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March 16, 2012

On Dyad Fetishism: A Parallel Between Metamour Relationships and Body-Policing

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:04 pm

My life has been consumed by metamour relationships lately, both in theory and in practice.

This is partly due to lots of conversations I had with maymay in preparation for his Atlanta Poly Weekend 2012 Keynote: “From Triads to Triadic Relationships: Polyamory’s superpower is not what you think“. Partly, it’s due to spending a lot of time with a recent crush, and the associated kaleidoscope of emotional and logistical work involved in getting to know the important people in that person’s life, and introducing them to the important people in my own life. (Poly folks have a buzzword for the beginning stage of a romantic/sexual relationship – NRE – but we don’t have a word for the often equally emotionally-consuming beginnings of new metamour relationships; why not?) And it’s also because I just think a lot about metamour relationships all the time, both in theory and in practice; it’s kind of my schtick.

A lot of my thoughts lately have been about how metamour relationships exist structurally within the overall context of how we’re taught to do relationships in our culture. Here’s one of my recent musings, culled from a private e-mail and edited for public consumption:

On Dyad Fetishism: A Parallel Between Metamour Relationships and Body-Policing

There’s a parallel between the way we approach the “metamour” relationship and the issues (as we’ve discussed before) around the policing of “deviant” bodies. To wit: As a fat person, society tells me that I can be desired in only one of two ways:

1. In spite of my deviant body: “Doing me a favor“.
2. Because of my deviant body: Fetishism.

Obviously, both of these experiences of desire feel gross.

There is, however, another possible, pleasant, and far too rare experience for “deviantly bodied” (e.g. fat, trans, disabled, etc.) folks: Someone appreciates and is attracted to my body as something about me, rather than being attracted to me because or in spite of my body.

In body-policing culture, this third experience is illegible. Even when it does happen, it’s most often perceived by outsiders — and, often, by the people involved in the relationship itself — as one of the first two instead.

How does this parallel metamour relationships? Metamour relationships – understood as connection (of any kind) between two people who share a partner – are a deviant relationship. It’s a relationship that we’re told by dyadist culture ought not to exist and that nobody is supposed to want. To the degree that, 9 times out of 10 in our culture, when a “metamour” relationship does crop up e.g. when the partners of someone who is “cheating” potentially become aware of each other, the first impulse of everyone involved — including and perhaps especially the person in the middle of the vee — is to destroy the metamour relationship (and sometimes the metamour themselves.)

There are, of course, a number of situations — not all in the context of poly community — in which this destruction doesn’t succeed; situations when the “metamours” in question are forced to have or actually DESIRE a relationship of some kind with each other, for whatever reason.

But when and if that happens, because my metamour and I desire a deviant relationship, we’re left with two possible readings:

1. We want a relationship in spite of the fact that we’re fucking the same person: “Putting up with it.”

2. We want a relationship just BECAUSE we’re fucking the same person: Dyad fetishism.

Again, obviously, both these relationship experiences feel a little gross. They feel strained and obligatory. They’re both unsustainably dependent on or complicated by the continued existence of some other relationship(s) – with all the mistrust, insecurity, and ulterior motives, or just general uneasiness of feeling like you’re being used as a means to an end that can entail.

Making metamour relationships ALL ABOUT being metamours is a form of policing (fetishism). Trying to make them NOT AT ALL about being metamours is also a form of policing (erasure). And we’re told that those are the only two ways it’s possible for us to relate to each other. That, no matter what potentials exist for connection between us, our relationship with each other must be primarily about our shared partner and our respective relationships with that person; our metamour relationship is nothing but (at worst) a threat to or (at best) a support structure for our romantic/sexual dyads.

But, again, there’s a third option: We want to have a relationship to each other, and our shared relationship with someone else is part of what’s valuable about that relationship, but not the reason for it. (This is a cleaner articulation of my description of “triangulation” as “wanting to talk to the only other queer kid at the party, but not because you just want to talk to them about queerness”.)

This third situation, in my experience, feels great. And can also exist in different measures based on the specifics of the metamour relationship. For example, my relationship with Stoney — the boy Steffi’s traveling with — has almost none of this. He’s a nice enough guy. They seem to get along. I’m glad she’s got someone to sleep next to on the road. And he and I have very little in common. I probably won’t care if I happen to never see him again. He exists to me, mostly, as someone who it’s worth having a connection with simply because he’s connected to someone I love. (So, maybe there’s a bit of fetishism there. Not much, since “having a connection with” in this case simply means, “am Facebook friends with and he can sleep on my couch any time he’s in town.”)

At the other end of the spectrum is Elaan: The fact that we’re both planning to build a life with August is a big part of our relationship. But equally big are the fact that her Buddhist practice and my social justice consciousness inform each others’ work, that we’re really great roommates, that I care about being a part of her kid’s life, that we support each other through our respective shit with our moms, etc. In fact, the reason Elaan and I have made a point of going through “couples” counseling together over the past year is partly to ensure that, insofar as we’re both partnered with August, we want to be able to navigate our relationships with him as well as possible — but also and more importantly, because we want to make sure that our respective relationships with August don’t fuck up our relationship with each other – including if one or both of were to stop being partners with August some day.

Of course, this sort of relationship is illegible. Many people simply read Elaan and I as partners because they don’t have a framework for understanding a metamour relationship like ours. Mainstream culture, even mainstream poly culture, doesn’t give us any models that allow us to understand this kind of intentionality and commitment in a non-sexual, non-romantic relationship — especially not one that triangulates through another person.

Due to that same lack of models, Elaan and I have sometimes read our own relationship as “partners” too. Which has lead to a whole lotta trouble in the past. But that’s a story for another time…



  1. I love: you; your brain; the conversations you have with people, metamours, and partners; the way you share these conversations; and, the growth they inspire! You are amazing and all of us who *know* you, in whatever capacity that might be, are lucky! At least three times as lucky as the average person who does not *know* you. ❤

    Comment by orgasmicon — March 16, 2012 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  2. Wow. I love the questions you ask. I want to go back and cf with my post about a year ago on inherent enmity. So much thinky… –Free

    Comment by quixtic — March 16, 2012 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

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