Polyamory as a zero-sum game and other musings on relationship

I get a lot of email from my polyamory site. The majority of that email is very positive, but every so often someone takes issue with the idea of polyamory (not so much of the idea of being polyamorous, so much as the entire existance of polyamory), and objects to polyamory in principle as well as in practice.

One of the most common objections to polyamory is based on time management, and betrays a fundamental worldview which, I think, is not necessarily accurate, but which is buried so deeply in assumptions about the way relationships work that it’s nearly inaccessible.

Now, before I go any further, I do think it’s important to say that there is a kernel of truth in complaints about polyamory from a time-management perspective. Love isn’t infinite, press releases to the contrary; but more important, time and energy are definitely not infinite, and are sometimes in very short supply indeed. It is not possible, philosophically or practically, for a person to have an indefinite number of partners; eventually, even the most patient of people will simply run out of time.

But that doesn’t happen as quickly as people think it does, because love is not a poker game.

A poker game is a classic example of a zero-sum system. In game theory (and in economics), something is said to be “zero sum” if all the gains and losses in the system, added together, always equal zero.

In poker, it’s easy to see how this works. If Alan and Bob play poker, then for every dollar that Alan wins, Bob loses exactly one dollar. The total of the winnings and losses added up equals zero; each dollar in the pot that one person wins, the other players have lost.

Many people approach relationships in much the same way. The assumption is that relationships are also zero-sum; every minute of time, every bit of attention you give to one partner is a minute of time or a bit of attention that is taken away from someone else. If Alan is dating Betty and Cindy, the net sum of the time Allen spends with Betty is time taken away from Cindy, and if you add the total amount of time one partner gains and the other loses, you always end up at zero.

Now, hidden deeply within this idea is another, related idea, and that is that a person who is in a relationship has a rightful claim on his partner’s time and attention. If I am dating Alice, then Alice’s time and attention rightfully belongs to me; if Alice spends that time and attention on someone else, i have lost something which I am entitled to and which is mine by right. Her time is mine; she has no right to take it away from me and spend it on someone else.

Both ideas are wrong, though for different reasons.

The fact is, my partner’s time does not belong to me. Nor is it anything I should legitimately feel entitled to. Two people engage in a romantic relationship for the mutual benefit of each; should the relationship not be a source of joy for each person, it’s certainly reasonable for them to look for relationships which are satisfying. More importantly, though, it’s neither beneficial nor necessary to lay claim to a person’s time and attention.

It’s not necessary because if a person is interested in you, it’s reasonable to assume that person will dedicate time and attention to you; people tend to spend their time on things which are important to them, and to find time for those things. Behavior is an emergent phenomenon; people behave the way they do as a result of the things they believe. Someone who does not believe that his partner is a priority or that his relationship is important is not likely to focus a lot of time on it, and compelling him to do so won’t make him feel like it’s important to him.

It’s not beneficial because a person who gives his partner time and attention only because his partner forces him to is not likely to provide high-quality time. Just the opposite, in fact; he’s likely to resent it. You can’t compel someone to find you important, which is precisely what you’re doing when you believe that his attention is something you can lay claim to.

Getting back to the point, though, love is not a poker game. Time and attention are not zero-sum, and time spent with one person does not necessarily mean time taken away from another.

It’s reasonable for the people in any romantic relationship to expect to have a certain amount of “alone time” with their lovers, of course. This is something healthy relationships need in order to grow and develop; and because time is not infinite, it’s reasonable to say that no person can really expect to build high-quality relationships with a vast number of people.

But even considering that healthy relationships do need some measure of alone time, it’s still not a zero-sum game. This is because it’s possible for a person to spend quality time with two or more partners concurrently.

If–and this is important–that person does not see his relationships as separate and discrete things to be kept isolated from one another.

here is a model of polyamory I call the “free agent” model. People who subscribe to this model tend to isolate and compartmentalize their relationships, and one of the hallmarks of free-agent polyamory is that the people who subscribe to it will often present themselves as “single” when meeting new people, and behave in public as if they were unpartnered, even when they have existing relationships.

On the other end of the continuum from free agents is people who subscribe to an “inclusion” model of polyamory, one that sees all the relationships as interconnected, and that seeks to build relationships which are mutually compatible and supporting. This does not necessarily mean that people with an inclusion ideal of polyamory want their partners to be dating each other, or sleeping in the same bed; it means that they seek to find partners who will respect the existing relationships, who can spend time together, and who don’t view each other as competition. It also means that they seek to find relationships in which everyone involved feels comfortable with everyone else involved, and tend to be aware of the effects of each of their relationships on all the others.

One of the primary drawbacks of the free-agent model is that it can lead to resource competition, in which time and attention given to one person is taken away from someone else. If Alice is dating Bob and Charles, and Alice compartmentalizes those two relationships–by spending time with Bob or with Charles but not with both, for example–then the relationships are zero-sum. Time given to Bob is time not available to Charles, and vice versa.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The benefit of seeking relationships which are mutually supportive and which aren’t compartmentalized is that Alice can spend quality time with Bob and Charles simultaneously, without competition. When this happens, suddenly those two relationships aren’t zero-sum any more; it’s possible for the sum total of time spent with Bob and time spent with Charles to exceed 100%. It is not necessary for Bob and Charles to be romantically connected with each other, and it certainly is not necessarily for Bob and Charles to be sleeping with each other; all that’s necessary is that Bob and Charles be able to function together without competing for Alice’s time.

Of course, there’s a drawback. It means thinking about relationships, and choosing partners who fit into the existing network of relationships well. It means finding partners who are philosophically compatible with one another. And, it means being aware of the effects of each of those relationships on all the others, and taking responsibility for those effects.

I have in the past been involved in situations where my relationship with someone is a source of pain or discomfort for that person’s other partner. When that happens, i don’t try to isolate myself from her other partner; instead, I’ll tend to put the brakes on that relationship until I and her other partner can work out where the problem is. Doing this means I don’t always get to pursue all the relationships I want to as quickly as I want to–but it also means that I’m not participating in a system that’s hurtful to someone else, even though that person’s happiness is not directly my responsibility, and it means that, in the end, the relationships I build are healthier and more inclusive.

When you build relationships this way, something magical happens.

If Alice is dating Bob and Charles, and each of them is equally important to her, and Alice wants to give each of them equal time, but she compartmentalizes those relationships, at the end of the day Bob and Charles can have no more than 50% of her time and attention. But if Alice does not compartmentalize her relationships, then at the end of the day each of them can get much more than 50% of her time and attention; each of them may get 70%, or 80%, or more, of her time and attention. The relationship isn’t a poker game.

I have been involved with people who do not believe it’s possible to spend quality time with two partners concurrently. I’ve also seen it often in other people’s relationships. In fact, this belief often lies beneath many enforced primary/secondary structures; people will construct primary/secondary relationships out of fear of losing importance or losing a partner’s time and attention, and see primary/secondary as a means to keep the time and attention they feel rightfully belongs to them.

I remember one night when Shelly and my ex-wife and I had gone out to dinner together after I came home from work. We went to a Thai restaurant, spent a while lingering over dinner and talking, then came home. On the way home, my ex-wife asked me “When am I going to get to spend some time with you?”

The fact was, she’d spent the entire evening with me. But the fact that another person was present somehow invalidated that time in her mind; even though we’d had a wonderful dinner together, it “didn’t count’ for her, because she believed that love is zero-sum. Time with her had to be time spent away from any other romantic partner, or else it wasn’t really “her” time. (Interestingly, the same was not true of time spent together with friends who were not romantic partners–far from it, my ex loves to entertain, and was extremely happy spending time with me and with friends, provided they were not lovers.)

When a person approaches a relationship with that philosophy, it cannot help but become zero-sum. he sad part of that is that in a zero-sum relationship, everyone loses. The total amount of time and attention spent on all the members of the relationship can never exceed 100%; the pot is smaller, and there is no win-win scenario.

Love does not have to be a poker game. When it is, it becomes a game nobody wins.

Interesting news on obesity and Alzheimer’s (damn, I’m posting a lot today!)

First, from wldrose, Vaccine may target obesity in the future

When babies receive shots against diseases like polio and measles, their vaccinations may in the future include protection against getting fat, according to researchers.

Infection by certain pathogens triggers rapid increases in fatty tissue in animals, Nikhil Dhurnadha told the annual meeting of NAASO, the Obesity Society, in this western Canadian city.

At the same time, the discovery that many more obese people than normal-weight people have been exposed to a certain virus suggests a link between obesity and viral infection…

Dhurandhar became interested in viral causes of obesity while working as a family physician in Bombay in the 1980s, during a severe outbreak of SMAM1, an adeno virus that kills chickens.

A friend noticed that the dead chickens were unusually fat, with enlarged livers, kidneys, low cholesterol levels and an atrophied thymus gland…

“In 10 years, people may be able to walk into a clinic and be told that their obesity is due to X cause, such as genes, the endocrine system, or pathogens. That may have a more productive outcome than a blanket treatment right now, (which) is not very successful,” said Dhurandhar.

And because viruses are hard or impossible to treat, he said, prevention through vaccines will be key.”

And this one, from shamangirl: Good News for Pot Smokers

An oft-mentioned danger of marijuana smoking—so widely believed that the smokers themselves admit it all the time—is that it kills your brain cells.

But a new study has found that one of marijuana’s active ingredients actually helps produce new brain cells, and this is correlated with anxiety-reducing effects…

[T]he new study found that rats given heavy doses an artificial version of a potent, active ingredient of marijuana grew new brain cells.

In the journal’s November issue, Xia Zhang and colleagues from University of Saskatchewan found that creation of new brain cells was aided by a “potent and synthetic cannabinoid,” or man-made version of a compound extracted from marijuana.

The rats also exhibited less anxiety- and depression- like behavior after a month of the treatment, the study found.

It’s hard to find good protesters these days.

Every day, on my way to work, I drive past a small women’s clinic. Last Tuesday, there was a group of about five or six people standing on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, waving signs showing pictures of fetuses. They’d unfurled a huge yellow banner that they’d placed across the sidewalk, reading “ABORTIONIST!” in large block letters with an arrow pointing at the clinic.

On Friday, the number of protestors had dwindled to three. The big yellow banner was gone–possibly because it had been blocking the sidewalk, or possibly because it was just too much hassle to set up. (Putting up a six-foot-long banner is more work than it seems.)

Saturday and Sunday, nothing. Apparently, protecting the unborn children is important, but not something you’d want to, y’know, give up a weekend for.

Monday and Tuesday, the same three protesters were back. Fewer signs this time, and they just seemed all so…disspirited. Today, the protest had collapsed to a single dishevled man, who looked for all the world like he was homeless, standing in front of the clinic and shaking his fist and screaming incoherently, and, bizarrely, pulling branches off the large tree that sits in the corner of the lot overhanging the sidewalk. I filled my car with gas at the gas station next to the clinic and watched him for a while.

Now, it used to be, back in the day, that people took this protesting thing a lot more seriously. I moved to Tampa in 1992, and then as now, my path to work took me past the clinic every day. (Funny thing, life.)

Back then, there were always about twenty or thirty protesters outside the clinic, every day, rain or shine. I worked at a place called Printgraphics at the time, and one of the protest organizers actually came into the ship once, asking me to design some anti-abortion signs and placards for him. I declined, and he went away and got someone else to do it for him.

But I digress.

They were there every day, chanting and waving signs and holding prayer vigils to, I don’t know, call down a rain of toads on the place or something. The toads never materialized, but that didn’t seem to bother them.

And then, overnight, it all just kinda fell apart. I can even point my finger to the moment when it happened.

It started one day when a young couple and a doctor walked up to the clinic. Someone in the group of protesters thought that saving an unborn child’s life was just absolutely the most important thing imaginable, and such an end justified any means, and he started throwing rocks at them. Next thing you know, a bunch of people had joined in, and showered the couple and their doctor with rocks and bottles. Made the papers and everything.

Problem was, they weren’t going in for an abortion. As it turns out, the couple were going to the clinic because they were trying to conceive. The doctor? He wasn’t an abortion doctor; he was a fertility doctor.

The point was well and truly driven home a few nights later, when one of the protesters decided to vandalize the clinic. The clinic was surrounded with a chain link fence at the time (it’s since been replaced with a more attractive metal fence), and he decided to ram his car through the fence, and…

At this point, I need to stop and digress for a moment. You know those Hollywood movies where you see someone, usually some hero with a beautiful and sexy young woman in his protection, drive a car through a chain-link fence? Forget it. It doesn’t happen that way.

You see, chain link is flexible and giving, but it’s also very, very strong. There ain’t no way you’re driving through a chain-link fence in anything short of an armored, treaded vehicle like a tank or a self-propelled howitzer. It’s not gonna happen.

What DOES happen, in the real world, is that the fence bows, and the car rides up onto the fence and gets caught.

Which is exactly what happened to the hapless protester. His car got hopelessly hung up on the fence and he couldn’t figure out how to free it, so he eventually just abandoned it and walked away.

I saw it there, still hung up on the fence, the next day when i drove to work. the police came, ran the registration, picked the guy up, and that was that.

After that, the protests ended. They just plain stopped, and stayed stopped for years. Too embarrassing, I suppose.

In a way, that’s been a microcosm for the organized anti-abortion movement in the nation as a whole–arguably the most inept and ineffective social movement the nation has ever seen. Groups like Randall Terry’s Operation Self-Aggrandizement Operation Rescue have been good at getting newspaper inches, and have proven very adept at raising money from the faithful. Some of that money goes to administrative costs, a lot of it goes to keeping Randall Terry in his signature $1,000-a-pair alligator-skin boots, and the rest of it seems to be spent on researching new and ever more spectacular ways for the movement to shoot itself in the foot.

Now, the Senate still tosses the issue around whenever they feel like dodging real work, like getting runaway government spending under control or managing the dramatically inept war in Iraq. But for the most part, their heart just doesn’t seem to be in it any more. They’re like that tiny handful of people marching around in front of the clinic last week–but not on weekends and only if, y’know, the weather is nice.

Time was when you could really count on the fanatics. They had the holy light of God (or the holy light of murder–sometimes, they kinda look the same) in their eyes and a fire in their bellies. They would stop at nothing to save a child’s life–or at least, nothing short of, y’know, actually adopting an unwanted baby with cerebral palsey or something.

But today? Today we see one homeless man shaking his fist and pulling down trees. Kinda sad, really. Where’s the real spirit? Where’s the real chutzpah? Where’s the photo op of a bunch of True Believers standing in the rain? I wanted to take pictures, dammit!

Random weirdness

I get crap cell phone reception in my office, so I often have to go outside to take calls.

The day before yesterday, Shelly gave me a call at the office, and so i walked outside the office to talk to her. And found, lying on the ground, a bullet. A squashed and mangled bullet that had hit the side of the office building.

Big fucker, too…looks like a .44 or a .45.

The office building is under new management, and last week the new owners started putting up metal lath on the walls in preparation for a new coat of stucco. The bullet has the impression of the metal lath in it, so it was fired at the building somewhere in the past week.

What is it with this office building? It’s not in a bad part of town or anything, but first part of the building collapses, and now people are shooting at it! Fer Chrissakes…

Happy happy happy!

I should be on my way to see a client right now. Instead, I’m posting in LiveJournal, because I already know what the client’s problem is, and it’s user error, and we’ve been over this particular issue many times already, and the client can wait another five minutes ’cause I’m a bastard. 🙂

I am, however, a deliriously happy bastard.

For starters, smoocherie is going to be in town visiting us next weekend, and on top of that, I just got an email from an old friend I haven’t seen in about seven years saying that she’s in town as well and would like to get together some time this week. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with smoocherie, and the unexpected opportunity to see my friend is absolutely delightful.

And in two weeks, Necronomicon! It’s an annual science fiction convention, which means lots of cool people, drunken debauchery, strip “Are You a Werewolf?”, more freaks than you can shake a cat at (unless it’s a very patient cat indeed), and all the other con goodness that goes with science fiction conventions.

And feorlen is going to be in town in November. I haven’t seen her in forever, and I’m really looking forward to that, too… *bounce*

feorlen, you need to click this link. It’s…it’s…you just need to click it. Trust me.

On the financial front, there might actually be a light at the end of the tunnel for the electronics firm I’m associated with. For those of you not up on the ongoing saga there, I am a minority partner in a small, struggling electronics firm that makes storm detection gear, and has patents on the basic technology behind tornado detection equipment and bomb detection equipment. They’ve been searching for venture capital for quite a few years; the storm detection equipment is available and shipping, but the other gear is still in prototype form, and the company has been running on fumes for quite a while. This has had a disastrous effect on our financial situation, but as I type this, the principals of the company are working on a new source of venture capital that looks very promising indeed.

And if it doesn’t pan out, I may have a backup plan; a company that does high-end workflow and prepress software for the newspaper industry has expressed an interest in me, and is offering rather a good rate of pay.

And on top of all that, I’ve just been irrationally happy and exuberant the past several days.

I’m also sorting floppies.

I have a collection of about seven or eight hundred Mac floppies, some of whjich date back to the mid-1980s, containing software and archives of things I’ve worked on and old letters and images and everything else imaginable, but only have one computer left with a floppy drive that can read them. So I’ve been archiving stacks and stacks of floppies onto DVD. It’s been quite the trip down memory lane–letters I wrote to friends in 1989, scans of pictures of old friends, and an amazing collection of pre-PowerPC software and games and so on. (I have the original floppies of PageMaker 1.0, the first desktop publishing program; Photoshop 1.0, back when it was Mac-only and fit on a floppy; Microsoft Word’s first shipping release…we’re talking OLD stuff here!).

By the way, datan0de, I have a retardedly large stack of floppies of Amiga software, you interested?

And now off to see my client.

Okay, that’s weird…

So my business site is back up, kind of. You can’t surf to it–you get the Network Solutions “domain expired” redirect–but you can load images from it, and my FTP program shows all the files still there.

So I guess that images may or may not load in my journal over the next few days. Grr.

A perfectly sucktackular day…

In which our hero rants about things aggravating him, which are many, and then bends a meme to his own ends.

Okay, first of all, anyone who reads my journal right now won’t be able to see any pictures.

There’s a reason for this. The short form of the reason for this is that of the approximately six billion or so human beings on the planet, about five know how to behave with any maturity when things are emotionally stressful.

The long reason for this is that I have (or, technically, HAD) a business Web site, which once upon a time was registered with and hosted by a small local ISP called “Rapid Systems.” I used this ISP because it is owned by the brother of an old college friend and business partner of mine, and he and I had been friends for quite a number of years. He registered the domain in his own name, not mine.

Fast-forward to last year. My old college buddy and former partner has a falling-out with me, for two reasons: first, he decides (as is typical, it seems, for many people) that he’s going to take sides in my divorce, and second, he owes me money. Has owed me money for a long time. Apparently, he spent the money on something else and doesn’t intend ever to pay me back. So he decides to stop speaking to me, and (I’m assuming) his brother does likewise.

I contacted his brother several times to get the domain name transferred to my name; at first, he kept saying “okay, I’ll do that,” and didn’t, then eventually he stopped responding to me at all. So now the domain has expired. I can’t renew it because my name isn’t on the registration; I can’t re-register it because Network Solutions puts a hold on expired domains.

So you won’t be seeing any images in my LiveJournal until I get this all straightened out. Sorry. I used to host images on my personal site, but it’s been blacklisted by a lot of net blocking software, so until now I had been putting LJ images (save for anything, y’know, sexy) on my business site.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that it’s my business site that’s all screwed up?

So, the meme part. There’s this meme traveling around LiveJournal that tells you to put “[yourname] needs” into Google. Hilarity often ensues.

I did this, and was told by the Great Oracle Google that “Franklin needs a stadium,” “Franklin needs a few hot glue guns,” and “Franklin needs a good nickname.” Not really very interesting.

It gets more fun, though, if you try different variants. Want to see some real hilarity? Try Googling for “[yourname] eats” or “[yourname] hates” instead.

“Franklin eats by gathering five legs in one hand and then pulling the shell away from their still pulsating body.” “Franklin eats from blood stained baskets.” “Franklin eats all the doritoes, and Alby gets pissed, and decides he’s going to invent a bomb to kill frank.”

“Franklin hates the whole idea, but when a drunk gives him a silver dollar and gets him to play a slot machine, everything changes.” “Franklin hates everyone who can walk, and Winston hates everyone who is sober.” “Franklin hates it, but I have to admit, I’m fascinated by it. The amount of snot
that thing can suck down from one nostril is amazing.” “Franklin hates war, but it is his life.”

Hell, let’s keep going, this is fun!

Franklin punches Coach Yesutis and gave him a bloody nose because that was very funny.
Franklin opens the doors of the cabinet and pauses, looking round him suspiciously.
Franklin believes there has been a recent increase in the participation of a younger generation in same-sex activities.
Franklin screams again, praying for Death to come.
Franklin jumps from a helicopter and the bad guys fire machine guns at him.
Franklin tastes like dirt- I don’t recommend it.
Franklin has a diverse arsenal.
Franklin wishes to confine the ‘dark vast forest’ of the soul of man in a barbed-wire paddock.
Franklin knows what to expect from his foe, even with the improved war tactics.

I can’t log on to OK Cupid

Now, this might not ordinarily seem newsworthy, except that I can’t reach OK Cupid, either.

That, of itself, also isn’t newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the reason behind it, which has to do with corporate greed and very poor behavior on the part of some very big companies.

Two very big companies, to be exact. Level 3 Communications, an enormous and giddily spam-happy ISP, and Cogent Communications, an enormous and less spam-friendly ISP.

Cogent is pricing bandwidth very aggressively, and Level 3, they don’t much care for that. So Level 3 has ended its Tier 1 peering agreement with Cogent.

Essentially, in quick and hopefully not too technical terms, it means that two of the biggest carriers of Internet traffic are not speaking to each other right now. What that means is that the Internet has been split; for many end users, there is no way for people on one side of the divide to reach Web sites on the other, and vice versa. For example, right now most RoadRunner customers cannot reach OK Cupid.

Level 3 has been known to do this sort of shit before; in fact, there’s an article on Slashdot about it. Cogent is dealing with the problem by offering current Level 3 customers free connections to the Cogent network, on account of Level 3 being a bunch of mewling, lice-infested, pus-oozing filthy bastards and all.

Cogent Communications has released a statement about the issue. I can’t read it, because I’m on the wrong side of the divide and can’t reach Cogent’s servers.

By all accounts I’ve seen, Level 3 is being a bunch of right bastards here.

So if you’re having trouble reaching certain Web sites, that’s why.

Edit: Less than ten minutes after posting this, OK Cupid became reachable. Clearly, I should have complained sooner!