Mar. 10th, 2018

joreth: (polyamory)
Couples wanting to "open up" their relationship for the first time (besides being impossible, because you can't just "open" an existing relationship and expect it to be exactly the same as before just with more people, you actually end up creating whole new relationships) often spend a great deal of time fantasizing and worrying about hypothetical future relationships with people they haven't met and have created in their minds, who they make up to be either their greatest fantasies or their biggest fears.

Then these couples go about looking for these hypothetical, mythical people. They simultaneously seek for some magical goddess (because it's usually a bi cis woman) that will fit their giant laundry list of qualifications, while seeing monsters peeking out from behind the eyes of everyone who doesn't fit that list.

What they're doing is overestimating the happiness that they expect to find with their mythical pet and overestimating the UNhappiness that they expect to find if their new pet doesn't meet all their criteria.

This is called Impact Bias.

"The impact bias is our tendency to overestimate our emotional reaction to future events. Research shows that most of the time we don’t feel as bad as we expect to when things go wrong. Similarly we usually don’t get quite the high we expect when things go right for us." - Jeremy Dean

In other words, people are notoriously bad at predicting what will make them happy. (paraphrase of Franklin Veaux)

Impact Bias does several things, two of which are particularly relevant to polyamory:

1) When predicting how an experience will impact us emotionally, things we haven't experienced yet are REALLY difficult to accurately predict and we usually get it wrong.

2) We have our own "theories" based on our culture and our cultural experiences, and those "theories" are often wrong.

What all this means is that couples, if they want to find success in polyamory, need to be aware of Impact Bias in a similar way that they are told to be aware of NRE. They don't actually know what will make them happy, even though they feel really strongly that they do. They are likely basing those predictions on cultural assumptions. But those cultural assumptions come from our monogamous culture, which means that they don't apply to poly relationships.

Trying to apply mononormative assumptions over poly relationships tends to make them fail because poly relationships, fundamentally, run contrary to those very mononormative assumptions. The couple's background, past experiences, and cultural exposure are all conspiring against them to give them bad information when they make their predictions. Predictions made on faulty premises usually come out wrong.

When everyone in the forums is saying "stop focusing on a single bi woman to love you both equally in a live-in triad" and "all those rules aren't going to help you 'protect your relationship', just let go and trust", and the couples are feeling upset and defensive because hey! they've thought all this out and they know how they feel and what they want! ... no, you probably don't.

I mean, yes, you probably do feel all that fear and hope and desire, but it probably doesn't reflect reality. Everyone falls victim for Impact Bias, just like everyone falls for all the other cognitive biases. They're what our brains do. The advice for NRE is to feel what you feel, but keep in the back of your mind that it's a temporary state and likely an illusion so don't make any *real world plans* based on NRE because NRE is lying to you. Fiction can be a fun experience, even a meaningful, profound experience, but at the end of the day, it's still a fiction.

The same goes for this Impact Bias - feel your feelings, just know that they're probably lying to you so don't actually make plans based on them. You are probably overly optimistic about how happy you will feel if you find some magical unicorn with perfect boobs and a penchant for childcare, and you are very likely overestimating how terrible things will be if you try dating someone who doesn't meet all your criteria, like someone who is only interested in one of you or who maybe has a penis or doesn't want children.

So just relax, acknowledge your fears and your fantasies but let them go and just meet people. Dating someone a little different from all your rules probably won't be as bad as you think it will, and searching for The Perfect Match probably won't bring you as much happiness as you think it will - at least not enough to be worth the price of dehumanizing all your interviewees and missing out on other potential sources of happiness.