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All the Cute Girls Have [Multiple] Girlfriends: Polyamory And Queer Women

2011 January 31
by Genya Shimkin

I have these friends – let’s call them A and B – who had been in a committed monogamous relationship for over a year.  Recently, they started dating C.  There are rules.  The three of them can all sleep together.  A is allowed to sleep with C when B is not present, but B and C are not allowed to sleep together unless A is there.  They are all into “poly” or polyamory, which Wikipedia defines as “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.”

Like a whole host of sexual identities, preferences, and fetishes, I don’t get the poly thing.  I understand and accept that it exists, but I don’t get it.  And it’s everywhere.  So many of my young, queer, female friends are doing the poly thing, and I can’t help but wonder: are they doing it because they are genuinely interested?  Or are they doing it because it’s the hip new thing?  Either way, I’m starting to resent its popularity.

Each trio (or quartet, quintet, etc) has its own rules.  Sometimes there are “primaries” and “secondaries,” as in “Kate is my primary, and Rose is my secondary, but Rose is also Lucy’s primary, and Lucy has a secondary named Christy,” and so on.  It can get confusing, and in some instances, messy.  In these relationships, consent is essential.  Everyone has to know where they stand with each of their partners, and rules need to be clear.  I’m not sure how people avoid – or deal with – issues of fidelity, jealousy, or commitment, but they seem inevitable to me.

This is how I know I could never do the poly thing.  Call me old fashioned, or boring, or vanilla, or whatever, but I want to date one person, and I want her to only date me.  I want monogamy, commitment, exclusivity.  I don’t ever want to call a woman and I’m dating and have to hear, “Oh, yeah, we can’t hang out tonight, I’m with Mary this weekend.”  Maybe I just don’t want to share.  Maybe I’m selfish, but really, aren’t the people who are double-dipping (or triple or quadruple-dipping) in the dating pool really the selfish ones?  My friends in relationships keep adding partners, while I remain perpetually single.  (Two weeks ago, my brother and his girlfriend came to visit, and over the course of the weekend, I was the third, fifth, and seventh wheel.)

There is a segment of the queer community that is determined to push a set of norms that challenge what they believe are the traditionally heterosexual practices of monogamy and marriage.  I’m not one of those people.  Growing up with my parents, all I ever knew was a loving, committed, balanced, monogamous marriage.  So that’s what I want.  I don’t want to worry about a crazy web of concurrent partners and all of their potential issues and infections.  My dating life should not look like some crazy game of musical chairs where everyone scrambles to find a partner at the end of the night.  I would never want to explain to my father, “Well, yes, I am dating Tara, but we’re also dating Michelle.”

Polyamory is becoming more and more popular among young queer women.  I suppose it’s better than everyone just sleeping around, but I can’t help but wonder about the motives.  Is this a rebellion against monogamy as a heterosexual institution?  Is it about exploration?  Is it about boredom?  Is it just the cool new thing?  Maybe all of the above, maybe none of the above.  But I’m not interested.  I don’t want to have a threesome with you and your girlfriend, and I don’t want to date the two of you either.  I’d rather be single.

13 Responses
  1. January 31, 2011

    First, well done, lady. Optimum sass.

    Second, for anyone who’s interested in some light reading, Christopher Ryan’s “Sex at Dawn” does an admirable (and often entertaining) job of enforcing the opinion that human beings are not, by nature, monogamous creatures. While there are a myriad of reasons people attempt poly relationships or adopt poly as an identity, the ones I find to be most common derive from this basic belief. Personally I would much rather live a life of honesty than one of infidelity, as some of my past relationships were riddled with, regardless of how personally fulfilling they were. The nuclear family is still regarded as sacred in our society, and we find nothing wrong in tar and feathering those who “fail” at monogamous “loyalty” (as if you can’t be loyal and committed in non-monogamous arrangements). Considering our species’s past (one of sharing resources, including mates), and being as introspective to my own desires and capabilities as I am, poly is not only a more attractive option to me, but a much healthier and more realistic one. It’s not “superior” to monogamy – it just deserves to be treated with the same respect.


    I almost forgot. Genya, when you’re ready for that threesome….you know who to call.

  2. Gary permalink
    January 31, 2011

    So, I guess the threesome is off? 🙁 Excellent article Genya! I never realized this was an issue in the lesbian community, but hang in there, you’ll find somebody who wants just you (and isn’t straight, lol). I have to say I did feel kind of guilty for making you the fifth and seventh wheel, so next time we hang out you have to bring a date. And I’m not taking no for an answer 🙂

  3. January 31, 2011

    I don’t know that it is exclusive rebellion against the heterosexual institution, as I have several hetero friends who are into polyamory as well. Perhaps it is a reaction to monogamy or an acknowledgement that the world is changing, and it is harder to stay in one committed loving relationship. I don’t know. I don’t get it either.

  4. February 1, 2011

    Amazing facts! I have been previously looking for something similar to this for some time now. Cheers!

    • Genya Shimkin permalink
      February 3, 2011

      Thanks for your comments, but really, if you want to learn more about poly, you should get in touch with some of the other commenters. Many of them are actually polyamorous, and can offer far more insight and information than I could.

  5. February 1, 2011

    Really, I find monogamy to be the biggest “fad” in our country.  Just look at the marriage industry.

    Then look at my friends who have been a loving, 3-person relationship for 10 years & live together, but can’t get partner benefits & constantly have to hide the people they love to family, friends, & acquaintances because of the stigma targeting non-monogamy.  If anyone should be resentful, it’s them.  

    The questions you pose & the judgment we get as poly people are the same people get/got for being gay/lesbian/bi/queer. I would hope a lesbian individual like you would celebrate that your friends are viewed as cool because they are exploring their sexuality in a way that fits them despite what society tells them is “right.”

  6. February 1, 2011

    I don’t think any relationship is free from issues about fidelity, jealousy, or commitment. Whether “Mary” is a coworker, family member, friend, hobby, or lover, spending time apart is inevitable (& healthy) in every relationship.

    Every relationship partner needs to know where they stand with their partner(s), as well as have clear rules/boundaries…  whether they be poly or mono.  

    Btw, STDs don’t travel via relationship status!!

    & y’know what?  My mono relationships were full of secrets, fear, & STD scares; my poly relationships have been much more communicative, honest, affirming, & safe in terms of infection risk.

  7. February 1, 2011

    I nor no poly person I know is “playing musical chairs…to find a partner at the end of the night”– I am looking to make sure that the chair that I sit with is secure, meets my needs, & wants just as much to sit with me (whether that be in a poly or mono situation) — & if not, I too am just as happy being single.  I know so many people in monogamous relationships who are sitting with one chair because that is the one that they invested in & they continue to sit with resentment, unhappiness, feeling of obligation, & fear of being alone.

    I also know people who have beautiful monogamous relationships — my parents, for one.  I had the same kind of parental role modeling as you & still found a lot more happiness & ease of mind in my poly relationships than in any of my monogamous attempts so far.

    I don’t think my parents or you are boring or vanilla, though.  I’m glad that you are secure in your ideal relationship structure & hope that you’ll be supportive of those who might be otherwise. 

    I love the picture & how you are speaking honestly from where you are. But at the same time, you are writing as an author of this site, as someone with authority/privilege, & using obviously leading questions. People want validation for their anti-poly sentiment & use testimony like this to legitimatize to their intolerance & judgement. &, frankly, I’m sick of it.

    By the by, the crazy web of ex’s is far more notorious in the queer women’s community than any poly web I know of.  Just sayin’ 😉

  8. Abby C. permalink
    February 1, 2011

    Hi Genya,

    Well, if you’re really curious! I’m a queer lady enjoying a polyamorous lifestyle and I can try to tell you a little about my choices.

    First off, it has *nothing* to do with being hip, popular, cool or rebellious for me, any more than my choice to date women at all is about those things. It’s about desire and preference and not caring that it’s unusual and makes my life more difficult at times… again, a lot like the choice to date women period. That said, from the blogs and boards I read, plenty of straight women are into poly as well.

    I tried poly a few times in late high school, and it didn’t work out. But hey, neither did any of my other high school relationships. My longest relationship was a three year monogamous stint with a man a while back. I’ve been in my current relationship, with a beautiful married woman (her hot husband and I are basically friends-with-benefits), for a year and a half now.

    I didn’t seek out this poly relationship, per se — initially we were just fooling around — and it certainly does come with its own set of complications and questions. But I’m *happy*, I’m really happy and horny and in love. It is going to “work out” (I assume people mean “last in the long-term” when they say this), is it going to ever be able to be a deep partnership where we twine the directions of our lives inextricably together (i.e. a “primary” relationship)? I don’t know and I don’t really care because I’m not going to let un-answerable questions ruin what I’ve got now.

    As for dealing with those issues of jealousy, fidelity and commitment… figuring out what those things even mean in this sort of context… is a matter of a LOT of honesty with yourself and a lot of honest communication with your partner(s). It requires sensitivity to the feelings of others and mad time management skills and, yes, a lower-than-average jealousy-reaction. It requires a lot of trust. It’s more complicated than a monogamous relationship would be, no doubt.

    Living a poly lifestyle is not for everyone. My heaven might well be your hell, and I would never encourage anyone to go for it if they think it’s not for them. If you think you’d hate it then you almost certainly would, so don’t do it!!! But hey, try not to resent those of us who do too much either. Our “motives” are just like yours — have fun, get lucky, love a little, see where it goes.

  9. February 1, 2011

    I have noticed a larger amount of people in the queer community are in poly or non-monogamous relationships, but I don’t think it’s due to any sort of fad following. I think it’s that people who are comfortable being non-monogamous are feeling more comfortable coming out as such. It’s more accepted today than it was five, ten, twenty, etc years ago. Now, polyamory isn’t just for giant hippie love communes or polygamist Mormons that live in the middle of nowhere – it’s right here, in your neighborhood, and it’s not a bad thing.

    It’s definitely not easier than a monogamous relationship. But it isn’t that much harder, either, as each relationship involved has it’s own set of complications and problems. Currently, I’m in an open poly relationship with my primary partner, L, who is used to straight-up monogamy. We’ve been dealing with each new person to enter our love life individually. Since he’s not really into seeing other people, he lets me do my thing, knowing that he’s the one I come home to. With a new person that’s just arrived in my life, he’s excited to hear that we care about each other. There’s a distance between myself and the new person of about 256 miles, so seeing each other can get difficult, but we each have a partner in our hometown, so we’re well-balanced, too. 🙂

    My parents have been in a secure, monogamous relationship for 30 years, and may the Gods grant them another 30 together. They have been a wonderful example to me of a working, stable, loving relationship, and I’m blessed to have had them. I myself envision getting married to someone I love, too – but that doesn’t end my being poly. I can do a legal marriage, then several other marriage ceremonies to my other partners if we so choose – granted, only one would be on paper, but love is the part that counts.

    I completely agree with cj’s post, reposting it here!
    I don’t think any relationship is free from issues about fidelity, jealousy, or commitment. Whether “Mary” is a coworker, family member, friend, hobby, or lover, spending time apart is inevitable (& healthy) in every relationship.
    Every relationship partner needs to know where they stand with their partner(s), as well as have clear rules/boundaries… whether they be poly or mono.
    Btw, STDs don’t travel via relationship status!!
    & y’know what? My mono relationships were full of secrets, fear, & STD scares; my poly relationships have been much more communicative, honest, affirming, & safe in terms of infection risk.

  10. February 2, 2011

    I would guess about 10 to 15 % of my friends are poly and at least half of my friends live a lifestyle outside of traditional monogamy. Open relationship, swingers, hedonists, and a few kinksters.

    Of those who consider themselves poly very few would self identify as queer.
    Mostly they are straight and very vanilla sexually outside of having poly lifestyle beliefs.

    Of those who are into fully open relationships however I would guess 80 to 90 % could or do attach the label of queer.

    Amongst the swinger set… a majority of females consider themselves bisexual to some degree while most males identify as straight or primarily straight.

    Just my own experience of course.
    Different social circles would give differing results.

  11. Genya Shimkin permalink
    February 3, 2011

    This is fantastic! When I wrote this piece, it was intended to be sassy and sarcastic, a thinly-veiled attempt to make excuses for my singlehood, but this has turned into a really great conversation about polyamory!

    Thank you all for your comments and insights!

  12. Guestina permalink
    April 12, 2011

    I found this page by searching “polyamory” and “perpetually single”. I’ve been reading a lot of literature about people’s instinctive mating choices. Though I’m queer and a radical feminist, reading something on another blog about polyamory leading to people being involuntarily shut out of sex and relationships surprisingly made some sense. It seems that two years of reading misogynistic and fundamentalist blogs and e-books will warp a person’s brain.

    Now I’m talking to my poly friends, searching the internet for relevant material and trying to get as many opinions as possible.

    Even if it were true that more people are left involuntarily celibate when it’s OK to have more than one partner, would it be wrong to take away someone’s freedom to have a 2nd or 3rd partner just to give someone else the chance to have a 1st? I know the answer is probably yes. What does that mean for the involuntarily celibate person? Is it good that they are forced to become a “better” person in order to attract more romantic partners?

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