The Ultimate Meetup: Polyamory in Second Life

March 8, 2008 at 4:17 pm (dishonesty, Guilt, Infidelity, Life, Love, Marriage, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

polyamory.jpg

Let’s just say the cat is out of the proverbial bag. Recent events and media stories have thrust the polyamorous lifestyle back into the limelight. Oh it’s not entirely out of the smoky shadows and dark closets [I love that even the software I’m using to write this doesn’t recognize the word “polyamorous” and tries to spell correct.] But people are talking about it. And I think this is only the beginning.

One recent full-length article in the Washington Post featured stories from polyamorous couples, triads, etc. as they and their families attended a two-day conference in Pennsylvania. Although only 100 people attended the conference, the sponsor boasts a mailing list of over 15,000. Think about that. These are 15,000 people who, in the glaring spotlight of our often pious, puritanical culture–at least in the red-state, religious right-dominated US–have come to terms with the idea of polyamory enough to sign up for a mailing list. For each of them I bet there are thousands more of us who dabble with the idea; many of us sitting “safely” in the comfortable soft glow of our computer screens.

As Regina Lynn pointed out in her recent discussion of polyamory in Wired, the internet has done much to connect like-minded folks who venture online seeking an accepting community of their peers, polys included. But I’d go one step further and assert that Second Life has done more to bring the lifestyle into the mainstream, whether it’s consensual or still framed in the participants’–and their unsuspecting spouses or partners–minds as “cheating.”

The problem with where we are today is that we are experiencing–leading perhaps, if I might be so bold–a cultural shift in the way we deal with relationships. Whereas years ago the folks pursuing poly lifestyles often fit the sensitive ponytail man stereotype, people today who stumble upon these adventures are often what most of us would consider “normal.” Because we are the same people who have come to SL for business or curiosity and were blown away when we accidentally experienced intense attraction–and love–toward other amazing individuals we met there.

As barriers to “meeting up” continue to diminish in this new era of community and connection, and as the divorce rate continues to skyrocket (it is greater than 50% in the US), many of us look around and realize something’s gotta give. And I don’t really see any other option than to redefine how we experience love and relationships moving forward. Self-admitted poly Anita Wagner, as quoted by author Monica Hesse in the Washington Post article, puts it in context below: (sorry for the long quote, but it says it all):

“‘Many of us tried to make monogamy work,’ Wagner says. But monogamy, she says, often seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Its practitioners would break off ‘perfectly good relationships’ just because of intellectual incompatibility, for example, or because one partner liked ballet and the other liked bowling. Doesn’t it make more sense, polys ask, to keep the good parts of a relationship, and find another boyfriend who likes ‘Swan Lake’?

The compartmentalization of affection: It’s completely at odds with today’s Disney Princess/Coldplay-lyric view of marriage, in which your spouse is your lover, best friend, therapist and Wii buddy, and you also have identical taste in movies.

But as people are increasingly expected to self-actualize clear to the grave, what are the chances that they’ll pair up with someone who is on the exact same path of discovery?”

Thought: Maybe you can have it all. You just can’t get it all from the same person.

In my view Second Life provides a unique opportunity for us to test the waters of polyamory before actually diving into the deep end. In theory we can experience love and compatibility with new friends without bringing the baggage that comes with connections in the physical realm (read “multiple sex partners”). That’s not to say it won’t upset the marital apple cart. But perhaps that cart is rolling down a rocky road anyway.

I realize this is new territory. And, like most attempts to chart new terrain, there exist few maps and guidebooks to point out the pitfalls on the journey. By writing honestly and openly about these experiences–although that could be debated as I’m still writing under a pseudonym–I’m attempting to help us at least come clean and start talking about how it feels to meet someone new who brings something to our lives that our current partner may not. And also how it feels to be the lover of one who is loved by another.

So consider this an invitation to join the dialogue. What have been your experiences with polyamory and Second Life? Is your partner aware of your actions? Have you set up successful parameters that allow you–and perhaps your partner as well–to partake in the previously forbidden waters of multiple romantic relationships?

See my previous post about how my husband and I came to discover polyamory in Second Life.

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13 Comments

  1. Mylena Aquitaine said,

    Interesting blog Cindy, as always, and great links too. I’ve thought long and hard about this subject for many years, and despaired at the immediate stereotypical reactions that polyamory immediately brings up in many. One says polyamory, others think swingers, wife-swapping, open relationship, etc…. If one were to intimate that no one should not have more than one child, ’cause you can’t possibly love more than one… well, there would be an outcry wouldn’t there? Of course we can love more than one child, more than one person at a time. Humans have a great capacity for love, even if some societies have severely restricted our views on the matter.

    That we can have more than one loving relationship with a child goes without saying, and I do believe the same is true in adult relationships but there is a whole other dimension to those, isn’t there? Unbeknownst to most, we all practice polyamory to a certain degree. The degree and the difference resides in the (oft abused) difference between “loving” and “being in love with” someone. Close friends, those people who remain with us for a lifetime, few would argue we love them. Yet they are not our partners, they are our bosom friends.

    Being someone’s partner shouldn’t mean being joined at the hip. One shouldn’t be the “be all and end all” of the other. That said, one shouldn’t use the cloak of polyamory to neglect one relationship in favour of another. Like it or not relationships evolve over time and require effort to maintain and enrich. True polys are rare, I believe, because most of us aren’t willing to put in the work to maintain one true relationship, much less multiple ones. I bristle at quote like Wagner’s because quite frankly I feel she’s missing the point. Of course one doesn’t break up a “perfectly good” relationship because one likes bowling and the other ballet. So you like bowling and your partner likes ballet… well find a (loving) friend who likes bowling and let your partner find a (loving) friend who likes ballet. Does that make you polyamorous (in the strict sense of the word)? Of course not, that makes you a person with a life partner and a few close friends with whom you share interests outside your partnership.

    I do believe most human beings are lazy. Falling in love with someone new, especially online, is easy and exciting. Maintaining a relationship in the real world is hard work. If you find yourself saying “I love you” to someone other than your life partner when you cannot utter those words to them…. I guess it’s time to leave, not to consider a poly lifestyle. ‘Cause really, you don’t “love” your partner anymore.

  2. cindykesey said,

    Hello Mylena,
    I don’t typically respond to comments as I don’t want to thwart people’s desire to post them. But your response was so well thought out and insightful that I felt compelled.

    I couldn’t agree more with your summary of people’s general laziness when it comes to working on their primary relationships. Concerted effort is such a critical factor in the success of anything, whether it be jobs, school, parenthood, or relationships.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I condone the use of polaymory as a tool to evade the responsibilities of working on our loving relationships. In fact, I think polyamory only works when we are on solid footing in our primary relationship. And as the article states, real polyamory actually takes more work since there are multiple personalities involved.

    My therapist once said to me (yes I do have one and highly recommend it!) that if you’re considering divorce you owe it to yourself to work really hard at fixing all you can for one month for each year you’ve been married. So if you’ve been married 12 years like me, you should devote at least a year before even considering dissolving it.

    If you haven’t seen it I encourage you to check out my previous post titled “Try Just A Little Bit Harder.” It’s all about putting forth effort in relationships. (https://cindykesey.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/try-just-a-little-bit-harder/)

  3. Anita Wagner said,

    Hi there – I’m the Anita Wagner quoted in the Washington Post article, and I want to clear up something. Monica Hesse, the writer, did her best at capturing our conversation, but the “one likes ballet and the other likes bowling” phrase was her paraphrasing what I said and not a direct quote. Such easily-remediable conflicts as that aren’t a good example of the point I was making. A more apt example would be something that is more of a deal-breaker in a monogamous relationship, i.e. one partner loves the other but has important needs that are going unmet, like significant variations in sex drive, time spent together having fun, etc. If a monogamous partner is committed to finishing law school at night and works a full time job, leaving their spouse alone for significant periods of time that leave that partner feeling unfulfilled, often a second partner can fill that need without the original relationship having to be dissolved. This is especially good when children are part of the family and mom and dad want to keep the family intact, both for each other and for the kids, and need a way to make that happen while making sure important needs are being met.

    Another example is that people who’ve tried to make a primary, cohabitating relationship work but find significant, unresolvable incompatibilities are making sharing hearth and home a problem. Lots of people have come to understand that love does not conquer all and is actually in some ways beside the point when conflicts arise. People who love each other very much can encounter unresolvable conflict as primary partners. It is not uncommon for the two primary partners to start living apart and restructure their relationship so that it better fits their individual sensibilities. In this way their love for each other is retained, and they are able to express it to each other, physically and otherwise, while eliminating the elements of the relationship that are problematic. .

    Indeed, as Monica points out, some of us find that we CAN have it all – just not always from one person.

    Hope this context helps.

  4. cindykesey said,

    Hi Anita….
    Wow, thank you so very much for taking the time to correct any misconceptions that may have arisen from your quote and the context around it. Your perspective is so very interesting and I am grateful you are willing to share it publically.

    In light of the recent misadventures of some politicians, we continue to be faced with questions about whether monogamy is a viable solution for humans, or if we’re simply struggling to fit a square peg into a round hole.

    Check out this new article from Livescience.com and featured on Yahoo: Are Humans Meant to be Monogamous? http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20080319/sc_livescience/arehumansmeanttobemonogamous

  5. Mylena Aquitaine said,

    Indeed, thanks for responding Anita, and for clearing up the confusion!

    I waited a while to respond, hoping this thread wasn’t going to end up a 3-women show but well… I guess the subject matter is too intimidating for some.

    Some things Anita said made me wonder where do friends fit in a poly’s life? Where does a true long-term friend fit and where/when does someone cross the line between friend and partner? Is it purely physical? Something else, some intangible I haven’t grasped yet?

    If one fulfills their needs with multiple partners, where to those partners fulfill theirs? My mind is a muddle trying to understand how things works. Don’t get me wrong, I do not condemn polyamory by any means, and as I state before I believe we all practice it in some way. Neither do I believe that human beings are monogamous by nature. I tend towards the idea of humans as serial monogamists and sexual opportunists.

    I’ve given this a lot of thought, along with a number of other precepts of our modern life. Why do we feel such entitlement to “having it all”, be it relationships, material wants or money? What happened to “enough” and “contentment”? What happened to delayed gratification? Are we’re so used to buying everything on credit that we feel we must have everything we “need” right then and now. Isn’t that how so many people end up filling for bankruptcy whilst surrounded with mountains of expensive, unused stuff?

    So your main partner is busy with a full-time job and part-time studies… assuming this is not something they decided on their own but that it was a joint decision to make your lives better in the long run, why can’t we wait for them to be more available, or take every step possible to fully enjoy the little time they have free together? What happens to the 3rd partner once the (in this case) essentially temporary situation is no longer?

    Differences in sexual appetite shouldn’t be a deal-breaker in a long-term relation either, unless perhaps if one partner’s drive is absolute zero. I’ve always had a much greater and varied appetite than any and all of my partners and I’ve never found it difficult to deal with. A little imagination, a few toys and hand-held shower works wonders 😉 . All kidding aside, unless the differences are enormous or gender-based (ie one needs BOTH genders to be fulfilled physically), then it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Lousy or unenthusiastic lovers are often simply great lovers waiting to be taught, and as their partner one should be thrilled to undergo that education together.

    I can fully appreciate the advantages of a poly lifestyle if one is talking of a commune-like life, with people sharing common ideologies, love and a division of labour. The utopia of the 60’s hippies in other words (and I am not being sarcastic here). In many ways I wish I could live in such a commune, not necessarily to share my love physically, but to simplify my life by giving to others what I do well and receiving from them the gift of their abilities. As an enthusiastic gardener, I’d be thrilled to maintain a vegetable plot for 10 or 20 people if someone else cleaned my house on a regular basis. What can I say, I’m a lousy housekeeper. Let my partner fix other’s computers in exchange for car maintenance or doing our taxes.

    I have a difficult time understanding polyamory in a “he fills this need, she fills that need” way. I guess I need to sit down and talk, perhaps even see the dynamics of such relationships in action to fully comprehend.

  6. cindykesey said,

    Hi Mylena,
    On a personal level I am drawn to online polyamory (we don’t really engage in it in real life) not so much to fill a gap left gaping by an incompatibility with my husband. However, I find that these new lovers help me discover things about myself my current relationship hadn’t brought out.

    For example, I have always thought of myself as a really bad listener. Yet with several of my online sweethearts I have devoted hours to listening to them share details about their lives and current relationships. And in the end, the encouragement I’ve given them has helped them find confidence to return to their primary relationships and work diligently to make them better. (See my post on being a “muse”:https://cindykesey.wordpress.com/2007/08/18/for-your-amusement/)

    The other aspect that draws me to polyamory is something I have a more difficult time explaining. I find the energy of new relationships rather intoxicating; the getting-to-know-you, the true appreciation of this new person, and the adoration that is prevalent in new relationships just seems to wane over time in long term relationships. Or it loses it’s punch. And I’m not sure why that is. Does this happen to you? An example would be your husband or partner telling you that you look beautiful and then hearing that from a stranger or new “friend.” Don’t you find the latter has more impact on you?

  7. So say I all « Rheta’s World said,

    […] it conflicting with their meatverse ones. Extending Kit’s theory, you could talk of poly-rez-amoury. But it would be missing the point […]

  8. Mylena Aquitaine said,

    Hi again Cindy,

    Of course, I was ruminating more on poly in real life, online poly is vastly different in its implications and effects.

    I do believe online poly can vastly enrich your life; let you discover more about yourself and let you explore things and situations you wouldn’t dare to in real life. New partners, whether they be RL or virtual are always exciting. There’s nothing quite so intoxicating as the discovery of someone new. Of course these things fade in time, when there is less and less to learn, and more and more routine, cranky sick kids, garbage that needs taken out, bills to pay and sometimes too much month left at the end of the paycheck. It takes effort, as you’ve said so yourself, to keep some of the wonderment and sparkle alive in a long term relationship.

    I do believe though that online poly can only truly be successful when your primary relationship is healthy and satisfying. It shouldn’t be a means to escape a dying relationship as it might very well prove to be the final nail in its coffin. It’s shouldn’t be hidden either, all participants, direct and indirect, should know exactly where the others stand, and that can only be done through communication and understanding. Unfortunately, in the case of online relationships, that far too commonly is not the case. What should be an enriching experience all too often degenerates into a very destructive one.

  9. cindykesey said,

    Mylena…I couldn’t have said it better myself. I agree on all counts. Well summarized. And thanks for the conversation. I enjoy hearing from my readers like you and learning more about your unique perspectives. Be well.

  10. Fountain Pens and Handmade Paper » Blog Archive » links for 2008-03-30 said,

    […] The Ultimate Meetup: Polyamory in Second Life (tags: polyamory relationships secondlife mlf) […]

  11. Ekaterina said,

    I know what you mean about expecting your relationship to be all things: friend, lover, partner……but when did this become the expectation? Since when have we started to expect that our love is supposed to share everything with us like some sort of life twin? I agree whole heartedly that our life is supposed to have many loves…but doesn’t mean they’re meant to be intimate.
    Yes we have other people in our lives who may fill needs our love doesn’t…but didn’t they used to be called friends? And yeah we get attracted to people who aren’t our love…but aren’t those called fantasies? I dont’ see anything wrong with having an sl relationship with someone other than your boyfriend/ girlfriend/ spouse, it’s another way to fantasize, but I can’t see taking that into real life.

  12. littlemissevil said,

    I personally believe that a good polyamorous relationship causes you to have more feelings for your primary..I know that I have been way more affectionate with my husband since I’ve been with my girlfriend. They are great friends and both really understand me..and I feel that I really understand them..we’re a big happy family. It’s a feeling of completness..if you don’t have that then I don’t think your in a healthy poly relationship. Love should cause more love, not eliminate it.

  13. So say I all said,

    […] it conflicting with their meatverse ones. Extending Kit’s theory, you could talk of poly-rez-amoury. But it would be missing the point […]

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