Nonmonogamy for Men: The Big Picture

This guide was originally put together as a handout for a class on nonmonogamy aimed at men. Before finishing it, I decided to switch to a “tips” format instead, so I am publishing the portion that was finished, which covers the high-level conceptual stuff but does not get down into specific attitudes or the practical advice. This should be read as an addendum to standard poly 101 information, such as my guide. Also, see the sex parties for men essay.

A while ago I noticed a problem in my polyamorous social circles, namely that some of the guys just are not doing that well, in terms of finding partners, dating, and generally succeeding at nonmonogamy. In particular, the guys who are new to nonmonogamy seem to make a lot of blunders. Sometimes these are spectacular and result in those guys giving up and going back to monogamy, but other times they seem to take the form of a steady failure to date, or a quickly cycling through relationships. Of course, there are plenty of men who take well to nonmonogamy (myself included), espcially those who have been doing it for a long time. That said, longevity is no guarantee of success – some of the frustrated guys at my recent class on this subject had been polyamorous for over a decade but could still not get their groove on. My hope with the discussions below is that they will help other guys hopscotch past a lot of the conceptual traps that hold us back.

This paper is aimed at men who are attracted to women, which covers both straight men and bisexual men’s interactions with women. It is somewhat useful for men who are attracted to men, and for women, though many of the things I say will not apply. In many ways, men’s sexual/romantic interactions with men are very different than what I describe here, and of course the same goes for women’s interactions with women. I am focusing on men’s attitudes towards and involvement with women because that is where I have experience, and where some of the biggest problems reside.

There are a lot of generalizations in here, including lots of “men tend to” and “women tend to” statements. These are necessary in order to sum up the general way things work, but there will of course be particular men, women, or situations that are exceptions to anything I say.

Table of Contents

   The Valley of the Dolls
   Women are Defensive (With Good Reason)
   It’s a Small Scene
   The Gender Split
   Find Your Attraction
   Work on Yourself
   Take Your Time

The Valley of the Dolls

Men have this persistent fantasy that if you just find the right scene, if you poke your head through the right door, you will happen upon rooms full of gorgeous women eager to have sex with you.

We see this in porn all the time. The primary justification for people having sex in porn movies seems to be that they have found themselves in the same room. Or perhaps outdoors in the same location. Their response to this incredible coincidence is: “Oh hi! Wanna fuck?” Sometimes they throw in a little bit of justification to spice things up. “Oh hi! You’re the plumber! Wanna fuck?” “Oh hi, hubby! You just caught me having sex with the pool boy! Wanna fuck?” “Oh hi! I’m interviewing for a job. Wanna fuck?”

This is of course not just confined to video porn. Pick up Letters to Penthouse sometime: it reads just like a porn script. When men write down their fantasies, we often see these themes of sexual abundance and availability.

I call this mythological place full of nubile enthusiastic women the Valley of the Dolls, after Russ Meyer’s sexploitation film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Russ Meyer’s movies generally featured tall women with huge breasts having sex with… everyone. Because these movies were made in the 60’s or 70’s, they ended on a moralistic tone to avoid the wrath of the censors, with the loose women getting married or killed. But their draw was the promise of easy sex with amazonian women.

Back in the era of free love, there may have actually been some Valley of the Dolls situations, though I suspect the rumors are overblown. A number of factors in the 80’s ended this: AIDS, an increase in cultural sexual repression, and women realizing that free love may have been designed more for men than them.

Despite changing times, the Valley of the Dolls is still heavily present in men’s imaginations. There is a guy in the San Francisco scene whom I see every once in a while, who always asks me where he can find the play parties with the “hot young things”. I am always speechless. First, what he is looking for does not exist. Second, why does he think that I am the connection to this mystical event? Third, he will ask me this at parties that are full of very cool sex radical women (and men – he is bisexual) who would probably be willing to do all sorts of nasty with him if he could take the time and get to know them a bit. But he cannot, because he is too busy chasing a dream and cannot see what is right in front of him.

Here is the kicker, guys. The harsh truth. The thing you need to repeat to yourself again and again.

There is no Valley of the Dolls.

There is no party you can walk into where strange women will just throw themselves on you. There is no “Oh hi! Wanna fuck?” It is never that straightforward. There is always some effort involved, and usually it takes a lot of effort. Porn is lying to you. So are Letters to Penthouse. You may have heard from some guy about his Valley of the Dolls experience, but there is a good chance he was describing a fantasy to you, not something he actually did. Men produce these fantasies all over the place, and often try to pass them off as real in a grown-up version of locker room boasting.

There is a core piece of the Valley of the Dolls fantasy that is untenable: the idea that some women will make themselves sexually available to men just because they are that sort of woman. “That sort of woman” does not exist. What actually happens is that women have sex with men because they are attracted to those men. (Which should be obvious to us, but many guys seem to forget.) There is some level of negotiation involved, and women have input into that negotiation. The negotiation often takes time and energy, though other times it is quick. At sex or play parties the negotiation may seem fast and painless, but there is actually almost always some leadup, usually either people scoping each other out from across the party or some kind of shared history in the scene.

I think men are obsessed with the Valley of the Dolls for three reasons.

First, the sexual accessibility of women seems to be a central theme: the idea that there are women out there who will sleep with you because you are just in the same room. In our culture which sets up women as the gatekeepers of sexuality, men are trained to be attracted to women just because those women are available for sex. Which is about as low as standards get, and can cause all sorts of problems when men try to figure out which women they are actually attracted to.

Second, the women in these fantasies are never picky about their men. They are happy to have sex with whomever walks through the door. There are no real women like this. Real women have their own sexual agency, and they are looking for men they are attracted to. They are not interested in getting it on with men they are not attracted to, and just like everyone else, they are probably only attracted to a relatively small subset of people. Somehow this little detail gets lost in these fantasies, and it is not hard to see why. The fact that women are actually evaluating men is a major point of insecurity. Men tend to go way out of their way to deny the existence of women’s sexual agency, because if these men can pretend that women are not judging them, it means they do not need to worry about themselves: their attractiveness, their intellect, or whether they are acting like an asshole.

Third, these fantasies evade any sort of responsibility. There is no need to get to know someone first. There is no need to take them out to dinner afterwards. There is no need to use a condom (thus, there are very few condoms in porn) because there are none of the real-world worries about STDs or pregnancy. Sex in the Valley of the Dolls is free and uncomplicated. In fact, it is so uncomplicated that it cannot exist in the real world, where other people are complicated beings with needs and agendas of their own, and where all sorts of meaning attaches to sex.

If we look at the three elements, a pattern emerges. All three motivations boil down to having control of the sexual situation: women who are sexually available to any guy and who do not bring their own motivations into play, set in situations outside the social contract. Control is a staple of sexual fantasies (including many women’s fantasies), but control at this level is antithetical to actual sex with another person. If you have this level of control, what you have on the other end is not a person. In fact, it is usually a book, website, or video. There is nothing wrong with masturbating to control fantasies, but beyond a certain point the fantasy is not going to become reality.

(I can hear the domination/submission types in the audience gnashing their teeth. Even the strictest D/S arrangement involves some level of agency on the part of the submissive, or it is no longer D/S and has wandered into the territory of actual sexual slavery. My point here is that these fantasies tend towards an unrealistic level of control of the sexual situation, even when compared with real-life D/S. In fact, D/S erotica falls prey to the same pattern: as anyone who has done D/S can tell you, the actual negotiation involved is a lot more subtle and complex than what happens in Anne Rice’s Beauty series.)

Unfortunately, most depictions of nonmonogamy in popular culture fit the Valley of the Dolls model. It goes the other way as well: men’s sexual fantasies as played out in porn or erotica seem to require nonmonogamous women (and men). This has always struck me as a bit odd, given that men with these fantasies are usually unwilling to date nonmonogamous women themselves. Perhaps this is because sexually fantastic women like this must be on the wrong side of the madonna/whore split, or perhaps it would be somehow logically inconsistent for a man in these fantasies to be nonmonogamous while the women are monogamous to him.

In any case, the consistent association of nonmonogamy with the Valley of the Dolls has meant real trouble for real-life practicing nonmonogamous people. It means that men in particular enter nonmonogamous scenes with a totally unrealistic set of expectations: they assume that the scene will operate just like those movies and websites they have been looking at.

Women are Defensive (With Good Reason)

The reason that there is always negotiation is that women tend to be on the defensive in sexualized environments – and nonmonogamous scenes or online personals always have a slightly sexual air, whatever the intentions of their organizers or attendees. I think a lot of men have trouble understanding that this defensiveness is for a good reason: women are generally worried about sexual safety. This worry comes from a number of places.

First, our culture tells them to be worried, as part of a general campaign of keeping women’s sexuality under control. Young women are told that they are worth less once they lose their virginity, and that associating with the wrong guys will lead them to ruin. Sex education reinforces this by driving home a message that messing around will get you STDs and/or pregnant, and this message is reinforced by movies and other media. Sometimes this “sex is dangerous” meme gets frankly ridiculous – for example, when a woman has sex in a horror movie, it is almost always a guarantee that she will be die later in that movie. Of course, many women shrug off this sexual fearmongering as they grow up, but typically at least some of the conditioning takes.

Second, women actually do have to fear for their safety where sexuality is a concern. Somewhere around one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, typically by someone they already know, and in many cases by someone they are on a date with. Women who have not been assaulted often know other women who have been, so it is an immediate concern. Of course, there are no easy ways to tell which guys are the sort that would sexually assault you, so many women find ways to feel out a guy and establish trust before anything sexual happens.

Which directly collides with the third issue, namely that guys are really pushy about getting dates with women and having sex with them. When a woman meets a man for the first time, there is a decent chance that he will hit on her in a clumsy, inappropriate, or pushy manner. If she says no (which she almost always does), he may insult her or try to make her feel guilty. Women deal with this sort of harassment on the street and on the job. So, when a man approaches a woman (in person or online), she starts already in a defensive position, because she has had to deal with so much crap previously. It is important to understand that she has every reason to be defensive.

Women’s defensiveness means that guys have to take special care not to be that pushy guy. Above all, this means a slow ramp-up: not giving her your number immediately, having conversations without coming on to her or flirting too hard, running into someone multiple times, and so on. Many of the issues covered below are a direct result of this bad dynamic between men and women. Of course, there are specialized situations where things move much faster, such as sex parties. But, even in these situations rituals develop that ensure that women feel safe – or they stop showing up.

This need to take things slow means that there is no Valley of the Dolls. Queer men do have some situations that resemble the Valley, most obviously bathhouses, where guys hook up mostly based on physical attraction, and there is little expectation of lead-up or follow-up. There is no heterosexual equivalent to the bathhouse. It might be tempting to get bitter about this situation, but I encourage you to take that energy and instead focus on making the culture sexually safe for women, because that is the only way to change things.

It’s a Small Scene

There are not a lot of openly nonmonogamous people. And when I say “not a lot”, I mean that a tiny tiny proportion of the population does this: somewhere between one in fifty people and one in twenty, depending on how you make the estimate.

To put it differently, it can be really hard to find people who are up for something other than monogamy. This is true even if you just want some people to talk to on the subject who are not horrified by the thought. But it gets much worse when you are looking for people to date or have sex with. There are of course the usual concerns around whether they are attracted to you and you are attracted to them, which already cuts the number of possibilities down to a fraction of the people you meet. If you are looking for people who are not monogamous, that slashes the number of potential partners in your circles by another couple orders of magnitude. If you are looking for a particular type of nonmonogamy (poly, swinging, open, kinky) then the situation is even worse, since you have to find people looking for the same thing.

Monogamous people are generally used to being able to date pretty much anyone who takes their fancy and is available, since most other people are monogamous. So, monogamous people often end up getting involved with co-workers, people they meet at the gym or on the plane, neighbors, and so on. Nonmonogamous people rarely have that luxury, because our neighbor has at best a one in twenty chance of being one of us. Once you pile on all the other things that can narrow the search (like gender, mutual attraction, and situation) then dating random people that you run into becomes somewhere between difficult and impossible.

This can come as quite a shock to someone who is used to dating in a monogamous world. Indeed, many people who decide they want to be nonmonogamous take a long time after that decision to actually end up in a situation where they are involved or having sex with more than one person. I am not talking about two weeks: three months to a year is more common. The delay is due to a learning curve, where the person new to nonmonogamy has to effectively re-learn how to date due to the new situation, and in particular has to learn how to cope with a severely limited dating pool.

To give yourself a sense of what these numbers actually mean, take a minute and remember all the people you have dated or had sex with in your formerly monogamous life (assuming you had such a life). Think about all the effort involved in finding those compatible people. Now, imagine that only one in ten of those people was actually compatible with you, which is what we are dealing with (optimistically) when you take all the monogamous folks out of the picture. How much harder would you have had to search to find those partners? How much more effort would you have had to put in? Are you getting a sense of the scale of the issue?

This is not to say that there are no nonmonogamous people around. In the greater San Francisco region, I would estimate that the number of nonmonogamous people is counted in the tens of thousands. Indeed, there are a number of regular polyamorous gatherings, a similar number of registered (with NASCA) swinger parties, three separate dungeons holding frequent and regular events, and a huge underground of people in open arrangements who are not associated with any particular group or community. But this is an area whose population is counted in the millions. So while there are plenty of nonmonogamous people, we are still rare in relation to the overall population. Picking each other out of the crowd is difficult, and made more difficult by the fact that most nonmonogamous people do not advertise their habits, typically out of fear for their jobs or similar closeting reasons.

The solution to this numbers problem is typically to gather in groups. If we put in the upfront effort to seek out and spend time around other nonmonogamous people, then our chances of finding partners go way up. In fact, one of the primary purposes of nonmonogamous community is finding compatible people. Certainly, nonmonogamous communities serve many other functions: for example the public polyamory community seems to be largely set up to teach people skills and provide support. But at the same time, it is doubtful that these communities would exist without the draw of locating other nonmonogamous folks. There are of course a lot of nonmonogamous people who fly under the radar and do not join any sort of public or official community. But in most cases, these people develop networks of nonmonogamous friends, which serve the dual purpose of providing support and functioning as a dating pool, basically a different sort of community. For example, most of the polyamorous people I know have at least a minimum set of other poly friends. I will use the term “scene” to describe any of these groupings of nonmonogamous folks, whether formal or informal.

However, due to the relatively small number of people engaged in nonmonogamy, there tend to be a limited number of scenes in any particular area, and each scene tends to be rather small. We end up with a number of effects as a result, each one of which I will mention here and then discuss in a section on its own.

First, it can be really hard to break into a scene. Depending on the scene and the region in question, it can be really hard to just find the scene in the first place. On top of this, nonmonogamous communities tend to be fairly insular. This is partly due to closeting concerns and partly to avoid a constant problematic influx of new folks carrying the prejudices and misconceptions of the larger culture. Once in the door, it still takes a while to learn the particular customs and rituals of the scene, and further time to get to know people and settle in.

So, getting into a scene takes time. Scenes reward people who are patient, flexible, and able to handle a couple rounds of rejection. Getting into a scene takes actual effort, and the process tends to weed out those who are not fairly committed to their practice of nonmonogamy.

Some people manage to circumvent this process successfully by using online personals services, and the ability to connect through the internet seems to be fueling the current growth in nonmonogamy. However, the personals require a different sort of commitment, and even on the biggest personals sites the pool of nonmonogamous possibilities is still relatively limited. In a way, we can think of the online personals as a different sort of scene, one with its own set of customs and skills, which in fact can be specific to the particular website in question.

In addition, the small size of the nonmonogamous population means that there is less room for a negative reputation. In the larger monogamous world, men sometimes use the anonymity of crowds as a shield for their own bad behavior, switching from social group to social group to avoid censure. In this way, they continue bad dating practices, both relatively benign bad habits that tend to scuttle men/women interactions, and seriously harmful acts like controlling behavior, stalking, harassment, and rape. If a particular social group wises up, men will just move to a new social group or social venue, which while not painless is quite possible in the monogamous world.

In small nonmonogamous scenes, there is much less room to do this. Word gets around fast, and a person who is known for acting poorly will often find themselves with a stunning lack of dating options. If a person messes up so bad that they have to leave the scene, it is a major setback, because they then have to start over in a new group, meeting and getting comfortable with new people. Worse, scenes often share members. This is especially true in rural areas or small cities, but even in large sex-positive cities there can be a significant overlap across groups. Getting a bad enough reputation in one group may quickly get one locked out from all the groups in the area, making the actual practice of nonmonogamy difficult or impossible short of moving to a new region. Some men try to work around this using the online personals, but even there word gets around because there just are not that many people. That cute swinger you are chatting up may well know people at that swing club where you offended someone last week. In fact, at least the poly and BDSM communities have a informal reference system in place: often before meeting or playing with someone new, a person will actually check up on them by asking around in the community.

So, nonmonogamy goes a lot better with good relationship skills and a commitment to not acting like an asshole towards one’s lovers, even unintentionally. In addition, people make a point of keeping breakups amicable and staying friends with exes, because they want to continue moving in the same small circles with those same exes.

The Gender Split

In addition to dealing with the repercussions of moving in a small scene, nonmonogamous men have to face the fact that there are simply more men interested in any particular nonmonogamous scene than women. In other words, a gender imbalance.

I see this gender imbalance as a cultural artifact. It is not a surprising outcome given that we raise men with the message that they should be studly and having sex with whomever (at least while young) and at the same time women are told to be chaste and only have sex in the context of a monogamous relationship. This double standard exists in the larger culture in order to give men more sexual freedom than women, and it is effective at that (though that is really not a laudable goal). However, it backfires badly for men who are interested in nonmonogamy with women, because it means that the pool of women is always smaller.

Now, the gender imbalance is not ridiculous – there are still plenty of women involved in nonmonogamy. But it is real none the less. For example, a friend of mine surveyed an online poly dating site and discovered that there were about twice as many men on that site as women. I think this two-to-one ratio is pretty typical (though there are no statistics on this), but the actual ratio varies widely from one scene to another. Mixed-gender scenes that are friendlier to women have a ratio that is pretty close to one-to-one, while scenes that are unfriendly to women will have a vanishingly small number of women.

The upshot of this imbalance is that women (who are attracted to men) are in demand, and they know it, and nonmonogamous men know it as well, or end up learning it very quickly once they enter a scene.

As a result, nonmonogamous women are generally unwilling to deal with the usual crap that men put them through out in the mainstream world. In the monogamous world, there is this persistent sense that there are not enough men to go around. I am not sure if there are actually less men, given that statistics often suggest otherwise. But there is a constant media message that women have to hurry up and find a mate now, which at least produces the myth that there are less men. As a result, monogamous women are often willing to look past bad behavior of various sorts in order to stick with a guy they like.

Nonmonogamous women, on the other hand, are generally not so accommodating. This is doubly true for the majority of women in the scene who already have a primary partner and are looking for other partners or casual play buddies. If someone pulls crap on them, they just look elsewhere, and there are plenty of elsewheres to check out. This creates an interesting situation where guys coming into a nonmonogamous scene often try to behave in the way that they are used to acting in the mainstream world, and they hit a brick wall of women who are unwilling to take it, and other men who are supportive of those women. The usual result is the rapid learning of hard lessons, or a quick ejection from the scene.

Swingers in the audience might be objecting at this point – after all, swinger parties generally have slightly more women than men. But this is not due to a lack of interest on the part of men, but rather because single men are generally not allowed at these parties. Similarly, swingers who meet online generally are M/F couples looking for other couples. These practices ensure a gender balance. However, I would argue that the upshot is still that women have a lot more say in how things go than in the monogamous world, because the couple cannot swing if the woman loses interest. Indeed, at many swinger parties is the custom for the women to arrange the hookups.

In addition to changing the balance of power, the gender split means that there is simply more competition from other men. Finding women partners takes more effort and more time than expected, and it is important to consider one’s approach closely, something that is not required in the monogamous world.

However, the good news is that the practice of nonmonogamy itself can even this out a bit. For example, if there are somewhat more men than women at a sex or BDSM party, this may just mean that women get somewhat more play, but men are still doing pretty well. Similarly in the poly world, women might have on average more partners than men, but most men still end up with at least two partners.

I often run into men who have gotten bitter about the gender imbalance, either online or in person. Sometimes they give up on nonmonogamy entirely once they realize that there is a gender imbalance. Other times they continue but tend to complain a lot about it. Other guys still will embark on a crazy quest to find a scene where there are more women than men, basically looking for the Valley of the Dolls. These reactions are all a bad idea. The complaints may be accurate (though usually I find they are overblown) but complaining is never sexy, and guys who get bitter about their dating prospects tend to doom those same prospects through their bitterness.

Sure, the gender balance seems unfair. But if you have a problem with that, I recommend that you go work on fixing our mainstream culture, which tells women of all ages that sleeping around makes them a slut. Until the slut-shaming of women in the larger culture is fixed, we will have this local problem in nonmonogamous scenes. Getting upset or complaining about the effects on nonmonogamous men is frankly kind of petty, given that the larger cultural problem is really detrimental to women as a whole.

Find Your Attraction

Men are told all sorts of things about our sexuality. We are told that we are constantly voracious and ready for sex. We are told that we always say yes to sex with women when it is offered, to the point that men are do not even think of the possibility that they might say no, resulting in a good deal of confusing signals and lackluster sex.

Paradoxically, right alongside being told that we should be willing to have sex with anyone, we are taught to separate women into “hot” and “ugly” categories, with the hot women looking like the models in the magazines at the checkout stand. Of course, those women do not actually look like that: the pictures have been photoshopped to within an inch of total absurdity, and often beyond. In other words, we are taught that what we are really attracted to are very specific bodies, bodies that are so rare that the number of women who have them are a vanishingly small minority. (In fact, we make the standards of women’s beauty pretty much impossible to fulfill, as evidenced by the popular magazines that spend their pages critiquing tiny little things about how movie stars look.)

So we are conditioned via two seemingly contradictory cultural/media myths: one which insists that men must be attracted to all women, and another that men are only attracted to a very particular sort of woman. While these two cultural imperatives seem to be at odds, they are both types of sexism. The first myth is an attempt to justify men’s bad sexual behavior, in particular rape, with a “he couldn’t help himself” defense. In addition, it is insulting to women because it implies they are interchangeable. The second myth creates a standard of beauty that is unachievable for most women, devaluing women’s real bodies and creating a storm of insecurity.

Both myths create problematic behavior in men. In addition to being an excuse for sexual assault or harassment, the first myth leads guys to engage in spamming behavior when looking for women, which I will discuss below. The second myth can cause men to ignore women who do not fit the conventional ideal, and simultaneously give way too much attention to women who come close to the beauty standard (which basically becomes harassment). Respecting women requires getting away from both of these myths.

Both myths have a curious side effect on how men think: they prevent us from figuring out the type of women we are attracted to, because they paint men as being either hot for all women or almost none. Of course, actual men are typically attracted to some subset of women. Sometimes this might be a large subset, like a third of women. Other guys are only attracted to a very small number of women. A particular guy will have a particular things he is attracted to: short women, smart women, women who are cynical, women who like to dance, tough women, and so on. It is these components of desire that determine which women he will find sexy.

If you watch TV or read a popular magazine, it would seem that there is only one type of attractive woman out there: thin, feminine, middle or upper class, and probably white. And in fact, some men end up fully conditioned by media to only be attracted to these women. But most of us do not. Most men end up with a set of actual attractions towards women that simply do not line up with anything you can find in the pages of Cosmo or mainstream porn.

But at the same time, the constant bombardment of particular types of images can have a funny effect on us: sometimes we get convinced that we are attracted to the media standard, even when our attractions lie elsewhere. I have seen a lot of men with this funny kind of doublethink, where they might go on and on about how they like tall women with pornstar bodies, but the actual women they date are consistently short and round. Taken to an extreme, this sort of attraction disconnect can lead to self-hating and abuse of one’s partner: I knew one man who dated a particular type of woman, but then would always tell his current girlfriend that he thought she was ugly. He clearly had a specific set of attractions, but he had been brainwashed into thinking that the women he desired were somehow inferior.

On top of all this, men are constantly told that we are primarily attracted to bodies, to physical aspects of people. We see this assumption everywhere from “sex sells” billboards to swimsuit issues to visual porn. Again this training takes for some men, but it fails for most of us. We are actually attracted to a combination of physical and personality traits, and often personality trumps a person’s physical appearance. But again, we often lose sight of this fact, and are convinced that we are only hot for butts, boobs, hair, or some other combination of body parts. We end up with another desire disconnect, where we think that we are primarily looking for particular bodies, when we are really looking for personality with a side dish of physicality.

The upshot of all this is that most men are not quite sure what we want when it comes to women. We blunder around, often successfully following our gut feelings, but typically not quite sure where those feelings are coming from. Very few men can list off a set of traits that they are looking for in women, and then have that set of criteria accurately predict whether or not they will click well with someone. Often a guy’s friends can better identify his type than he can.

Certainly this describes me, at least up until recently. In retrospect, my high school and college dating career can be described as a series of missed opportunities because I was unaware of who actually turned my crank. I only figured out that I was into BDSM because all three women I was dating at one point were kinky, and that finally caused the kinky clue-by-four to hit me. These days I feel like I am actually getting a solid handle on the factors that make up my attraction to others, and it took almost two decades of dating to get to this point.

I encourage my guy readers to explore your own attraction. If you are the type of guy who has always been willing to get with most anyone (like me), then try to narrow things down and focus on whom you would really prefer. If you ended up very narrowly attracted to conventional bodies, then try to widen your scope and consider how you might find non-conventional women attractive. A good place to start either introspection is your own history: what women really did it for you, either in terms of your relationship or in bed? Were you ever surprised by your own lack of interest once you ended up getting to know a woman, or have you ended up having sex that was not fun for you even though the person you were with was nominally your type? Have you ended up with someone who was not your type, but you were strangely hot for anyways? When we end up in these situations where our own desires surprise us, it is usually a hint that we have one of these desire disconnects: we think we want one thing, when we actually want something else.

While doing this discovery, remember that personality is paramount. What personality traits do you find attractive in women? Shy? Accomplished? Social? Introverted? Feminine? Butch or tomboyish? Considerate? Inconsiderate? Nerdy? Stubborn? Funny? Happy? Vulnerable? Mature? Innocent? Dynamic? Chill? Active? Politically aware? Stubborn? Kinky? Gentle? Rough? Sometimes figuring out what we desire can expose some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. For example, I have met a number of guys who were attracted to clueless women because they are easier to boss around. Do not shy away from these truths if you run across them: the first step to fixing your own behavior is recognizing it. Also, note that you may well be attracted to different traits that are impossible to find in one person, like cutesy and sophisticated. This is good because it means you have a flexible set of desires, and of course if you are not monogamous, then you can potentially find these different traits in different people.

Of course, do not ignore the physical aspects of attraction. But try to remember that there is a lot more to physical attraction than breasts and butt. Maybe you have a thing for a certain sort of hair, or skin tone, or body curve, or hands, or eyes, or facial structure. Sometimes the physical elements we want are not reducible to a body part: maybe you are attracted to someone who is strong or wiry, or who moves with a particular style. Again, you may be attracted to various things that are contradictory. For example, I am attracted to both long and short hair on women, in different ways. It is hard, but try to step away from the conventional standards of beauty. Get a handle on who you are really attracted to, not who you think you should be attracted to.

Learning to recognize your own attraction makes dating and hooking up so much easier. If you are narrowing down, it means that you can stop haphazardly bouncing around and instead focus your energy on meeting the people who really knock your socks off. If you have been stuck on mainstream standards of physical beauty, then realizing what other sorts of women you desire will break you out of the cycle of endlessly chasing a small number of women who may not even do it for you. Either way, self-knowledge gets you a better set of dating options.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with nonmonogamy. The monogamous world tends to curtail the sort of bad behaviors caused by these attraction myths. In the land of monogamy, guys do not hit on every woman who walks by because they assume most women are taken. In nonmonogamous settings, it is quite possible that every woman walking by is theoretically available. Even if they are not actually available, the slut stigma that adheres to nonmonogamous women means that most men will assume they are available. So, men are then encouraged to hit on every woman who walks by. Similarly, the tendency of monogamous types to pair off tends to buffer the mobbing/ignoring that happens due to mainstream beauty standards. When people are playing outside of the couple paradigm, then the tendency of guys to go for conventionally attractive women to the exclusion of others ends up creating very unbalanced and uncomfortable situations.

Nonmonogamous scenes have become sensitive to these behaviors, and tend to resist them. Hitting on every woman at the party will quickly get you labeled as creepy and possibly thrown out. Making a beeline for the most conventionally attractive woman at the party will cause people to think you are shallow (correctly), and will not impress anyone.

The good news is that the nonmonogamous world is also a good place to figure out your attraction. Sometimes monogamous people do not figure out their desires until late in life, or not at all. Because nonmonogamous people have a larger number of partners, we more rapidly learn our own desires. In addition, there is usually a greater ability to experiment. If there is some person whom you are attracted to but is not your usual type, you may well be able to go for it because you are not necessarily looking for that person to be the be-all and end-all of your romantic life.

Work on Yourself

For most men, the idea that they might want to change some things about themselves to become more attractive is somewhere between alien and disturbing. We are simply not taught that we should consider our own attractiveness as a factor, and instead people will just be attracted to us because we are just that cool. This is great for the self-esteem, but creates a huge blind spot for us around the possible reasons that women might be finding us attractive or unattractive.

Of course, women are taught from birth that they have to work to be desirable. Usually this focuses on appearance: how to do their hair, how to put on makeup, how to exercise oneself into the right sort of body, and so on. But personality is also well-known as a factor: how to be charming, how smiling is important, and so on. Women end up thinking a lot about this stuff. This gap between the genders has been slowly closing: men are starting to consider their own attractiveness, in particular queer men. However, there are still lots of men who rarely consider their own desirability, and in fact we tend to actively resist any real discussion of our own attractiveness with knee-jerk negative reactions whenever the subject comes up.

I want to say that I am not talking about one’s approach here. Guys do spend a lot of time working on their approach: the right way to flirt with someone, the right pickup line, and so on. But these same guys do not think much about their overall personality, look, or what have you. Here is the thing: approach does not matter in the slightest if the person is not attracted to you, and women will have likely figured out whether or not they are attracted to you before any approaches happen, yours or theirs. (Or if they have not figured it out, that means you are headed for rejection anyways.) So, how you look, talk, act, and the general overall impression you make are much more important than one-liners or pickup strategies. (And as a bonus, if you are in an attractive mode, women will sometimes come on to you.)

This blind spot around our own desirability can make it difficult for us to effectively find partners, whether we are talking sex, BDSM, or dating. It means that we miss what we might be doing that turns people off, or what we could be doing that turns people on. It means that we can screw up mightily and we blithely blame it on the other person and then do it again two months later. What this means is that a man who spends effort working on himself quickly stands out from the crowd. It is a little sad that it is so easy to do so, but the world’s low standards for men are your opportunity. If you take some time to work on yourself, it will quickly pay off in your social and sexual life. You know how straight women are often attracted to queer guys? This is largely because queer guys are more likely to work on themselves.

Working on yourself does not necessarily mean going to the gym to buff up or slim down. Guys have this strange idea that if they just pump enough iron the women will start flocking to them, which is bullshit. Working out does the trick for some guys just because it makes them feel more attractive and confident, but it is important to remember that being more conventionally attractive does not necessarily make you more attractive to real people living in the real world. Even if we just stick to the physical appearance, there is so much more to work with. Working on yourself might mean dressing up more, or dressing down more. It might mean dressing in a particular style that you like, like goth or grunge or funny tee shirts. Working on yourself might mean learning to love your fuzzy bear side, and finding ways to accentuate that in your appearance. Or it might mean plucking your nose hair. Working on yourself might mean experimenting with hairstyles (shorter? longer? surfer cut? buzz cut?) or it might mean adding or removing facial hair.

I hope I am getting the message across here that there is no one right way to work on yourself. There is no magical formula, like going to the gym and then wearing lots of suits. In fact, nonmonogamous communities tend towards the rebellious and favor unique individuals, so simply looking more conventional is generally the exact wrong way to go, as is trying to fit a cliched stereotype. This is not a makeover. You are not trying to hide who you are, but rather to make your true self visible. Trying to be some ideal caricature of a person will just make you neurotic and not actually make you more attractive. Working on yourself is a process of accentuating the things that are interesting about you.

I can use myself as an example here. I am an effeminate man. I have ignored this facet of myself for most of my life, but a couple years ago I decided to play into it and I started wearing long skirts. The skirts are a better expression of my personality, and while wearing them definitely makes me less of a Real Man(tm), it also gets me noticeably more dates with women.

One way to get a handle one what this might mean is by considering what makes you feel sexy and attractive. Confidence is an important piece of attractiveness, so if your look or personal expression makes you more confident, that is already an improvement. So, start with your own impulses: how would you like to come across differently, either in looks or personality? When have you felt really sexy in a way that did not depend on someone else finding you sexy? Another source is friends. Check around with your friends (of all genders) for recommendations on what little changes you might make, remembering that what works for other guys may not work for you.

Bearing this in mind, let us consider personality for a moment. Personality is more important than looks: you can be the sexiest guy in the world but if you act like an asshole or are stunningly boring your looks will not save you. There are nonmonogamous environments where one’s looks and style are nominally more important than personality, most importantly sex parties and BDSM play parties. In situations where people are mostly looking for hookups, it is sometimes possible to get in and out of a sexy encounter even with a terrible personality match, though such problems will still crop up when flirting and scuttle things. However, if you are looking for a repeat performance with this person (or people), then personality starts to really matter. So, even at play parties, an attractive personality will make a huge difference in how much fun you have.

Think about your own personality. If there are there things about it you like, try accentuating those. If there are things about your personality you do not like, figure out how to change or at least work around them. If you are drawing a blank, then just start paying attention to your social interactions. When do things go well? Poorly? Track how you are feeling when you have a good time socially and/or feel attractive, and how you are feeling when things do not go well. Similarly, keep an eye on when notable things happen. Did everyone at that dinner stop talking to you after that one thing you said? Again, your friends can be useful: ask them to give you their honest opinion on your social habits and personality, both positive and negative aspects (and be emotionally prepared to find out some not-so-flattering things about yourself).

Nervousness is a big problem in social settings, inside or outside of nonmonogamous communities. Remember that in any social situation, how you are feeling will rub off on the people around you. If you are anxious, they will get nervous and twitchy and possibly bail on you, and in any case the socializing will not go well. So, the most important thing is to be relaxed and happy when socializing. I see a lot of guys who seem to be terminally nervous, not just when in a nonmonogamous setting or when dealing with women they are attracted to, but any time they are in a social environment. If this sounds like you, figure out how to relax. Maybe this means going out with friends or maybe you should only socialize in groups smaller than five. Maybe there is some other sort of setting change that will help. Maybe you have been going into social situations with a defeatist attitude, and you just cannot break out of it all night, in which case finding a way to avoid that feeling is paramount. Also, if you find yourself getting tense in any particular situation, consider how you could relax or failing that consider bailing on the situation. I do this: I will often withdraw from parties if I feel myself getting socially anxious, either to a corner or all the way home.

Another big personality issue is being interesting. I do not mean being witty, charming, or debonaire, though those are things to think about. Rather, I am talking about being an interesting person overall. Now, most people are interesting in some way: either they are doing interesting things now or they have some interesting history. The problem is that people usually manage to hide these complex and exciting aspects of themselves. Sometimes this is due to closeting (say, if your interesting pursuits include kinky sexual practices) but mostly this just seems to be a reluctance to lay ourselves on the line and really talk about what we like. And perhaps this is for good reason, as it is true that not everyone will be interested in your rabbit farming hobby or habit of reading esoteric physics manuals. But then, some people will, and even those who are not will start seeing you as a complex being rather than just another face in the crowd.

Again, I can talk about myself here. A number of years ago I got into a sexual and romantic rut after a breakup. I was going to play parties and social events, but the people I ended up playing with were poor matches and nothing seemed to be clicking romantically. So I gave up for a while and started spending my time writing essays like this one instead. Three months later, I was dating three women and discovering my kink. While it may seem odd, my writing was crucial to this in two ways. First, it made me a more interesting person because I was clearly into something that most people do not do, writing non-fiction. Second, it forced me to stop bouncing all over the place and instead just focus on potential dating partners who were especially interesting to me. There is a lesson here: doing something you love is an aphrodisiac. Maybe that is fixing cars, gardening, reading, doing your job really well, or playing video games. Do what you love and then share that love with other people, and some of them will be attracted to you because of it.

If you can integrate what you love with a nonmonogamous community, then you win on all fronts. Here in San Francisco we have polyamorous people who enjoy hiking, so they organize poly hikes. Our local dungeon has a knitting group. Maybe you like swinging and boating, in which case you could attend or hold a small event on the water. Putting your interests in the same place as your nonmonogamous scene means you can do what you love while surrounded by people who are potential dating or play partners, a convenient timesaver for those of us who are too busy.

Through all of this, it is important to remember that people generally have cycles in their sex and relationship lives. Most folks I know go through boom and bust periods. In the bust periods, nothing seems to work and it all feels hopeless. In the boom periods, people get more play than they could possibly handle. We like to blame our bust periods on other people or on the situation but the truth is that we are the common factor. If you are in a rut, spend some time just improving your life in general and also figuring out what exactly is going wrong. Also, just relax and let it take some time. Eventually you will pop out of the down period and then you will have a whole new set of problems, like too many possible dates for a Friday night. Being nonmonogamous is a real boon when a person hits one of these boom cycles where they are just very attractive and in their groove, because we can get involved with more than one person at once, instead of having to pick just one and then have the boom period end without investigating those other opportunities.

Take Your Time

Nonmonogamous men seem to be in a particular hurry, especially those who are new to it. This shows up in a number of different ways: too eager to meet someone in person, preferring to skip past the sex party negotiation and straight to the sex, not willing to invest the time to become part of a nonmonogamous community, and so on.

I think this eagerness is perhaps the Valley of the Dolls myth in operation again. We have been well-trained by porn and other fantasies of sexual accessibility to think that the Valley is just around the next corner. It isn’t, of course. Around the next corner is a complex series of interactions and negotiations with people which, if performed well, will eventually lead to a comfortable and fulfilling sex and/or relationship life. There are of course other things that spur people on, like the kid-in-a-candy store effect of discovering nonmonogamy for the first time when you have been looking for it for a while.

Whatever the reason, I see a lot of guys who are expecting that they will start getting some action very soon. Like, next week soon. This is wildly unrealistic. Some guys do go from zero to sixty, finding dating or sexual partners almost immediately, but they are an exception just due to their particular personality or situation. (Usually this happens because someone was waiting in the wings, and so the work was effectively done before the switch to nonmonogamy.) For most of us, it takes some time.

It is important to approach nonmonogamy much like you would approach dating in the monogamous world. When dating in the mainstream, you expect it to take a while before you find someone with good chemistry. (Or, if you bounce from one relationship directly into the next, people understand that maybe you have a problem and should slow down.) The process of finding the right someone can take months or years, and will involve a lot of false starts.

Romantic dating in the nonmonogamous world is the same, even when you may already have a partner. There is some weird mind flip where people expect that having the one partner on hand should make finding the second or third one easy. But of course, finding that second partner is just as hard as finding that first one was. But somehow people miss this, and I run into a lot of poly guys who are upset because they have been looking for a whole two months (or even two weeks) and nobody has landed in their lap.

Indeed, finding that second person can be harder if you are dating in the smaller pool of nonmonogamy for the first time. It may be a while before you find people that you have chemistry with, and finding them may mean checking out a number of different social scenes before you locate one where you get along well with the people attending. We see this in the polyamory community: there are a lot of small poly social events in my area, each of which has its own personality, and people have to shop around a bit before they find one they are comfortable at.

This seems to be a particular problem for men in couples who have just opened their relationship. Of course, the process of getting to an open relationship situation may have taken years of talking and negotiation, so it is understandable if someone is a little frustrated. (Though it should be said that women rarely exhibit this particular frustration.) But the process of finding people is the same whether or not you have already put a lot of effort into being able to practice nonmonogamy, so this frustration is not useful.

But wait, you say! What about guys who are looking for casual sex or BDSM play? If someone is looking for relatively light-weight sex or play, then it is in theory easier to find people, as they do not have to be date-worthy matches. As it turns out, this theory does not hold up. It is true that one can generally connect with a wider range of people for recreational play, and that the negotiation process for any one encounter is generally shorter. However, there are a lot of other factors that make it difficult to get into nonmonogamous play. If you are looking for a party scene, then finding the right one and getting an invitation can take a while. If you are looking online, then finding an online venue and learning how to work the personals takes a while. Each sex and play scene has its own set of negotiation rituals, and you basically have to learn those rituals before anything happens, which can be a trial and error process. (This is different from dating, where we at least borrow the general framework from monogamous dating.)

On top of all this, having an over-eager (also known as “desperate”) air is a turnoff in its own right, and for good reason. When a woman meets a guy who seems desperate, she will probably assume that he is not going to really try to get to know her, that he has an agenda which will not contain much space for her agenda, and that if things do not go perfectly he will get more frustrated and move on. And she will probably be right. So, being frustrated or in a hurry can be a self-fulfilling prophecy where the desperation itself ensures failure in dating.

So, the lesson of this section is slow down already. Take your time, and measure that time in a scale of months or years. It usually takes someone six months to really get rolling once they decide on nonmonogamy, and it will be a couple years before they are fully settled in. Do not feel like you are immediately entitled to getting some action or having a dating situation work out – you aren’t. Getting there may well require a sustained effort over a long period of time.

In addition to slowing down your expectations, taking it slow applies in a number of other ways.

First, take your time when entering a nonmonogamous scene. Some scenes set up barriers to force this: for example, swinger parties may insist that you attend a clothes-on meet-and-greet before you can go to a sex party, and a dungeon in my area requires that you attend a class on a non-play night before you can become a member. These and other entrance measures are basically in place to keep that drunk guy from blundering in on a Saturday night with a “where’s the hot chicks” attitude.

So, do not be that guy. Recognize that it is going to take some time to integrate into a particular social scene, and until that happens, you will not get dates or play in that scene. You have to be around for a bit, and then you have to meet people, and then the women in the scene need to get comfortable enough with you to date you or play with you. This all takes time – I generally recommend that you attend a particular event three to six times before you start thinking about actually hooking up with people.

Also, try not to get frustrated if things do not work out quickly or if you do not seem to have prospects. If you find yourself at an event where you do not seem to have chemistry with anyone, that is a sign that you should check out other events in your area. But at the same time, consider coming back to this event a couple times. Nonmonogamy events often have a high turnover, and next month some people may show up who are to your liking. Or you may discover over time that the people you did not like at first are more interesting than first impressions would indicate. I often see people bounce through all the events in an area and then give up entirely, without having given any one event enough attention.

If you do the work in one scene and still nothing pans out, then it may be time to think about your flirting behavior or try a new scene.

Second, take it slow with any one woman. Coming on to someone when you first meet them is a guaranteed recipe for failure. She will assume (again, probably correctly) that you do not really know if you are attracted to her, and that you are just hitting on her for relatively shallow physical reasons. Instead, get to know her a bit before any propositions. This might mean running into her a couple times at different iterations of the event, or it may mean having an hour-long animated conversation the first time you meet her. In any case, if you are starting to know her, and she is starting to know you, then both of you can judge the chemistry and decide where to take it from there.

I think guys get worried that they will never see this particular attractive person again if they do not give them their number at this event right now. Indeed, sometimes people disappear never to be seen again. But you will see most of them again, at this event or another event in the (again, small) nonmonogamy scene in your area. And giving someone your number out of the blue is an almost-guarantee of failure, not just in the immediate situation but also in the future. If this woman does throw your number away, then when you two meet again she will remember you as that pushy guy and still have you mentally crossed off the list, even if otherwise she might find you attractive.

74 Responses to “Nonmonogamy for Men: The Big Picture”

  1. Edward Dain Says:

    Nicely said! Could you do one for women now?

    • pepomint Says:

      Ya know, to do that I would have to have a deeply intuitive sense of what goes on in women’s heads. I have the general idea (and presumably many of the concerns are similar to those of men), but not having lived for a long time as a woman in this culture, I do not have the gut sense which I used to compose this set of essays.

      • Edward Dain Says:

        *chuckle*

        It was a bit of a facetious comment, I know.

        But it is rooted out of the observation that in talking with lots of polyamorous women, they have a very similar but different set of issues that they have blinders on about.

        • pepomint Says:

          Yeah, there is totally an opening for someone to write the kick-ass women’s guide to nonmonogamy. There do seem to be a lot of recurring issues, like “why do only creeps hit on me?” and “why do I keep ending up at events where I am not attracted to anyone?”, among others.

        • Jenni Says:

          May I ask what some of those blinders are?

          I’ve seen some people (both men and women, but perhaps somewhat more women) new to the poly community have fallen to “kid in a candy store” phenomenon: they get excited at the possibilities, set up five of more relationships, get stressed out at the increased time demands, then drop them all like so many pie plates.

          There is also the fallacy that nonmonogamy is automatically incredibly easy for women. Gender is one aspect that determines how easy it is to find partners, but there are many others: personality type (particularly introvert/extrovert scale), social skills, age, ethnicity, etc. The original Ethical Slut said something like, “A woman who does not demand monogamy can suddenly become very popular” and made it sound universal.

          Another aspect that makes things harder for some women is who they’re looking for. A woman trying to find women in a poly community has some (certainly not all, but some) of the same problems as men trying to find women. As my mostly-lesbian 101 co-presenter Terri once put it, “But jet packs! I was promised jet packs!”

          • pepomint Says:

            There is also the fallacy that nonmonogamy is automatically incredibly easy for women.

            Right. Nothing I say in the essay should be construed to imply that nonmonogamy is somehow easy for women (of whatever sexuality), or even easier for women than men. Rather, the problems seem to be somewhat different with a lot of overlap.

            The “women in demand” effect I described above doesn’t seem to always help the situation, either. (Though some women work well with it.) Sometimes it means women will be pestered or pressured. Often it means that women will face a large number of come-ons of a variety that they are not particularly interested in.

            Of the factors you mention, age and ethnicity stand out for me. In my local poly community, young women actually have a pretty hard time compared to older women. Also, people of color (women or men) have trouble because of the scene is extra-white, and various other whiteness fallout effects.

  2. Marcia Says:

    Excellent article, as ever. I will be passing this along to some great men I know.

  3. Comrade Cat Says:

    I love effeminate men! I always think it’s cool when men wear skirts. It’s nice to hear someone else talking about them..

    The idea that men don’t know who they are attracted to is fascinating. I never imagined that. (I’m female.) It’s true when I discussed dating patterns with my 2 best male friends in college I mentioned their patterns & they were surprised, but then recognized how they had patterns.

    • pepomint Says:

      Re: men not knowing their own attraction. This is one of the many hidden drawbacks to the way we are bombarded with sexual images of women. Men (who are attracted to women) can kind of just blaze through life assuming a certain attraction, because everyone is telling them that that is how their sexuality works. Of course, more often than not, it works some other way.

      Women I think end up having to discover or build their own sexuality in a way that men do not. Which is of course often a problematic and/or incomplete process, which is perhaps a more serious issue than what men face. But it does mean that women who have managed to do this have a better handle on what they want.

      Re: effeminacy in men. This makes a really good example of how playing up one’s interesting qualities makes one more attractive.

      Regarding their attraction to effeminate men, I would divide women (who are attracted to men) into three categories: a small group that are very attracted to effeminate men, a large group that do not care much one or way or another, and another large group for whom effeminacy is a dealbreaker.

      Here’s the thing though – I’ve never dated that third group. I have always had enough of an effeminate air to turn them off. But at the same time, I was not doing a really good job of attracting the first group, because I was playing down my feminine qualities. So when I started femme-ing it up, there was a noticeable improvement in my dating life because I became more attractive to women in the first group.

      I’ve seen some femme-y guys go the other direction, and really try to butch it up and cover. I think that’s a shame from a gender politics point of view, and also just bad dating strategy. Of course, dating isn’t the only thing at play here – some of them might be doing it to get more respect at work or from their families, for example.

      • Jenni Says:

        Men (who are attracted to women) can kind of just blaze through life assuming a certain attraction, because everyone is telling them that that is how their sexuality works. Of course, more often than not, it works some other way.

        One obvious example: I’ve seen quite a few hetero men who are thrilled to have sex with an unconventionally attractive woman (BBWs, other ethnicities, older, etc.), but are petrified at the thought of their male friends seeing them together.

        I’m attracted to many types of guys–I currently have a boyfriend who sometimes describes himself as “fey” and a more traditionally masculine husband.

    • Blade Says:

      Hi Cat! :) Fancy bumping into you here.

      Actually, I’ve seen this myself quite a bit. Men often don’t know themselves very well. Add onto that that it seems very few people really know their own sexuality very well, no matter where their gender falls. I found that very common with the women I dated in college. It was a world where, as my wife puts it I was ‘awash with young women with developing sexualities and a new-found sense of freedom’. And I found that many of these women weren’t entirely sure what they liked, or even what felt good to them physically.

      So I think across the board, people just don’t know what they like. And it underscores my belief that sexuality is as much a learned skill as anything else. While some people just seem to be naturally talented at it, it really does take introspection, awareness and mindfulness.

  4. Jennifer Says:

    I think this is mostly very useful, but when you started talking about “Working on yourself” I was surprised to see how many paragraphs of that there were about appearance & presentation before you got to attitude and emotional smarts. My criteria for men being attractive are way more about attitude and thought than they are about appearance. I mean if I see someone before I hear them talk, then obviously I notice their appearance first, but any attraction based on that can be overridden to an immense degree by what they subsequently say and how they behave. People I’ve been seriously interested in, it’s pretty much always been provoked by something they said, though occasionally by a more generic noticing of their competence. And likewise when I think “naaah” about someone I’d previously been considering, it’s often because they failed to meet my standards of emotional competence / politics / reliability.

    So if I were writing a guide to men “working on themself” to be more attractive to me, it would start off more like

    a) Make sure you’re always reliable / do what you said you would do, e.g. turn up on time, phone if you said you’d phone. This goes with…

    b) Have a basic level of common sense competence so you’re not always getting into unnecessary emotional/practical dramas which you have to be rescued from [though this is _my_ taste - I realise some people enjoy the rescuing].

    c) Develop your listening skills (I recommend Nancy Kline’s book Time To Think).

    d) Develop your emotional intelligence e.g. your ability to pay attention to what other people are feeling, and to respond appropriately/compassionately to other people’s statements of feeling.

    e) Learn about the world’s prejudices (e.g. sexism, racism) so you can get better at challenging them or at least not perpetrating them.

    f) Have interesting stuff going on in your own life / express your creativity/energy/enthusiasms.

    g) Get over any grudges you were holding against past exes & work on being at peace in your relationships with friends & family.

    Conversely a deal-breaker would be any kind of manipulative behaviour about which the average woman would go “ewwwwwww!”. But I haven’t put that in the list, because I think people operating on that “putting the moves on someone” basis aren’t even in the same game as “working on yourself”.

    And I do agree that someone unabashedly expressing something about themself through their clothes/haircut/style is a nice thing to witness. But in a way I think that’s more about the self-expression than it is about the resulting appearance. It would be part of my item (f).

    ==

    Also, to address the thing about women fancying queer men: for me, I think this has a lot to do with them having stepped out of, or been forced out of, the mainstream paradigm of masculinity to some degree. There’s so much terrible macho bullshit that men are socialised into, and as far as I’m concerned it’s just not attractive at all!

    (and part of the socialising, I think, is a set of lies about what women will be attracted to. Because I think it’s not at all uncommon for women to prefer men with emotional smarts over men with big muscles or big willies, but I’m sure a lot of men are led to believe the opposite.)

    Not that _all_ gay men have rejected traditional masculinity – some expressions of gayness seem to be a bit like “we’re all men together, in fact we’re MORE manly for only associating with other manly men, because women are inferior”. (But then again you did say queer men rather than gay men, and I wonder if those kinds of gay men perhaps don’t really consider themselves queer.)

    and (going back to queer men being attractive) also I think it has something to do with the sheer fact that seeing men kissing etc can be hot! I’m thinking now of an acronym “WHBOBA”, which I’ve seen used on LiveJournal by bi women I know: it stands for “White Hot Boy On Boy Action”, and it’s not exactly a joke, but more a humorous expression of approval. I’ve seen both WHBOBA and WHGOGA used in contexts of wishing there was more of it – wishing one could find/initiate more WHGOGA, and wanting to encourage the bi men one knows to initiate more WHBOBA. Obviously in this context the most desirable men would be bi men who have no great philosophical objections to women watching :-)

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Jennifer – thanks for the long and interesting commentary!

      In the “Working on Yourself” section, I was trying to stick only to things that affect a guy’s chemistry with women. I tend to view things like reliability, listening skills, and emotional intelligence as pre-requisites to dating, but not necessarily the things that actually make someone attractive.

      Though presumably some subset of women (including you?) are actually attracted to these qualities at a gut level. But I would think that most women have gut-level attractions that are more immediate: the way a guy looks, moves, talks, acts, etc. Often failing on one of the above is an immediate turnoff (like say if you say something mean) but succeeding is not necessarily a turn-on, just something you should be doing anyways. Though of course there’s a big gray area there, where the way a guy acts might trigger actual attraction for some women, say by displaying competence.

      That said, I do consider personality to be more important than even physicality as an attraction factor, despite where I placed things in the section – the ordering and attention was more an artifact of the writing than a statement of priority. But the sort of personality matching I’m talking about is pretty low-level: “chemistry”, as we call it.

      Part of what you are seeing here is that this is an incomplete document. I had originally intended to have an entire section on reliability, for example. So stuff that logically seems like it might be in “Work on Yourself” had been slated for another section, which never got written. If I ever get around to finishing it, I’ll incorporate all the things you brought up.

      • Yael Tiferet (@tiferet93) Says:

        I definitely liked the parts about working on your appearance. I’m a member of the lolita fashion community, and when I notice that a guy prefers to be sloppy about his appearance that tells me a couple of things: 1) if we get into a relationship I’m always going to be in the position of having to go out with someone who refuses to take half or a tenth of the time getting ready that I do and being embarrassed around my friends; 2) at some point I’m going to get judged about the amount of time and money I spend on something that is not as mainstream as he thinks it is just because it’s femme, and it’s going to be really unpleasant; 3) in a household, if money gets tight, he will expect me to sacrifice this stuff first because he doesn’t think it’s important; 4) I’m just not attracted to that–you can be fat, bony, short, extremely tall, old, bald, whatever, but while I PREFER men who are somewhat femme, about my height, thinner than me, brown, and have dark eyes, if you are really stylish in a way that appeals to me, I may not give a shit what your actual physical appearance is–that’s gonna change with time anyway, but if you have STYLE, I know that you care about this stuff, which I find hot, and are not going to mock/deride/judge me for caring or decide that if money’s tight the first thing that goes should be my manicure (by bitching about it continually believing I’ll stop if you make it unpleasant enough), which is a) not your decision and b) not happening–I have fake nails because my own nails are so damaged by years of untreated celiac that they split to the quick from daily living, but even if they didn’t, it’s my decision whether gel nail manicures are more important to me than some other thing that I do.

        Also, as a fat woman, I have DATED the guys who can’t accept their attractions and get abusive about it–and the guys who date fat women because they think we won’t dump them when they’re bad. Never again. If a guy is not actively into me for my looks as well as my brain and doesn’t feel comfortable admitting that I don’t want him because it’s horrible for your self-esteem to date someone who seems to like you “in spite of” your body.

        I challenge the conception that it’s shallow for a woman or a man to care about being physically attracted to their partner’s body and/or personal style. We are human animals and we have bodies as well as minds. I need to be attracted to both to be happy. The idea that you should JUST be attracted to someone’s “personality” (as if that doesn’t change with time too) is just another example of the pathological mind/body split in our culture.

  5. The Beautiful Kind Says:

    Holy crap this took my breath away, right down to Jennifer’s comment. SO MANY GOOD POINTS here, I am hyperventilating. I took special note of the point that there is no valley of the dolls. THANK YOU.

    Because I have a sex blog and really put it out there, people assume I want to have sex with everything. I get approached ALL the time with that expectation, and it gets so OLD. They act like they are doing the poor nympho a favor by offering their services to me. Um, thanks but I don’t desperately need to suck your dick.

    Edward Dain and pepomint, I’m currently writing an ebook for women called “The Book of Goddess – Elevating Your Desirability to Mythic Proportions.” I cover some of the points you go over here.

    I maintain that in order to be attractive to other people you need THREE things; often people only have one or two of them – you need LOOKS, BRAINS, and PERSONALITY. Looks are least important, personality is most important. I hope to have that posted to my website in the next month or two.

    Anyway, back to you. BRAVO!!! I am adding you to my blogroll posthaste! I thank Miss Calico for introducing me to you.

    • pepomint Says:

      Welcome to the blog! I’m glad you like this post, and I encourage you to check out some of my older posts.

      I look forward to your book – it will be interesting to see what overlap there is. Have you considered a variant guide that covers nonmonogamy for women?

      Also, I’ve added TBK to my blogroll. Very nice site!

  6. Wretched and Beautiful : links for 2009-11-10 Says:

    [...] Nonmonogamy for Men: The Big Picture « freaksexual (tags: polyamory men gender relationships) [...]

  7. These days, those days Says:

    I have almost completely failed to have any kind of love life, and by far the most important reason for this is that I have no idea how to solve the problem of finding a girl who is available. When I have asked a girl out, the most common response by far is “I have a boyfriend.” It is very difficult to figure out how it is that most monogamous people can successfully solve this problem, but I can’t.

    This article points out that a focus on availability can lead to a “spamming” strategy, and this kind of behavior can be ineffective and risks becoming creepy. The article says, “In the land of monogamy, guys do not hit on every woman who walks by because they assume most are taken.” However, it works the other way for me. After all, if most women are taken, and the goal is to find a woman who isn’t taken, and there’s no way to tell without talking to them, then the resulting strategy seems to be talking to many different women until you finally meet someone who is available.

    The article is making the point that a spamming strategy makes it hard to figure out who you really are attracted to, and yes, this is the problem. Randomly hitting on any girl regardless of attraction is the more creepy version of this syndrome, and at a certain period (when I was between twenty and twenty-one) my behavior did fit this model. Of course, it’s better not to be creepy, and that’s why my contemporary strategy has changed so that I am selective enough not to be creepy. One of the ways I am more selective is to try making sure that the girl is in a mood where she would enjoy being approached by some new guy, and I am actually quite good at figuring out when this is. Most of the girls I talk to appreciate me and are quite friendly: one main reason is that I can usually prescreen who’s friendly and who isn’t just at a glance

    But as the article points out, a guy who is selective without knowing who he’s attracted to will ultimately be choosing his targets based on conventional attractiveness, and that’s how it is for me. There is certainly nothing wrong with conventionally attractive girls; I actually find them to be nicer on average, and (though you might think otherwise) non-conventionally-attractive girls seem to have a no greater chance of being available.

    It would be nice to get to know a girl fairly well before I asked her out, and in the early stages of my attempts to get a girlfriend (ages sixteen to twenty), I did do things this way. Unfortunately, this method of trying to get a girlfriend merely resulted in finding out, after a period of weeks, that she already has a boyfriend. So I was driven to a less selective strategy, where I merely spot a girl and talk to her for a few minutes; as long as she still appears to be friendly and attractive, I ask her out. And, 80-90% of the time, she already has a boyfriend.

    I can actually pursue this strategy in a way that doesn’t seem creepy to the girls I ask out. It leads to a loose feeling of connection, but not a strong enough feeling that it ever does in fact result in a date. (However, I emphasize that I am generally well-liked and seldom treated like a creep!) And when I do meet a girl who is available, there is always the nagging feeling that this girl is really only special because she happens to be single. Because of this, it’s hard to figure out how I could go about getting from “maybe” to “yes.” Especially since actually getting an explicit “maybe” is a rare turn of events, but it does happen.

    For some reason, none of the people who give me dating advice have any idea how to overcome the obstacle. How about you? Do you have any idea what strategy I should pursue?

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello! And welcome.

      There’s a lot going on in your comment here. I’ll try to take things one at a time.

      First off, what context are all these interactions happening in? Are these women that you meet – at the mall? At work? At parties? Where are these women coming from?

      I would like to say that even monogamous guys have trouble coming on to women they barely know – it’s a losing strategy. Most monogamous relationships start between people who already know each other pretty well. If these are women you have just met, then your chances are pretty low no matter whether or not they have a boyfriend.

      So, do you have a friend group that includes a decent number of women? Have attractions ever simmered or started between you and these women? That is the usual way that relationships happen – is there some reason this has not happened to you?

      If you do not have a strong social group, then I recommend that you hit up the online personals, like okcupid.com. Talking to people online can be hard, but taking a careful measured approach (like you used to in person) gets you very far. And on a dating website, you can easily filter out the people who are taken or obviously not compatible.

      In any case, it sounds like you need to take a radically different approach to meeting and starting to date women. If something has been consistently failing you, then that is a sign that it is time to do something else. Maybe chat with your friends in order to figure out either a) what is going wrong or b) what else you could be doing? As they know you, they will probably have more insight than me.

      Also, while you seem to be exploring which type of women you are attracted to, you also need to figure out which women are attracted to you. The best way to do this is of course to notice which women come over and talk to you, smile at you a lot, and so on. In other words, “chemistry”. If you can wait to hit on women until you see this happening, your rejection rate will be much much lower.

      • These days, those days Says:

        “First off, what context are all these interactions happening in? Are these women that you meet – at the mall? At work? At parties? Where are these women coming from?”

        Mostly, hanging out on the college campus.

        “I would like to say that even monogamous guys have trouble coming on to women they barely know – it’s a losing strategy. Most monogamous relationships start between people who already know each other pretty well. If these are women you have just met, then your chances are pretty low no matter whether or not they have a boyfriend.

        “So, do you have a friend group that includes a decent number of women? Have attractions ever simmered or started between you and these women? That is the usual way that relationships happen – is there some reason this has not happened to you?”

        Yes, it does seem to be a low-chance-of-success strategy. But I have very seldom had friends at all. Hence the unusual situation that trying to get a date (with someone I’m just now meeting) has usually been the most important means of satisfying my need for simple human interaction. And anytime I seem to be well-liked, this is the most important fact about the encounter in question. If this weren’t clear, people might interpret my failure to get a date as some kind of “rejection,” and think that these encounters must be a wholly negative experience. But on the contrary, it’s the quest to find a girlfriend that is relatively inside my comfort zone, and friendship that is mostly outside of it.

        “If you do not have a strong social group, then I recommend that you hit up the online personals, like okcupid.com. Talking to people online can be hard, but taking a careful measured approach (like you used to in person) gets you very far. And on a dating website, you can easily filter out the people who are taken or obviously not compatible.”

        I have tried this approach, though that was nine or ten years ago. Much of my dislike of Internet dating comes from the loss of nonverbal signals like tone of voice; I think of myself as very reliant on tone of voice. There’s also the fact that most Internet communication is not in real time. These differences make Internet communication different and more dificult for me.

        It also seems as if online dating means creating some kind of artificial prelude to real dating, like you would normally be running a mile, but instead, it’s a mile and a quarter. After all, the first time meeting in person would seem to be a major milestone in any online relationship. But with meeting someone face-to-face, it’s more like the starting line.

        “In any case, it sounds like you need to take a radically different approach to meeting and starting to date women. If something has been consistently failing you, then that is a sign that it is time to do something else. Maybe chat with your friends in order to figure out either a) what is going wrong or b) what else you could be doing? As they know you, they will probably have more insight than me.”

        I agree about the need for a radically new strategy. I have no friends, though. I have a family, though they have seldom had much insight, and a therapist, with whom I am working on this stuff.

        “Also, while you seem to be exploring which type of women you are attracted to,”

        Actually, I’m only slightly better at that than I am at the other side of the coin, figuring out who’s attracted to me. It’s just that your article really seemed to be a good insight into how into how the social environment of monogamy has affected me.

        And how it works in giving men in general this mindset that women are all unavailable and our only hope is to find the Valley of the Dolls. Many men have this syndrome, but usually not in quite the same way I have it. And I am certainly not saying that I believe in the Valley of the Dolls or that my searching efforts are aimed at finding it. Although the only “girlfriend experience”–in both senses of the term–I’ve ever had was really about as close to Valley of the Dolls as you can get: I met two hookers on the street, and the three of us immediately started relating as if they were my girlfriend and my close friend. Their psychological issues are far worse than mine (starting with their crack addictions), so there’s no way that this situation could have played itself out well, but it was a sorta-romance that began as I have described it.

        Right, so the way your article relates to my situation is that it’s a good insight into why monogamy leads to unhealthy attitudes towards women’s sexual availability. Monogamy attempts to contain these problems, and your article did make it sound like these attempts were largely successful (I tend to think they’re not). But with regard to polyamory, the point is that it may seem like polyamory solves the problem, but of course there is a problem if men come into the scene carrying all of their emotional baggage from monogamy.

        It’s probably bad to see polyamory as a “solution” to the problem of availability (though you can see by now why it would appear that way at first glance). Hopefully, though, it can at least be said that polyamory refrains from creating the problem the way monogamy does. For clearly, the problems you describe are the result of monogamous mindsets operating in a foreign system. A settled polyamorous community would have good solutions (better than the solutions offered in monogamy) for the problem of availability.

        My problem is that finding someone single has been such an obstacle for me that it’s hard to even imagine a paradigm where this problem is solved, but availability and the other necessary prerequisites of a relationship are still significant issues. For instance, suppose a woman believes she is too busy with school or career to begin a relationship. This is another way in which a woman fails to be available, and it’s different from already having a boyfriend. At the same time, how do I handle this information? The temptation is to just crudely put it into a simple “problem of availability,” and think that my main need is still the need to find a new woman who is available.

        “you also need to figure out which women are attracted to you. The best way to do this is of course to notice which women come over and talk to you, smile at you a lot, and so on. In other words, “chemistry”. If you can wait to hit on women until you see this happening, your rejection rate will be much much lower.”

        Well, in some ways I can do this okay: it’s good to look out for anyone who seems to be noticing me, and I’m very focused on the questions of “How much would she like being approached by me?” and once I’m talking to her, “How much does she like me?” And if the level of liking appears too low, obviously I shouldn’t bother to bring up the question of a date.

        But really, the concept of “rejection” confuses me. I understand the difference between being liked and disliked just fine. But “rejection” is spoken of in ways that are very different from the concept “dislike.” Any definition I can think of for “rejection” makes it either not common enough to be the “rejection” that other people are talking about.

        Does “rejection” mean declining a date (or whatever the request may be) for any reason? If so, it can still happen even when the “rejected” person is well-liked, and it doesn’t seem to be the kind of insult that people are thinking of when they say “I have a fear of rejection.” Does rejection simply mean being disliked? Again, it’s a fact of life that some people will dislike you, and no one seems to believe that something’s wrong because not everyone likes them. Does rejection mean “you like them but they don’t like you?” That actually might be it, but anytime I’m in that situation I simply cease to have any more liking for the other person than they do for me–so, how is this some great problem or insult?

        Right, so one of my ignorances is that simple “liking vs. disliking” is the model I have for situations that may be more complex. I’ve mentioned acceptance vs. rejection, but what about the word “attraction”? Is it strictly synonymous with “liking,” or are the concepts as different from each other as they are from “acceptance”?

        Basically, with this kind of understanding of things, I can have some idea of who is attracted to me (likes me), but my ideas may be too simple to really understand not only that question, but also the question of who I’m attracted to (i.e., it really is hard to say who I like, except by appealing to things like how much they like me (not, whether they “reject” me!), or some fairly simplified standards of who’s good-looking, fun to be around, and so on.

        • pepomint Says:

          It also seems as if online dating means creating some kind of artificial prelude to real dating, like you would normally be running a mile, but instead, it’s a mile and a quarter.

          Au contraire. The ability to look through lots of profiles for online dating means that it is actually much more efficient, once you get used to it. And you only have to get used to it once, though that does take some patience and effort.

          But with meeting someone face-to-face, it’s more like the starting line.

          As you’ve said, meeting women face-to-face has largely been failing for you, so I think you are looking at this wrong (for you). There’s a lot more distance there before you get to the starting line even when you meet face-to-face. More on this below.

          It’s probably bad to see polyamory as a “solution” to the problem of availability (though you can see by now why it would appear that way at first glance).

          It’s not just bad, it’s incorrect. Though many monogamous guys get this first impression when they hear about polyamory. For all the reasons listed in the essay, poly women are less available than monogamous women. There are a lot less of them, there are proportionally more men trying to date them, and of course there is nothing preventing them from being full up on partners (or polysaturated, as I like to call it) and too busy to date. Both myself and my partner are polysaturated, and there are a lot of polysaturated people in my social group. So poly does not equal available.

          It sounds like you may have fallen into the trap of thinking too much about availability and not enough about attraction. Trust me, your biggest obstacle is not finding women who are available, but rather finding women who are attracted to you, and whom you are attracted to.

          In fact, “I have a boyfriend” is a very common rejection line used by women who in fact do not have boyfriends. I’m not saying this has been happening to you (you would know better than me), but I’m bringing it up as an illustration of how attraction trumps theoretical availability.

          Does “rejection” mean declining a date (or whatever the request may be) for any reason? If so, it can still happen even when the “rejected” person is well-liked, and it doesn’t seem to be the kind of insult that people are thinking of when they say “I have a fear of rejection.” Does rejection simply mean being disliked?

          Yes to both questions. And in fact, being disliked (in that romantic/sexual way) is pretty much what most people are afraid of when they talk about fear of rejection. You seem to have gotten past that and you are able to differentiate between being liked and having someone go on a date with you. Which is good – stick with it.

          I’ve mentioned acceptance vs. rejection, but what about the word “attraction”? Is it strictly synonymous with “liking,” or are the concepts as different from each other as they are from “acceptance”?

          Attraction is specifically liking someone in that romantic/sexual way. It is a subset of overall liking – it is possible and common to like someone but not be attracted to them. I know this is vague, but what actually triggers attraction or how it actually feels varies from person to person.

          Something you seem to be missing in all of this is that attraction between people changes over time. Specifically, a woman is much more likely to be attracted to you (and probably, you to her) after you have known each other for a while.

          To take an example, I had a woman friend a while back. We knew each other and liked each other, but were not attracted to each other. At some point after we met (like, six months or more), she started being attracted to me. At some point after that, I started being attracted to her. Now, we’re dating.

          And here’s the kicker – this is how it usually works, especially in the monogamous world.

          If I had hit on her when I first met her, that probably would have axed any chances we had, even if the attraction came through later. And in fact, other guys in the social group have hit on her in a more sudden manner and are now pretty much permanently off her list.

          From reading what you’ve written, I am guessing that you are in kind of a hurry, or eager in some way. Maybe give up on dating for a while (like, six months) and try to back off emotionally? People often find that this lets them re-center and then actually date in a meaningful manner.

          Instead of moving quickly, I think you should take the long view. You are killing your chances with this up-front stuff. Build up a number of friendships first, and then later if you find yourself really (really!) interested in one of your women friends, go for it. Or you may find that they hit on you or otherwise make their intentions clear.

          If you can’t put together a friend group, try building social groups other ways. Go to gaming events, or sci-fi conferences, or whatever floats your boat. If you are unwilling to go online for dates, then engaging in some kind of socializing is frankly a prerequisite for dating.

          Part of the long view is that some of these women who currently have boyfriends will break up with them. There is flux even in monogamyland. If you are still around when this happens, and you and they have developed a mutual attraction, then you may be able to start something with them. And again, this is often how these things happen in monogamous dating.

          • Anon Says:

            You definitely need more female friends, and male friends. The best is to have a significant number of single female friends. Apparently most people pull their monogamous partners from their friend circle.

            I have the same problem and have been single for years now, 1 relationship a while ago, and only recently improved to the point that I had another relationship. The problem for me is many women my age are married already, or have a boyfriend, or are few, or not sociable (I work in computer science). So you (A) have to be doing attractive things and (B) the contextual situation has to be right.

            After a fair amount of work dating (20 approaches or so) I’m comfortable chatting up a girl and asking her out, and most girls say yes to going out to me. But this is fundamentally an awkward situation, and as a guy one has to use one’s personality, confidence, and friendliness a lot to keep the girl from getting weirded out and saying “I have a boyfriend.” Also if you do these cold approaches, you really have to keep your attitude from being one of scarcity, because no woman wants to feel that you desperately need her since no one else will date you. She wants to feel you are well adjusted, have a life, other women are interested in you, and you are choosing her because you really like her. In other words, you have to basically feel attraction and rapport with a woman, and enjoy the process of dating, rather than being nervous and awkwardly hitting on her because you need any woman.

            It also helps to be dressed well, athletic and generally happy. Attitude can’t be faked, you have to work on being thankful for your life and enjoying it, before you can get into a healthy relationship anyway. But as they say it’s a numbers game, so ask out lots of girls, but just casually and with a positive attitude, and also get to be friends with lots of girls.

            What I will probably do now is make a list of activities that I enjoy, that have cool, outgoing people, and a significant fraction of single women, and where I can make friends through social network. Like church, volunteering esp to help animals/youth, dance, hiking clubs, and so forth. I’ve already done dancing for a while actually. I plan to pursue these while occasionally also asking out women when I feel like it, both within and without friend circle. The advantage of doing many interesting and sociable things is it also makes you a richer and far more attractive person.

            And definitely have friends! Male and female friends can help expose you to new interests, camaraderie of shared interests, and diagnose where dating failures happen.

            I’m not poly and not interested in poly, Google sent me here by randomness. But it sounds like other folks are suggesting you have your dating foundation solid, before you try poly. Especially if you’re a guy. I think having a good foundation for friends/dating is healthy any way, because then you won’t ever feel “trapped” in a relationship, lonely due to lack of friends, and you’ll have a much richer life.

            Come at this from a positive viewpoint, of how you want to have a rich and wonderful life, and how a nice girl will incidentally fit into that picture. Then she’ll be lucky to have you! Don’t come at it from this strange place of wandering around hitting on women who “all reject you”. Rejection is inevitable, but fear is the mind killer, you can master your fear by realizing that rejection has nothing to do with your self worth, and flirting with or asking out women (when there is rapport) until with practice the fear goes away.

            It’s all about practice, action. Just do it. Carpe diem! Cheers ~

          • pepomint Says:

            Replying to Anon above:

            That’s good general dating advice – thank you!

            But, you are not poly, as you mention. The reason I wrote this essay was because dating in the poly world is significantly different from dating when one is monogamous. For example, we generally can’t just hit on co-workers – most of them would respond with “wait, don’t you have a wife/girlfriend” or similar, or be horrified when we ask them to be nonmonogamous.

        • Yael Tiferet (@tiferet93) Says:

          If you don’t have friends, work on that one first. Try and figure out why and do something about it–join a club, get treatment for social anxiety if you have it (I do), read Suzette Haden Elgin’s “Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense” series to see what unwritten conversational rules you’re breaking, whatever. (these are all things I’ve done because of similar problems)

          The skills for developing a successful romantic relationship are a little harder than and build upon the same skills that you need to establish good friendships, and the level of anxiety around them is harder to deal with if you haven’t managed to move past anxiety at the making-friends level.

          If you’re approaching looking for a partner through a haze of anxiety and self-doubt, it’s not surprising that you can’t figure out who’s attractive to you. However, you could start to figure this out by looking at romantic and sexually-themed media or just figuring out which fictional characters you think are hot and why. Even though porn and the movies and TV and anime have a pretty narrow bunch of types, you can at least figure out which ones you like better than the other ones and think about why.

  8. Nabil Says:

    Thanks for the essay, Pepper? How’d the class go– I want a scene report!

    Also also: any chance of doing the class again? I’d like to recommend it for some folks.

    xoxo

    Nabil

    • pepomint Says:

      Hey Nabil,

      The class went well! It was the first time, so I did realize that my subject focus was a bit off. Next time there will be more emphasis on fishing where the fish are and changing one’s behavior if something is not working. Apparently guys are resistant on both these fronts.

      I’ll probably do it again in six months, perhaps April-ish.

  9. vsk witness Says:

    Jeez man, can I get the abridged version!? Still, this is a lot of really good info and amazing insight. Women not having to put up with shit in the nonmonogomous world verses the mono world, that’s a gem! On small nit: I think the numbers of people who are openly non-M are as you state, but the numbers who want to be non-M, are quite a bit higher. Look, I haven’t found any friend who doesn’t want to bang my wife. And I’ve found quite a few (ok at least one) whose’s wife is basically ok with that even though she doesn’t want anything on the side. As for us, we play with another woman who’s man is non-sexual, and that has been really eye-opening and fun in a way the being cuckolded isn’t. Which isn’t to say I don’t mind sharing with the right guys, but they are often dweebs about the whole deal. Now for sure, finding another couple hasn’t really happened for us yet. The complexities there are as you have stated: myriad. But I do think that this stuff is surprisingly plastic. If you get along good with someone, and you and they are both pretty sexual, then, it’s going to happen. As long as you follow this amazing screed you have put down here ;-)

    • pepomint Says:

      Welcome to the blog!

      Some folks do manage to get involved with their friends or through their social circle, by teasing out the folks who would be up for some non-monogamy. But even those folks I think would be less than one in twenty of the overall population. I think perhaps you have a special (which is to say, somewhat self-selected) set of friends. So in your social circles, the chances are higher.

      Or maybe you are just very sexy and outgoing people. It does take a certain sort of personality to make this sort of “conversion” play work. Though as you say, even if it does work for you, it tends to be complex and the negotiations have to be handled carefully. If you can make it go, more power to you!

      If you get along good with someone, and you and they are both pretty sexual, then, it’s going to happen.

      Well, that’s the part I disagree with. Plenty of sexual people just want to stick to serial monogamy. But perhaps you are including some level of interest in nonmonogamy in “sexual”.

      You’ll be sad to hear that the next version of this guide is going to be even longer. Someday, there may be a book. =)

  10. Tomek Kulesza Says:

    My intuition tells me that masculinity dependent on the number of women you sleep with (to simplify it a bit) is a mirror image of feminine wiring about well behaved girl that doesn’t sleep around.

    Both are similairly sad and enslaving, in different ways, but the effect is the same – people not having a clue that they do things to fit the model they think they should fit into, instead of doing what would make them happy (ok, fitting a model does make you content in a way, too)

    • pepomint Says:

      Yeah, masculinity is restrictive in certain ways that being a woman is not. And vice versa, of course.

      I would not want people to walk away with the idea that sexist gender dynamics are worse for men than women. While bad for both, women are definitely getting the shorter end of the deal.

      But conveniently, making things better for guys means making them better for women too – which is why I write things like this. I’m glad you liked it!

  11. Tomek Kulesza Says:

    Oh, and you write really – and i mean really – great essays. But you probably know that already :)

  12. tomekkulesza0 Says:

    Uh. Actually, i was going to write about different thing, but by the time i got to it, i forgot what it was and wrote something else (that thing above). Go figure…

    “But there is a constant media message that women have to hurry up and find a mate now” (and associated paragraph) – is what i was originally thinking about. See, i think it might come from the original attractiveness of women being judged by their fertility, which was even more tied to age than today. This persistent artifact might be original cause of that concept of hurrying up, and the not so old invisibility of older (past 40) women plays straight into this.

    I hope it’s clear, i have tendency to underwrite.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello again, Tomek.

      See, i think it might come from the original attractiveness of women being judged by their fertility, which was even more tied to age than today.

      I tend to discount any “way back when” attractiveness theories. We are bombarded by enough attractiveness conditioning (especially regarding women’s attractiveness) that I think we effectively rewrite what it means to be attractive every couple generations or so. When I look at attractiveness in just U.S. history, it becomes clear that what makes women or men attractive has changed significantly just over the past couple hundred years.

      So I would say that women are told that they should be in a hurry, it is for entirely modern reasons, namely that we generally tell women that they must have a man to be complete, putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to dating.

      • tomekkulesza0 Says:

        Hey,
        Hmm. I didn’t though about that age thing still being regarded as attractive, as it wasn’t relevant to my reasoning, which was about something that grew out of that – a cultural meme pushing women to find a husband before they become, uh, “stara panna” in polish (older single woman). This push lives on despite what caused it might have already changed, and even though being single older woman doesn’t necessairly still mean you’re total failure.

        (oh, and i didn’t mean sexual attractiveness, btw, but marital one)

        And it actually fits into what you’ve just said about stereotypical completeness of women dependent on having a man.

        Oh, and going a bit back, i didn’t want to say that gender dynamics punish both genders equally. Although, to be true, i think that when it comes to, say, politics and careers, the punishment is more unbalanced balanced than when it’s about sex (note, that i don’t consider sexual abuse to be part of sex here) and relationships. Oh well, that’s not really important :o

        • pepomint Says:

          True, there is a very long tradition of women in the West being considered a failure if they did not get married early, and a lot of pressure on women to marry quickly and young. “Spinster” is the word in english, though there are other historical words like “old maid”.

          I’m not sure if that pressure continues today. Some of it undoubtedly does, but it is balanced by modern needs to get a career started, finish school, and so on. Also, there is a longer dating period and more false start relationships.

          When young people are surveyed these days in the US, the young men are slightly *more* likely to want to get married soon than the young women. So I suspect that mostly we have disposed with the “old maid” stigma.

  13. tomekkulesza0 Says:

    Well, it seems we’re rapidly advancing our small discussion into gender studies area and the impossibility of actually achieving all of these ideals (good mother and good career at the same time). I wonder if with the rising involved fatherhood the same is going to apply to men some day, heh.

  14. Zeo Says:

    Love this, though it should be called “Nonmonogamy for Men Who Are Attracted to Women” or something like that. Polyamory between men is different with regard to many of the things you focus on here.

    • pepomint Says:

      Yeah, I couldn’t figure out how to condense that down into a title. What I really want to say is “A Men’s Guide to the Nonmonogamous Interactions Between Men and Women”, but that’s too long.

      Nonmonogamy and polyamory between guys is definitely quite different, since you gain the issues of being queer and lose a lot of the gender poisoning I describe here.

      • Zeo Says:

        Yeah, I’m not sure how to de-clunkify such a title, but it’s pretty easy to clarify the target audience right at the intro. Not doing so rests on heteronormativity in that it accepts that men being attracted to women is both normal and expected while being attracted to men is anomalous and specialized.

        I don’t think gaining the issues of being queer actually loses the gender poisoning most of the time, in my experience as a trans person living both as male and female and dating mostly men attracted to many genders. I shared this essay with a number of friends including a number of queer men who date women, and it resonated with plenty of our experiences; copious sexism amongst the gay male community kinda underscores how the gender poisoning doesn’t go away by virtue of being queer. The point I was trying to make is simply that most of the issues you raise here, while fantastic and very relevant to nonmonogamous men seeking women, simply don’t apply when men (even the same men) are seeking men.

        • pepomint Says:

          it’s pretty easy to clarify the target audience right at the intro

          And indeed I do that, in the second paragraph. I’ve strengthened the statement I make there in response to your concerns, since apparently it was not visible enough.

          I don’t think gaining the issues of being queer actually loses the gender poisoning most of the time

          I agree that it isn’t like sexism goes away when you start having same-gender relationships. Rather, I was saying that some of the power differential created by sexism is not present in a relationship between two people of the same gender. Though it is only some: plenty of the effects of sexism remain, in how people treat each other, their assumptions about their partner(s) and/or relationships, and so on.

          • Zeo Says:

            Okay, I feel like an ass then if I missed or forgot that the first time through. If it was just a matter of clarification it’s definitely clear now.

            Re gender poisoning, gotcha, I thought you were talking about gender poisoning in the context of different-gender relatioships of queer people as opposed to the explicately same-gender relationships.

          • pepomint Says:

            Okay, I feel like an ass then if I missed or forgot that the first time through.

            No worries! I think the statement needed strengthening, which might be why it did not leave an impression upon you.

  15. Emcee Otter Says:

    Someone asked for the abridged version, and I will put forth a theory I came up with a while back. For men, when dealing with women where sex or relationship is a goal, it simply comes down to choice over force. If you’re trying to force any of it on her, it ain’t gonna work. Choice shows a level of respect that, as you elucidated above, most men just don’t have (and this goes for monogamous men as well).

    I am curious: do you have any idea why the whole “work on yourself” thing is so foreign to most men? It seems to be second nature for women these days. I can’t tell you how many of my women friends complain about this about their partners, men who are, for the most part, kind, wonderful, good and respectful. (I’m not even counting the hundreds of men I’ve encountered who specifically choose young and inexperienced women who won’t call them on their shit so they can continue being schmucks.) Why does the male condition, and what it means to be a man in the 21st century, often go unexamined? My women friends and I talk about this stuff all the time, but our men folk usually only have these conversations with their partners, and are not having them with other men. Why the tendency to avoid self-reflection and self-improvement?

    Thanks again for another lovely essay with tasty food for thought. I will be distributing this link far and wide!

    • pepomint Says:

      Thanks for the “choice over force” shorthand. That’s useful, though I would extend force to include any kind of coercion, including even mild pressure. Women get sensitive to that sort of thing I think, probably because they are constantly facing low levels of pressure to be sexual for men.

      do you have any idea why the whole “work on yourself” thing is so foreign to most men?

      Feminism has the answer to this, the short version of which is “subtle sexism and male power”. Briefly, our culture sets up women as sexual products, and men as sexual consumers. Which means we as a culture are extremely concerned with whether or not women are attractive to men, and at the same time only barely concerned with whether men are attractive to women. This has been slowly changing (helloooo metrosexuals!), but is still really embedded in the collective psyche.

      What this means is that when the culture deals with men’s attractiveness, it tends to take one of two angles. First, it might deny it entirely, basically setting up men as not attractive on their own merits. In these cases men are presented as attractive because they have money, or because women just have to deal with them, or for other sideline reasons. Alternatively, men are presented as attractive because they just are, with no actual intervening reason like “nice muscles” or “they smell good” or “they dance well” or what have you. (You know, the actual reasons women are attracted to men.) In other words, men get to be attractive just due to the sheer Manly of their Manliness. Or perhaps due to their Magic Cock. Both of which unfortunately are always in question, but that’s a story for another time. I’m exaggerating here a bit to make the point, but the truth is that a subtle form of this really does end up embedded in our heads due to culture.

      The upshot here is that most guys were never told that they need to look a certain way to attract women, or that they need to act a certain way to attract women. Whereas women get told this sort of thing way too much. And so we end up with a disconnect, because women are actually attracted to men, and they tend to be attracted to men for specific reasons, not due to some mystical man quality. Women assume that men have at least some inkling of how to be attractive, and then are surprised when they do not. Men who are not assholes and who actually want women to be attracted to them often fail to grasp that they can control their own attractiveness. Instead guys tend to focus on what they should do to win women, like what specific courtship steps they should go through. Which is the wrong way to go about things, because if a woman is not attracted to you no amount of courtship will change that.

      And so I ended up writing the section above, in an attempt to jump-start the “how can I be more attractive” thought process in men. Which is an uphill battle, as I discovered when I tried to do the same thing in a workshop format. While some guys got it, other guys just miss the point to their own detriment, no matter how much clue-by-four you try to smack them with.

      • Emcee Otter Says:

        Thanks for your response.

        The choice vs. force shorthand *does* include something as simple as hitting on someone. Of course, because men are supposed to be the initiators in dating and romance in our society, they will have to approach a woman at some point, but when a man respects a woman’s right to choose, he should stop immediately if she indicates that she is not interested for whatever reason.

        I totally get the thing about men needing to pay attention to their appearance (I love to take men shopping and give them makeovers), but I was asking more about the interior stuff, like modifying behavior, taking care of health, or trying to heal emotional issues that might keep him from moving forward. I don’t necessarily want to change my partner, but if he isn’t interested in changing and growing himself, that’s a problem (men are much more likely to use the “accept me as I am” excuse to avoid dealing with their own stuff). I care a lot less about a man’s appearance if I feel that he is conscious about himself and the effects he might have on people he encounters.

        • pepomint Says:

          The choice vs. force shorthand *does* include something as simple as hitting on someone.

          Well, yes, but I don’t feel like it deals with a lot of edge case stuff. For example, if a woman goes to a party and twenty guys hit on her, even if they are all perfectly polite and respect her choices, she is going to feel a bit harassed and defensive.

          I was asking more about the interior stuff, like modifying behavior, taking care of health, or trying to heal emotional issues that might keep him from moving forward.

          Well, that’s harder than working on one’s attractiveness. There tend to be two types of people out there (generalization!), the ones who are continually working on their internal state, and the ones who are not. And while people do switch back and forth between those two, it usually takes some sort of big life event to do it. I’m not sure it is something you can convince a guy to do.

  16. James Says:

    So many good points in this article. I would add that in my experience, truth and honesty will lead you places you’ve only dreamed of. That, and patience, as was expressed in the article. I’m pretty strong in my opinions and I think most of tend to be, as well. Seldom are you going to fool someone into something they don’t want to do. To be honest about intentions and aware that other people have differing agendas is the only way I can imagine any of this working out.

    • pepomint Says:

      I am a huge fan of honesty (or as I like to call it, integrity) especially in relationships or flirting situations.

      That said, I think it is very easy to support honesty and disclosure in an abstract way, but then when it comes to actually dealing in the details, somehow that gets lost. As I add sections to this essay, some of them will deal with the practical day-to-day matters of how and why to be honest and upfront.

  17. JimJones Says:

    Very good article.

    A few things I would like to say as someone who has been looking for a secondary off and on for a number of years now in regards to some of the emotional parts of what a guy can go through in nonmonogamous situations.

    There are a lot of things that can happen that are not so good when one is nonmonogamous.

    You can not get get a situation you want(say if you wanted to be the male in a FMF triad and that didn’t happen) or you get into a situation that you don’t want(you are a straight male in a MMMF quad). You can be rejected time and time again, go out on a date that can only be described as an epic failure, or even start to question your worthiness as a man or even as a human being. All of these things, as well as a host of other hurtful things, can happen.

    Two of the options presented in the essay above are to either become bitter about it(which was rightfully discouraged) or redirect that energy into work towards changing the culture we live in(which is admirable).

    I would like to suggest that there is a third option. Sit with what is going on in your head. Don’t try to cover it up, sublimate it, justify it, explain it, or assign blame for it(that includes blaming yourself!). Just sit with whatever it is that you are feeling(shame, sadness, lonliness, anger, hurt, whatever it is). As you sit with what is going on in your head, it will hurt, confuse, and threaten to overwhelm you. That’s ok. Just sit with it and see what happens.

    This is something you may need to do more than once. As you sit with the hurt, you will most likely notice that it doesn’t frighten you anymore and that whatever it is that hurt you no longer has power over you as a result.

    And then you can get on with whatever it is that you want to do as a nonmonogamous man.

    • pepomint Says:

      Thanks so much for this suggestion for dealing with the rejection!

      In retrospect, I think my suggestion of dealing by plowing that energy back into your efforts was a personal thing. Which is to say, that’s how I deal with things, because I am an obsessive organizer. But of course, other people do not deal the way I do.

      If I end up doing future revisions of this essay, I’ll include your suggestion.

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  20. Andrew Gubb Says:

    Pepper, I’ve been reading your stuff like crazy the last few weeks and I can’t begin to say how useful they were, particularly but not limited to this article. I’ve had a slow epiphany centred around what one of your commenters summarised as “choice vs. force”. I can’t believe how simple it all was, and how I’d never found anyone who had explained it adequately, even in my years of searching for an answer (I was looking on PUA forums so I guess it’s not such a surprise actually hah).

    I’ll keep reading this stuff and most of all keep processing it. I guess I was in the right place and the right time to make the change too, I was ready, but this stuff has been absolutely invaluable. Absolutely, absolutely. I can’t believe how great.

    I encourage you to keep writing. What you have to say is so worth it. And I want to visit you when I’m in SF some time, maybe go to one of your workshops.

    Keep on rocking man. You’re awesome.

    Andrew

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  23. technoplas Says:

    Hey there, this is a really good article, but can I add one thing – the “r” word (which seems to be missing in your article). You use the word “negotiating” – I would use the word “relationship”. In context of both an individual and community level, what you seem to be talking about is, and encouraging people to do is build relationships (without actually using those words expressly).

    Regardless of how cerebral we all are, having sex with someone (whether they’re a “stranger” or not) is an act of intimacy, and an opening and sharing of one’s “private space” – you wouldn’t let any old person into your house right? Neither do you do that with your body. Mono/poly/whatever, it’s all about building relationships – i think that’s the bit most men seem to be missing. And there’s no point bitching about it, women like relationships (no matter how fleeting), and having sex with a woman is a type of relationship.

    So working on relationship skills (all the things you mentioned) is vital – there is a type of “courtship”, and a definite etiquette. I am surprised that more people don’t seem to understand that, as if the having of sex is somehow beyond manners – as if it somehow has different social rules – it doesn’t.

    Your sexual enjoyment will be deeper for starters – sex is personal – it’s about personal pleasure, personal intimacy – it’s a gift to each other – shared personal enjoyment. You’re saying, “Yes, I like you enough to share my body with you. I may not want to have a “domestic” relationship with you, but I like you enough to want to have a sexual one.” So definitely, think about it as a relationship. Wine and dine, and “sixty-nine” by all means, but make sure you have brunch the next day and give each other a hug, a peck on the cheek, and a parting handshake – you may never see each other again, but why not part as friends?

    • pepomint Says:

      Thank you for putting it this way! I think I was trying to get at a lot of this above: talking about respect, calling people back, and so on. If I do a second version of this, I’ll include a section titled something like “Don’t be afraid of relationships”, where I talk about how a relationship doesn’t have to mean monogamy or even high time commitment.

      I think what you say makes a lot of sense if we consider “relationship” to be any level of relating. I agree that guys tend to be afraid of emotional closeness or anything that might indicate that (like, getting dinner together) because they assume they’ll be on the hook for high time commitments or monogamy. Or even some level of accountability about their other lovers or activities.

      Even though this is a common point of failure between nonmonogamous men and women, I don’t think it is fair to claim that all women are looking for relationships, even super-lightweight occasional encounter relationships. Some women really do just want to hook up and then say goodbye.

      But there’s something there – men tend to approach lightweight stuff as hookups or “just sex”. Women tend to approach lightweight stuff as “relationship lite”. I think a lot of guys (myself included) tend to do better when they start incorporating relationship elements, as that matches the expectations of the women they are dealing with. A lot of these things are stuff that we really should be doing anyways: showing respect, calling women back, keeping promises, building a connection, integrating lovers into one’s social life, and so on. Having brunch, as you put it.

  24. Xena Says:

    I have no luck at poly gatherings where I live. It seems to be an even smaller scene for me, being a single, straight woman over 40, only attracted to straight men, and not into BDSM. It seems every guy I meet at poly events is either bi and very effeminate (not my type), partnered and seeking a bi woman to be with his wife/gf, or tells me he doesn’t care about bodies because he’s so-called sex positive and into kink (which somehow makes me feel like more of an object than if he rejected me for being fat). The rest are usually unattractive, have poor hygiene, or possess obnoxious characteristics like pontificating loudly about poly and not realizing that everyone is backing away to look for an escape route. So, I generally pursue men who have basically always been monogamous but happen to be open-minded about being non-exclusive. I meet them in my neighborhood, at events related to my career, or online at OKC. The local poly scene doesn’t do it for me.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Xena,

      Welcome to the blog!

      While the above article is aimed at men, nothing in there should be taken to mean that things are easy for poly women. Indeed, since we are often fishing in such a small pool, it can be quite difficult, as you describe. This is especially true for people outside of large cities.

      One thing that happens is that poly social groups tend to attract a certain sort of person. The particular sort varies wildly from group to group, but birds of a feather flock together and all that, so it is very common to see social conformity at the events. If you only have one or two groups in the area, it can seem like ALL the poly people are a certain way.

      But they aren’t. The ones you are looking for are out there, just not at the groups. In addition to OKC, you could consider setting up your own poly events that would cater more to the sorts of people you are looking or.

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  26. Nonmonogamy Primer for Men | Poly Chicago Says:

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  30. Poly Aphrodite Says:

    Reblogged this on Poly Aphrodite and commented:
    This is excellent advise for men entering nonmonogamy. I have found guys on OkCupid repeatedly making these mistakes. This is definitely a worthwhile read if you are a man trying to find a woman for a nonmonogamous relationship.

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  35. A Guy’s Guide to Poly Meetups | Pilot Precise Says:

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