If I am already in a relationship, does my desire for others come from my dissatisfaction or unhappiness with my current relationship? If I were in a relationship that met my needs, would I still want multiple partners?
I addressed this in an earlier essay I wrote called “Needy”:
One of the things that’s very common in poly circles is the idea that multiple relationships allow you to meet different needs that are unreasonable to ask one relationship to meet. It’s often cited as not only the justification for expending more energy to maintain more than one relationship at a time but a reason why polyamory is superior to monogamy.
I know this was the case for me the last time I opened up a previously exclusive relationship. The unmet need for my partner at the time (Seth, now my ex-husband) was threesomes. I thought at the time that I had no unmet needs, but as I experimented, it became clear that I was much happier with romance and kink in my life. Other than the threesome thing, Seth was quite vanilla and thought romance was something manufactured by Hallmark to make money, rather than the shared intimacy and idiosyncratic/unorthodox/downright quirky connection I really crave (which actually tied very nicely into kink, come to think of it).
Seth’s desire for threesomes may seem overstated as a “need,” but he said it was his sexual orientation – it was a constant source of strain in our relationship as I was bisexual but burnt out on recreational group sex (having gotten more than my fair share in college) and recovering from PTSD. It certainly didn’t help either that I’d come off a string of guys who had targeted me for my sexual orientation and former sluttiness (I had developed quite a reputation), thinking that I’d be an easy mark for a harem girl.
Don’t get me wrong. The harem fantasy definitely has its hot points (servicing a selfish and spoiled dominant as part of a sexy team, canoodling with/sexing up the other girls, etc), but when you feel like that’s the one thing a person really values about you… well, it’s rotten. It doesn’t feel good.
But after 8 years of monogamy, I found out that a female friend I’d had a crush for 2 years was in a polyamorous marriage. It rocked my little group of friends. Some couples pulled inward protectively. Some of us started fooling around – I was in the second group. I was tired of saying no to Seth, and someone I admired was making it work with her husband. Why couldn’t we?
Halfway across the country from me, Skyspook also entered polyamory with a needs-based reasoning. He’d been dating for years and was finding it frustrating. No matter how much he looked, he couldn’t find one person who had everything he was looking for. He had some poly friends, and after watching them and doing some soul searching and work on himself, he set out to date as a single poly person, thinking that he could instead find everything he was looking for spread out among multiple relationships.
It was in that process he met me, found everything he was looking for, and married me (despite thinking he’d never marry).
I love that he says that about me, about us. It’s been a story that has helped me through the darkest moments of my own self-doubt.
The trouble is, that if I think about poly in a needs-based manner – recruiting extra partners to correct deficits… ugh. The implications. I have deep attachment to this particular love story.
Thankfully, the decision to open up again doesn’t seem to be needs-based or motivated at all, on either of our parts. Neither of us is dissatisfied or bored. Rather, this time around there are two other reasons that seem to be in play:
- Variety is good and fun and lovely. The new feels new and makes the old feel new as well. We’re already experiencing a huge wave of NRE together discussing possibilities even without new partners in the picture.
- Policing monogamy sucks. It’s exhausting to try to be on one’s best behavior all the time. We’d become secure enough in ourselves and in our relationship that neither of us really cared if, for example, the other person made out with someone at a party. We realized this at exactly the same time. We’d both had a couple of scares where we didn’t KNOW if we’d cheated or not after saucy things had happened with friends at parties… The vast majority of our friends are poly, and we care about them deeply. Our monogamy was always very fuzzy, and it was all getting very silly.
But still I see needs-based reasoning everywhere I go.
Franklin Veaux has written a number of widely read and cited pieces on polyamory (including his book More than Two). I found his basic FAQ, an excellent resource to point mono friends to when they were shaking their heads in confusion at my slutty, slutty ways.
Here is what he says in something he wrote for mono people who have fallen for poly people:
Many people seem to be naturally inclined, whether by learning or by hard wiring, to need only one person in their life. Such people experience a drive to seek out romantic companionship, but once they have found that romantic companionship, that drive disappears. It’s as if the need to seek out intimacy is switched off; the drive is satisfied, and the person is content to settle down with his or her partner.
For other people, this is not the case. People who are poly by nature experience the same drive, the same need to seek out intimacy and romantic relationships, but once such a person has found a partner, that drive is not switched off. A poly person is still driven to seek out intimate romantic relationships.
This is what many poly folk mean when they say “Having one lover does not meet all my needs.” It’s not a way of saying that a poly person expects to have every need, no matter how trivial or transient, satisfied at once; rather, it’s a way of saying that the need that is completely satisfied when a monogamous person finds a lover is not satisfied when a polyamorous person finds a partner.
Put simply: Monogamous people can be happy sharing their lives with one and only one other person. Polyamorous people can not.
From my point of view, I don’t think satisfaction or happiness is binary – I don’t think it’s so simple as even being unhappy with only one partner. I know I can be perfectly happy with just one partner at a time – it’s just more exciting and stimulating to have more in my life, more opportunities. I know I can be even happier.
I don’t think this makes me needy.
I don’t think poly people are inherently needy either.
I think we’re fucking ambitious.
And ambitious with fucking.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.