The question is actually "why not?" Going on a holiday to Greece is
not considered an obstacle to also going on a holiday to Hawaii (at
least not by me). Eating cookies doesn't exclude eating chocolates as
well. Having an emotional relationship is not considered an obstacle
for collecting stamps. Why then should an emotional/sexual
relationship exclude another one?
Wouldn't you be jealous if your mate developed a relation with
No. I think that
sexual jealousy is a cultural phenomenon; people suffer from it
because this is how they are trained by their environment. My
arguments for this hypothesis can be found
Regardless whether jealousy is cultural or not, it is a regrettable
property that serves no purpose, and can bring about a lot of suffering.
Happily, I don't suffer from this emotion. I prefer partners who don't
How can you love somebody and not care if she takes off with somebody else?
Under "jealousy" in my previous answer I don't include negative
feelings associated with the fear of (partly) loosing a lover to
somebody else. When a partner of me would enter in a relationship with
somebody else, this in itself would be no reason to suppose the
relationship between my partner and me is going to end, or even
diminish. However, in certain cases there could be signs that such a
thing is going to happen, which might make me sad. Still, my sadness
would be directed towards the prospect of loosing something valuable;
not towards the new relationship of my partner in itself.
It is my
firm opinion that my possible partners should take the decisions that
are good for them; if this includes exchanging my company for that of
somebody else, it is none of my business to interfere with that, and
should not lead to negative feelings directed against my partner or
the new lover. In fact, the more I love someone, the happier I should
be with any improvement that they are able to make in their lives.
Would you consider it appropriate to have relationships with third
parties if your partner is less tolerant or more jealous than you are?
In general this depends on what kind of agreement one has with ones
partner. If two people agree, explicitly or implicitly, to be
"faithful" to each other by not having sexual or emotional
relationships with third parties, they should stick to this agreement
under all circumstances. Betraying the trust of ones partner in this
matter would in my view be despicable behaviour, like all breaches of
contract. If, on the other hand, no such agreement is made,
relationships with third parties are entirely appropriate. Whether one
would abstain from such a relationship in case ones partner turns out
to be intolerant or jealous nevertheless is a matter of personal
Personally, it is my policy to explicitly not make any agreements with
partners restricting my freedom in any way. Although I fully respect
the need some people feel to sign away a small part of their freedom
in return for security or other values, I am not likely to do so
myself. The very concept of a partner being "less tolerant" smells
like ownership of that partner over me; I would try hard not to give
in to any such tendencies of a partner of mine. People with a tendency
for jealousy are hereby cautioned against dating me; if they do so
anyway the risk is theirs.
Are multiple relationships an important part of your life?
So far not. It appears I don't acquire partners easily. At the time of
writing I have not even one partner. Based on prior experience it is
not all that likely that I'll ever have two partners at the same
time. Still, I want to keep the option open at all times.
September 18, 2000: As one of my partners pointed out a few days ago,
this answer is "way out of date". But instead of editing this ancient
text, I rather take the opportunity to assert that the acquisition of
multiple partners has not altered any of the attitudes described on
these pages in any way.
Why is it so important for you to be able to engage in multiple relationships
that you are willing to sacrifice the prospects of a normal relationship?
What is important for me is the unconditional freedom over my own
life. I would consider giving up part of that freedom if there was
something sufficiently valuable to gain by doing so. However, the only
reason I see for abstaining from multiple relationships, is to satisfy
irrational whims of potential partners. As I prefer partners with as
few irrationalities as possible, my (absence of) conditions may even
be helpful in the selection process.
Some people who embrace a polyamorous lifestyle agree to obtain
permission from their primary partner before dating somebody else.
This way the primary partner can veto the date if they are
uncomfortable with the person in question. What do you think of
If it works for these people it is fine with me. Personally, I would
not enter in such an agreement, as it I see it as a surrender of ones
owns sovereignty to become partly somebody else's property.
In addition I reject any hierarchical order between my partners, as
suggested by the phrase "primary". Although some partners may have a
greater impact on my life than others, I would not formally classify
them as primary, secondary, etc., implying a different set of "spousal
Would you agree to at least inform your partners of additional
Not even that, for the same reason. However, I would typically tell
an intimate partner all interesting things that happen in my life, in
particularly something so important as the acquisition of another
relationship, or the prospect thereof.
Perceived drawbacks of additional relationships
If somebody engages in a relationship with somebody else than his
regular partner, isn't that a sign that something is wrong with his
In general I hold this for a wrong conclusion. The additional
relationship says something about how one feels towards the additional
partner; it doesn't say anything about the existing relationship.
Explaining the new relationship in terms of the existing one rests on
the assumption that no genuine feelings of love or attraction can
emerge between two people if one of them has already similar feelings
for somebody else. I believe this assumption to be wrong, and somewhat
What if the additional relationship is of a more superficial nature?
It could be that the person in question needs more love or sex than
he gets already through this regular relationship. I wouldn't classify
that as a shortcoming of the original relationship. Or maybe he just
likes variation, just as people sometimes like to go out for dinner
somewhere else. Most people have sexual fantasies involving others
than their regular partner. This does not imply a deficiency in their
regular relationship, and realizing these fantasies in reality
therefore doesn't either.
Of course it may happen that the additional relationship goes hand in
hand with a decline of the original relationship. In such a case the
conclusion that something is wrong with this original relationship may
be justified. The solution is then to improve the original
relationship; not in fighting symptoms like the additional relationship.
Wouldn't an intimate relation between two people be endangered if one
of the two got involved with a third?
Assuming that the existing relation is rewarding for both partners,
and that the partners do not suffer from jealousy, I think the danger
is rather small. The main reason that a new relation leads to the
demise of an existing relation is the moral notion that one may have
only one relation at any given time, and that one therefore has to
make a choice. As soon as one understands that this is a reprehensible
idea, the original and new relation can coexist peacefully. If the
original relation was satisfying before the new one came up, it
appears plausible to assume that it will continue to be satisfying
What if the new relationship turns out to be much more attractive for
the partner involved in it?
In general there is no reason to assume the original relation will
lose its value, even if the new relation turns out to be more
attractive. Suppose you discover that you like hiking more than
playing games, would it then follow that you give up games altogether?
That conclusion would be justified only if games suddenly became no
fun at all, or when you at any time and under all circumstances prefer
a hike over a game and there is always a good hiking possibility
available. Thus, as long as ones old partner has anything to offer
that is not superseded by the new lover (or if the new lover is often
unavailable) there is no reason to end the original relation.
In case the existing relation turns out to have no value at all in the
presence of the new relation, the most likely explanation is that it
had ceased to be valuable even without the added relation. In that
case ending it should not be considered a drawback; it could have
occurred without help of the new relation as well.
Still, the possibility remains that for the partner P involved in it,
the new relation is in all aspects more satisfactory than the old one,
which therefore loses its value and dissolves. Is this a bad thing? By
assumption, it improves the live of P. On the other hand, it may not
be beneficial for the partner B that is left behind. The question is
now, whether P should be denied (finding) the better relation with the
new lover, in order to keep the existing relationship with B
valuable. My answer is negative. P should optimise his well-being by
choosing optimal romantic partners. Failing to do so undermines the
quality of his live. From the point of view of B I would reach the
same conclusion. If B truly loves P, B should be happy when P acquires
a more satisfactory relationship.
Suppose you live by a different set of values, and judge that
an existing relation should be preserved even if it is not for the
best of one of the partners. This in itself still wouldn't provide an
argument against additional relationships.
The main issue is namely not whether the new relationship is justified,
but whether P should, possibly in addition to his new relationship,
also continue the potentially worthless relationship with B.
Even if you decide in advance that the original relationship should
last, the only conceivable drawback of the new relationship is that it
demonstrates to one of the partners that the original relation is not
an optimal way to spend his time. Still, that fact would be true
regardless, and avoiding an otherwise joyful course of action just in
order to shield oneself from the truth, is not a lifestyle I endorse.
Wouldn't the time one spends on an additional relationship not go at
the expense of the time spend with ones original partner?
Possibly; but time spend at work, going fishing, collecting stamps, or
attending a quiltclub may just as well go "at the expense" of time
spend with ones partner. Still these are generally considered acceptable
activities. It's after all your live that you are filling in. And
maybe your partner will be quite happy without you for a little
while. Time spend on additional relationships should be seen likewise.
Of course if an additional relationship becomes very intensive in
comparison with ones original relationship, or if one is engaged in
many relationships at the same time, it could very well be that not
much time remains for ones original partner. Here I would argue that
if this is the best for the person in question, his or her original
partner should simply accept this, and decide whether or not it is
worthwhile to continue the original relationship nevertheless.
The best possibility is of course that ones old and new partner like
each other as well; in that case there may be room for a nice triangle
relationship, in which time and feelings are not shared, but multiplied.
Isn't monogamy nicer?
In response to my article on matrimony and
jealousy in the
vrijbrief (the love
letter? :^)) of August 1997,
postulates in the same medium that, at least for him,
a monogamous relationship is nicer than a polygamous one.
Here are my reactions to his arguments:
By the exclusivity, the other becomes the most important person
in the world for you and you for the other, thereby making the
bond between you and your lover even more beautiful and stronger
than it would have been without this mutual exclusivity.
The key idea in this argument is that a limitation makes something
more beautiful. If for instance only on Sundays you eat tasteful
things, the Sunday is thereby made a particularly nice day. This
reasoning is very plausible indeed. Still, I doubt whether such a
limitation would raise your total utility. But I admit that this is a
personal deliberation, that for Henry may have a different outcome than
Furthermore, you are sharing something of yourself with the one you
are having an intimate relationship with. If you share the same
thing also with somebody else, less love and intimacy remains to
give to your partner, so that the quality of the relationship diminishes.
I don't think that by giving love, your supply of it diminishes. On the
contrary; I would think that by sharing love with the one, you may
gain so much of it, that you have even more to give to the other.
Take a typical married woman who gets children. She loves each of her
children very much. Does this love go at the expense of the love for
her husband? Although romantic love with a third party is of a
somewhat different nature, I don't see why the same principle wouldn't
I would find it confusing to concentrate on two partners.
This may be due to our culture. A parent typically has no problem
loving two children.
There is only a specific amount of time you want to spend romantically
being together with a partner. If you have two partners, you will tend
to spend less time on each of them, thereby decreasing the intimacy of
First of all I don't think there is a specific amount of time allocated
for being romantically involved with a partner. Most things people do
with their partners (recreation of all kinds and running a household)
could equally well be done alone or with friends. And in fact large
amounts of similar activities are done without partner. Doing some
of your recreational or useful activities together with an intimate
partner makes these activities somewhat romantic, and thereby more
beautiful. But typically only a small part of the activities that
you could do with a partner are actually done with a partner,
typically because of the limitations in interests and time on the side
of your partner. Therefore it is possible to do some of these things
together with another partner without taking away time spend together
with your original partner(s).
As for specifically romantic activities (candlelight dinners and
having sex I suppose), the time typically spend on those is rather
small, and many people could easily accommodate an increase of a factor
Secondly, I don't believe that having less time for a partner
automatically reduces the quality of the relationship (besides the
Some people have a wonderful romantic relationship while they are
living thousands of kilometers apart and meet only a few times a year.
- If one relationship consumes most of your time, this could be
a valid reason for spending only a small amount of time on another
relation; just as valid as living far away. The low-quantity
relationship can then still be a great addition to the happiness of
the partners involved.
A mother with many children typically has less time to spend on each
child separately than a mother with only one child. Still, having more
than one child is generally regarded a healthy possibility.
Thirdly, if you spend time with several lovers simultaneously thing may
add up better.
Finally, it may very well be true that there is an upperbound to the
number of meaningful relationships that you are able to entertain in a
given period of time. This can be an excellent reason not to pursue
additional relationships. Depending on ones personality, the optimal
number of relationships one can entertain could be 1. If this is the
case, having only one relationship is a perfect solution. In this
regard I don't oppose monogamy at all. In fact, some people may not
even be able to entertain one relationship. For them nilgamy may be
If two people marry, they usually end up living in the same house.
How does that work if you have several partners?
Well, if you have just one partner, there are at least two
possibilities: living together or separately. Which one is best
depends entirely on the nature of the two partners concerned, on how
well they can stand each others company, and on a variety of other
matters. If you have two partners there are just more possibilities: you
can for instance all live separately, you can share a house with one
of the partners, or you all live together. Which arrangement is best
again depends on a myriad of factors; there is no general recipe to
offer here. One piece of common sense that comes to mind is that in
order to share a household with several people, it is really
preferable if they all like each other, even so much that they don't
mind encountering one another continuously in common rooms etc.
In general, you may have several partners, each of which may also have
several partners, etc. etc., so lots of combinations are possible.
In addition, the concept of where one lives doesn't need to be a
static one. One could easily spend part of ones time in a common
household with one, and part in a common household with another.
Isn't this all terribly complicated?
Oh yes, life is complicated. Note however that monogamy may be
"simpler" only because one dogmatically eliminates most of the
options. You can by analogy just as well simplify your choice of job
by arbitrarily deciding that it has to be the same job you grandfather
held all his life.
In addition, the choice between two partners that is sometimes
required by monogamous doctrine can be much harder than the
alternative choice between several living arrangements with both.
Suppose that you live together with several people, and one of the
partners wants to add a new member to the commune, but another member
is not so happy with this idea. How do you decide on these matters?
In the same way as you resolve all differences of opinion, such as
whether the TV should be on or off, or whether you will try to create
offspring. Decisions like these, important ones and unimportant ones,
are just as relevant in a common "two-person commune". Different
people choose different ways for dealing with these issues. There is
no reason to suppose that the situation will be very different in
So how do you decide?
My prefered way of deciding things would be to reach consensus between
all parties concerned, after evaluating each others wishes. However,
consensus is an attainable goal only if a well-defined default
decision looms in the background; this gives all parties a guideline
by which to judge to what extent compromises may be worthwhile.
A good default decision procedure is by ownership: the owner of a
house decides who may live in it, or who may decide who may live in
What if the house is common property?
I believe common property is a meaningful concept only if it comes
with an algorithm that decides about the property, based on the
preferences of the property holders. Such a procedure could for
instance be a majority decision of the shareholders, weighted with the
size of their share. But also any other agreement by the parties
concerned on how to decide on the common property in case no other
agreement is made, defines a form of ownership. My personal
recommendation is that the algorithm should be well-defined, and also
that there should be a clear algorithm to split up the common property
in case one or more of the parties choose to end their participation.
Children and communes
If two people want to have children, do they have to share a household?
Not necessarily. It may in general be better for the children if all
parents are available and participating in the education for a
significant amount of time. However, some people successfully raise
children all by themselves, whereas in other families one of the
parents is away for professional reasons most of the time. Therefore,
it should also be possible to raise children when one of the parents
chooses to live somewhere else and participate in the process only
part-time. This way somebody may even be simultaneously a parent in
different families in different locations, and still be able to give
each family sufficient love and attention. In addition, the parents
who do the parenting need not always to be exactly the biological
Which family structure do you think is most suited for raising children?
I can't speak for others here, but for for people like me the
traditional two-parent family is way insufficient for this purpose.
The two-adult configuration used to be based on the idea that only one
of the parents had an outside job, while the other spends more or
less full time running the household and raising children - an idea
that is currently somewhat outdated. Personally, I would not be
willing to do half of the job associated with raising children. My
time is just too valuable. If I had only one partner who is
likeminded, we would together not be sufficiently equipped for the
task. A couple having small children without other adult family members
cannot spontaneously go out together, or make an long journey, without
either taking the children along or making extensive baby-sitting
arrangements. The latter could be too expensive. Moreover, I would prefer to
trust my children to people that share my love for the children
personally, and have the same ideas about dealing with them. This can
best be realised in a "commune" of several more adults (and perhaps
proportionally more children), in which it is not too great a
sacrifice for each of the partners to tend to the children once in a
while, thereby setting other partners free to do other things.