I often get asked the question “how can I learn about polyamory?” Until now, I haven’t really had a good answer. Now I do: read More Than Two, the new book by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, available September 2.
More Than Two, in a nod to the roots of the poly movement, starts with a foreward by Janet Hardy, one of the authors of The Ethical Slut, the 1997 book often touted as the poly Bible. More Than Two, however, quickly departs from its roots by tackling a subject previously avoided by almost all writing on polyamory: ethics. From pg. 36:
One of the things you’ll hear a lot from poly people is that “there’s no one right way to do poly.” This is true. There are many ways to “do poly” (live polyamorously) that give you a decent chance of having joyful, fulfilling, meaningful relationships with low conflict. But when people say “There’s no one right way,” it sometimes seems they mean there are no bad ways to do poly. We disagree.
And herein lies the need for this book. Too often, the polyamory community, skittish from the insufferable moralizing that’s been directed at us, is averse to anything resembling criticism of our lifestyle. More Than Two is full of such criticism. The book takes a humble, but firm stance. If there is a coherent theme to the book, it would be this: learn from our mistakes. Far from the moralizing you’ll see from conservative critics, almost all of the advice in More Than Two comes from experience the authors (or their friends) had. Each chapter is interspersed with personal stories illustrating each point being made. These stories add credibility to the authors’ perspectives and give the reader the benefit of some real-life examples, often of what happens when the authors’ advice is not followed. In additional to the personal stories, each chapter ends with several questions to ask yourself related to the advice given.
The other thing I love about More Than Two, which will not be a surprise to readers of this blog, is that the authors come from a skeptical, secular perspective. I have been an avid reader of Franklin Veaux’s for some time, and the reason is that he comes at polyamory from a skeptical standpoint, rather than the pagan, woo-filled, or spiritual approaches of many other writers. Veaux’s skepticism is apparent throughout the book, from headings such as “Evidence-Based Polyamory” to admonishments to remember the difference between feelings and facts.
More Than Two is divided into five sections: (1) What is Polyamory; (2) A Poly Toolkit; (3) Poly Frameworks; (4) The Poly Reality; and (5) The Poly Ecosystem. Part 1 seems mostly written for newbies or people who’ve never heard of polyamory before, and will likely bore anyone with any substantial experience. It goes through polyamory basics, some glossary, and different relationship styles. It doesn’t really pick up until Chapter 3, where the authors lay out their vision for ethical relationships. Veaux and Rickert propose two axioms for ethical relationships (pg. 41):
- The people in a relationship are more important than the relationship.
- Don’t treat people as things.
These axioms underlie the entire contents of the book. Also notable in Chapter 3 is the Relationship Bill of Rights.
Part 2: A Poly Toolkit
Part 2 is mostly about developing the skills required to be polyamorous. In the words of Veaux and Rickert, from pp. 51-52:
We keep hearing that polyamory is hard work. We don’t agree-at least, not for the reasons that people say. But developing the skills to be successful in poly relationships? That’s a different story. Learning to understand and express your needs, learning to take responsibility for your emotions… that’s hard work. Once you’ve developed those skills, poly relationships aren’t hard.
Part 2 gives advice on how to develop the skills necessary for successful poly relationships. It includes advice on emotional management, learning new skills, dealing with jealousy, and two full chapters on communication. Communication, as we all know, is the cornerstone of successful relationships, and the topic is covered extensively. Especially noteworthy are the discussions regarding the differences between communication and coercion, and how to foster good communication from our partners.
Part 2 may have been my favorite. It is filled with useful, practical advice for anyone in any kind of relationship. Advice ranges from philosophical (nurture a view that relationships are abundant) to the practical (don’t expect someone to do anything unless they’ve agreed). One of my favorites, from pg. 80: “We would like to suggest the radical notion that being uncomfortable is not, by itself, a reason not to do something, nor to forbid someone else from doing something.” There are so many gems in this section that I was afraid my highlighter would run out of ink.
Part 3: Poly Frameworks
In Part 3, Veaux and Rickert dive deep into the nitty-gritty details of poly styles, discussing rules, boundaries, structures, agreements, and even including an entire chapter on veto arrangements. Part 3 is likely to inspire the most controversy in the community, as the authors pull few punches when expressing their distaste for rules, vetoes, prescriptive hierarchies, and other frameworks that (generally couples) use to protect or codify their relationships. The authors don’t go so far as to say that such structures should never be used, but they leave no doubt as to their view that such structures are extremely difficult to use ethically and ought to be avoided whenever possible.
As a relationship anarchist, I’m rather opposed to prescriptive structures of any kind, so I didn’t personally benefit much from this part, but I was happy to see Veaux and Rickert tackle these topics in a compassionate but unyielding way.
One of my disappointments, however, was in the framing of rules vs. agreements. The authors chose a somewhat arbitrary distinction by which “rules” could be condemned and “agreements” could be acceptable:
An agreement is a covenant negotiated by all the parties it affects. Something negotiated between one set of people-a couple, for example-and then presented as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to others is not an agreement as we define it: we call that a rule.
The rest of the chapter is very harsh on rules (with good reason) but seems to give a pass to what they call “agreements.” The problem with this approach is that many of their criticisms of rules (i.e. they judge people’s character on the basis of adherence to the rules; they have an inverse relationship to trust; they transfer risk onto others; they’re susceptible to creeping concessions) are applicable to agreements as well. I worry that people will read this chapter and think that their relationship structures aren’t problematic because, well, they’re not “rules.” The distinction seems largely artificial to me, and while rules present additional problems, the majority of the problems with rules are also problems with agreements.
Part 3 ends with the authors’ vision of what empowered relationships look like. It’s an inspiring vision, and one to which I believe we should all aspire. From pg. 248: “the best way to create security in a relationship is to create happiness.” It’s a noble ideal, and one that we would all do well to remember.
Part 4: The Poly Reality
Part 4 deals with practical issues in poly relationships. While much of the advice in the book is applicable to all relationships regardless of structure, Part 4 largely deals with issues unique to poly. It give practical tips for how to be an ethical pivot (i.e. the partner in the middle of a vee), balancing the needs of multiple partners, long-distance relationships, raising children, opening from a couple, mono/poly relationships, sex and sexual health, relationship transitions, and specific danger spots to watch for in poly relationships.
A lot of the advice in Part 4 is situation-specific, so it doesn’t have particularly broad applicability. However, for a person actually in the situation being addressed, the advice can be invaluable. I particularly appreciated the section dealing with how concerns ostensibly related to sexual health can actually be about possessiveness or emotional comfort, which is a big, largely unaddressed problem in the community.
Like the previous parts, Part 4 contains a large amount of valuable information that the authors have amassed through experience. Poly people of all experience levels would be wise to take heed of their words and learn all they can from Veaux and Rickert’s experiences.
Part 5: The Poly Ecosystem
Part 5, the final portion of the book, has three chapters: Your Partners’ Other Partners; Finding Partners; and The Rest of the World. I did not find Part 5 particularly helpful, though some people may feel differently if they are facing the particular struggles addressed.
I was somewhat unsatisfied with the advice regarding dealing with metamours. Mostly, the advice seemed focused on keeping the peace and staying out of metamour conflicts. I don’t actually think this is good advice. I think pivots should take sides in a conflict, if they believe that one partner is right and the other wrong. I think staying out of a conflict is often the wrong choice.
The chapter on finding partners was a mixed bag. “Where can I meet partners?” is generally one of the first questions asked by new poly people, so I was glad to see it addressed. However, I generally find Franklin Veaux’s advice on finding partners somewhat unhelpful. In his life, Veaux has been lucky enough to bump into potential partners in a lot of unexpected places, and his advice is generally to replicate his behavior. In other words, Veaux advises people just to live their lives and be out about being polyamorous, and they will meet partners. For reasons I’ve covered before, I don’t think that’s good advice. I recommend that, if you want to meet partners, join OkCupid.
However, the majority of the finding partners chapter was not about where to meet partners. It was about how to exercise good partner selection. The advice given on this topic was excellent. From pg. 419: “You can skip right over vast quantities of relationship problems by exercising good partner selection skills at the outset.” Veaux and Rickert give a lot of practical advice for how to recognize warning signs in a person and how to recognize qualities that you find compelling.
The final chapter is about how to relate to the rest of the world. I was somewhat disappointed in this section, as it didn’t give any advice on how to create positive poly communities. Specifically, I was hoping for advice on how to create a culture of consent, which I have seen both Veaux and Rickert address previously. Most of the chapter focused on whether to be “out” about being poly, and gave the generally good advice that yes, you should be out, if can safely be so.
Make no mistake, aside from the few minor quibbles noted above, this book is fantastic, and has the potential to be revolutionary. I have been waiting for a book that I could confidently tell people contains the collective wisdom of the poly community. This is that book. Veaux and Rickert have done an amazing job filling each page with need-to-know information for, in large part, anyone who wants to have fulfilling relationships (not just poly relationships). I will be purchasing multiple copies and encouraging everyone with the time and energy available to read it. I’m already passing around my advance highlighted copy, and I plan on getting more.
More Than Two ends with a plea to our better natures: “Love More, Be Awesome.” Sounds like good advice to me.