greyine: (Default)
greyine ([personal profile] greyine) wrote2003-04-27 12:30 pm

Polyamory and game theory

A ponderance:
On the poly community, the opinion was recently brought up that in order for polyamory to work, there has to be a sense of the other person's happiness outweighing your own, with the understanding that your happiness will outweigh their own. Now, I've come to believe this isn't a good thing in general, polyamorousness or not, and my SO agrees: it fosters codependence, and you can't love someone else fully before you love yourself. That aside, the concept of each person acting sub-optimally for themselves in order to make the situation as a whole come out optimally is at the heart of popular gaming theory. A common gaming problem is this: if neither of us talks, we'll each get 1 year in prison. If one turns in the other, the turn-coat gets off scott-free and the other gets 3 years. If we both turn in each other, we both get 3 years. The best solution is for us both to take our one year in prison and resist the temptation to make a deal for a better offer. This very rarely occurs in practice, though, because of the greedy nature of human beings. So, gaming theory does indeed foster an atmosphere of codependence - you are dependent on your partner or teammates for an optimal result. Where, then, are the core incompatibilities in applying game theory to happiness in relationships, if codependence is necessary for one and (IMO) unhealthy for the other? Perhaps the difference is in the definition of "optimal" solution, as it is difficult to quantify an optimal solution in a relationship as simply as outlined in the gaming example above. Hm. I wonder how one would go about quantifying an optimal solution for a polyamorous relationship?

Prisoner's Dilemma and Primacy

[identity profile] 2003-06-11 06:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Poly relationships are not zero-sum games, so Prisoner's Dilemma doesn't work well with it. In poly, everyone can win if everyone takes extra care to guard everyone else's feelings. Of course, people can lose, too, despite everyone's best intentions. Relationships are complicated and are not easily quantified or optimized.

Prisoner's Dilemma does not apply to poly relationships because it assumes that the various people care only about themselves. That's not true in poly. You're looking out for the other person's safety, too.

The optimal solution, in my very educated opinion, involves one couple designating each other as "primary" and then all other partners take a secondary role. Any other solution sets up a potential for very painful situations when someone has to choose one partner's feelings over another's -- and thus choose a primary for that situation. If you set up the expectation of primary before-hand, then it's an easier pill to swallow for the partner that gets left without primary support.

My typical example is this: By some strange and evil coincidence, within the same hour in different states far apart, each of your partners gets hit by a car. Both of them need you badly. Who do you go take care of?

You cannot have two primaries. You can only have two secondaries. If you choose no primary, than neither partner gets the emotional safety net of knowing that there is someone in their life that puts them before all others. Meanwhile, you have two partners who put you before all others. It's a bit greedy, really.

Re: Prisoner's Dilemma and Primacy

[identity profile] 2003-06-11 08:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Hm, some interesting points you bring up. The post was meant more as a bit of theoretical exploration, as I've only dabbled in game theory myself. I didn't expect anyone to actually reply to this, and I appreciate the feedback, thanks!

However, there are definitely cases of triads where each shares equally in the relationship. Now, in response to your example, I say this:

Suppose I'm a single mother with two children, who within the same hour yadda yadda both need me badly. Who do I go take care of? I love both children equally and can't choose one above the other. So, whatever I do in that situation could be applied to having two primaries as well.

Your last paragraph is addressing the situation of one person being a primary for two other people. Now, it's theoretically possible that those two people don't need to be put before all others and are comfortable having a primary for whom they are not also a primary. After all, when one is single one has no such safety net, and as a secondary you can be above all others but one. This argument is more for the sake of being devil's advocate, as I realize there's a noteworthy difference between being single and devoting yourself to one person who doesn't return the sentiment, and I do agree being a primary for two people who aren't both your primary is indeed being greedy. "Poly/bi/switch -- I'm not indiscriminate, I'm just greedy."

Re: Prisoner's Dilemma and Primacy

[identity profile] 2003-06-12 05:36 pm (UTC)(link)
True triads are a very good thing, if you can make them work. It's hard enough to find one person who is right for you. It's much harder to find two people who are right for you. It's damned near impossible to find two people who are right for you, and also right for one another.

I know of only one lasting poly triad, and it's not even a true triad. It's two men who live with one woman, and they're all happy. They've been together around a decade.

I have seen about a dozen triad attempts in my poly experience (since 1992) and barring that one, all have failed.

Regarding the mother choosing between her two children, I think it's a fascinating counterargument. I have to think about it.

One important distinction is that the two children have a very, very close relationship (they are siblings). If your play partners have a very close relationship, live in the same house as you, and so on, then I can see that it might work. That is how the triad I describe above works.

Also, the children would grow up with an expectation of never having being "first" in mom's life ("I love you both equally," they're told from their earliest days). Sure, you can tell your poly partners what to expect, but you're basically telling them to expect to be treated equally, and not as a primary.

Another thing to remember is that, in your example, the mother WILL have to make a decision and choose one child over another. The other child will likely be devastated and fucked up for life. ;) Your analogy does not invalidate that situations will force you to choose one over another, and feelings will be hurt as a result. If both partners are willing to accept that lack of insecurity in their relationship, that's fine. I still argue that they do not have a primary-style relationship with you, because they cannot count on you in certain situations.

I haven't met many people who don't want to be someone's (anyone's) primary. All of my play partners over the last decade have sought a partner who could give them more than what I could offer.

Please don't take what I am about to say the wrong way. I don't mean anything nasty by it... You are about to get married. To one partner, not the other. I don't think your relationships are equal. If you love them both equally, why not marry them both? or (since that's not legal), live with them both? How can you convince your fiance that he's NOT primary when he's married and the other guy isn't? How can you convince the other guy that you love him just as much as the guy who's ring you wear?

The triad I mentioned above did indeed get married. Two are married by law and the other two are handfasted. In their minds, she is married to both men. That works for them, and they seem to be stable in their relationship(s), so I applaud them.

Re: Prisoner's Dilemma and Primacy

[identity profile] 2003-06-12 08:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Have I ever mentioned that Ms. Greyine likes to play devil's advocate? A lot? Heh.

Anyway, I can't imagine living with two men. All that male insecurity! Gracious but they'd be intolerable. nah, far better to have another estrogen factory in the house, to gang up on- er, I mean... to provide another feminine perspective on things. Yeah, that's it. ;)

giggle. grin. O:)

Re: Prisoner's Dilemma and Primacy

[identity profile] 2003-06-12 08:56 pm (UTC)(link)
A couple things: Did you mean the first comment to be done with [ profile] adamdray, or would you like to consolidate to [ profile] _rage and/or have me friend-lock this (and add you to friends)? :) Also, you've been talking to [ profile] giggleblushhide too much if you think I wanted this other guy as another full primary. :) I may've mentioned it once or twice, but in general I've always thought that he'd be a secondary. A very close secondary, but the understanding would be that in any conflict, my fiancé would "win". But I do agree, were he hypothetically to become another primary to me, it would be in a situation very similar to what you're describing above, and I would definitely push for the three of us to move in together, and possibly handfast to him. I just never carried the "two primaries" hypothetical speculation that far in my conversations with GBH because I didn't give the thought that much merit. "Methinks the lady doth protest too much"? Not really, but you and GBH both sounded concerned about my dual poly ideas, and I just wanted to assuage them. :)

Friends list

[identity profile] 2003-06-18 08:55 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for adding me to your friends list.

Re: Friends list

[identity profile] 2003-06-18 09:21 am (UTC)(link)
You have insightful comments and a wealth of experience; I'm glad to have you aboard! :)