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19 February, 2012

Q&A

Hey, folks: I'm a student, but I'm going to be getting involved in self-directed research in the coming year. Right now, I'm curious about motivations and what might mediate the difference between intrinsic motivations (which come from where?) and choices for behavior -- for example, if someone becomes aware of the possibility of polyamory and is attracted to many people or likes the idea of carrying on multiple relationships, what are the principal internal and external factors that might influence that person's choice to try polyamory or to stick with monogamy? I'm curious about, for starters, attachment style and sensitivity to scripts for behavior (e.g., religious dogma).

Soon, I'll be talking with a more experienced researcher who's informing her study of polyamory using the lens of attachment style. I have plenty to ask already, but are there any questions you'd like me to ask?

5 comments:

  1. Sounds fascinating! I'd be interested to see your results when you eventually put it all together :)

    Religious scripts would definitely be a factor for some, although to what extent this is true is probably influenced quite strongly by geography... adherence to religious doctrines about monogamy being more prevalent in Bible Belt states than in NY, CA, etc, for instance, or even across borders... the US being far more religious than New Zealand and Australia, Canada and the Western European states, on average. Although I would expect, personally, that the messages about sexual and romantic exclusivity in film, television and popular music would be far more influential for a larger percentage of the general population.

    Something I've never seen any stats or discussion on and would like to: are polyamorous people more or less likely to have had more than two siblings? And if more likely, do the sexes of the siblings correlate to any extent with the sexes of adult partners? My line of thinking is as follows: If someone spends their entire childhood thinking of themselves as belonging to a 'set' of three or more, it perhaps wouldn't be surprising if that sort of self-concept carries over into adult romantic relationships. Of course, it may have no bearing on eventual romantic relationship preferences at all.

    Anyways, I'd love to hear what your research turns up eventually :)

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  2. Ah, what a good question! I can tell you that I know two people whose relationships with polyamory are informed by their histories with their siblings, but I'm an only child ... time to get some larger samples. I also remember that sibling order is a strong predictor of jealousy experiences; a Dutch researcher named Buunk is the fellow whose work you'd want to read, I think.

    Perhaps the relationship between sibling numbers and openness to nonmonogamy is mediated by attachment style? This may be not only about group construction but also about expectations of time and attention from one's sources of love and comfort (e.g., parents and romantic partners). The idea of imagining oneself as part of a group, rather than as part of a dyad, isn't something I'd previously considered ... it makes me wonder about a person I know from a large family who's painfully jealous. What are the mediating factors in his case?

    I'll have to find all this out! And, no worries, I'll be sure to brag about all my awesome research as the data roll in.

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  3. That's an interesting question, LiminalD! Given my own close relationship with my other-gender sibling (there's just the two of us), and how I believe that's contributed to my tendency to have equal or greater numbers of other gender friends than same/similar gender friends, I wonder:

    If one is straight or bi/pan/queer, does having a significant number* of close, other-gender friends correlate with being more open to polyamory? This might be especially relevant to straight people, because there certainly are a number of "scripts for behaviour" which discourage other-gender friendships, both w/r/t straight single people befriending other straight single people, and people already in an other-gender monogamous romantic relationship befriending other-gender folks.

    (See: the whole Nice Guy TM nonsense wherein an strong, close other-gender relationship is somehow an insufficient/disappointing end, and is instead treated (by some!) as merely a means to a sexual and/or romantic relationship; also, the entirely counterproductive pressure/expectation placed on members of other-gender monogamous couples that they be made uncomfortable by (and 'ideally' disallow) their partners befriending someone of another gender.) "Befriending", in the context of my comment, would mean developing a close, emotionally intimate, platonic relationship.

    It seems plausible that if one has already established the personal possibility and feasibility of forming and maintaining multiple other-gender relationships through one's experiences with friendship, one might be more inclined to view polyamory as a viable option, given that if one is straight, being open forming and maintaining multiple close, emotionally intimate relationships could be seen as a prerequisite to engaging in polyamory.

    Also, I wonder if first hearing about polyamory before or after one has begun one's first romantic relationship would tend to have a specific effect on one's ideas about polyamory, in general, or personally.

    Looking forward to reading your results, Oxytocin!

    *I don't know whether said significant number would just be nonzero, or greater than one, or some percentage greater than average (adjusted for age and siblings?). Likewise, who knows if there's a linear or other relationship between number of other-gender friends and polyamorous shenanigans, or whether instead there's some sort of significant threshold situation. You should find out! :)

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  4. Ah, such complexities! This is lovely: I so often delve into personality factors and forget to explore these sorts of interpersonal history factors. It's great to have your help to keep me from becoming complacent.

    In reading your question about straight or bi/pan/complicatedly queer folks and other-sex friends, I'm left asking the question: what determines whether a given person has a large number of other-gender friends in the first place? I bet that different motivations (e.g., seeking friendships with people one finds attractive, or being uncomfortable with folks of one's own gender) would have more influence than the simple fact of having those many relationships, but one might also predict the opposite: that being used to having multiple close relationships would make it easier for a person to warm up to the idea of having multiple partners.

    That speaks to why people might be open to the idea of having multiple attachments. My big question, though: what makes a person willing or unwilling to accept their partners' having the freedom to see other people? That might not jive with the Nice Guy (TM) trope, but it does relate to your idea in that having experienced multiple simultaneous friendships and attractions might help a person understand sympathetically that their partners could love multiple people without threatening any one relationship. That's one of the big questions I'm hoping to sort out in my own research.

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    Replies
    1. "What determines whether a given person has a large number of other-gender friends in the first place?" For me, it was largely "being uncomfortable with folks of one's own gender," which was a result of a few things, including, perhaps most prominently, the fact that my closest friendship from approximately age 3 (when he was born) to age 11 was with my brother; I was thus much more comfortable with boys than with girls because I had much more experience being friends with them.

      (Also a contributing factor, in high school at least, was the fact that as a bi/pan queer gal I was afraid any advances of friendship towards girls might be seen as predatory by them if/when I came out to them; as well, liking girls was something that set me apart from (most) girls, but it was something I had in common with (most) boys.)

      As to "what makes a person willing or unwilling to accept their partners' having the freedom to see other people?", another way someone may have "experienced multiple simultaneous" relationships is somewhat vicariously, that is, through their parents, if said parents have close friendships with other people (who are local, I guess) themselves and/or if there is/was a geographically and emotionally close extended family situation.

      Basically, I think that how important having a sense of close community that they feel they can rely on is to someone, which might be influenced by any number of things, could be a significant factor in determining their answer to this second question. On the other hand, if for most of one's life, most of the relationships one has witnessed have been of some sort of paired nature (two parents, perhaps each with a best friend, one or zero siblings, etc.), then one get develop the idea (helped along by most mass media) that there are specific relationship-types, and one should end up with one person in each slot, as it were.

      (Thought many people have two parents, assuming they're an other sex couple, and given how much gender role brainwashing we're all exposed to, it seems not unlikely that said parents are further sorted in the categories of "mother" and "father".)

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