Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Many Lovers Can One Person Have?

Dear Viny,

If I can ask a personal question, how many relationships are you currently in? And do you find it emotionally taxing to be carrying on multiple separate relationships? I know a local girl who has about five relationships going on at any given time. I think I could not do that without hiring an assistant.

Too Introverted Really Emotional Doyenne



Not to be coy, but I have to counter your question with a question: how are we defining “relationship”? The answer matters. Having stepped outside the pre-packaged “Relationships-R-Us” model of human connection, I have come to the conclusion that there is no consensus definition, no non-arbitrary way of distinguishing between relationships that “count” and those that don't.

I'm currently in dozens of relationships, if we're talking about significant connections with people who matter a lot to me.

Let's start with my immediate family: two life partners, and two children. Then there's my extended family: my parents, and my two siblings and their families. That brings the total to fifteen. Each of my partners has family members and significant others who are an important part of my life as well (metamours, in-laws, out-laws), for at least ten more people, so say twenty-five. Then there are my local friends, and the amazing women in my polymamas group – you know, good friends: people you go out with, people you invite to parties, people you love – and we're at forty. Now, let's talk about exes. Most of my exes are very dear to me; it's debatable whether there's any point in calling them exes. I am still on intimate terms with four people I once considered partners. There's also one person with whom I am currently exploring a prospective relationship: we're taking it “slow and meta” (his words), and who knows what roles we'll end up playing in each other's lives, ultimately, but there is a definite connection there. Finally, there are my non-local friends – you know, good friends: people you'd drop everything to go visit if they needed you, people you love – and we're already at fifty, easily.

If what you really want to know is how many people I have sex with on a regular basis, the answer is two. I could see bumping that number up to three, or – possibly, if conditions were perfect – four, but probably no more than that. (Actually, I have serious doubts about my ability to show up for more than three concurrent relationships, based on my historical record. There was that crazy summer of 2012, when I was divvying up date nights between my husband and three boyfriends, and it proved to be too much for me to handle: that configuration lasted all of four months.)

In my previous blog, I wrote a post that addressed this same question – “How many relationships is too many?” – by interviewing a “veteran poly” friend of mine, who said that his record was five concurrent relationships, and that five was definitely too many for him.

[Interesting tidbit: in tribes that believe in partible paternity – i.e., any male who has sexual relations with a pregnant female *also* becomes the father of her baby, which means a child can have multiple fathers – the optimal number of “fathers” seems to fall somewhere between two and three. Children with fewer than two fathers, and children with more than three fathers, do less well than children with at least two, but no more than three. Fascinating! I imagine there are also studies on polygynous family groups; note that Islam caps the number of permissible wives at four.]

There may be relationship savants out there who can manage five, or six, or even seven sexually charged, emotionally intimate relationships at the same time without causing an absolute trainwreck, but I am not among them – and that is totally okay by me. At this point in my life, I value sustainability, and I know my limits. It sounds like you do, too. No shame in that!

Harems & Theorems,

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