185 - Can Men Get Along with their Metamours?

On this episode we speak with Dr. Alex Bove about the findings of his recently published research on metamours and masculinity, titled: "Meta, More or Less? A Phenomenological Study of Polyamorous Men’s Relationships with Their Male Metamours." Tune in to find out more about the three phases of the metamour relationship, as well as the key traits of healthy metamour connections.

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Emily Matlack: We are here with Dr. Alex Bove. Dr. Alex, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

Dr. Alex Bove: Thanks for having me.

Emily: You initially reached out to us because you performed a qualitative study specifically on metamour relationships between men, and that's something that hasn't really been studied before. Before we get into discussing the findings of your study, which I'm super mega curious about, I wanted to ask first, why study these relationships? Is it just because no one's studied it before? What motivated you to study this in particular?

Dr. Alex: Well, in part, yes. It's one of the things you have to answer in any study is, what's the gap in the literature that you're filling? There was a gap in the polyamory literature, in the men's literature, and there is no metamour literature. At the time that I did this, there was nothing in the scholarly literature on metamours as metamours. There were some studies on-- There's Jillian Deri's book, which you're probably familiar with, Love's Refraction.

Dedeker Winston: I don't know that.

Emily: I haven't read it, but I have heard of it.

Dr. Alex: She studied queer women in Toronto. She used the term co-hearts.

Jase Lindgren: Instead of metamour.

Dr. Alex: Instead of metamours.

Jase: Interesting, okay.

Dr. Alex: There's that study, and then nothing else. Part of it was just, "Hey, I'm a scholar and it's really cool to be groundbreaking." Part of it was, I've been interested in masculinity. That's my sub-area within human sexuality, so I knew I wanted to study something related to masculinity. Part of it is just being a man myself and being in relationships mostly with women who have been dating men, so I've had a lot of metamour relationships. I wondered, is my experience similar to other men's? Is it not? It was also to satisfy a little bit of my own curiosity.

Jase: Totally.

Emily: That makes sense. Though, it's so interesting because when I work with clients, I find myself over and over and over having to remind people like when they're either having a difficult time with their metamour, or they just don't even know how to talk to their metamour, or they're surprised that they have a great relationship with their metamour, just reminding them of the fact that no one has written the script for this culturally or socially. We're all just trying to figure out this particular relationship as it's unfolding, which is both terrifying and also exciting at the same time.

Dr. Alex: One of the things that I found was, as you might expect talking to 24 different people, there were a lot of things they said that it didn't match up, and there were certainly themes that we can talk about. Anyone who's been around polyamory long enough knows that everyone has a different story and a different structure and--

Dedeker: Pressure.

Dr. Alex: Yes.

Emily: No one wants to pick one label.


Dr. Alex: Right.

Jase: Well, actually, with that, that's a good segue into-- Can you give us just a brief description of-- What was the study? How was it done? What were you trying to determine? I know we can get into more of the results of that.

Dr. Alex: Because it was a qualitative study and because-- I used phenomenology, which we don't have to get into, but I used phenomenology as the-- Phenomenology meaning I am studying the phenomenon of male metamour relationships. When you study a phenomenon, you generally ask a couple of very open-ended questions. My two central questions were-- Here's a really academic question for you. How do polyamorous men describe the characteristics of their lived experience of metamour relationships? How do they describe their experience? That was one question. Then, what are the socio-cultural influences on those relationships?

That one was harder to tease out, and I didn't have great data on that. That will probably be the next study. I wanted to at least leave the door open for that second question.

Emily: That makes sense.

Jase: Great. Just give us the-- Who did you study in this study? It's like they wrote an essay or you talked to them and recorded it? How did it work? I'm just curious.

Dr. Alex: Actually, it was really interesting. Usually, in a study like this, you find people that you want to interview, and then you give them a demographic survey and you say, "Oh, let me make sure I know all of the characteristics of my sample." I reverse engineered it. I sent out a survey, a demographic survey, to polyamorous men. I had about 400 men who responded.

From those 400 men, I chose very, very specifically to try to get racial diversity, age diversity, socioeconomic diversity, educational diversity. This is going to sound a little like bragging, but I think I got the most diverse non-monogamous sample yet. It was good. You're always limited by the people who are willing to talk to you.

Emily: Of course.

Dr. Alex: That was a limiting factor. I only had about 62% white participants which, according to the stats on polyamorous people, there are supposedly more, although there are reasons why that might not be true, but anyway.

Jase: I was actually just talking with Ryan Witherspoon who we had on our show six months ago or nine months ago or something. I was talking with him about doing studies. He has the same theory where he's like, "I think actually, polyamors people in general are not as white as the studies say they are because of the way we get study participants and stuff like that." It's a constant struggle.

Dr. Alex: With any marginalized community, it's always difficult to recruit. When you have multiple marginalizations altogether, it could even more difficult. Anyway, then from that sample, I contacted individual men who were willing to talk to me. Some of them were face-to-face interviews, some of them were local or I drove to Delaware or whatever. Then a lot of them were actually done via Zoom.

Jase: Okay, the video chat.

Emily: Nice.

Dr. Alex: Yes.

Jase: Got it. They were all verbal, though? They were all speaking, not them writing answers to questions in an online form or something?

Dr. Alex: No, it was very important to me that it was a face-to-face interview. They were very open-ended questions, interaction. I was very upfront about my status as a polyamorous man, et cetera. It was very important to me that that was the kind of study that it was.

Jase: Cool. Sorry, I just have lots of questions about how these studies are done.

Dr. Alex: Oh, it's fine. It's fascinating.

Jase: When you're talking about a qualitative study like this where it is open-ended questions, when most people think about studies, they think about the things they read in Cosmo or Men's Health. It's like, "A new study shows that 63% of men think about birds while they jerk off," or something.

Emily: Good heavens.

Jase: It's just absurd. [laughs]

Dedeker: Where did you pull that one out of?

Jase: I don't know. I'm great at improv.

Dedeker: All right, good job.

Dr. Alex: Yes, and?


Jase: It's a statistic of just a yes or no sort of question or 'how many' sort of a question. With something like this, how do you go about getting results out of the study that is just a whole bunch of words that someone said?

Dr. Alex: You do a very long process of coding. You transcribe all the interviews, or if you're me, you pay someone to transcribe all the interviews. Then you load those into a program. I use something called NVivo. You start reading and you look for themes. When you see a the you create something called a node, which is basically-- In the old days, you used to actually put a piece of paper and you would have cut your piece of paper up and your transcript and you would put them in a folder or something. Nowadays, you actually use the database. For example, I would create a node, what was one, activities with metamours.

Then I would notice that several people said, "Oh, I like board gaming with a metamour," or "I like hobby type of thing." Every time they would say something hobby oriented, I would highlight that, code it into that node. Then later on, I could just look at a node that was "hobbies", and now I would have like 15 interviews where people had talked about their hobby. Then I could look at that as a discrete unit, and then when I reported the data, I could just report out of that unit.

Emily: I see.

Dr. Alex: Does that makes sense?

Jase: Cool. Yes, so it's looking for repeating things people say, stuff that overlaps between them. That way of finding those results. Ultimately, it seems like it has more of a human component instead of just crunching numbers.

Dr. Alex: Yes, and it's recursive. I started out with X number of I-don't-remember-what-it-was nodes. Then as I went through the interviews, I kept finding more patterns. Then I had to go back to the earlier interviews and code more things from those into those new nodes. I had to do the whole thing. I had to go through every interview maybe three or four times to really make sure that I'd covered everything.

Dedeker: Well, getting into the actual abstract. You broke down the process of men's relationships to their male metamours into three different phases. You said the first one was becoming a metamour, and then being a metamour, and then also contextualizing their metamour relationships. Can you talk to us about the significance of those three phases in your research?

Dr. Alex: I needed to give a narrative structure to everything because it was just so many different quotes and stories and I wanted to frame it. The becoming the metamour, the argument that I'm making is that there's a process of social learning. It's a process of assimilation into, in a lot of ways, a new culture.

Jase: Like Dedeker was saying, a relationship type that we don't have a script for-

Dedeker: Exactly.

Jase: -that we have done before.

Dr. Alex: Exactly. We can talk, I really hope we can talk about the set of different masculinity norms. This is the really important thing. There's this process of becoming where you're entering into polyamory communities and you're seeing how they operate and you're finding how you can assimilate into that. That's the becoming process. Then the being process was just all the experiential positive experiences, negative experiences. The crux of that, which we can spend some time on is, I asked men, "What are the things that make your metamour relationships run smoothly and what are the things that cause challenges?"

Jase: Cool.

Dr. Alex: There was a really nice list of those which I actually presented at Atlanta Poly Weekend.

Emily: Nice.

Jase: So cool. 

Dedeker: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: That, and then the contextualizing is where, again, the masculinity piece comes in. This is really cool. This was one of the best things about the study for me, was that the best analogy for metamour relationships is in-law relationships.

Jase: Really?

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: That makes sense.

Emily: It does make sense.

Dr. Alex: Without prompting, these men would say over and over again, "It's like your cousin who does this," or "It's like your sister-in-law," or "It's like your brother-in-law," or "He's like a brother-in-law." Then when I got in the in-law literature, I saw all of these parallels and family systems literature, and I said, ''Wow, this is exactly what's happening here.''

Emily: Interesting.

 Dr. Alex: That was the context. Then the other important two contexts were the masculinities context and then a little bit of contextual stuff around identities that individual men had and how that intersected with their experience with polyamory.

Emily: Okay. I have two things that that prompted me.


Emily: The first one I was going to ask about, there is a line in your abstract where you make reference to "Men's ambivalence to the process of assimilation into polyamorous culture and often non-voluntary relational networks is consistent with the findings of family systems and social learning theories." Is that what you're referring with the in-law parallel that you found?

Dr. Alex: Yes. There's this scholar I found named Morr Serewicz. Morr Serewicz is their last name, it's not hyphenated, I don't know what the origin of it is. They did this amazing work on in-law relationships and how it's a triangular relationship. If you imagine, let's not be hetero-sexist, let's say two men who are-- No, let's make a male person be an in-law, so let's say two women are married and one of the women has a brother, the person who has the brother is the hinge of the triangular structure, right?

Jase and Emily: Right.

Dr. Alex: They have a familiar relationship with their brother and their spouse has to enter into that family system and integrate and assimilate into that family system. Similarly, they're creating a new family system with their spouse, and so the in-law has to assimilate into that family system. If you could think about polyamory, that's what happens, where I have a partner and then I have another partner and the way I do polyamory with both people might be different, the extended poly networks of each of those people might be different, and so any time you have a new metamour there's a process of trying, at least we would hope, to assimilate a little bit into their norms or whatever it is.

It's ambivalent and I love the word. Sorry, this is terrible, this sounds really bragging. I don't mean to brag, but I love how rich the word ambivalent is because to be ambivalent is to hold both things equally. It's to be ambi-valent, to have equal amount of valence. That's really what it is for men over and over again, what I would hear. It wasn't entirely positive, it wasn't entirely negative, it was this in-between. They would get there and once they got there they were quite happy, but it was a difficult process. That's what the family systems literature says about in-laws.

Dedeker: That's really interesting.

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: From initially reading your abstract, I'm like, "Well, Alex just found a bunch of guys that do this really well and perfectly, but the reality of the situation, obviously, is that that's not necessarily the case and that you are going to find people who have a deep struggle with their metamours regardless of whether or not they are male or female. I was just wondering about that, in terms of your findings, if you did have people who really did struggle with it and then therefore, I don't know if they were outliers in your research or what that was, or if everyone had both good and bad times.

Dr. Alex: Closer to the second thing you said, closer to everyone had both. When we get to talking about those challenges and smooth metamour interactions, that's one of the things that I found. One of the ways that I coded that was that there were two things that I called unidirectional or unipolar. One of them was only associated with the smooth metamour interactions, and one of them was only associated with the challenging metamour interactions. Then all the other ones, I think they're six, maybe five or six, I'm pulling them up as we're talking, but anyway,-


Dr. Alex: -all of the middle ones could go either way. I got stories of either or both from various men. Some men told me about-- They didn't just talk about one metamour relationship, some of these men had many many metamours, and so they'd say, ''With this metamour, this element, this aspect worked really, really well but then there was this other metamour and it really didn't work well at all.''

Emily: That makes sense. I want to get to my second thing that I didn't get to earlier, I'm sorry. I think it's something that all three of us are wondering which is, can you share some of those tasty treats about the traits of smooth metamour relationships, trait/strategies that combine with the traits that crop up in the not-so-smooth metamour relationships?

Dr. Alex: I would love to. One of the things when I thought about this research and how I was going to present it to the world was, the things I need to present to polyamorous communities are these almost dos and don'ts.

Emily: That's what everyone wants.

Dr. Alex: Yes, and it's true. We can definitely talk about that. I'll try to be as brief as I can.

Dedeker: We did a whole presentation on this.

Dr. Alex: I can just focus on a few of the big ones, right?

Emily: Sure.

Dr. Alex: The absolute 100% number one, and it may sound obvious but I don't think it was so obvious, is having a sense of shared purpose.

Emily: The being on the same team?

Dr. Alex: Being on the same team, absolutely. I kept hearing that phrase over and over again. People said things like, ''Ali said--'' These names are not-- These are just-- I gave everybody pseudonyms. ''Ali said we would do things collaboratively and in the background to communicate with each other and say, hey, A-'" A was the mutual partner, "'-A is having a bad day. If you've got space, why don't you give her a call or drop in?'" Or, "'She's having a rough time. Why don't you stop and pick up that mint chocolate chip ice-cream that she really likes?'''

I heard over and over again men saying, "If we're on the same page, if we have a common goal being to take care of our mutual partner," that's when they get along really well.

Dedeker: That's great.

Emily: That is a big one.

Dr. Alex: That's the number one thing. Then, not to get off too much on this but we're going to get there, this is also the trait to me that most defies the muscular norm-

Emily: Oh, gosh.

Dr. Alex: -around--

Emily: Gosh.

Dedeker: That's competition.

Jase: We'll get there.

Emily: We will get there.

Dr. Alex: Shared purpose. Common values was another that when people had common values, for instance-- It's just mostly around their definitions of polyamory.

Jase: Okay, that makes sense.

Dr. Alex: A lot of people would say, "We both had the same ideas about having polycule meetings every few weeks," or "We had the same notion about-" whatever it was. Similarly, one person said,"I'm a city mouse. He and I don't get each other." Right?

Jase: Okay.

Dr. Alex: "We align well for our mutual partner's interest, but we don't understand each other."

Emily: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: That was the opposite of that. You could have common values or you could have an incompatibility that would cause challenges.

Emily: I see. Interesting.

Dedeker: Interesting.

Jase: In that example, that was a point of difficulty, like this?

Dr. Alex: A little bit, yes. He said they didn't fight about it, but what it prevented them from doing was having the kind of closeness that this participant wanted.

Emily: Got it. That makes sense.

Dr. Alex: Then open communication versus closed communication. That was over and over again. If the communication was good and open, that was positive, but a lot of the conflicts were caused by poor communication.

Jase: When you say "open versus closed communication", what do you mean by that?

Dr. Alex: Well, I mean they specifically said things like-- One guy actually used the word "closed door" and "open door". Having an open door policy, having a closed door policy, Actually, one guy said something amazing. He said something like, "Well, you know, a guy can yell and scream and call you a jerk." I won't use expletive, but call you a whatever. He's communicating with you but not really in a way that's productive. Maybe open and closed is not exactly the right dichotomy but--

Jase: But more about like--

Dedeker: Effective communication versus non-effective communication?

Jase: Or willingness to communicate versus unwillingness.

Dr. Alex: Yes. Using the triforce of communication versus not using the triforce of communication.


Emily: Thank you. If someone named dropped that in your study then you got to let us know because-- I wish.

Dr. Alex: [laughs] I think my study happened before that episode.

Emily: Before that? Okay, got it. Well okay--

Dr. Alex: I loved that model, by the way.

Jase: Thank you.

Emily: Well, jeez, shucks.

Dedeker: Thank god.

Emily: Really quick, while we're still along the same lines is, what was maybe the-- Unless you've mentioned it already, but what was the biggest trait or was there any common through line that you saw particularly with people who really struggled in their metamour relationships?

Dr. Alex: Yes. Again, it was the reciprocal of all of these. It was not having shared values, not respecting each other. One person, Jacque. Jacque was really amazing, great person very insightful, but he told this story that made me really sad which was that he was just watching Netflix or something in his house that he shared with his partner and his partner came home with one of their other partners, and apparently, the two of them just sat down and just ignored Jacque. He felt like, "Hey, I'm a stranger in my own home." He just felt disrespected. He felt that he wasn't considered.

Lack of consideration, lack of respect, lack of similar interests in life or similar hobbies. Then also, whatever the relationship dynamic was with the mutual partner. Again, it may sound obvious, but that could have a very strong impact. It wasn't so much what you might think, which is you might think, "Oh, well, it's overprotective white knight kind of crap." It wasn't really that, it was more-- In fact, what I heard more than not was, it was just a struggle because-- Let's say, for instance, Jase, in this example you're my metamour-

Emily: Oh, boy.

Dr. Alex: -and you're arguing with the mutual person that we're dating and it's just-- You're not a bad person, but their relationship with you is stressful. Now, I have to decide, I want to respect the autonomy of you and your two relationship, I don't want to get in the middle, and it's not really my business, but now this person is stressed and this person needs support and I'm put in a very difficult position. Even if the men weren't feeling the need to be aggressive or to fight or anything like that, they were feeling that they couldn't be close to the metamour because of the conflict that was brought into the relationship.

Jase: Man, gosh, you just brought up so much.

Emily: I know. All of it is like whoa.

Dr. Alex: I'm sorry. Content warning. I apologize.

Jase: I definitely can relate to that. I feel like a lot of people, both male and female, just from the people who've talked to us, can relate to that feeling of like, "I don't want to be opposed to this other relationship because that's their business, but it's also really hard because I'm not happy with what's happening."

Emily: I feel like I've seen that all across the gender spectrum come up. Pretty common situation.

Dr. Alex: You could also file that. I had to make choices. Again, for the sake of just putting this together in a form that was readable, you could file that under poor communication in terms of poor communication around the entire polycule.

Emily: All right.

Dr. Alex: Right?

Jase: Yes.

Dr. Alex: Because in a way, why couldn't I talk to you about that? I should be able to talk to you and say, "Hey, look, it's none of my business what's happening between you two but just so you know, I feel like there's some conflict and is there anything I can do to help with this?" That's a possible thing that could happen. I didn't hear about that happening but that could happen.

Jase: That's just such a--

Emily: Novel idea.

Jase: Well, also such a tricky territory to start walking into. It's why I understand why a lot of people wouldn't do that.

Emily: Would avoid it.

Dedeker: Before we get to the next section of the interview, we actually wanted to talk to you all about something really new and cool that we're going to do just until October 1st. For each iTunes review that is written between now and October 1st, 2018, we're going to donate $5 to the Ali Forney center, which is a non-profit whose mission is to protect LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently.

Jase: Ali Forney was a gender non-conforming teen who fled his home when he was 13 years old, as many LGBT youth do. He in foster care was beaten and abused and ended up living on the streets at the age of 15. In spite of all that, he was dedicated to helping other people and publicly advocated for the safety of homeless LGBT youth. Tragically, in 1997, he was murdered. He was shot in the head in Harlem. This non-profit was formed a few years later specifically to help prevent this type of thing from happening to other kids.

Emily: Again, this is a super easy thing that you can do that actually doesn't even cost any of your own money. Again, just go to iTunes and if you leave us a review, a written review, again, for every single one that we receive for the show in between now and October 1st, we will donate $5 to the Ali Forney Center.

Jase: Get all your friends together, write all those reviews.

Dedeker: We'll donate a ton of money, which is awesome and we're excited to do that. That's a new thing that we're doing starting now. In addition, if you do want to contribute some monetary stuff to us--

Emily: Stuff? Just stuff?

Dedeker: Just monetary stuff, you can become a part of our Patreon community. Our Patreon listeners are a really really amazing community that we have built on Facebook, on Discourse, on various places. If you contribute to us at the $5 level, then you'll become a part of either that Facebook or Discourse group, or both, which ever you prefer. That is just an amazing community of people who are interested in polyamory, who are polyamorous, who have just opened up their relationships, who have been doing it for years. They all have awesome things to talk about, things that they're working on. In addition, from there you can just become a part of that community with us.

We also go on there sometimes and talk to you all as well. It's great, it's a nice way to be a part of a big community of like-minded people.

Jase: Those people there actually often have these types of conversations about the stuff we're talking about today, which is also really cool. You're going to hear people's actual lived experiences of their relationships with their metamours, and gender, and masculinity, and all these things.

Dedeker: Also, at the $7 level, you get ad-free episodes so you wouldn't even be hearing us talk about this. If you're sick of us talking about this every week, you're like, "I'm already a Patreon listener," then donate at the $7 level and above, and then you'll get ad-free episodes. In addition, at the $9 level, you'll get, its like a private video discussion group that we do with you every single month. The three of us get on a video discussion group and then we talk to you all about anything that's happening in your life. It's really awesome. Again, go to patreon.com/multiamory and become a Patreon subscriber today.

Emily: Another way that you can support the show is you can go and check out our sponsor for this week. Our sponsor for this week is Audible. Fantastic news, Kevin Patterson's book just got on Audible.

Dedeker: Is he the one doing it?

Emily: Yes he reads it.

Dedeker: Awesome.

Jase: He reads his own book? That's good.

Emily: Yes, he reads his own book. If you go to audibletrial.com/multiamory, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Audible. It will include a credit for a free audiobook, so you can use that credit to get Kevin Patterson's book, Love is Not Colorblind. You can also go back and listen to our interview with Kevin a few episodes back to get some more information about that. I would highly recommend it for sure, so again, go to audibletrial.com/multiamory, support Kevin Patterson and also support your favorite polyamory podcast.

Dedeker: It's wonderful required reading, so definitely take a look.

Emily: With that, let's get back to the interview.

Dedeker: Whoo.

Jase: Alright. You've teased this already, but one of the most fascinating parts of this study to me is that you mentioned that some of your findings directly contradict or directly challenge some of the widely-held beliefs in masculinity studies. Specifically, in the abstract, you mentioned the idea that competition for women is like a core component of all males' relationships with each other, adult males at least. I wanted to hear a little bit more about that but also any other contradictions toward traditional-- whatever it is, whether it's the Darwinian mate competition models or other more contemporary things in masculinity studies. I'm really curious about all of that.

Dr. Alex: One of my participants said, "I don't think you can have alpha males in polyamory," which I felt was such a great quote. I don't think he's entirely right, but I just thought it was a great quote. I just want to be careful, before we delve into this, to acknowledge the limitations of the study. One of the things is that I talk to men who have or have had male metamours, and so already that's a sample that doesn't entirely reflect all polyamory. For example, someone who has a one-penis policy is not going to be a person in my study because they don't have metamours.

Jase: They don't have male metamours.

Emily: No male metamours.

Dr. Alex: It's certainly possible that when I make these claims,-- I'm very careful to say that this is only based on my sample, but it's a broad sample, it's a broad geographical sample and age sample, et cetera, et cetera. We are talking about men who are at least engaged in a type of polyamory. We could call it maybe the norm of polyamory, but it doesn't include everybody. That's important to know. To me, two of the biggest components of hegemonic masculinity or toxic masculinity-- Those are not really interchangeable but let's use them interchangeably for the sake of simplicity. Two of the biggest components are desire for power and competition, that's one category, power, work, competition, right?

Jason: Yes.

Dr. Alex: Then the second one is emotional restrictiveness. On both of those counts, the vast majority of the men I talk to operated under the opposite paradigm. When, in fact, those negative things, the things that were unipolar negative things were things like competitiveness, jealousy, aggression, things like that. Men consistently said that when they had negative experiences or challenges, it was due to things like competitiveness, those kinds of things. One masculine norm that the polyamory community more or less subverts is the norm that men should compete against each other.

Jase: Right. That seems to be a pretty central thing you have to accept if you're going to do polyamory.

Dr. Alex: Exactly. By the way, the really amazing thing is that the men were aware of this. Here's the funny thing, I never asked them questions about masculinity directly.

Jase: Okay.

Emily: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: I never directly used those words but it came up. When it came up, I followed up, of course. They would say things like-- There's this one amazing story that Cyril told me about going to a party where he met one of his metamours for the first time and his metamour said, "Hey, I really appreciate how relaxed-" I'm not going to name the name, but let's say "G", "-how relaxed G is after she spends time with you." He's like, "That's really great, I really love that you do that." Then what Cyril said was, "I was thinking to myself, 'well, that wasn't what I expected.'"


Emily: Great.

Dr. Alex: Diego told a similar story where he said, "This is the point in the movies when someone's supposed to get out a gun or something."

Emily: He just wants to punch someone else in the face.

Dr. Alex: He said, "But I didn't feel that way at all." That was the one masculine norm, the competition. Then the other one was the communication, the restricted emotions and the restricted communication, which again, when the men told me they had challenges, it was almost always things like, "He was just so closed off," or "He didn't communicate well," or "He thought polyamory was something else and so he was not with us, he was not--" A lot of it was due to lack of communication. Those two are the big ones, those are the two big norms.

The literature says, "Men don't have intimate relationships with other men that aren't sexual," and the literature says-- Eve Sedgwick, I don't know if you know Eve Sedgwick's work.

Jase: The name's familiar but I'm not sure.

Emily: I don't know.

Dr. Alex: It's the theory of triangulation. It's the theory that all bonds between men in a heterosexual context, the homosocial bonds are actually triangulated through a woman as an object of desire.

Jase: I see, got it.

Dr. Alex: That's what brings the men intimacy.

Emily: Geez. It's a lie.

Dr. Alex: I don't think that Sedgwick's wrong, but I think that the Sedgwick model starts to fall a little bit apart in a polyamorous context because the rivalry is not there, or it doesn't have to be there. Right?

Emily: Right.

Jase: Right.

Dedeker: Wow. That's all really-- It's great, it's fascinating.

Jase: We're all sitting here trying to process everything. [laughs]

Emily: I want to jump in with another question about this before we move onto the next topic. Again, I feel like this is just a whole other potential podcast worth of talking about this, but I'm just going to throw it out there. The concept of the emotional labour that it takes to maintain a metamour relationship, I'm wondering-- My impression from the way that you described the study is that it's a lot of men talking about what it was like to suddenly have this relationship with another man, how it feels to be there and how he contextualizes it within this greater context of the society and the culture that he's existing in.

Did you get anything in your study about men talking about expending any kind of emotional labor or being proactive in maintaining a good metamour relationship in any way?

Dr. Alex: Some of the men talked about that. One of my questions was "What kinds of activities do you do with your men metamours?" They ran the gamut and one-on-one time with the metamour was third or fourth on the list. It was up there, it wasn't at the top, but it was third or fourth, but some of them did, some of them talked very specifically about like, "I made sure that we went out and had a beer together," or "I really enjoyed board-gaming with him."

In some cases, actually, the metamour relationship lasted longer than the romantic relationship. In some cases.

Emily: I'm just curious, just because anecdotally, I've seen a lot of women in the polyamorous community get frustrated because they feel like because of how they've been socialized as women, that they're so much faster to jump to, "Okay, I need to put in the emotional labour to make sure that I have a good metamour relationship so that everything's good for all of us, and now my male partner turns around and with his metamour, he's just like, 'Whatever.'" I'm just curious about, if we look at my anecdotal evidence, is that a trend or do men who have male metamour relationships seem to be bucking that trend? If there's anything that was popping out from the study?

Dr. Alex: There were many examples of bucking that trend. There were certainly examples that support your experiences, and I've had experiences that ran the gamut in my own life. I think it was Wan who said, "It was a friendly indifference." She was metamours. It has the word "friendly" in it.


Dedeker: Exactly. It's better than nothing.

Emily: It's better than the flipside.

Dr. Alex: Right. Certainly, I want to be very careful not to say that there's some kind of panacea or that there's no hegemonic masculinity here or that there's-- Certainly, many of the men I talk to struggled, but I will say, when I'm being most positive, and I'm a masculinity's educator who tries to be very positive and future looking, I would say that even when the men were failing to achieve that kind of intimacy or those kinds of connections, they saw that as a flaw.

Dedeker: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: They saw that as something to aspire to and they were often sad. I know I can-- Again, speaking for myself, when I have been unable to have those kinds of connections with male metamours, it's always disappointed me, because it's a kind of connection that I want to have with other men, especially men with whom I don't have, for lack of better word, natural reason to have a connection with.

Jase: Right. God, I have a couple of things, again, at that. That made me think. I feel like everything just brings up more stuff we want to ask about.

Dr. Alex: Well, you know, we could do a part two.

Dedeker: Please, don't encourage him.

Jase: Well, one thing is that it made me think about, earlier we were talking about the ambivalence of men toward these non-voluntary social relationships, like the in-law sort of thing, where there is-- it's not like, "Oh, my gosh, yes, I definitely want this relationship that I didn't choose." And it's also not like, "Get it away from here, I don't want it," but just like, "Yes, all right, it's fine."

Emily: "I have it, yes."

Jase: It just reminds me of something that we've talked about before on our show is this embracing a healthy neutrality about things, that you don't need to be super pumped about everything but just obtaining that state of being neutral of like, "This is fine. I'm not upset about it. I'm not stoked about it, but that's fine. That's a happy life that I can focus on my happiness." It made me think about that parallel that we've drawn with other things, not just metamour relationships but just in general about your life and about your relationships and things.

Dr. Alex: Yes, one of my participants said he had-- I'm trying to remember if I can find it, but he had this quote about what he called squashing out the sex. He said-- I asked him what his feelings were about his male metamours, and he said, "Well, if my girlfriend had a regular squash partner who she plays with once or twice a week and really likes playing with, how would I feel about them? I don't know. That depends mostly on how they make her feel."

He talks about squashing out the sex. Yes, this is a person who might be having sex with a partner, but what if they were playing squash with the partner, how would you feel? If you feel differently--

Emily: Maybe that's on you.

Dr. Alex: He didn't exactly say this, but I think he would say, "You need to interrogate that."

Jase: Well, yes, I guess that's interesting too-

Dedeker: Yes, definitely.

Jase: -just whether or not you're focusing on the sex part because I know some men who are polyamorous who like the fact that their female partner's having sex with other men is awesome and they want to hear about it, but I feel like the majority are like, "Yes, I'm aware of that but I'd rather not think too hard about it. [laughs] I'm happier if I'm just not worrying so much about that and more about," like you said, "how do they make my partner feel. Is she happy? Is she safe?" all that.

Dr. Alex: It's hard to know how much of that-- again, let's not get too far afield, but it's hard to know how much of that attitude in a lot of men, especially men who've been raised with heterosexist norms in America, it's hard to know how much of that is genuinely how men feel, and how much of that is a performance of a masculinity that they think they're supposed to feel, right?

Jase: Yes. Totally.

Dr. Alex: Which is the whole trap of masculinity-

Emily: Totally.

Dr. Alex: -in general.

Jase: Yes, definitely. I just wanted to mention too, the second thing was just that, something that I've actually heard from a number of polyamorous men and I've experienced it myself is that since becoming polyamorous, it's helped to open up the doorway to having friendships with men that are not even metamours, that are just part of your polyamorous community; maybe they're friends of your metamours or just other people you've met within that.

I've experienced this myself that since becoming polyamorous, I feel like I have more and closer male friends than I had before. That's something I just think is interesting about all of this, that maybe it's a way to start questioning and rethinking some of the ways we approach male-male relationships that are not sexual.

Dedeker: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: Yes, that was actually one of my-- You asked me at the very beginning, that was one of my inspirations was looking at the literature on platonic men's friendships, and spoiler alert, there's almost none. I don't think it's because men don't have friendships, I think there are other reasons why that's true. Anthony said this amazing thing about-- he said, "One of the things I've seen in my relationships with male metamours is this real exploration of authentic nontoxic masculinity. I've seen male metamours really be a steppingstone for men to learn some of these emotional skills."

Emily: That's so great.

Jase: Cool.

Dedeker: Really fascinating.

Emily: Yes, I love that.

Dr. Alex: What you said reminded me of that.

Dedeker: Yes, totally.

Emily: Yes, absolutely. This is going to be potentially slightly off topic, but something that you talked about enjoying speaking about when we were preparing for this episode are the intersection of anarchism and polyamory. I was curious if you meant relationship anarchy there, and if your research had anything to do with men who were relationship anarchists, if you found any interesting data regarding that or regarding metamours and relationship anarchy. Just wanted to ask you about what you wanted to talk about regarding that.


Dr. Alex: Well, yes, we might need to table that anyway because it might take us off. I did talk to some men who identified as something that I would call relationship anarchists. The point I was making, this is just my own little personal thing because I have a Facebook page about this, is I don't really like relationship anarchy because the word anarchy has a lot of connotative meanings I don't like, and I like to keep it rooted in anarchism, so I actually use the word anarcho-amory because I just like the idea of anarcho because there's a history in the anarchists movement of anarcho as a prefix and I really like to honor that tradition.

Really, the 30-second summary is just the principles of autonomy; free association and mutual aid which are three of the core principles of anarchism, I think are three of the best principles guiding any kinds of human relationships. Mutual aid being the really important one because autonomy and free association are really easy, but in the hands of narcissist they cause a lot of problems. Mutual aid is the one that-- with mutual aid, I think, is where you get more caring, and kindness, and empathy, and all of those things that you need to make the autonomy and the free association work.

Dedeker: Wow, that's really interesting.

Emily: That's really cool. Also-- unless you had something, Dedeker?

Dedeker: No, go ahead.

Emily: The other thing was you talked quickly about the express model of consent, TMTMTM. We didn't know what that was, I was like, "Have you heard of that? Have you heard of that?" I was wondering what that was if you think that it can help change the way that consent culture is being presented right now or if it can just help that movement along in some way.

Dr. Alex: It's related to masculinity. I think you've talked about the guess model and the tell model which are the two-- I think you've talked about this maybe.

Dedeker: We've talked about other things, I know what you're talking about though.

Dr. Alex: Some people have said, "Guess culture is this more implicit culture of--" By the way, guess culture gets a bad reputation. If everybody is doing guess culture it's fine. If everybody is doing ask culture, it's fine. In fact, people-- I've read some articles people don't call them cultures, they call them strategies which I actually really like a lot, but the thing about asking when I think about this in the context of masculinity and particularly heterosexual interactions, though it doesn't have to only be that, is that the process of asking can still create implicit pressure or coercion.

Because a question demands an immediate answer, even if the answer is, "I need some more time," still, it's rare that you really can say that. When someone asks you a direct question, you really usually feel that you have to give them an answer. I've been endorsing this thing I call express culture which is to-- again, in a heterosexual context, I would say, charging men with, number one, getting in touch with your authentic desire.

First and foremost, don't ask someone out because you think being a man means asking everyone out. Don't ask people out to show off for your male friends. Don't ask people out, don't try to engage in sex with people because you think that men need to have sex or want to have sex all the time or you're trying to prove something. First, just get in touch with your own desires and then step two, express those desires in a non-threatening way. This third part is related to the second part, get your satisfaction from the expression of the desire regardless of the outcome.

Dedeker: Interesting.

Jase: Okay.

Dr. Alex: That's the most important thing. The way that I practice this for myself is let's say I'm on a date with somebody and I'm having a really good time, I'm going to say, "I'm having a really good time," I'm going to express that. Then at some point, maybe we're walking, when somebody's walking someone to the car, and this is the moment in the traditional date where someone might go in for a kiss, which, jeez, that just makes me cringe just thinking about it, but it might also be a moment where I might ask someone for a kiss and that could maybe seem like pressure.

Instead, I will just say something like, "I'm having a great time and I've been thinking about kissing you. I really think it would be really great to kiss you and I just wanted to say that." And that's it, that's my job. I'm happy, I've expressed what I've expressed. The other person, rather than facing a yes or no question, now they have the entire gamut of possible responses. They can say, "Yes, I've been thinking the same thing, let's do that." They could say, "Thank you for sharing that with me, I'm not really feeling that." They could say, "Yes, kissing. I was going to invite you back to my place."

They could change the subject, they could do any number of things. I know that it seems like a very small semantic move or something, but I really don't think it is. I think it's a really important distinction that if we all work on expressing our desires but being satisfied simply with the expression of the desire, regardless of outcome, that we're going to have a lot fewer coercive interactions. Also, it's a way of building intimacy because I have to be vulnerable in order to do this. I have to be vulnerable in order to express something to you knowing that you might very well not reciprocate that feeling.

It's like a leading with vulnerability, which I see is the antithesis of a traditionally masculine, toxic masculine thing. I'm not leading with toughness, I'm leading wit vulnerability. What it does, and I've work-shopped this with people with whom I've had these kinds of interactions recently, and what I'm told is that-- they always say to me, "It's so great how you created space to allow me to lean into you," or "to allow me to express myself," and I'm like, "That's exactly what I'm going for."

Jase: I think that key component there of that just expressing it is the end of the agenda of saying it, I think that part is-- In the example you gave, it's like that very small part at the end, but I think that's the whole crux of it. I think that's an interesting thing. I'm curious to hear if this is something that you continue with what you find as ways to actually teach that part, and what are the most effective ways to get that piece across? Because I think that when you're talking about this as a way to avoid a coercive situation, I think that's the key is the like, "I just want to say that and that's all," and actually meaning that and then believing that you mean that. That's the whole thing.

Dedeker: I guess that's the important part, but then also believing that-- I guess it's the same thing. If someone asks you also, it's also believing that I can say no and it will be okay. That is the crux there and being able to convey that.

Dr. Alex: I think part of it is-- when I think about consent and when I think about this model, it's not about that moment at the end of a date when you're deciding whether there's going to be a kiss, it's something that happens throughout the entire interaction with somebody. Whenever I'm with anybody, if I'm having a great time, I'm going to express that. If I'm feeling uncomfortable, I'm going to express that. It's setting this whole tone of this is what you need to communicate effectively with me.

Also, by the way, being totally okay with that not being someone else's cup of tea. When I have a bad date, that's pretty much what happens. It's clear that they think I'm talking too much or they think I'm too open or too whatever, and it's like, "Okay, I get it, I'm not for you. That's great. I'm glad we found this out now."

Dedeker: Exactly. We're going to pivot a tiny bit, can you tell us a little bit about your Talk Like a Man project?

Dr. Alex: Sure. Talk Like a Man emerged out of a project for a class that I took where we were looking at how do you make change? How do you change norms? If you can, how do you change norms? And I came across this amazing researcher named Berkowitz who had this idea called social norms marketing, and I don't really like marketing but whatever, it's social norms marketing. It's this really amazing thing which is it turns out that people behave according to what they think is the social norm, and they're often wrong about what the social norm actually is.

Emily: Interesting.

Dr. Alex: It's called the pluralistic fallacy, is what he calls it in his model. What you can do as an intervention, and he's done this, Berkowitz and other people have done this on colleges campuses for binge drinking is a really good example. If you go to a college campus and you survey 500 students and you say, "How often do you binge drink?" And they'll say, "Twice a month," whatever it is. Then you say, "How often do you think your peers binge drink?" And they'll say--

Jase: Everyday.


Dr. Alex: Yes. The ones who think their peers binge drink more will binge drink more themselves. Then when you educate them and say, "Actually, no, your peers only binge drink on average twice a month," binge drinking goes down on campus. Because everybody just wants to be normal is one way of saying it. That was the genesis of Talk Like a Man. The idea is I try to present, on Talk Like a Man, all kinds of examples of non-toxic-- I don't really like the word toxic masculinity, but whatever, that's another thing.

Jase: Maybe non-restrictive masculinity?

Dr. Alex: Exactly. My idea is these-- Because the truth about masculinity is that no one lives up to hegemonic masculinity and everyone knows that including men. What I want to do as an antidote is say, "No, actually look at all these masculinities. Look at how they're thriving. Look at how they're proliferating." These are the masculine norms or maybe there is no masculine norm. As much as I can get that out there, that's what I'm trying to do.

I post articles, there's some videos on a YouTube channel where I interviewed a whole bunch of different men; trans men, queer men, a whole bunch of different types of men. Then the Tumblr is just everything I can find that's representations of men of color, queer men, white men too, all kinds of representations of men. One of my biggest things I re-tumble-- No, that's not right, I don't know whatever you do. Repost on Tumblr is this site called Yoga Men which is these amazing men doing the most beautiful poses you've ever seen, and the most extraordinary pictures of men in these amazing yoga poses. It's so the antithesis of UFC or something.

Dedeker: Sounds great.

Dr. Alex: Just putting that out there. My theory is, I can't prove that this is working because how could I prove it? We know that this can work. [clears throat] Excuse me. You see these kinds of things, the more people start to say, "Okay, I can step into that. I can belong to that," because ultimately what anybody wants is just to belong to a group just to find belongingness. The trap of masculinity is that there is no group outside of masculinity or outside of hegemonic masculinity, there's no group that isn't seen as a punishment for a lot of men outside of that.

One of the great accomplishments of feminism is that it's given women many femininities that are relatively equally-- you can have a sports femininity, you can have a political femininity, you can have different kinds of femininities. They don't have the cultural cache of makeup, high heels, long hair femininity, but they're places that women can go to. If you're a man outside of hegemonic masculinity, if you're not queer outside of hegemonic masculinity is basically nothing.

There's so much fear that men have of not finding a group to belong to that they often cling to and are complicit in hegemonic masculinity and support hegemonic masculinity, even in all of its horrors because they're so afraid of being kicked out of the club. So, I'm trying to do everything I can to say, "No, no. You're still in the club. It's fine. You're not going to get kicked out."

Dedeker: I'm curious, from curating this project, what are the things that you've learned personally about your own relationship to masculinity?

Dr. Alex: [chuckles] Well, I mean actually I would say that one of the things I've learned is-- it's not as much about masculinity, but one of the things I've learned is that I didn't know as much as I needed to know about men of color or queer masculinities or even trans masculinities. I mean I knew a lot from my studies in human sexuality, but the more that I found myself focusing on these types of masculinity that weren't part of my upbringing, the more that I'm realizing my own privilege and realizing my own-- the way that that blinds me. And so, that's been an amazing revelation for me.

And then, I don't know, I would say just-- the biggest thing for me in my journey with my own masculinity is learning that it's okay for me to have-- there were a lot of qualities that I felt, or a lot of things I felt a lot of shame for in my life-- I don't think I did shameful things but things that I felt shame for, and I've learned to reconcile those things and see them as not positive things to ascribe to necessarily or aspire to, but part of the acculturation of men in America and part of the journey is standing aside from them, maybe not fully breaking free but certainly standing aside and being able to be critical. I don't know, was that-- that was a Byzantine answer-


Emily: No, it was good.

Dedeker: It was great.

Jase: Thank you.

Dedeker: Last but not least, can you tell our listeners where they can find more about you and your work?

Dr. Alex: Yes. Well, the Talk Like a Man project is everywhere and, unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the URLs I always wanted, but if you just search Talk Like a Man, you'll pretty much find there's a YouTube channel, there's a Facebook. The Facebook page is a little more of a broadcast medium for me, people can post but it gets hidden, but there's also a group, so if people want to be a little more interactive, they can join the group.

Jase: Very cool. Is that a public group that people can find?

Dr. Alex: Yes, it's a public page and a public group. They do have to be approved but I approve everybody until otherwise noted. And then, it's TLAM project on Twitter, it's @TLaMProject. Because I think I couldn't get Talk Like a Man, I don't remember, it was weird.

Jase: Well, yes, I heard that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons bought all those out right away.

Dr. Alex: It might be. Actually, it's funny that you say that, the thing that I get more than that is the Steve Harvey Think Like a Man.

Jase: Oh gosh, I freaking hate that book.

Dedeker: Oh gosh, I hate it so much. Every single time I see that cover.

Jase: I want to rip that book up in every store I walk into.

Dedeker: It makes me nosiated.

Emily: Me too, me too.

Dedeker Well, on that note, we'll end it there. Alex, thank you so much for joining us today, thank you so much for sharing all of your findings.

Jase: Yes, thank you.

Dr. Alex: Yes, it's great to talk about this. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Emily: Thank you.

Dedeker: Thank you.