Polyamory Isn’t A Cure For Cheating (And In Some Ways Makes Cheating Easier)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I can’t stop my men from cheating on me,” types the monogamous woman in her article, “But maybe if I enter polyamorous relationships, all the cheating will stop!”

She pauses at the keyboard, baffled.

Why is the bitter laughter of thousands of actually polyamorous people drifting through her window?

Well, first off: cheating happens all the time in polyamorous relationships. Polyamory doesn’t mean “You get to fuck whoever you want,” but rather “You negotiate a framework with your partners as to who, when, and how it’s acceptable to fuck.”

And it is entirely possible to break those rules. Did you promise to have safe sex and things got so hot you forgot to rock that sock? You done cheated. Did you promise to check in with your partner before things got hot and heavy, just so they’d know who you were entangled with? You done cheated. Did you conceal this hot cybersex you were having on the side? You done cheated.

“Wait,” you say, stunned. “Cybersex isn’t cheating!” Well, I’m afraid poly’s gonna swirl your world here, because sometimes nonsexual things become more important than sexual ones in poly relationships.

Look. When “We only have Teh Sexx0rs with each other” ceases to define who you are, often nonsexual things swell to fill those gaps. I personally met my wife in a Star Wars chat room. My first trip to visit her solo was to see Phantom Menace. We got matching Star Wars tattoos with our two daughters the day before Force Awakens came out.

If I went to go watch a new Star Wars movie with someone else for the first time, that would be a divorce.

And I’m not kidding. Not every polyamorous relationship has these nonsexual touchstones, but you may well find that a certain restaurant or seeing a certain band becomes something that defines who you are as a couple.

And if your partner doesn’t have the capacity to go, “No, I’ll wait a few days for my sweetie to come back from that business trip before I see Star Wars IX,” well, you’re not gonna do well.

And even if you don’t buy into the idea that nonsexual things can be cheating – some polycules don’t – polyamory not only offers more temptations, but more people to make agreements with.

Because polyamory is, theoretically, based in love. Which means you don’t want to hurt your partners – all your partners, not just the one. Which means if one partner wants you to tell them who you’re sexually involved with before anything happens and another partner is okay with oral but not PIV intercourse on a first date, you could potentially cheat on two people simultaneously.

Add to that the surfeit of temptations – in a monogamous relationship, a partner may rein their flirtatious impulses in because they know they’re supposed to be exclusively committed to you, even if they can’t consistently carry through. But in polyamory, where you can date anyone you want in the absence of more customized negotiations, you can smooch so many people that you temporarily forget about your original partner. In fact, there’s a term for this thrumming lovefest – New Relationship Energy, or NRE. And you just get so caught up because everything’s good that all your prior promises fall out your damn head.

Now.

If you’re dating men who can’t keep it in their pants when they’re dealing with just one, simple commitment – “Don’t” – do you think they’re gonna be better when you give them finer-grained permissions and a wider range of options to go astray?

No. Polyamory isn’t an answer to cheating, and in some cases it leads to more cheating. It’s not taking the reins off, it’s putting on different reins – because even if you’re into Relationship Anarchy, people have expectations they want met in the course of a relationship (even if those expectations are as slim as “Tell me if you’ve picked up an STI so I can take stronger precautions”), and the health of those bonds is forged by how responsible someone is in respecting those expectations.

Monogamy isn’t easy. But neither is polyamory.

It’s just a different set of choices.

8 Comments

  1. Gayle
    Nov 5, 2018

    In my humble experience, cheaters gonna cheat. Poly will only complicate that dynamic, and in many cases, turn the partner(s) of said cheater off to poly forever. Because no matter what you or I say to that partner, it will never trump their personal experience.

  2. Anonymous Alex
    Nov 5, 2018

    Without disagreeing on the above, it seems to me that the idea of “I’ll solve my cheating problem by redefining ‘cheating'” is fundamentally flawed. If you see having sex with someone else as “cheating,” are you really going to feel better about it because you’ve begrudgingly given it your OK? If you were really OK with it, you wouldn’t have labeled it as a problem.

    -Alex

    • Raven Black
      Nov 5, 2018

      @Alex – I don’t think that’s necessarily true. A lot of people think of sex-cheating as a problem because society has aggressively normalized that opinion. ie. maybe they didn’t label it as a problem, someone else did and they’ve just blindly bought into that until an epiphany. Under that circumstance, redefining cheating away from the societal norm could totally help (at the extreme, maybe you realize you don’t actually inherently care about *anything* a partner might do in your absence, in which case it suddenly becomes impossible for them to cheat!)

      • Anonymous Alex
        Nov 6, 2018

        See comment below. (Nothing personal, just had to put the reply somewhere.)

        -Alex

    • Hel M.
      Nov 5, 2018

      Except there’s a decent number of people who’ve never considered any options besides the default, and will, when made aware of those options, embrace them. It might have never occurred to (the general) you that you could say sex with other people *wasn’t* cheating.

      Obviously this won’t be the case for everyone, or probably even the majority. But it’ll be the case for enough people that it shouldn’t just be dismissed.

      • Anonymous Alex
        Nov 6, 2018

        This and the similar other reply are valid points which I was trying (unsuccessfully, it seems) to allude to with my use of the term “begrudgingly.” The case in point was not a generic random person, but rather a specific one who “can’t stop [her] men [plural]” from cheating. A brief scan of the article in question shows phrases like “I am, and have always valued and preferred monogamy,” talking about “splitting our time” with another partner, not wanting to know too many details, etc. Sounds to me like someone who wants X, but is considering Y because she can’t get it, not because Y is right for her.

        Maybe I’m being overly cynical. In any case, that’s the scenario that I had in mind and was critiquing; I didn’t mean to exclude the possibility that some people would be enlightened rather than feeling cornered.

        In my mind, it’s the difference between discovering poly and thinking “Oh! Maybe having sex with other people isn’t a problem [provided A, B, and C are in place]” versus thinking “Hey, maybe this is a solution to my cheating problem.”

        -Alex

        • Hel M.
          Nov 7, 2018

          Ah, I hadn’t read the linked article.

  3. Paul N
    Nov 6, 2018

    It’s comforting to know that at least one thing in the universe turned out better because of The Phantom Menace.

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