Man... you totally beat me to this. I was just thinking about this topic the other day, well, middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. My thoughts were very much like yours, around the notion that "there are a lot of ways of living humans can make work, but the proportion of people that can make non-standard ways of living work is very, very small." I think the past 20 years have enabled people to drift away from the standard ways that worked towards things that seem like they should work, but turn out to really, really not in practice for 99%. Whoops.

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I think the problem is commitment-matching (or expectation-matching). In the traditional relationship you're describing, 100% commitment is matched by 100% commitment, and when one side lets the other side down, he or she should feel like he or she is to blame and that the other party's ensuing disappointment is legitimate. (I will allow that there may be disagreement about what 100% commitment entails between the two parties). But if you're trying to match each other's commitment in a way that is less than 100%, (say, 45% to 45%), two problems emerge. First, the parties will disagree on what constitutes 45% commitment, as in the previous situation, but also any time one person naturally increases or decreases from the agreed 45% threshold, that person's or the other person's expectations are very likely to be unmet. I guess the difference is between "I will always be disappointed if you cheat and you agree my disappointment is warranted" versus "I will agree not be disappointed if you cheat, but I can't guarantee that I won't be, and if I am, you won't necessarily agree that my disappointment is warranted." Maybe another way of looking at it is that in the traditional view, regarding an action that demonstrates decreased commitment, "you know it when you see it," and in the poly view, you don't. Expectations can be illegitimate, improperly communicated, impossible, etc., in the traditional view in similar ways that they can be in the poly view, but the poly view has a lot more menu options that can lead to unmet expectations than the traditional one does. If the happiness you derive from the poly lifestyle doesn't overcome the increased difficulty with expectation-matching, and the additional disappointment that ensues, it's probably not viable for you.*

Final thought is that by definition, "going the extra mile" for your partner (like giving up a poker night with friends to nurse a sick SO) in a traditional relationship is almost always a net good, while "going the extra mile" for one of your two poly SOs is likely to be a net neutral or negative (like giving up a night with SO 1 to nurse a sick SO 2) , in that the SO who doesn't get the extra attention/time/fun loses out on the attention/time/fun he/she was supposed to get AND is at least at risk of getting a heaping helping of jealousy to boot.

*Insert all caveats RC already applied. I'm theorizing here, not pontificating, although I admit that I come from a traditional background and have traditional views on this issue.

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Jul 8, 2022·edited Jul 8, 2022

I don't really see where the points about Aella failing to establish commitment with a guy she really likes, and polyamory being a recipe for depression are connected to my interpretation of the main point - that establishing dependencies with a person builds trust and fulfillment when those dependencies get fulfilled.

Why shouldn't you be able to be dependent and dependable on/for 2+ people?

I ask/say this as a person who is in a loving committed relationship, where both of us have questioned if we are too co-dependent, but who are also dipping our toes (or maybe quickly walking) into the pool of polyamorous water.

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Ehhhh I don't think that's a very generous reading of Aellas article. I think she enjoys the freedom polyamory gives her. That's the reason she doesn't fundamentally question it in that paragraph. I guess she has at other times.

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I dunno. I come from a more coastal culture than most, but am far from a rationalist Bay Area libertarian poly person, and was in fact raised in a culture that does somewhat emphasize tradition and social structures. I don’t feel deeply lonely or unhappy except on my worst days, but when I do, I don’t think being more traditional than a rationalist helps me that much.

I want a significant other, a tight social circle, and an activity in which I can easily meet new people, all at the same time. I’ve had that before and felt deeply happy while at the same time feeling stressed about, "What if they leave me? There’s New Person A but I feel too stressed to talk to them. Is Established Friend B mad at me? Should I be hanging out with them more?” This stress makes me feel lonely even when I’m not.

I think I just have more neuroticism around social stuff than some people, possibly to the point of social anxiety. I also don’t have much life experience, though.

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I agree that we need a new term for the good kind of co-dependent relationship. "symbiotic"?

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Good stuff. I sometimes am amazed that so many people find each other in this world. Most just seem to fall into a relationship, not understanding what drew them to the other person and why the other person wanted to stay around them.

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I’m a deeply unhappy man ResidentContrian, and most advice I’ve heard boils down to

1. “suck it up buttercup, stay miserable and be a good Dad”

2. “Abandon the kids you’re raising and completely leave your marriage”

3. “Something something somehow be able to pay enough rent to have joint custody” (I’ve done the math, after a legal divorce I’d have to sleep at work, in a car, or my Mom’s basement).

4. “Start worshiping a god who you think is indifferent to human suffering or does care and enjoys torturing humanity”

5. “Stay with your wife and visit whores”

None of these alternatives appeal to me!

I hate my job (as I’ve hated every previous job), but I feel a need to do it to keep two kids health insurance.

I hate my celibacy (which, depending on your definition of “sex” started either over 30 years ago after I fell in love with the woman who I would later marry, or nineteen years ago after me and my wife’s child was stillborn).

My wife has two sons, both conceived via in-vitro using a donor (allegedly because she didn’t want kids that were like my relatives, but in hindsight because she didn’t to have sex with me), those sons call me “Dad” and seem to love me, but (to my shame) that’s not enough for me to be happy, I want physical and verbal affection from a woman I love who I can at least pretend loves me.

Despite her still being painfully beautiful to me because if I’m away I can pretend I’m rejecting her instead of her rejecting me I’ve lived away from my wife for about a year, but at her request “for the kids” I still live with her on weekends and holidays.

My wife says she wants me back full time, but no sex ever and frankly she isn’t much for verbal affection (she’s an “acts of service” ‘love language’ lady, while I’m tied for “words” and “touch” with “gifts” a distant third). She also says that marriage counseling would be a “waste of time and money”.

For a year I’ve lived with another lady as a roommate, and over time we’ve become emotionally close, and I often feel smitten by her (besides her charm and kindness that she’s stricken with cancer pushes my “white Knight” to her “damsel in distress” buttons, besides when I was told that I had an “80% chance of advanced lung cancer” and that I likely had “less than two years” to live a little over two years ago I emphasize with her), and she does give me some of the verbal affection that I crave, and she’s hinted that she’s open to a physical relationship if I “don’t visit the kids” because she “can’t risk kid germs”, but that seems too cruel, especially to the six year old (which is near the age I was when my Mom kicked my Dad out, so I know what’s that’s like from a child’s perspective), plus I can tell from her history that she’s not a one man woman, and I’d be jealous.

Unfortunately I crave a loving, romantic, and sexual monogamous relationship with I woman I may wake up with rather than “flings”/“massages”.

I see no virtuous end to my misery except death.

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It's annoying that this was very clear to everybody not 60 years ago. That's why we had all these laws about adultery and sodomy and generally treated committed married couples better than cheaters and bachelors. We knew that people are happier when there's strict, traditional rules for how to behave romantically. Especially in our modern society which is anathema to our natural romantic instincts. And they knew back then that the rules needed to be enforced and mostly followed. Climbing up a girl's balcony to get a good night kiss on the cheek can only be romantic when that conduct is nominally prohibited. Nowadays, her dad is fine with you coming through the front door and waltzing right up the stairs at 1am to engage in sexual intercourse. And the rest of society cheers you on to treat her like a pig as long as she says yes. There can't be any romance in a situation like this.

Yet the demons, whatever they are, that control our cultural drift, keep pushing for bigamy and sexual sadism. The rationalist community is particularly at fault for endorsing the depraved and necessarily sadistic bdsm culture which has caused so much strife. So people get more and more unhappy. Kids in America today are both the most sexually aware generation, and the least likely to have strong youthful romantic relationships.

Sadly I don't think people can really be helped by good advice in articles such as yours. Our institutions and social mores existed because it was too hard for individuals and small groups to self-moderate this kind of behavior. Moderation required somewhat remote institutions enforcing these norms even though people in general agreed that they were good. The institutions and mores are gone and with them go all the people who they could have moderated, but whom lack the ability to self-moderate. The only people who can benefit from your advice are those who have the ability to self-moderate their sexual and romantic desires, and aren't able to figure out that they *should* moderate those desires on their own.

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I’ve previously asked you about non monogamy. So I appreciate this article and not to come in and flame you. I’m not mon monogamous but I’ve considered it and at times, practiced it. But your article tracks to my life experiences: you need consistency, you need regular dependability for strong solid relationships (family included). Non monogamy can impact that. I certainly felt not good enough, and an option. And I can feel that in my monogamous relationship now, when “competing” with work and kids for attention, but I feel a robust societal support for me to request and expect respect and “showing up” for me. And the imperfections in me matter less, as I’m not an option, I’m the choice. (And my partner has imperfections too, but again, we’ve chosen to continue and invest in one another. We’re not open yo other options)

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Jul 14, 2022·edited Jul 14, 2022

This article appears correct in its main thrust, which is descriptive. You are rightfully reluctant in the secondary thrust, which is prescriptive. A few points to offer:

1) I read Henrich's book after reading Scott's Review, and can confirm he seems careful not to praise traditional wisdom on social topics. However, he extensively explores the value of monogamy as a kind of cultural technology that domesticates men in a pro-social manner. You likely would find this a very interesting discussion.

2) There's a reason that prescription fails, thus:

We are not in a position to debate whether or not to remove one of Chesterton's fences. Rather, we are forlornly standing by the side of a busy highway, looking at the few broken posts where a fence used to be -- posts which are outnumbered by crosses with names and flowers on them. It simply isn't possible to tell someone (say in East Africa) "Hey this cassava is poisoning you, better take the poison out" and have them comply. They won't believe you, won't be able to figure out how (and you don't know either -- you just read a blurb about it in a book), won't be willing to stick with the intense labor, and probably don't really care if maybe they get sick in a couple of decades: life is short and hard and tomorrow is not promised. Which is why the best way to solve the problem is to take that cassava away and give them a different variety. The reason indigenous cassava-processing cultures were able to make it a safe and successful food was because of the robust fence around the behaviors that evolved. Just knowing the behaviors are now gone and we should put them back doesn't cut it.

The people who fail to make traditional relationships work aren't rationally choosing bad policies that lead to failure, they themselves are personally the result of fences having been removed decades and in some cases centuries ago. If they get fed up and decide to larp as reactionaries online, they're no more reinstating lost tradition than the poor bastards in CHAZ with their store-bought starts in potting soil on pieces of cardboard were doing permaculture.

This, as I heard recently on a podcast, is what is wrong with the so-called conservative claim that various societal problems can be fixed with better fathers. Sure, if you had better fathers, maybe that would help. But it's thinking past the sale -- the thing we can't get is better fathers. Not in the inner city, not in the suburbs, not anywhere. If a pair of people meet young at church, have near-identical cultural backgrounds, have a deep and unquestioning faith in the value of family and staying together, that's great for them. Their lives are better than most, just as tall, handsome, smart, or rich folks' lives are better. It's a privilege, and I hope they're appreciative of it. (Still, probably one of their five children will turn out a drug addict. Fences are down everywhere, after all.) But someone from a different background can't build back up again through wishful thinking downed fences that took his ancestors millennia to construct. The opportunities missed during peak neuroplasticity cannot be regained with force of will. He can wear a polo and stand in church and pray with tears on his face that Jesus will wash him off and give him a white garment to wear, but even if successful that doesn't mean he'll be able to make a marriage work with his more fortunate pew-mate's daughter.

You're right that people might be better off moving in another direction, and might as well start picking up their feet and putting them down again while facing the right way, rather than the wrong way. But the wounds are deep and the road is long -- and lies along a ridge like a razor's edge. There used to be fences on either side. They've been gone a while now.

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Well we’ll probably never agree about Trump but I’m with you on this one. :)

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I mostly only have this to offer, but it's a lot: https://xkcd.com/592/

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