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18 August, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part One)

I should start with the basics. Why would anybody want to date more than one person?

Part 1: "Am I not enough?"

If one of a pair brings up the topic of stepping out of monogamy, the other might be quick to think, "What did I do wrong? Why am I not enough?"

In poly circles, I often hear (or "read", to be truthful) the words "fairy tale". The fairy tale goes like this: somewhere in this world is a person who will love you and meet all of your needs. As long as you are with this person, you will be happy. If you aren't happy, either you're with the wrong person or there's something wrong with you.

I'm a lot of things, but "simple" isn't on the list. I remember a favorite teacher saying once that the biggest difference between men and women was that men were simple. Then he glanced over and said, "Well, maybe not you." (A high compliment!) One of the things I love about being able to have multiple lovers is that I find people who are open to completely different kinds of things. Margaret and I love to talk mind science, but when she starts working on robots my attention may wander. With Leilani, I can't expect to attach a neuroscience article to an email to explain some paragraph about emotion, but I can talk about the grand ecology of the world, and I can get in touch with the great green that I so miss from my childhood in the New England forest. I don't expect either one of them to start spending her time learning to love the things I do that she doesn't, although I love it when we do start trading interests. I don't want to have to pressure someone to shape her life around me; neither do I want to have to fit myself to someone else's needs. Instead, I want to be with someone because I happen to satisfy some or all of those needs, someone who knows that the fairy tale isn't worth waiting for: there may never be a single person who matches every need.

And, hell, what about every want? I don't know about you, but I intend to have a good life. Perhaps that's selfish. Ok. Call us selfish. But we're having fun.

That makes life easier for me, too. I know that, if someone I'm dating happens to love hip-hop and escargot and wants to share those experiences with someone, she's responsible for finding that someone. Likewise, if I want to bring a date to the Dragonforce concert, she needn't feel obliged to fake enthusiasm. This stands for more important issues, too. Let's say that a godless, sex-crazed sodomite (me) is dating a woman who isn't comfortable with sex. Finding a partner who is comfortable is my responsibility ... but because we don't insist on exclusivity, we can still enjoy each others' company in other ways. She can wait as long as she wants, and we can go for long walks on the beach and enjoy power metal together.

I think that necessitates a question, though. Why not just commit to one of these people and stay friends with the others? For me, I guess, the answer is that I love getting to know people the way one only does by lying in bed together after three AM, trading the stories that come out with sleep deprivation and trading kisses back and forth. I love loving, and because I often end up attracted to the people I like best, the freedom to follow through on that attraction is a wonderful thing. If I were in a closed relationship, I'd just end up with a thousand crushes clogging up the space in my brain. Now that I have the option to pursue them, that pressure doesn't build up.

So, that's part of why I want to ignore the fairy tale. It's not about not being enough but about allowing that one person doesn't have to try to be enough. We're each responsible for our own happiness, and I'd rather surround myself with wonderful people than ... wait, I can't think of an equivalent "pro" for monogamy. The difference between people - isn't that almost reason enough? Each lover I've had has had things in common with some of the others, since I haven't changed that much myself, but there is no complete overlap; change one person and it wouldn't be the same story. The people I've been with are all so fascinating that I'd hate to miss out on one of them.

It can be tough. Life's not all sunshine and puppies. Part 2 will be about balancing the equation: why would you want your partner dating other people? Actually, come to think of it, there might some puppies I can dig up for that one.

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