Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is Polyamory an Alternative to Cheating? Not so says Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is a polyamorous sex educator in California whom I very much respect, and I read with great interest his recent blog entry provocatively entitled "Polyamory Is Not an Alternative to Cheating." 

My own path to polyamory, which I describe in my lengthy comment to the blog entry, resulted directly from seeking an alternative to cheating and traditional monogamy - I experienced cheating in about every way imaginable in my earlier adult life, and there came a point where I wanted nothing more to do with it.

Charlie's premise, which you will see, is that polyamory is an alternative to monogamy, and that the alternative to cheating is honesty, communication and abiding by our agreements.  I can't argue with that logic certainly, yet for me personally, discovering polyamory as a better alternative to cheating was a very compelling reason for me to embraced it.  So for me, polyamory is indeed an alternative to cheating.  Charlie's explains his thinking this way:
I think that what bothers me about the “poly isn’t cheating” message is that it seems to play into the “poly means you’re more evolved” meme that floats around in some self-satisfied circles. I know from personal experience that it takes a lot of practice to be open about your desires and to quickly and smoothly process the challenges that arise. And when there are multiple relationships, there are more plates to keep spinning, so it does require more grace and skill. But at the end of the day, we’re all people and any of us can be tempted to break our rules. So even if being successfully poly does mean that you have more practice at using your relationship tools, that doesn’t excuse becoming smug about it any more than being a skilled dancer gives you permission to think that you’re a better person than a newbie.
Now I absolutely cannot argue with the fact that the poly-as-more-evolved meme has a lot of problems, largely that it tends to alienate people who choose monogamy.  More importantly, it tends to alienate people we should be raising awareness with so they understand that what we do is ethical and maybe even not what they think at all.  But alienating them makes that job a lot more difficult.  I actually cringed when I heard one of the cast members of the Showtime series Polyamory: Married and Dating say this very thing.  From an advocacy perspective it does we polyamorists no good at all, and it's ethically wrong in that it is a great example of the sort of thing that marginalizes others within communities and societies everywhere. 

What I like most about Charlie's blog post is that he is speaking as a respected leader about the importance of following standards of conduct that though difficult to follow in some instances, nevertheless assure those who follow them of having a lot more love and happiness in their relationships and a lot less pain and suffering over the long run than those who don't follow them.

So kudos to Charlie!  It would be wonderful to hear and see more polyamory advocates and community leaders follow his example.  Doing so may cause some to feel uncomfortable because they know they need to do better by themselves and their partners than they do.  There are certainly plenty of them out there who need to up their game from an ethical perspective.  If they squirm a little knowing they don't meet the standards leaders recommend, that's OK with me.  

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