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Thank you to everyone who read this, commented and gave suggestions. This is very much an “it takes a village” kind of post. I’d love to hear more experiences to form a fuller picture- you can share your thoughts in the comments, or fill out this anonymous form. If I have capacity, I’ll aim to incorporate additions over the next few months. At the very least, I will share comments from the form as they come in (if I notice there are details that may de-anonymize folks I might remove those details). 

Please engage kindly in the comments on this post. I know that the topics raised here are going to be really important to a lot of people, but I do have faith in our community’s ability to have productive discussions on this topic. 

Why am I writing this?

I’m writing this post because I feel there is (or was) an elephant in the room when it comes to discussions of polyamory (poly) in EA and adjacent forums that have largely focused on the Bay Area, and its implications for the EA community. I want to talk openly about my experiences as a woman who is poly and living in the Bay area. I’ve observed a number of conversations recently (and over the past year) where people have discussed issues in the community and specifically poly in misleading, confusing and sometimes hurtful ways. This frustrates me - I want people to make informed decisions on their involvement with the EA community based on accurate information. This post aims to inform people about poly in an approachable way, and discuss the challenges of polyamory in the EA community. 

For some context about me - I was monogamous for many years, and have been poly for some time now. I don’t think poly is right for everyone, and I’m not sure if it will always be right for me. I’m conflicted about my own role in complicating this issue, as someone who has (had) relationships with people in the community. The content in this post is based on my personal experiences (being monogamous and polyamorous), anecdotal observations and conversations with other (mostly highly engaged) community members. I also shared this post with several people who I think engaged in thoughtful discussions on the topic in the past (naturally, mistakes are mine). 

I hope this post will be a step on the path towards a more careful, thoughtful and kind community. This post aims to inform people about poly in an approachable way, and discuss the challenges of polyamory as far as I have experience including in the Bay-based EA community.

I’m writing anonymously because 1) not everyone in my social network knows I am poly and 2) I expect that for at least some career paths I’m considering being openly poly and/or talking about it could make it harder to succeed in that domain.

What is polyamory in the context of EA communities?

If you’re unfamiliar with polyamory, I’ve written a very brief background with some common terminology in the appendix for reference.

Most people in the EA community are not poly. Poly is most common (and sometimes assumed) in the Bay Area EA community where I’ve heard an estimate that maybe 60% of EAs are poly. The EA community in the Bay overlaps a lot with the rationality community, where poly is also fairly common. Some reviewers of this post suggested that early members of the rationality community thought people were monogamous by default, and if people designed their relationships intentionally a lot more people would be poly - see this 2010 LessWrong post and discussion as an example. 

Polyamory is fairly common in the Bay Area, but it’s more prevalent in the EA and rationalist communities than the Bay Area average. A higher percentage of the most engaged EAs are poly than the average in the community, and many engaged EAs are based in the Bay. 

There are (to a much lesser extent) pockets of polyamorous people in the London and Oxford hubs. It appears to be less common in continental Europe (except perhaps Berlin, where there is also a big rationality community), and quite rare in Global South communities. While I’m pretty confident in these claims, they are based on my own personal experiences in some of these communities, and several conversations with friends in various communities.

Practicing poly in the EA community

I don’t want to say “don’t be poly” - that would be a little hypocritical. That being said, I do think it isn’t the right choice for (very roughly / not confident in this estimate) at least 60% of people for a variety of reasons, and can cause a lot of hurt and pain. It wouldn’t have been right for me a few years ago when I was still learning how relationships work and understanding how to advocate for my own needs. If you are considering poly, I would recommend reading this section and some additional points that are less specific to the EA community in the appendix

Professional contexts

I think it’s extremely important to have good strong norms in professional settings. This isn’t unique to poly, but is important to address. Flirting or making romantic or sexual advances in professional settings (e.g. conferences, professional retreats, in the workplace etc.) is generally a bad idea due to the potential for negative consequences, including making others feel uncomfortable and disrespected in the workplace. 

It seems like situations are more likely to end in negative outcomes when you don’t know the other person well and/or do not have a good sense of how they will react, and especially if you are meeting in an unequal professional context (e.g. recruiting, networking, advice-seeking etc.). 

It can sometimes be okay to meet someone in a professional setting and later, in a non-professional context, engage in such behaviors. If you’re a man, consider that, given that the gender ratio in most EA communities is unbalanced (70:30 men:women), even if individual advances may not be inappropriate, a woman may be approached by multiple men in a short period (say, at an afterparty), which may be off-putting or feel alienating. This may not always be actionable, but it might be worth considering using reciprocity.io  (a site used by many EA community members to find romantic partners), because it will only show you a match if both people opt in. Also, by default it’s not appropriate to ask out someone who's given you a "no" repeatedly. Sometimes people might say "not now" which is sometimes accurate and sometimes a polite lie, which makes all of this more complicated. Repeatedly asking someone out can stress the person you're asking. 

Consider how people you date today might be connected to you in the future (e.g. as employers, employees, grantmakers etc.) Think about where you’re likely to work for or ask for funding from this person in the future, and also consider that this person may not be at the same role forever. Given the rapid turnover and proliferation of new projects and organizations in the EA ecosystem, it’s very likely you could be in a situation where you have conflicts of interest of this sort within a few years.

To mitigate some of these impacts, some people exclude certain groups of people from their potential dating pool (e.g. not dating people who you might work with, professionally mentor or who are less professionally established, some choose not to date within their field or profession, others choose not to date within the EA community at all). I recommend Julia Wise’s post on different power dynamics between people in EA for some examples of places you might draw a boundary. If you’re in a more senior position in the community, I think it’s important to carefully consider how you want to handle potential friendships and romantic conflicts. I think community builders in particular need to think about this in relation to their group members as well. 

If you’re poly, there will be more potential for conflicts of interest because of more present and past relationships, and also because of the relationship between metamours (the partner of your partner, see this recent discussion as an example). It’s worth discussing principles for avoiding these kinds of conflicts of interest. My partner and I, for example, have agreed not to date people who the other person currently works closely with (e.g. an employee at the same organization), or is very likely to (e.g. a professional collaborator).

Social contexts

It’s harder to control social situations (e.g. parties, co-living) reliably, but here’s my stab at suggestions I think could make people feel more comfortable with coming across poly in social settings. These are some tips I have found for discussing all relationship preferences in a healthy and nuanced manner:

Over-communicate & speak with nuance: People will sometimes claim that some relationship structures are (morally) better than others. People who practice poly / non-hierarchical relationship structures, might say or give the impression tha polyamory is more ethical, or that non-hierarchical relationships are better or more “enlightened” (see Quinn’s comment for more). On the other side, monogamous people will say things that put down polyamory (e.g. it’s “just an excuse for sleeping around", "unwelcoming to and bad for women", "time-consuming and a distraction from valuable EA work"). I think this kind of discourse can often be unhelpful, especially if the critique is not related to whether a relationship is causing harm or is unhealthy for the person(s) involved. It can be reasonable to have concerns around relationships that are unhealthy, and it can sometimes be difficult to know from the inside whether a relationship is healthy (I’ll go into more depth later). 

Sometimes people might be saying things they appreciate about their relationship style, but others might interpret them as saying that their relationship style is better. Sometimes discussions can also imply that most EAs are poly, that it’s a distinct/important feature of being in the community, or that becoming poly is inevitable as you get more involved in the community.

I don’t think it’s generally a good idea to have these conversations at EA community events or professional settings, unless the event is explicitly about a related topic and people opt-in.  There are times where it can be appropriate to discuss the merits of various relationship styles, including the possibility that they can have positive or negative externalities, or that one is better for most people. If you think it’s an appropriate time, make sure everyone in the conversation is comfortable with it. I think these kinds of conversations are more likely to be productive off of social media or other places where nuance is difficult.

When discussing poly in the context of a potential relationship: In my experience, (even poly) people have extremely varying levels of familiarity with polyamory - so don’t assume that a given person will know what polyamory is, what the norms are and how it works. They may not have read a lot about it - so clarify that you’re using terms the same way (e.g. ask “what is an open relationship to you?”). They may not have had a lot of “poly” experiences - so they may find a “standard” poly experience difficult or unfamiliar. They may not be very good at setting expectations around the relationship as a result. Do your own homework and go into those conversations with more information - it never hurts. 

Spend the time to communicate on what you mean, and err or the side of redundancy, especially with people you don’t know. If you meet someone who is poly, keep in mind that each relationship a person has can look very different from the other - with different rules, boundaries and expectations and that people will use the same labels differently. 

Respect people’s choices: Some people feel pressured by others to change their relationship orientation. It goes without saying that shaming or judging people for their relationship orientation is bad, or asking someone to consider something they’ve said no to once repeatedly, without checking with them if they’re open to discussing the topic again. 

Be aware of implicit social pressures (and how they interact with attributes of poly). Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple or obvious. In the EA community, poly is more prevalent amongst more engaged / higher status EAs and in communities like the Bay. When people are getting more involved in EA in those contexts, they can feel implicitly pressured to because it’s a norm in the community, and/or people they know, respect or like are doing it. It can be especially hard when you like someone who is poly, because you can be in a very vulnerable place and it can be really difficult to say “no, this relationship structure won’t work for me”. If you are someone with high status in the community, it’s likely you could unintentionally pressure people, even when you don’t mean it. I think it’s important to reflect on this, and seek advice from others if you’re not sure whether it’s a good idea to ask other people if it’s a good idea, and go slowly and check in over time about expectations. Using reciprocity.io could help avoid some of this social pressure, as you only see if you’ve matched with someone if they’ve matched with you as well. 

People new to poly are more vulnerable to being mistreated: Newer poly people often don't have any sort of poly-related scripts to help tell the difference between normal difficulties adjusting to a different relationship style and actual red flags - either about poly in general not being a good fit for them, or the relationship itself. Regarding the relationship itself, a bad actor could mistreat their partner and then justify their behavior as being "normal for polyamory" and pathologize their partners as being "bad at poly" for objecting. Jealousy is a really hard emotion, and it’s easy to want to suppress it (I’ve definitely felt this). 

This is a complicated topic because a lot of people have successfully "polyhacked" (made themselves more open or okay with poly). While it's important not to censor discussion of people's experiences, people discussing polyhacking should be more careful to disclaim that not everyone can do it - some people have a hard time noticing that polyamory is not for them because they assume that any problem they have is something they can just fix eventually.

You and your preferences matter. Be careful of anyone telling you you shouldn't have a boundary/preference, and explore and advocate for your own needs. Inexperienced poly people should feel able to ask poly people they're not dating for a "is this normal?" check. One reviewer also suggested that the book Polysecure can be useful for this as well. Experienced poly people should keep an eye out for that happening among their friends.


Contact people in the EA community

If you have issues, or want to share feedback or thoughts, you can contact: 

I think therapy can be really helpful to work through situations you come across (whether about a romantic relationship, or just issues in the community). The Mental Health Navigator can help you find mental health resources and care. The Navigator also lists some life coaches, some of whom would be happy to help navigate relationships as well. 

I’d also suggest talking to non-EA friends and family who may be able to provide you support when dealing with these kinds of issues without being directly involved in the community. 

Learn more about poly

These are just popular suggestions, but do your own research. Some books are PolysecureThe Ethical SlutMore than Two (note that the author has had several allegations made against him. I read the book without knowing this and did find the advice it had helpful), and the multiamory podcast. Ozy is part of the EA / rationality community and has written about their experiences (more recently here). I’ve found their writing to be a pretty accurate description of what parts of the EA / Rationality Bay Area poly scene look like. 

Talk to poly people about their experiences and how it’s been like for them in practice. I’m happy to answer questions via Forum message. Amber Dawn has also graciously offered to be a point person to talk to people about poly issues as well. If you approach others, be respectful of their boundaries and what they’re comfortable sharing - especially keeping in mind the personal / professional mix of the EA community. 


A (very) brief background on polyamory

This is not a comprehensive account of polyamory. Please do your own research - I don’t have a treasure trove of resources, but these links seem helpful (1,2,3) It’s trying to give people enough context to make sense of what polyamory is in the context of the EA community. 

Polyamory (also shortened to poly or polyam) is an openness to multiple romantic/sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all parties. Polyamory falls under the broader umbrella term ethical or consensual non-monogamy

Why poly?

Some people want the chance to have intimate, romantic and sexual connections with different types of people. If you are generally very compatible with someone and love them, but they don't or can't give you something you really value, you are free to seek that from other romantic partners. Some people also feel happiness at seeing their partner in a relationship with other people (compersion) and don’t feel strongly about restricting their partners' choices. 

For some people being poly can be easier than monogamy, and it can be more natural for them. Some reasons could include not having to deal with complicated monogamy-related rules (is it okay to be friends with your ex or how emotionally close can you be with someone before it's an "emotional affair"), feeling less internal pressure to meet your partner's sexual or romantic needs because they can always find that with someone else (a good partner won't pressure you but it can be psychologically easier to know they have alternatives) and not wanting relationships that go up the relationship escalator it’s easier.

On the other hand there are downsides to being poly (mostly stolen from Ozy’s great post on the topic). Poly is not a mainstream lifestyle choice. You can experience marginalization, have a lack of role models and need to be especially good at communicating rules and boundaries. There aren’t a lot of established best practices, and even when they are, people don’t always know about them. Polyamory can (but doesn’t have to) be time-consuming if you have multiple serious, committed relationships. Polyamory puts sex/romance on the table when it otherwise might not be - for people who want to maintain clearly platonic connections with a lot of people, or don’t want to have romantic relationships with their friends, or find dating very stressful, poly might not be a good fit. There is more complicated interpersonal conflict with people who are relevant to your life that you can’t get rid of and you don’t have that much input in choosing, and feelings can be stronger than in friendships or other platonic relationships - and it can also be harder to avoid exes. 


I’ve sometimes seen words misused in discussions: 

  • Polygamy (many + marry) is the practice of having more than one spouse. The most common form of polygamy is polygyny (polygyny - many + women) where one husband has many wives. Polygamy is sometimes used interchangeably with polyamory due to the linguistic symmetry with monogamy, but it is a separate concept. Unfortunately there is no “monoamory”, the term “monogamy” covers both marriage + relationships. (more on terms). 
  • A polycule is the network of people who are dating each other. People sometimes live together with members of their polycule, which is also (confusingly) called a polycule. 

Poly relationship structures

Being poly is more an orientation or openness to more than one relationship, rather than a current state of affairs (e.g. you can be poly but only be dating one person, or could have multiple casual flings and not be poly). 

There are many possible relationship structures in poly - ranging from multiple committed relationships, one more central relationship, casual relationships or a mix of different structures. Here are some examples of different relationship structures: 

  • One common relationship structure is for someone to have a “primary” partner, who is more established or central than other partners (the “secondary” partners). These are hierarchical relationship structures. People who are married, have children together or live together often are in hierarchical relationships but not always. If two partners live together they may be called “nesting partners”. From anecdotal observation, many long-term relationships tend to be in primary relationships (either explicitly, or de-facto). There are also “monogamish” people who may be seeking something similar (but again, how people interpret these phrases varies)
  • Multiple close (sometimes time-intensive and/or exclusive) relationships, which can be be non-hierarchical
  • Relationship anarchy, which can be a more radical version of non-hierarchical relationships. It can be sometimes referred to as “having no rules” 
  • Some people are soly poly who choose not to ride the relationship escalator, but can still have deep relationships
  • Many less serious / more casual relationships (e.g. casual dating)

Sometimes, even if you aren’t in a hierarchical relationship but are further up the typical relationship escalator, people may assume. It’s good to communicate clearly about what your expectations are. 

If you’re considering poly

Do some homework - learn more about poly: It can be helpful to learn more about poly and what it’s like before starting a new poly relationship or opening an existing relationship. We just don’t really have a roadmap for how to do polyamory - it’s a relatively new practice. There are more challenges and less support, which can be difficult enough - but layered in with a personal/professional community can be even harder. If you have a therapist (especially one who understands polyamory / is poly-friendly), I’d also recommend talking to them about it if it could work for you, and things you could do to test your fit and make sure it’s right for you. (suggestions)

Be honest with yourself - can you ask for what you need? Poly relationships take a lot of communication, openness and vulnerability. Do you have the time to invest in one or more such relationships? Do you feel comfortable advocating for what you need? Do you feel you could ask for something that feels stupid or irrational? This is one way where poly can interact badly with EA norms. Sometimes your feelings won't make sense to you. Like, you may "rationally" think it's fine for your partner to go on a date, but actually it makes you feel anxious. I think self-acceptance of one's own feelings, and more importantly accepting and validating your partners' difficult feelings, can be really important here. You don’t have to be perfect at this, but I’ve seen too many people, including myself, (in all kinds of relationships) go through emotional turmoil because they put themselves in really difficult situations when they weren’t ready for it. 

This is especially true if you have less dating experience (and especially if you’re younger), entering a poly relationship could exacerbate issues that you’d need to work through in a monogamous relationship - e.g. knowing what you want out of a relationship, facing challenges in the context of relationships, talking about your own needs, etc. For example, it can be common to have to deal with feelings of insecurity and jealousy in any relationship, but it’s much more likely you’ll be in situations where you will feel insecure in polyamorous ones. There’s also generally more emotional turbulence as more relationships means more potential ups and downs. I’d encourage you to consider taking things slowly, even if it feels unnecessary or overly cautious. 

Be careful with who you date: This might sound like boring parental advice, but I think it’s important to flag that just because you can date anyone, doesn’t mean you should, or that it’s good for you. I think this is true for any context, but when I reflect on my own experiences with poly, I feel very lucky that my first poly partner was extremely kind, caring and communicative. If I’d had a partner who didn’t respect my boundaries and encourage me to share my needs, I think I might have been turned off or had a really negative impression of poly. Also, beware of potential present or future conflicts of interest (see above).





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A man with experience in the London, Bay Area, online communities: 

I’m monogamous, and had never encountered polyamory before interacting with EA. My early experiences consisted of:

1. A strong presumption that I either would become polyamorous on further thought, or if not that I simply wasn’t that smart.

2. Predatory men using polyamory to defend their behaviour, in a ‘you monogamous simpleton wouldn’t understand’ kind of way; some of these people have since been excluded from the community. 

3. People denying their feelings of insecurity or abandonment; trying to do what was ‘rational’ but not doing the communication or introspection necessary to make poly work for them. I don’t think I’m overstepping to observe that many EAs are poor communicators and very poor at being in touch with their feelings; weirdly I feel like poly would have been a much better fit for some of my pre-EA friends than for some of the EAs I’ve seen try to make it work. 

4. Very little in the way of healthy relationships. With hindsight, I think people in healthy polyamorous relationships simply didn’t need to advertise, whereas the people in (1) needed to show off and (2) needed a shield. 

I have since encountered many perfectly healthy polyamorous relationships. I doubt I would have stuck around to find that out if I were female; as it was the people in (2) were at least not a direct threat to me. 

I write this because I think people are acting like humans form conclusions in this area via arguments, when I think humans mostly form conclusions via experiences and especially via first impressions. This cuts both ways; monogamous people who experience 1/2/3 will write off polyamory as a whole way too quickly and potentially be quite nasty about it, conversely people in healthy polyamorous relationships are (to my eyes) often wilfully blind about the likelihood of a new community member experiencing 1/2/3. 

Given the resulting stickiness of everyone’s views, it would be nice if we could simply coordinate to suppress specific patterns that I suspect almost everyone would agree are toxic behaviours and pressures, and have the ‘mono vs. poly’ debate less (or, preferably, never?). 

From a woman in EA (I initially wrote the question asking about local community confusingly, the language has been clarified now):

I was poly before I'd heard of EA or LessWrong. It felt incredibly liberating and validating to find out there were other people like me. Since joining the EA community, I've become monogamous because of how much it's demonized here, both by the press and by a lot of EAs themselves. I can put up with judgement from family and friends, but if people are going to use what I do with other consenting adults in private as another way to try to trash EA's reputation, as hard as it is to pretend to be something I'm not, it seems easier than stopping people being so discriminatory. 

I obviously really don't want people to feel pressured to be poly either or to do anything sexual that they don't want to do, but could we please focus our dialogue on specific problematic behaviours rather than throwing in "poly" with a list of negative descriptors, or publicly debating whether my lifestyle is acceptable, or accusing women who make comments like I just have of being traitors who hurt other women?

From a male member of the EA Bay Area / DC communities on his experience with polyamory: 

I used to be monogamous. I started dating someone who is 'poly by orientation' but I was dubious about it - in particular I didn't know how well I would handle poly. As we started feeling more serious about each other as partners, we had a relationship-defining talk where we agreed to start off monogamous together. We felt that this gave the relationship the best chance of success - partly due to my uncertainty about poly and partly other reasons which pushed in that direction.

We agreed to be monogamous for at least 6 months and then reevaluate it then. In the meantime, I read up on poly. I liked Polysecure, and I also got a lot from the blog Polyamory School ([e.g., this post and others linked there]) After a bunch of reading as well as talking to my partner, I felt more excited about becoming poly myself: I felt like it would help me by giving me more social opportunities, expanding my comfort zone, improving my communication skills and becoming less dependent on my partner for social success. So when that 6-month deadline rolled around, I felt ready to dip my toe in.

We decided to opt for a quite autonomous version of hierarchical poly, meaning that we acknowledge each other as primaries and date independently, and are very transparent about our dating lives with each other. My partner doesn't have a 'veto' on anyone I want to date, although if there was someone who it would make her sad that I dated, she gets to express those feelings and it is usually a good idea for me to pay attention to that. And if I started dating someone else who I thought had potential to become primary we would certainly have a conversation about it before I got too far into that other relationship. 

So far (~ 8 months into the poly experiment) it has gone pretty well, maybe 66th percentile of my expectations? I've had a few emotional moments, but nothing that I couldn't handle. I've grown quite a bit as a communicator. I think my relationship with my partner is stronger than it was, I've done some dating, and have developed other personal relationships more deeply. 

Things that could be going better: I don't find that I realistically have much energy for a lot of dating. I wish I had more. It feels a bit imbalanced; my partner is an attractive woman and lots of people want to go on dates with her, but it's quite a bit more work for me and as a result I go on fewer dates. Also, I sometimes emotionally struggle in the moment when my partner goes on dates (but not always!) -- it helps to know that we'll get a chance to talk about it afterwards, and it gives me a nice boost that she repeatedly chooses to keep me as her primary partner even as she dates a lot of other great people.

Many thanks to all who contributed toward this post. I agree with many of your points, and I appreciate the roundedness and nuance you bring to the topic.

To add to your “If you’re considering poly” section, I’m excerpting below a Clearer Thinking podcast episode (timestamp: 54:03–73:12) which I think does a great job of discussing polyamory in a balanced way. (Spencer Greenberg is the host, and Sam Rosen is the guest – in the episode, Sam talks about his experience with being poly; I’ve bolded the parts which speak to me the most.)

SPENCER: So let's switch topics to polyamory.


SPENCER: I have to say, the only examples of polyamorous couples that have lasted a really long time (like five plus years) that I know of, have been the hierarchical form where they have a primary that they're very committed to, and then they have secondary partners. But that being said, I'm sure there are examples of the more flexible kind lasting a long time, I just, I'm not as aware of it.


SAM: I've actually found that when people try to get other people to become poly that aren't already poly that tends to — it's very hard to get someone who's not already comfortable with that dynamic to become comfortable with it. I don't know what's going on with that. But yeah, all of us were already poly and already pretty chill people and there's not much to fight about.

SPENCER: Okay, what about jealousy, though? Because that's the natural question is like, “Okay, you're spending the night with your girlfriend and your wife feels like seeing you that night.” You can imagine there's a lot of opportunities for jealousy to flare up. And I think to a lot of people, just the idea that their partner might be having sexual relations with another person might make them insanely jealous, just that concept by itself. So what are your thoughts on jealousy?

SAM: So I think that in the same way that if you're like, in a room with an annoying noise, or bad smell long enough, you don't smell it anymore. I think jealousy has a similar thing where you — if you are poly for long enough, you just kind of get used to that feeling, and it doesn't even feel bad. I don't even really feel jealousy like I used to anymore just because I've been poly for so long.

SPENCER: So at the beginning, did you feel significant jealousy?

SAM: Yeah, I felt a lot of jealousy at the beginning.

SPENCER: And so why did you keep pushing through that? Why did you continue being poly?

SAM: I just felt like the benefits of having fun, new partners outweighed the costs of jealousy and it was a simple cost-benefit analysis.

SPENCER: I agree with you. I don't think it's [love is] zero-sum. I think someone can genuinely, deeply love two people and it doesn't necessarily — loving one does not necessarily interfere with loving the other just like loving one sibling doesn't make you love the other sibling less.

SAM: And to push back against some polyamory rhetoric, a lot of poly people say it's infinite, it's not zero-sum at all. Like I don't think that I could love (romantically) four people at the same time. Like, I think that would just be — I don't think I would really deeply feel the same way about them because I could just not have the emotional energy. Like, maybe if we all lived together, I could see them all the time then I could do that. But there's something about — I don't have enough emotional energy in the day to think about all four people in a very positive way. There's something that feels like it's not truly non-zero-sum.

SPENCER: Right? And clearly, time is zero-sum. But you only have so much time. So the more partners you have you essentially are taking away time from another partner at some point, right?

SAM: Yeah, absolutely. And that's, I've found that having two partners is optimal for me, like a wife and a girlfriend. When I start having more I find that the relationships start degrading in quality because I don't pay enough attention to each individual partner. And that just is a fact about my time and how I'm able to divvy up my affection.

SPENCER: Well, you know, another factor I think that comes in with the idea of polyamory is stability. I think it's probably true (I'm curious if you agree) that polyamory, all else being equal, might be less stable than monogamy because you have a situation where, you know, there's just more parties involved, there's more people that could get upset about things, there's more likelihood of shifting dynamics.

SAM: There's just more moving parts that could get a monkey wrench into them.

SPENCER: Exactly. And also more possibility of emotional flare-ups because one person is like, “I don't get enough time and the other person's getting more time,” or jealousy, or your secondary suddenly wants to be your primary, right? And then it's like, well, what is that dynamic like?

SAM: Yeah, I think polyamory is a bit high-risk/high-reward in that sense that like, I think they're slightly less stable, but I think they’re kind of more fun. So I think it is true that it's…there's more risks of like flare-ups, as you say. And I think if you don't have the skill of handling interpersonal conflicts well, you just shouldn't be poly. I think that you should know yourself and think, “Am I the sort of person that can comfortably handle/communicate my needs without it being a shouting match?”

SPENCER: Yeah, it seems like really clear, honest communication is just absolutely essential if you're going to navigate the complexity of multiple people's emotions simultaneously, including your own. What other traits would you say are really important if you're going to try polyamory?

SAM: I think innate low jealousy is probably really, really helpful. Even though I got over my jealousy, I think if you just start out kind of low, it's probably easier.

SPENCER: Well, I would just add that I think some people are just naturally more monogamous and that some are more naturally polyamorous. Like, I know people that once they have a partner, they actually just seem to have no attraction to anyone else, and the idea of being with anyone else is just odious to them. Whereas other people, it seems like when they're with one partner, they still actually feel a lot of attraction to others. And you know, if they're ethical, they're not going to cheat, but they still have those feelings. And then I actually think there might be a third type, where it's something like, when they're in a monogamous relationship, they're just attracted to that one person, but as soon as they're in a non-monogamous relationship, they’re actually attracted to multiple people, so is there something like a switch that can flip based on what the rules in the relationship are?

SAM: Yeah, I have two thoughts. One is, I don't think polyamory will work for everyone.

SPENCER: What percentage of people do you think would be happiest in a polyamorous situation?

SAM: My guess is 10% of people.

SPENCER: Okay, yeah.

SAM: It's a pretty small number. Now, obviously, I could change my mind on this. But I don't think that — if you don't have good communication techniques, and have already low jealousy and things like that — that you can do it without it being a disaster for everyone. And also people get into polyamory under duress sometimes where a person's like,” I want to break up with you,” and the other person's like, “Well, let’s be poly instead?” And then that's a kind of a tragic, unhappy situation because you're like…almost being…you're not happy with the arrangement, you're kind of just agreeing to it.

SPENCER: Right, right. And I think that, you know, people can certainly get really badly hurt if they're pushed into a polyamorous situation that they don't feel good about. And one has to be really careful about that.

I'm not going to say any of this is decisively wrong because I'm no kind of authority and relatively new to polyamory myself. But here are a few things that struck me:

I think it's probably true (I'm curious if you agree) that polyamory, all else being equal, might be less stable than monogamy

FWIW this doesn't seem true to me, or at least not obviously true. The flipside is that if you have multiple partners it's comparatively less common for all of your romantic relationships to struggle at once, whereas in monogamy it's obviously pretty easy for that to happen. Having a mixture of people able to meet your needs seems to me like it would be overall stabilizing. The effects mentioned in the passage I'm quoting also seem real, I'm just not sure what effect is strongest.

I think if you don't have the skill of handling interpersonal conflicts well, you just shouldn't be poly

I feel confused about this because it's not like being bad at handling conflict is great in monogamous relationships either. I would guess-agree that polyamory amplifies it, but I think that basically anyone who can't handle conflict well is going to have a rough time of relationships generally, and I'm not sure they should be categorically screened off from polyamory in particular on that basis.

[zero-sum stuff]

My take on this is that everyone has different capacity to meet the needs of others, and everyone has different needs. In polyamory as in monogamy, you might not be able to be everything that your partners want you to be, but whether you have other partners and how you relate to them is only one part of that picture. When we say that people might struggle to have time for multiple relationships, IMO we should really be saying they don't have time for multiple relationshps and their job and their hobbies and whatever else they want to fit into their calendar. Some people struggle with only one relationship! Some people struggle with time management without any relationships! We should also understand that some people feel able to sustain a meaningful relationship on only seeing someone every couple of months (many people feel this way about their family, for example, or old friends), and again it's just about whether what you're able and willing to offer lines up with what they want from you and vice versa.

Anyway, none of this is central to the point of the article, but while we're sharing people's thoughts and impressions, those are mine.

From a poly woman in EA (I initially wrote the question asking about local community confusingly, the language has been clarified now):

Thank you SO much for this post!

I've been surprised at how few people have been defending polyamory from the recent attacks, but I guess a lot of them are scared and/or particularly busy right now. It sounds like a lot of people have been pressuring each other to change their relationship style - either from polyamory to monogamy or vice versa - and I think that's bad.

I also really like your advice for dating in EA. Posts that see both sides of a debate seem to not be the norm on this forum any more, but I think it's very valuable to acknowledge both that it's not always bad for EAs to date and that it sometimes is and to offer advice on distinguishing one from the other. It's unfortunate that EA is still so small and people change roles so much that having lots of conflicts of interest is practically unavoidable if EAs often date each other, but our worldviews are still kind of niche and it's important for a lot of people that a partner has a similar worldview. I expect no one wants to go as far as e.g. my local church where people are ONLY allowed to date other Christians, but I can understand how sharing a worldview often makes for a much deeper, smoother relationship.

I especially like your guidance on how status can affect things. EA is quite a nerdy community and I think a lot of people are still getting used to how their new-found high status affects things. Plus it's the kind of learning that I expect moves slowly because it's not that amenable to direct feedback, so I imagine indirect feedback / general guidance like this is particularly helpful.

A few things I wanted to add:

1. I've seen a lot of reasoning recently that starts "Because polyamory means a lot more relationships / sex / flirting etc..." and I don't think it's fair to assume that. My non-poly years involved a much higher rate of these things, for example. The jokes in my family seem to assume that seeing ~7 people at once is typical, but in my experience the mean average seems to be about 2 and I personally hit on people a LOT more when I was single. Sure, maybe people are more likely to hit on you if you're not wearing a wedding ring, but I know married people who are poly and unmarried people who are monogamous and I'm not sure if there's much correlation. Maybe people are more likely to continue hitting on you if you can't (truthfully) say, "Sorry, I'm in a monogamous relationship"? I just don't think it's obvious that that's more effective than "I'm flattered, but no thank you." You could argue that the first one leaves room for you still being interested (for instance, the person I've had most trouble with in my life knew I was in a monogamous relationship), but OTOH the second one is more likely to make them angry at you and therefore assault you? I don't know what leads to less harassment/assault on balance, but I don't think it's clear.

2. Even if polyamory does mean a lot more relationships etc, I think Amber Dawn's comparison to celibacy is illustrative; I don't think someone else was right when they called it hyperbolic (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Y9ELNXmLDSDi8Z6RX/in-mild-defence-of-the-social-professional-overlap-in-ea). A lot of people on the EA forum recently seem to think that as long as they're not saying "Polyamory is inherently bad" then they can say what they like. But I don't think many of those people would think it's completely fine to say "I'm not saying sexual relationships are always bad, but they do lead to more harassment and assault, so it's important for us to weigh up the pros and cons of whether EAs should be celibate" or "I'm just saying this wouldn't happen as much if EAs were celibate" or "EA is about helping the world, not about making your life more fulfilling or protecting your feelings, so it's fine for me to publicly ask whether you should be celibate." (If your defence is that polyamory is "greedy" - I've had family tell me this before - I think it's still arbitrary to draw the line at "more than one at the same time" when it comes to relationships, you could retort that monogamy is "greedy" because you want your partner "all to yourself," and people seem to think it's not appropriate to call me greedy for being bisexual and I don't think they would if I remarried after divorce.)

3. If you ctrl-f for "poly" here, you can find three therapists familiar with it: https://psychiat-list.slatestarcodex.com/ (linked to from The Mental Health Navigator).

Please do feel free to share any or all of this publicly.

I don't think someone else was right when they called it hyperbolic

This is getting kind of nitpicky, but while Amber did write "which my interlocutor Jeff Kaufman fairly called out as unreasonably hyperbolic" what I wrote was "I'm confused by your analogy to celibacy because the analogous statements seem really different from anything I've said or think?"

That is, I wasn't saying that a comparison to celibacy was fundamentally hyperbolic, but that the specific analogous claim (break up with your partner to have more time for research) was out of place as a response to my comments.

But I don't think many of those people would think it's completely fine to say "I'm not saying sexual relationships are always bad, but they do lead to more harassment and assault, so it's important for us to weigh up the pros and cons of whether EAs should be celibate"

I do think that's completely fine to say, fwiw. After taking a bit to weigh the pros and cons I expect we'd decide that trying to build a norm of EA celibacy was a bad idea, but I don't see anything wrong with doing that weighing?

From a male member of the EA Melbourne community on his experiences with polyamory in EA:

"One person mentioned their two partners in a conversation about self care. It was appropriate and not weird. That's my only experience"

From a woman who said NA to membership to a local EA community:

I'm a poly woman in the community. I've been poly for quite a while now (including before I was an EA), and feel quite deeply poly, like it's a sexual orientation; being monogamous feels somewhat suffocating and dysphoric to me, like I've given up agency and control of my body and choices in a way that's important to me. I feel pretty disrespected and patronized by some of the anti-poly comments I've seen recently; I think it's really invasive and inappropriate for strangers on the internet to criticize me and other people for making unconventional choices about our sex lives just because we share some values. People talk about work-life balance in EA and for me an important part of that is feeling like there are parts of my life that I don't have to justify on EA grounds. 

I've had relationships with ~7 EAs over the years, and, though some of the relationships ended in a way that made one or both of us sad (as is common for relationship in general), I think they've overall been great; enriching, supportive, beautiful parts of my life that I'm deeply grateful for. I'm glad I've gotten to intimately share my life with different cool people that share some of my values, and I hope to do so more in the future. 

Only indirectly related to poly, but when I was younger, I was hit on a lot by a lot of EAs. They were generally very polite and respectful in that, but it still got to be a bummer; I felt anxious whenever hanging out with a guy that he was just waiting for the moment to make a move, and was only interested in me sexually/romantically. That happens to me less now, for a variety of reasons. And, I didn't consider it a big deal to begin with. But it is a bad dynamic that can emerge pretty easily. 

From a woman in the SF Bay Area:

I was dating people nonmonogamously before I learned about EA, and before I moved to the SF Bay Area, but it's much more of a default relationship style in my community here. The main effects of this seem to be (1) it's easy to find partners who are open to polyamory, (2) there are fewer norms against flirting with people you know to be in relationships, (3) there are lots of people in the community with casually romantic or sexual connections to each other. This doesn't seem clearly good or bad to me. 

I do think the normalisation of polyamory, combined with the strong gender skew, means that young women who move here often receive a lot of immediate sexual/romantic attention, and going on dates with people is definitely a way to immediately grow your social network (and, thus, your professional network). This is... okay, I guess, but I dislike that the default social role for new young women arriving in the community is "love interest".

A woman in Europe:

I am a polyamorous woman engaging with multiple EA communities in Europe, consider myself highly engaged. I appreciate your post SO much. Thank you for sharing.

I wanted to add two points 

1. Learning about poly, when it resonates with you and you've been monogamous before can be revolutionary and change your whole life. For me it emotionally felt like becoming vegan back in my teens, like I had uncovered something that makes so much more sense for me and finally I get to live my truth or something like that (obviously these two things are very different). It was for a while the only topic I was excited to discuss and I wanted to talk to everyone about it to see whether it resonates with someone else. Looking back this was problematic. I should have been more careful, I didn't know better. It took about a year until I had a sense of what healthy poly looks like for me, until I had a sense of the full short- and long-term effects of my actions (I still don't know.) It is really hard to figure out how to do poly well (especially when you're engaged in EA) because we have few norms, scripts and role models. I relate with everyone who goes through their first poly year. A tip from the bottom of my heart: be a little more careful than you think you need to be, your future self will thank you.

2. The EA community is young and I think many people overestimate themselves in how well we will be able to navigate the complexities in relationships. I've heard people stress their rational abilities, and while I do think that having good rational and reflective capabilities is a huge plus for navigating poly, I have seen the exact same people become their most childish selves when they ended up getting hurt or when they experienced jealously (including me). It takes emotional intelligence and willingness for personal growth (including working on your attachment styles, developing an awareness for your own needs, sitting with your feelings and learning to take responsibility for them), which I think everyone should be aware of when they start exploring poly in EA contexts. If poly resonates with you theoretically, make sure to get an accurate picture of what poly will look like in reality and be realistic with your emotional resources. There's books and podcasts (one that helped me early on: Polyamory uncensored, haven't listened in a while so silently hoping they still produce great content), showing the realities of poly, not only the theoretical ideas and if that's still for you - off you go (responsibly)!

(from me, OP): 

A tip from the bottom of my heart: be a little more careful than you think you need to be, your future self will thank you.

Strong +1

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