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April 6th, 2009

12:02 PM

The psychology of the characters in a polyamorous romance

Before I start, is it "polyamory romance" or "polyamorous romance"?

Okay, when it comes to polyamorous romance, I'm pretty much walking in the dark since I have no firsthand familiarity with the arrangement and I also do not know anyone who is in such an arrangement. Therefore, what I get from such romances is pretty much all I know about the practice. The thing is, the psychology of the characters in such an arrangement in a romance of this nature always confuse me.

Let's start with why, as in why three people will want to get in such an arrangement. In paranormal romances, very often I am given the eye-rolling excuse of how two men must share a woman because either there is a female shortage in that planet or the men just need that woman to complete them. I don't get it. In contemporary romances, it's even more bewildering. Why would two men, happily in a relationship with each other, suddenly want a woman to join them in bed? Are they scared to be, I don't know, "100% gay"? And let's not even start with all that talk about how bisexual men are apparently not going to be happy unless they are in a relationship with both a man and a woman.

For me, I like my romances to have a relationship that is grounded in some degree of realism, which is to say, I want to understand and relate to how the characters are feeling. When it comes to polyamorous romances, however, way too many authors are either ignoring the emotional aspect in favor of the pumpies or they are creating and redefining sexuality and psychology by pulling things out of their rear ends. They fail to sell me the romance, in other words.

So, anyone knows of any realistic polyamorous romances out there? The ones that work for me right now are usually those that depict two men in a competition over a woman with one man usually leaving for a HEA between the other man and the heroine, which I find far more believable than the usual "we are two gay men who decide to wake up one morning to find a woman to share" nonsense. But if there is one thing I really, really, really do not like in this genre, that is how the two big strong men end up deciding to share the heroine without even asking her in the first place whether she wants to be shared. The heroine would of course be happy to be put in such a situation because she is either too much without a personality to acquire the ability to make a decision or she finds the two guys equally hot so whee, whatever.

And why is it that these heroines never seem to complain about having to service two (or more) men, even men she supposedly are in love with, at the same every night? Talk about exhaustion, especially when these romance heroes are endowed with stamina that no mere human male have. Can you imagine having, you know, both places down there plugged non-stop every night? Ouch. And let's not even start with the amount of cleaning, washing, cooking, and feeding needed to be done, shudder.

17 comment(s).

Posted by Gennita Low Jenn:

Maybe it's just the female fantasy equivalent to one male shared by many happy and unselfish females? Susan Johnson wrote a scene of the hero and his three lovers in one of her older historical romances. They were his traveling companions on a ship forever, and their arrangement was so happy and so sharing. Of course, once he has his heroine, he becomes faithful only to her and not one of the traveling companions screamed at being abandoned! ;-)
April 6th, 2009 @ 2:07 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

I've read that one - Brazen, right? He did pay them off well to send them on their way, so it's a mutually happy termination on everyone's part! It's interesting, though, how the male fantasy is a man being served by many women, while in the female version of the fantasy in our MMF romances, it's often than not the fragile woman being protected by the men who get to boink her in the process. None of that Dom Gurrl making men her happy slaves, no indeed!
April 6th, 2009 @ 2:12 PM

Posted by meh:

there are many closet realities and once writers and readers feel comfortable leaving behind the excuse for portraying such relationships, i think we'll start seeing more stories in the marketplace that realistically portray polyamory.
April 6th, 2009 @ 8:41 PM

Posted by Fae:

I very much dislike that "Two gay guys suddenly decide they need a woman to complete them" stories. I don't so much mind at all the average 3some where everyone comes together at the same time and equally.

It's getting a little ridiculous, though. I read a blurb for one where it was a chick and, like, FIVE guys. FIVE! And looking for a sixth! I boggled. No way in hell are you ever going to convince me that any sane woman would want six simultaneous lovers. No freaking way.
April 6th, 2009 @ 10:08 PM

Posted by kirsten saell:

I just have to tell you, the f/f/m fantasy isn't only a male one. My third book ends in a committed relationship between two women (one of them unabashedly bisexual) and a man--and it isn't some stupid "two hot chicks seein' to mah manly needs" male-centric fantasy, either. The bisexual woman is the one who falls for the other one--initially, her husband is not so sure he wants to be in the position of competing with a woman for his wife's affections, but the three do end up happily together in the end. Speaking as a bisexual woman, this would be my perfect reality (if only society in general would agree, le sigh). WIsh there were more books that reflected that.

My fourth novel, which should be out in July, has a committed male couple inviting a woman into their relationship. Both men fall somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale, and I hope I've provided the reader with some insight as to why they would want a three-person relationship, at least with this particular woman. Just because two men are together at the start of the story does not necessarily mean they're gay. It gets my back up a little when people scoff about "oh, it's just that they don't want to admit they're really gay", or "I'm gay, but only for you is totally unrealistic". Sometimes, they aren't really gay. And when you're bisexual, you can't help who you fall in love with, any more than a straight person can.

Have to agree with you on the DP thing, Mrs. G. DP scenes seem almost obligatory in m/m/f, but they aren't a particular turn on for me--quite the opposite, in fact. They almost always come off more as one woman servicing two men, rather than two men pleasuring one woman. I much prefer three people pleasuring each other--a three-person sandwich with a shifting center, if you will.

Bisexuality is a complicated thing and it can be hard to get a handle on the dynamics, even for bisexuals.

But I have an even harder time believing those menages that feature two (or more) straight,
April 7th, 2009 @ 12:36 AM

Posted by kirsten saell:


But I have an even harder time believing those menages that feature two (or more) straight, alpha males sharing a woman. Um, how many real-life alpha males are good at sharing anything, especially a woman? If my dude was alpha, and straight, and wanted to "share" me with another guy, I'd think he didn't give a shit about me. Not sure I can get past that to believe the HEA, even if the other guy wandered off alone into the sunset.
April 7th, 2009 @ 12:38 AM

Posted by K. Z. Snow:

Never could buy into those "We're a big, happy, sexually active family" stories. Never, never, never. Maybe polyandry is an understandable backlash against polygamy -- although I doubt the women in polygamous subcultures all bounce around in bed together with their one man.
April 7th, 2009 @ 4:58 AM

Posted by Conrad:

Doesn't any one here watches HBO's shameles "Big Love"? An ugly guy marries 3 hot chicks (clearly brain-washed!). They live happily side by side and help each other with household chores. Bleargh!
A female friend of mine was fuming after watching that happy family time! What was wrong with those wives? Why couldn't they also get many other husbands? Apparently, Big Love is quite a hit with guys. Sure, in real life the so called sister wives would no sooner lace poison on the cake tray rather than swap cooking tips. But I guess fantasy is just fantasy.
And that female friend of mine is actually a hug fan of one of those 1 chick with a harem stories. She can't stand Big Love but I guess she can stand the sight of Big men and their "big love". ;)
April 7th, 2009 @ 5:51 AM

Posted by Stacia Kane:

Actually, Conrad, I disagree. While I don't think it would necessarily work for me long-term, I've often thought how nice it would be to have other women around to help with the chores, watch the kids, etc. etc. And that if sleeping alone a couple of nights a week was the price I paid for it, that might not be so awful; I like sleeping alone.

Like I said, I'm not claiming I'm urging my husband to run out and find himself a few more wives. But I admit I can see the appeal of it, and I can't believe I'm the only woman who does. We're not all jealous, vicious beasts. Some of us have lots of other interests and wouldn't mind having the time to pursue them.

I also don't think Bill Paxton is ugly, though. :-)
April 7th, 2009 @ 6:06 AM

Posted by kirsten saell:

Polygamous societies are centered around the dominance of men and the subjugation of women. I can't imagine I'd be happy in that kind of relationship, even if I was the only wife. Polyamorous is totally, completely different.

That said, I wouldn't mind a second wife. If I got one, I might discover I didn't need the husband, though.
April 7th, 2009 @ 7:35 AM

Posted by Nonny:

Polyamorous is correct. :)

I'm in a poly relationship myself, and I also have trouble with the portrayal of polyamory in romance. The premises behind many of the stories are unrealistic at best... some are downright insulting to those of us who are poly.

I think part of the problem is that menage sells well and thus people write it and promote as "poly" without doing any research on the matter. Most of the books I've seen primarily focus on the sex and the romance is an afterthought. Or, it seems like it's expected for readers to buy into the believability of the relationship because that's the way the author wrote it.

Poly is a lot more than just sex. Hell, 'till recently, I was involved with a girl online that I'd never met, and subsequently had never been intimate with. It's not about the sex. It's about the relationships. A lot of writers do not seem to get that.

Perfectly happy couples don't often meet somebody and think, "H/she'd be a perfect third!" -- unless they were already poly and only "monogamous" by default. I don't see that scenario often. I see monogamous couples meeting someone they "can't refuse" and all I can do is shake my head... because IRL? that's usually a recipe for disaster. Usually someone will end up jealous, and you can't have a functioning poly relationship with jealousy.

The other thing is that it's often portrayed with alpha males that are more like caveman "MINE". Possessiveness to the extent shown in most romance heroes does not work in reality. That's not to say that heroes (or heroines) can't be possessive of their partner/s, but it's different. It's more along the lines of BDSM, where a sub gives herself to her dom. And, although this isn't quite portrayed right in a lot of BDSM romances, the sub has the right to take it back and walk at any time. You can "give" yourself to your partners, but they have to be willing to share. I really don't see that as realistic with the personalities often shown.

I've be
April 7th, 2009 @ 9:50 AM

Posted by Nonny:

*beats character limit*

As I was saying... *glares at BraveNet*... I've been overall disappointed with the "polyamorous" romances I've read. I've yet to find one that's realistic, although I still have Kirsten's work in my overflowing TBR.

If anybody else has recommendations, I'd love to hear them. It's very disappointing to pick up what looks to be a good book and end up beating your head against the wall because they got it wrong...
April 7th, 2009 @ 9:54 AM

Posted by Barbara Sheridan:

Nonny said: It's not about the sex. It's about the relationships. A lot of writers do not seem to get that.

In my recent m/f/m I tried to concentrate on the emotional ties between the three people and the conflicts they had within themselves over what might happen if they crossed the line and gave into the physical attraction.
April 7th, 2009 @ 10:16 AM

Posted by One Less Reader For You:

From the looks of it, to me it seems you have some serious issues with males by making the following comments:

1."Are they scared to be, I don't know, "100% gay"?

2. "And let's not even start with all that talk about how bisexual men are apparently not going to be happy unless they are in a relationship with both a man and a woman."

Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinions but when you begin to make blanket generalizations about any specific group, in this case bisexuals, please either speak from experience or, at the very least, not generalize as you did and boil it down to "some individuals" and not all.

God forbid I begin to make generalizations about your female readers. But I'm more respectful and educated than that.
April 8th, 2009 @ 11:39 AM

Posted by kirsten saell:

Have to say, as far as One Less Reader's complaint, if the fear of being "100% gay" exists in some of these books, that's on the author. I mean, the characters are fictional, right? I've read the "I'm gay, but only for you" thing before, and it does make me roll my eyes a bit--and it often feels like a conscious decision by the author to keep their male characters appealing for female readers.

Have to agree with him (and you) that many, many authors have a view of bisexuality that does not jive with my own personal feelings on the matter. But then again, humans all being different, I wouldn't expect all bisexuals to think like I do. But I think he's taking your criticisms of some authors' treatment of bisexuality/homosexuality in fiction as a judgment of RL bisexuals. Which I don't think is the case at all. Aren't we allowed to say when we feel an author has got it wrong? Especially in GLBT erotic fiction, which is, IMO, as potentially prone to exploitation for titillation as, say, Girls Gone Wild videos?
April 9th, 2009 @ 1:40 AM

Posted by Tuscan Capo:

Don't some branches of the Mormons go for this scenario? Anyway, my personal view is that if a guy NEEDS more than one woman, he isn't dominant he's just too lazy to look after himself. "Brenda, make my sandwich! Leona, get my coffee! Nanette, go out and fix the tire! I need a nap and there better be a fresh diaper on my ass when I wake up, ladies."
April 10th, 2009 @ 2:08 AM

Posted by Sera:

Hella research? Polyamory is, while perhaps not exactly a mainstream practice, practiced by many people in open, but committed relationships. A quick google search, anyone? If you're going to write about it, at least try to learn about it, and many polyamorous people are more than happy to talk about their emotions and relationships.
July 9th, 2009 @ 12:39 PM