, March 25, 2007
This is THE definitive resource guide to polyamorous relationships. Sure, there are other books on polyamory out there (but only a few), and most of them have helpful sections and interesting explorations of the subject. But all of them collectively aren't as honest, as thought-provoking, as helpful, as comprehensive, and as all-around terrific as this one book.
Now that I've gushed, let me tell you a bit about why you might not want to read it.
The first twenty-five pages alone will probably raise your hackles, unless you're the sort of person who actually has an open mind (rather than just claiming it, along with wit & sensitivity). Hell, the first seven pages alone made me stop and think pretty darned hard about more than a few concepts, and I've been a fan of the author's writing - especially on this subject - for years (there's my admitted bias). Also, this is not a book for the casual reader or someone who's barely interested in polyamory; it's got something more than twice the wordcount of the average non-fiction book. We're talking textbook here - but not, thank heavens, a dry or difficult read. There is a phenomenal amount of information here, presented sensibly with a lot of heart and wit, but I highly discourage trying to read it cover-to-cover. You miss too much great stuff if you don't take it in moderate-sized bites, to digest and ponder and discuss with your friends & lovers.
Let me be exceedingly clear about one thing: this is not a "chick book." It is a book about relationships, and - let's face it - most people who aren't SNAGs (Sensitive New Age Guys/Gals) assume a relationship book is for women, largely relevant mainly to women, and probably chock-full of gooey sticky emotional stuff, to boot. That's most definitely not the case here. In the introduction alone, the author outlines out the basic mechanics of scientific method, properly pointing out that it's "something employed to solve problems by every thinking being, not merely scientists." This is a practical book that, while acknowledging the impractical & emotional aspects of relationships, doesn't pull punches and doesn't tolerate conveniently-drippy emotional excuses for illogical unethical behavior.
Now for some basic information about the workings of the book: It's divided into two basic parts, Background & History (what polyamory is, what it isn't, common mistakes, a few dozen blunt truths about relationships and communication and all the other stuff that polyamorists assume they're really good at, and much more), and How to actually be polyamorous (core requirements, theory & intent, motivations, boundaries & agreements, the tyranny of time and hydraulics and human failings, and much more). The book is further divided into 75 mini-chapters, each from 2-12 pages long. I personally think this is a fantastic format, considering that each of these mini-chapters is a good chunk to contemplate all on its own.
One of the reasons I'd recommend this book to anyone is that most of what the author says about relationships can easily be adapted to apply to any interaction with someone you care about, whether it be monogamous romances, totally platonic friendships, and even familial relationships. (All the non-sexual aspects of love & relationships examined in the book translate quite well to the non-romantic relationships in your life.) The sections on examining yourself - as an individual who has relationships, rather than an individual who is part of a relationship - are priceless. I really enjoyed the sections on language and meta-language, agendas, coping with change, problem-solving, and the delightfully matter-of-fact tone throughout the book.
There are also those basic points that virtually all other books on the topic overlook entirely, or gloss over, such as the difference between polyamorous relationships that are intentionally closed (aka "polyfidelitous") and those that are situationally so, or the idea that it's not possible to dive right into polyamory without making a whole lot of very painful mistakes, or that relationships of any kind have a fairly-predictable progression (cleverly comparing it to the old computer standard of MTBF, or mean time between failures).
The author makes it quite clear that there is no One True Way, and that everything in the book that isn't scientifically-proven fact is at least a bit tinged by his experiences and biases. And one of those biases is more than a little cynicism (or, as I like to call it, realistic expectations). Parts of the book do seem to lean rather toward the flavor of, "Are you sure you want to do this poly thing? No, really, it's not all sunshine & flowers. Just think about it a little more. Please, let me tell you about a few more pitfalls before you make up your mind. Well, okay, be polyamorous then...but it's gonna sting." Now, while that's a hell of a lot better than, "Oh, polyamory is soooo joyous and rewarding and bee-you-tee-ful, that I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to immediately hop into a happy little quad and convert all your friends to polyamory (or dump your non-poly friends) and spread the word that love is all you need, don'cha know?!", it can almost start to seem less like a matter-of-fact discussion and more like a pointed warning. As I said before, taking the book in moderate batches is a really good idea, and I recommend reading it with as much objectivity as possible.
But do read it. You won't regret it.