation? Is there any expectation in the reverse (that the husband help the wife's family with money)?
Yes, I believe the general expectation is that the husband will be able to earn money in the future in order to support his family. So to that extent, the answer to Jack's question of why poor Indian men don't marry the daughters of footballers is that the woman's family will simply not allow such a thing to take place- and eloping with the girl against the wishes of the family is not likely to earn them much by way of dowry. From what I understand there is no long term expectation of help with money from the wife's family apart from the dowry amounts paid at the time of the wedding. However, it is also not terribly uncommon to find that even years after the wedding there are requests/demands for money and these are fulfilled. There are generally no expectations for the husband to support the wife's family with money. Standard disclaimers about the size of India and the diversity of practices there apply to this comment as well. :)

Polyamory, especially the "open mesh" kind, dissolves the question of whether there exists a better match, or (most of) the fear of losing a partner to someone better. It's no longer necessary to consider whether this match outranks alternatives you haven't yet encountered, for both of you. It's sufficient to consider whether it works in itself.

If the hypergamy hypothesis is correct this isn't so at all.

Also consider these stats from the CDC:

Percent of all women 15-44 years of age who have had three or more male partners in the last 12 months, 2002: 6.8%

Percent of all men 15-44 years of age who have had three or more female partners in the last 12 months, 2002: 10.4%”

“Median number of female sexual partners in lifetime, for men 25-44 years of age, 2002: 6.7 Percent of men 25-44 years of age who have had 15 or more female sexual partners, 2002: 29.2%

Median number of male sexual partners in lifetime, for women 25-44 years of age, 2002: 3.8 Percent of women 25-44 years of age who have had 15 or more male sexual partners, 2002: 11.4%

You forgot to follow that with " a sexist culture with a very strong monogamy taboo and a tendency to punish women unequally for behavior considered slutty".

I'm struggling to come up with a reason why female and male average tendencies wouldn't differ from each other on this.

Women's unavoidable investment in reproduction for most of our history is something that rewards very different strategies between women and men in nearly any sexual marketplace conditions that I've so far thought of.

You need to read "Evolution's Rainbow" and to a lesser extent, "Sex at Dawn". Neither are perfect but they are strong antidotes to this kind of "sexual strategies" thinking, which is heavily contaminated with cultural assumptions.
In the last post I'm just wondering why the attraction hardware would differ in predisposing us for desiring different physical types but not behavioural types (independent of the question if hypergamy is or isn't such an adaptation). As to the recommendation, that has been on my to read list for a while now, I guess I'll bump it up. :) The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature was the last book with a similar subject if not conclusion that caught my interest.
Check out Male, Female by David Geary. It's more rigorous than the Red Queen.
Watch out for biology too. That stuff is heavily contaminated with sexism and doesn't pay the proper respect to politically correct ideals. We should ostracize it.
Both of the books above are biology. Sex at Dawn is by non-biologists but Evolution's Rainbow is by an evolutionary biologist. Her complaint is that actual biology is being misread in ways that distort the science, including the science of evolution, by people whose interpretations are culturally biased. But hey, you can also wave brain-stop words like "political correctness" around if you want.

Let me translate in to overt. The following statement-reply pair:

I'm struggling to come up with a reason why female and male average tendencies wouldn't differ from each other on this.

You need to read "Evolution's Rainbow" and to a lesser extent, "Sex at Dawn". Neither are perfect but they are strong antidotes to this kind of "sexual strategies" thinking, which is heavily contaminated with cultural assumptions.

Is overwhelmingly strong evidence that your beliefs on this subject are not optimally correlated with reality.

Sure it is quite possible (and likely) that a lot of people are wrong about what sexual strategies are used. But not that there are sexual strategies and not that it should be startling to find that the sexual strategies turn out to be symmetric. It should be difficult for Konkvistador to think of reasons for that to occur, because it would be a miraculous coincidence.

Why? From what I know of Sex at Dawn, the book's claims would lead us to expect sexual strategies for both men and women that involve many partners. You're making claims and ignoring sources without giving a shred of evidence yourself.

I think the burden of proof is on one who claims that different things are equal. "Involve many partners" is extremely vague, it's not so fine-grained a similarity that for it to be a common strategy for both men and women would be miraculous, it's not a strategy at all any more than "theism" or "atheism" are philosophies.

If someone were to claim that Mercury has exactly as much mass as a moon of Jupiter plus or minus one kilogram, I wouldn't feel the slightest discomfort at not having a source to back up my expectation they'd be different, and I would not be convinced without a mountain of evidence.

Things don't magically align like that in nature. I could find out tomorrow that every study ever showing differences between men and women was too contaminated by culture to be useful, I'd still not believe that no significant differences exist. So long as I'm not claiming to know exactly what those differences are, I don't have the burden of proof.

This discussion started with: * mention of "hypergamy", the usual definition of which simply treats marriage (by implication, either monogamous or polygamous) as the default * stats purporting to show that women seek fewer partners. followed by Julian pointing out that the stats come from a particular culture (and later pointing to research that looks at many cultures). Mind you, the evidence I mentioned over here does seem consistent with a broader definition of "hypergamy". But again, this comes from the same culture.
It moved on from there a long time ago and started being about the things literally represented by the characters contained in the comments instead of what side they affiliate with. Edit: This gave Hairy an excuse to get confused. I should have, instead, written "The parent is almost entirely irrelevant to the point the grandparent is making".
Ah. So you're being needlessly pedantic. Even on this level your objection fails, because K said s/he thought the two strategies "differ from each other on this" while Julian claimed to provide 'antidotes to this kind of "sexual strategies" thinking' (emphasis added). You can't leave out some of the symbols and claim this makes for a more literal interpretation.
No. Just no.
Here's the sub-thread I refer to. You come into it strawmanning JulianMorrison and accusing him of political bias. Now you seem to say that you 'moved the discussion' in this way because you (falsely) believed he made a technically incorrect statement in the comment that I just quoted correctly. Had he in fact done so, and had I wanted to correct it for some reason, I would have started my response with "Technically..." rather than going straight to sarcasm.
Odds are neither wedrifid nor hairyfigment is learning anything from this discussion any more. But if you want to continue, consider tabooing "sexual strategies." It's possible you're just using that phrase to mean different things.
Why do you implicitly assume that mating behavior is determined by culture, rather than vice versa? Humans had mating strategies long before we had language, let alone anything resembling modern societies. A priori is seems a lot more plausible that human cultures evolve to fit our natural behaviors, or perhaps that mating behaviors and traditional cultures co-evolved for long enough to become inextricable.
Because families that moved between societies don't retain some kind of genetic memory of the rituals used by their ancestors.
Humanity has lived in cities for around 10,000 years. Evolutionarily a blip - we've been Homo Sapiens for 200,000 years. 10,000 years is long enough for simple, useful evolution (such as the spread of a gene for digesting milk). Not enough for complex behaviors, especially with a huge transnational interbreeding population tending to stir up genes and cause "regression toward the mean".
Something's wrong with those numbers. Medians of integer-valued quantities are always integers or half-integers. EDIT: I've taken a look at the report, and it doesn't say anything about how they calculate medians, so I don't know how they're fudging their numbers to get these out. EDIT 2: I should also say "good job for looking at the research and getting numbers", even if I'd like these researchers to be more transparent as to what they're actually reporting.
An uninformed guess: those medians are presumably based on survey data, so they might've been adjusted using the survey's sampling weights.
It's almost certainly true, perhaps doing a weighted average of the medians of subgroups. However, any method that does that is not producing a median. A good way of doing that adjustment might give "cooked" numbers for the various options, but the point where 50% are below and 50% are above would still almost certainly be an integer. And if it is actually balanced (highly unlikely with so many data points), so that any number greater than X and less than X+1 divides the population in two, then the convention is to report X + 1/2. There is no information about the median that anything past the decimal point can actually convey.
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Just to ensure clarity, you meant to say; "every time a male has sex with a new female [partner], their opposite-sex partners rise by one. Correct? One other thing which could skew the statistics is the fact that people that have had many sexual relationships can die, and the dead are not often counted in statistical surveys, while some of their partners might be.
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2Paul Crowley12y
The true mean values should be close, but the medians etc can be very different.
While I agree that some attempt should be made to explain the data, it's a bit much to say it's "wrong". There's no real fault in just reporting the results you actually got without speculation, and there might well be a good explanation. That is a good heuristic.
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I think a PUA would say: 5 minutes of alpha is worth more than 5 years of beta.
Which is, at best, true only in terms of inclusive fitness. In fact... not even then, because you need that beta to help care for your offspring.
Yet it described human behaviour accurately. People take significant risk of loosing decades of beta to get 5 minutes of alpha. Remember there is no need for the beta taking care of the child to be the sperm donor. Also in tropical agricultural societies (like say West Africa) and in modern social democracies (like say Norway), women don't need the help of their sexual partners to care for their offspring.
I hope you're not assuming that all human behavior is rational...
I'm not assuming it is. The maxim does however encapsulated revealed preferences of women. It would be irrational of men to pretend they don't. Edit: I don't agree with the statement below any more. It is a misuse of the word rational. In any case I would argue that this behaviour happens to be rational when women don't need men to provide materially for their offspring.
But if someone's revealed preferences are irrational (as revealed human preferences often, nay typically are), then it doesn't serve anyone to follow them. So contrary to your assertion, you are assuming that these preferences are rational, or else you wouldn't be encouraging people to follow them. So my question is this: Is a woman who has sex with Brad Pitt once and remains alone for the rest of her life actually happier than a woman who is comfortably married to an ordinary guy for several years? If the answer is no---and I think it's pretty obvious that the answer is, in fact, no---then your maxim fails, and any woman who follows it is being irrational and self-destructive. She's following her genes right off a cliff.
You mean, if their revealed preferences are not their actual preferences, which is often the case, because of irrationality?
You make a compelling argument. I clearly misused the word rational when I was just looking at what the genes "want". I thus retract that part of the statement. I do wish to emphasise that "5 minutes of Alpha is worth 5 years of beta" while mostly hyperbole is something people should be keeping in mind when trying to predict the sexual and romantic behaviour of women.
The utility function is not up for grabs.
Yes it is, if your "utility function" doesn't obey the axioms of Von Neumann-Morgenstern utility, which it doesn't, if you are at all a normal human. Prospect theory? Allais paradox? Seriously, what are we even doing on Less Wrong, if you think that the decisions people make are automatically rational just because people made them?
Actually, if your "utility function" doesn't obey the axioms of Von Neumann-Morgenstern utility, it's not an utility function in the normal sense of the world.
I suppose that's why pnrjulius put "utility function" in quotes.
Downvoted for trying to argue against a principle that is actually irrelevant to your claims. ("The utility function is not up for grabs" doesn't mean that decisions are always rational, and is actually inapplicable here.)
I didn't mean decisions are always rational. I meant that it makes no sense for preferences to be rational or irrational: they just are. Rationality is a property of decisions, not of preferences: if a decision maximizes the expectation of your preferences it's rational and if it doesn't it isn't.
Preferences can, however, be inconsistent. And rational decision-making across inconsistent preferences is sometimes difficult to distinguish from irrational decision-making.
In fact, it's worse than that. Utility is still up for grabs, even if it does obey the axioms---because we will soon be in the condition of being able to modify our own utility functions! (If we aren't already: Addictive drugs alter your ability to experience non-drug pleasure; and could psychotherapy change my level of narcissism, or my level of empathy?) Indeed, the entire project of Friendly AI can be taken to be the project of specifying the right utility function for a superintelligent AI. If any utility that follows the axioms would qualify, then a paperclipper would be just fine. So not only does "the utility function is not up for grabs" not work in this situation (because I'm saying precisely that women who behave this way are denying themselves happiness); I'm not sure it works in any situation. Even if you are sufficiently rational that you really do obey a consistent utility function in everything you do, that could still be a bad utility function (you could be a psychopath, or a paperclipper).
I can't resist...

Thank you for sharing this!

My own concern with being polyamorous is that having N times as many relationships seems like it will involve at least N times as much relationship drama, and the drama of one relationship seems to be about as much as I can handle. Much of the drama in long term relationships seems uncorrelated with jealousy, so it's far from obvious to me that poly relationships would involve systematically less drama.

9Paul Crowley12y
It's my perception that poly does indeed involve more drama than monogamy.
I have found that a reliable way to reduce relationship drama is to explicitly prioritize alternative conflict-management and -resolution tools. Plus, you know, filter for low-drama people. Poly is an advantage there, as there is opportunity to observe their drama-generation and -mitigation. And one can carry out more reference checks.
Eeheehee. Is it considered poor form among poly folk to respond to "Want to go out with me?" with "Can you provide references from your past and/or current partners?"

I can only report from direct experience, and experience reported to me, that there certainly seems to be at least one geeky poly loose social web where this is said with a smile and a laugh... but is followed up with "you're welcome to contact them directly".

I have seen mostly-joking forms to do this in text, too. Yes, really. Again, while it's mostly not serious, there is a serious signal of "no skeletons in the closet".

I suspect this is more about a certain kind geeky attitudes and aptitudes than it is about poly. q.v. "geek flirt".

Oh, and I've also seen "references available on request" after an amicably resolved breakup. Again, within the sub-communities that have this geeky approach to sex and to relationships, it's a powerful signal.

(Enjoying the meta of posting this during a trip to the USA where I'm seeing LDRs, amicable exes and friends within these geeky sub-communities. There's a presentation in a tech conference in there somewhere too, but it's mostly about poly and friends-known-through-poly.)

Can you give some examples of the sort of drama to which you are referring? It may be that some of the poly people here will be able to shed some light on how/if they deal with such things. Also, with the extra practise they get, some polyamorous people can offer excellent advice on relationship issues.
Alexflint is right, in a sense -- the more people involved in a romantic relationship, the more potential points of stress and failure there are. Not to mention, poly people are often operating without a net or a manual, so to speak -- there's little cached wisdom that might help us specifically, and a wide variety of possible configurations into which any poly group of N people might fall. It has been my observation that there's also more potential (if not in direct symmetry with the increased failure modes) for coping strategies, supporting those in a difficult time and generally things that make a relationship robust. Some drama is harder ("you aren't spending enough time with me and all your other partners are getting your attention"), some is easier ("I have no interest in seeing/doing this with you"). Eliezer mentions the comfort he gets knowing that if he can't do something with his girlfriend, she has other paramours who are happy to do it instead.
It's actually O(N^2) if you think about it. 2 people = 1 relationship; 3 people = 3 relationships; 4 people = 12 relationships.
This assumes context-insensitivity. If I'm in a triad and my relationship with #2 is different depending on whether #3 is around or not, then 3 people have six relationships. Of course, once I acknowledge context as mattering, I'm very close to acknowledging that even dyads aren't simple. If my relationship with my husband is different depending on whether his dad is around or not, then 2 people have an uncountable number of relationships. That seems more consistent with my experience with relationships. I conclude that the kind of relationship that can be counted with the kind of math you propose here is fairly irrelevant to my actual relationships.
Uncountable? Really? You have as many relationships as the cardinality of the real line? In that case you could end infinitely-many relationships and still have the same number left. Snark aside, you're just redefining what a relationship is. My friend may not behave exactly the same in various contexts, but he's not a different person and it's not a different friendship. I don't have a thousand parents (or a thousand "parentships") just because my two parents interact with me in different contexts. A much better point to make would be that people manage O(N^2) friendship relations without apparent difficulty. Yet it seems pretty clear to me that a romantic relationship requires much more effort (more "emotional resources" we might say) than all but the closest of friendships.
I endorse setting snark aside. I agree that we understand relationships differently. Whether that's due to me "redefining" relationship away from some default baseline that previously existed, I'm less clear about, but I don't suppose it matters much. I agree that you don't have a thousand parents. Neither are there twelve people in a quad. Whatever it is you're counting, it isn't people. I agree that people manage lots of friendships without apparent difficulty, and I agree that most romantic relationships require more effort than most friendships. Whether that's a better point to make, I'm less clear about, but I don't suppose it matters much.

Congratulations on the hack. I would have expressed doubt that this could work, and am correspondingly updating my priors.

[1] I'm counting willingness that one's sole partner have other partners (e.g. being an arm of a V) to be a low-key flavor of being poly oneself, not a variety of tolerant monogamy. I think this is the more reasonable way to divide things up given a two-way division, but if you feel that I mischaracterize the highly simplified taxonomy, do tell.

It happens that I agree with you on this, in fact I think tolerance of another's multiple entanglements is more important component of poly than the desire to oneself have multiple entanglements. In the poly circles I am aware of, there is no broad agreement on either of these points though. I thought I should mention that there are a non-trivial proportion of couples who self-ID as "one of us is poly and the other is not" where the poly one is involved with other people.

This is similar to the labeling disputes that occur when (say) two bisexual women are said to be in a "lesbian relationship". They might reasonably object that people will hear "lesbian relationship" and assume they are... (read more)

I think tolerance of another's multiple entanglements is more important component of poly than the desire to oneself have multiple entanglements.

Never mind tolerance, to me it feels better for its own sake to not be my girlfriends' only boyfriend. It was a surprisingly large weight off my mind to know that if I can't take her to Yosemite, or escort her to BENT SF, then she has other paramours who can do so. I know that I'm not personally responsible for matching every one of her sexual facets, just some of them, and that she won't be forever sexually unsatisfied if there's something I happen not to enjoy. If you asked me "Is it more important to your happiness that that your girlfriend be able to have more than one boyfriend or that you be able to have more than one girlfriend?" I might well reply "The former."

Decidedly a very admirable and selfless position. I guess that with tolerance the other poster wanted to highlight that many people in such a situation would feel a certain amound of jealousy, or, as Alicorn put it, fear of being abandoned. An objection I could see coming is "doesn't it feel weird to be so easily repleaceable?" I guess that most people see this as being treated like a car's wheel, when the fact that the relationship is not "unique" or "exclusive" does not imply that the feelings of those involved are any less real or intense. An objection that I often encountered in the past was something akin to "if you are not feeling completely satisfied by your current relationship maybe she isn't the right person". I often got the feeling that people thought that, simply because I was unable, or didn't feel like, catering to EVERY one of my partner's needs (i.e. she because of difference of interests, etc.), I was artificually sustaining a relationship that should have ended months ago due to incompatibility. A more convincing objection was that certain acts, situations, gestures (not only sexual) acquired a particular importance and meaning simply because they were intimate, shared only among the two of us (i.e. a restaurant, a particular food, watching a movie I despised with her, and being happy all the same because it was something we shared with no other). Sexually, I have never had any problems in trying to accomodate my partner, I simply asked what she liked and proceeded to accomodate her, and she did the same... well, then again maybe I was never in a situation where I was asked to do something particularly strange or uncomfortable...
If anything I would imagine someone in a well-integrated poly is /less/ replaceable than either half of a typical monogamous pair. In the latter case, when one spouse dies, the survivor may well be expected to mourn for a while, get over it, and find a new one to fulfil the same duties; in the former, everyone still has to deal with individual feelings of loss, and then the whole highly-optimized system has to be refactored according to new comparative advantages.
A good answer to the wrong question -that's not what I was talking about-. Besides that, I don't think there would be significant differences in the case of the death of one of the partners, be it in a monogamous or polygamous relationship -but here, I am assuming the original poster's interpretation of polygamy, with a "main" relationship and other lovers on the side, who won't be involved in eventual marriage/production of offspring. Things could be different if their "position" in the relationship was similar, more simmetric. What I was pointing out is that from Elizer's post, it was made clear that that interchangeability was an important aspect of this kind of arrangement: . It didn't seem like there was a dispute over the fact that another partner could "fill in" for him -he did say so himself, after all-. What I was saying is that, while to him (or someone living happily in a polyamous relationship) that might be an asset, someone not accustomed to this sort of thing might very well feel that that very aspect of the relationship (i.e. the fact that on surface they could "do without him", in such a way that his presence is, in a sense superfluous) to mean that they are, in a sense, "not really necessary". That might be just a bias, but it certainly doesn't appear to be an uncommon position -as a matter of fact, it's what put the word "end" to my brief poly experience: while it might look good on paper, and logically is would solve many problems (i.e. cheating would be a non issue, and in general the whole relationship would be more open and honest, and in case anything happened that made it impossible for one partner to be there for the other, at least you would know that he/she was dealing with things alone), it fails to account for core "emotional" reactions such as jealousy and competition that goes out of hand or (to be perfectly honest and in the spirit of admitting one's mistakes least you become a "crackpot") the tendency to ignore uncomfortable truth
When you love someone, and therefore want them to be happy, how strongly do you want that happiness to be correlated with your own involvement in that person's life?
The answer to this question is bound to be highly subjective, and I don't think there even is a "right" or "wrong" stance on this issue. Of course, barring extreme cases, such as one partner being oppressive or controlling, or so unhealthily dependant on the other that he/she would, I don't know, be unable to live without him. If you decide to say something on the lines of "anything goes as long as he/she is happy", you are not working under realistic assumptions anymore. Everyone is at least a little selfish, everyone, even in a polygamous relationship, has a "comfort zone" and determines what is okay and not okay for his/her partner to ask. Moreover, everyone has the right to be. Just like Alicorn had the right to decide to set those rules and boundaries with her partner. Pretending that nothing the other person does would "ever" cause disturb and discomfort, and you would be ready to accept it as long as he/she is happy about it is certainly very noble, but not very realistic. In practice, there are things we are okay with, and things we are not comfortable with, and that don't simply, automatically, become acceptable just because we value our loved one's happiness (for instance, in this case, by her own words Alicorn wouldn't be okay with her partner marrying someone else, or, eventually, having kids out of wedlock, because there are certain areas she want to be "just the two of them", something, for lack of a better word, "special", shared "just" between the two of them). In the end, if I love someone I want them to be happy. Check. I don't wat that happiness to be entirely correlated with my involvement in her life -because, well, in that case we would fall in the previous rather unhealthy scenario-. That said, I don't think there would be anything wrong with desiring that a (hopefully not insignificant) part of the reason she is happy is because of my involvement in her life. After all, we are talking about a couple. Without a gesture, an event, a place, so
Just as there is a "More Highly Evolved" poly trope, there is also what I might call "Needs-Based Poly" trope. ("I can't meet all the needs of one partner, nor can they meet all of mine, so by diversifying there is now more chance of our various needs being met by someone.") That is not exactly incorrect, in that it does increase the probabilities, but it's by no means a guarantee. For instance I'm currently involved with (for various instances of "involved with") five people and I still don't have a partner I can play board games with. The reason I'm calling this a trope is because when taken to excess it often seems to promote an idea of ... fungibility of relationships or people. This is possibly what the "replaceable" notion above was getting at. Perhaps relatedly, I'll observe that one measure of relationship reassurance for me is how easy it would be for someone to leave me, and how many other options & opportunities they have. This seems counter-intuitve sometimes, but for me, the fewer constraints tying someone to me, the more it suggests (to me) that they are with me solely from desire and choice. The relevance to poly is that if they have other relationships and don't seem to lack opportunities for more, I can safely discount loneliness and horniness from their motivations for being with me. That's a plus in my head.
...I would never have thought of that in a million years. That's fascinating.
I chose "tolerance" because I was thinking of the converse scenario where it seemed to me that a monogamous person not only does not want their partner to have other romantic or sexual relationships, but would regard it as intolerable.
Mono-poly pairs strike me as a recipe for bad drama.
My experience supports that.
Ditto. (The relevant experience is secondhand, but played out essentially as you said in the other thread.)
I agree that the examples I'm aware of go awry more often than not, but not by any overwhelming margin. It is an additional challenge, and possibly a formidable one, but it is not fatal to a relationship.
The poly partner can agree to be monogamous, or the mono partner can agree to allow the poly partner to have multiple relationships. Either solution is fine if it works, but in practice one of the partners often isn't fully comfortable with the scheme. This can easily lead to stuff like a partner saying that thing X is okay but then changing his mind afterwards. Possibly worse, they may change their mind but not have the guts to say it (since they did, after all, already say it was okay) and get resentful and passive-aggressive. Or they may not really be comfortable with it in the first place, but go along with it because they don't want to destroy the relationship. Et cetera. I'm not saying that this stuff is unavoidable: there do exist perfectly happy mono-poly pairs. But my experience suggests that such issues are pretty common for m-p pairs. (Not that my experience would be anywhere near a representative sample.)
You actually know this for a fact, or is it just a nice thing to say?
I know this for a fact, so I'll back Kaj here. It is very challenging, but not all such pairs are doomed. I know one that's immensely stable and has been for over a decade; I knew another where the poly partner eventually couldn't take it (and got involved with me months after the breakup).
It's been my general impression. Though obviously this is the kind of a conflict that's usually kept private, so the conflict may be more common (and the perfect happiness about this issue more rare) than I think.
Agree that exclusivity-offerers tend to be exclusivity-demanders as well. But does this stay true given that they also say "Okay, you be poly"? That would seem to screen off a lot. (Edit) To expand: demanding exclusivity from one's partner has perks (chiefly, exclusivity). Not demanding it also has perks (Eliezer gives examples). Given that someone wants one partner, they're likely to prefer the first set of perks to the second. Given that someone wants one partner and does not demand exclusivity from them? Seems much less clear to me.

I'm skeptical because of the huge differences in male and female dominant strategies for mating*. I think poly can work, but that a lot of people who consider themselves poly just haven't run into a highly frictional situation yet or have put their fingers in their ear and are shouting "lalalala".

*I should note that I'm also extremely skeptical of monogamy. The situation that makes men and women happiest seems to involve some (sometimes a lot) of unhappiness in their partners.

Alicorn would you have "hacked" yourself to be a secondary or n-th"ary " of MBlume?

That's a complicated question, in large part because it was practically necessary that MBlume subsidize my housing and living expenses. (I was previously living with a roommate who did not require of me rent or grocery money, and very much approved of this arrangement; I didn't want to take a gigantic financial kick in the teeth and have to job-hunt when I'm not especially employable and move across the country for something that could have failed to work out in practice.) It seems unlikely on the face of it that he'd have been up for doing that for a secondary or n-th*ary. If he was, my answer is "maybe" - it would have depended on the exact circumstances, probably. If I liked his primary and would have been interested in dating her too (assuming she liked me back) I think I could have lived with being a member of a triad without explicit rankings; other arrangements would have been progressively less appealing and at some point I would have been necessarily skeptical that there was enough interest for both the relationship and the subsidy to persist. (One can emit arbitrary numbers of words about how one has enough love for everyone. Introducing money demands prioritization.)

Indeed. You may have an unlimited capacity to love, but you have only a limited amount of time, and a limited amount of money, and performing such a large life-change for someone who wouldn't afford you enough time, or enough monetary aid, to make it worthwhile/possible, would be irrational.

Since moving back to the Bay Area I've been out with four other people too, one of whom he's also seeing; I've been in my primary's presence while he kissed one girl, and when he asked another for her phone number; I've gossiped with a secondary about other persons of romantic interest and accepted his offer to hint to a guy I like that this is the case; I hit on someone at a party right in front of my primary. I haven't suffered a hiccup of drama or a twinge of jealousy to speak of and all evidence (including verbal confirmation) indicates that I've been managing my primary's feelings satisfactorily too. Does this sort of thing appeal to you?


But I do expect that if humans become immortal superbeings, then given enough time, most people currently in fairytale monogamous relationships will switch to poly. (Though when people are immortal superbeings, I also expect it to become common that they'll spend a very long time if necessary searching for an instance of fairytale monogamy to be their first relationship.)

I guess my philosophy is that fairytale monogamy is optimal for the young (say under 200 years or so), while poly and other non-traditional arrangements are the choice of the adult.

Though when people are immortal superbeings, I also expect it to become common that they'll spend a very long time if necessary searching for an instance of fairytale monogamy to be their first relationship.

I volunteer to be the evil villain who goes about poisoning damsels and locking them up in towers so that they role play rescues by knights in shining armor. I'll turn a few guys into beasts too in case they are feeling left out.

Thank you for volunteering this invaluable service ^_^
Oh, these damsels are going to be real damsels. No catgirl delivery for me. I'm actually kidnapping real people and locking them up in towers. That's why I'm Evil.
sounds like my weekend.

I note that this treads close to a well-established poly fail: the notion that poly is More Highly Evolved.

1Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
It's not? I mean, there's some people, though probably considerably less than half of the population, who are genuinely and naturally well-suited to monogamous closed relationships. But the point that immortal superbeings would do something polyish actually does strike me as a clear argument in favor of "poly is More Highly Evolved". I mean, you're then that much closer to doing things the way immortal superbeings would do it. This is why I've always felt vaguely guilty about not being bisexual, since immortal superbeings clearly would be.

I'm surprised to see Eliezer being so liberal with throwing about "More Highly Evolved". This is a more misleading usage than what he condemns vigorously in (for example) No Evolutions for Corporations or Nanodevices. That is, if it is not-ok to overload the 'evolve' word to include corporations and nano then it is definitely not-ok to stretch it to evolving to immortal superbeings either (it's less like evolution in practice but far more like it in how the word is used).

"Immortal superbeings" aren't more highly evolved. Evolution kind of doesn't work very well as individuals approach immortality. More importantly even if evolution can be said to be evolving in a direction ('higher') it certainly wouldn't be in the direction of immortal superbeings. Or in the direction of sexual behaviours optimised for fun. Immortal superbeings are things we as present day humans think it would be cool to be.

Poly is "something we imagine our idealized fantasy people doing". This is some evidence about what our preferences are, along the lines of visualizing a eutopia. Particularly because it seems these immortal folks are nothing more than a target for projection. I mean, out of the set of all possible immortal superbeings how exactly was the 'are bisexual' trait identified? It's certainly not an objective feature of the class, or one that all humans would attribute to them.

JoeW introduced the term, not Eliezer. It seems a bit unfair to me to criticize Eliezer for trying to continue the flow of the conversation instead of explicitly correcting JoeW in what I would consider a fairly annoying manner.

I should have added more context - the expression "more highly evolved" seems to pop up dismayingly often when talking about poly (and often bisexuality, too). I have long thought it seems to rely on notions of tribal Othering and the Geek Social Fallacies when used by poly people, but curiously it can also used by mono people being dismissive of poly.

It is so common a poly fail that if there were TV Tropes for poly, "More Highly Evolved" would be heavily referenced.

i.e. quite apart from it being arguably improper use of the term, it's objectionable for other reasons.