The Aftermath — Part III, Multitasking


Polyamory requires multitasking. Serial monogamy doesn’t. And multitasking is a kind of circus act of the brain.

gekko and I are juggling again. You can read her new Circus Act (Another Polyamory Poast) over on LizardDreams

I have an idea with a couple of data points to support it. Here’s the data:

Desdemona has a dear, close friend named Maggie; Like Anne and “Sally” and so many other close friends, they spend hours and hours together. Before hooking up with Maggie, though, Desdemona spent most of her free time with Susan. Their interests were poles apart so they spent their time differently.

We have previously suggested that one can have sex without love and, more important, one can have love without sex.

Desdemona and Maggie might fit our definition of lovers. Likewise Desdemona and Susan, except the latter pair seems to have become passe.

Fred and Gwen and Bonnie and Carol are our polyamorous friends from Part 2 and Part 3. Fred passed along something interesting. When he spends time in the library with Bonnie neither Gwen nor Carol cross his mind at all. Fred has tremendous concentration and he focuses entirely on Bonnie when she is with him. At the motel with Carol, Fred is absolutely unlikely to ponder a logical plan for resolving the nation’s economic problems.

But wait! There’s more!

I’ve watched Fred move his focus from one lover to the next. He pulls away slightly from Gwen even before leaving their house so he can better concentrate on his coming partner.

I often describe multitasking as that familiar circus act of keeping plates spinning in the air. I’ll bet you expected me to say “juggling,” didn’t you?

Wikipedia tells us that plate spinning is a “manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls and other flat objects on poles, without them falling off. [It] relies on the gyroscopic effect, in the same way a top stays upright while spinning. Spinning plates are sometimes gimmicked, to help keep the plates on the poles.” David Spathaky holds the world record for spinning 108 plates simultaneously in 1996.

Like the juggler, the plate spinner plies his art by touching just one plate. (See, that way I didn’t have to say he holds just one of his balls in his hand at a time.)

We also know that “multitasking” is actually serial (mono)tasking with fast enough switching that Task #1 keeps on rotating on its own while one spins up Task #2 … and so on.

Desdemona serially switched from Suze to Magster. She keeps her BFFs in series. Fred task switches between Gwenny and Bonnie and Caroleena. He (almost) keeps his BFFs in parallel.

One way or another, people switch focus.

“When I’m home, I’m home,” Jon Stewart told NPR’s Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air, about how he separates the parts of his life. “I can’t not be at work but the real challenge is when I’m at work, I’m at work. I’m locked in, I’m ready to go, and I’m focused. When I’m home, I’m locked in, I’m ready to go, and I’m focused on home.”

One way or another, people switch focus but some people maintain a mental map of their frame of reference for each ongoing task.

“I serially task switch when it comes to Things That Must Get Done,” Nancy said, “but Dick has had a taste of me doing the micro-switching I am capable of when I texted my daughter, played Solitaire and carried on a reasonably in depth conversation with him.”

I’m not very good at true multi-tasking. I can carry on a conversation while I carry a load of lumber to the barn. I can listen to a polyamory podcast while driving across a bridge. But I cannot use the same brain center — communications in this case — to manage conversations with two or three people at once. I can, however, switch from one conversation about boat design to another about network integration almost seamlessly because I remember the context from one to the next.

Here’s the big idea: Since our monogamouses serially monogatask but the polyamouses appear to multitask, perhaps having poly tendencies has more to do with the way we manage time (and hold on to our memories) than the way we reach for love.

For those who absolutely need to know, Dez and Maggs go to a movie every Tuesday, play poker on Saturdays, and take a long weekend or whole week road trip about once each month. On the other hand, Susan swims twice a week at the Y so Dezzy swam twice a week. They played bridge with a couple of different bridge clubs, sometimes on Tuesdays or Saturdays. And, since Suze doesn’t like sleeping in an empty house, the girls had “sleepovers” once or twice a week when her husband traveled on business.

[Editor’s Note: gekko and I shared the four-part polylocution that lead up to these afterposts. Please visit The Poly Posts for the entire series and for other resources.]

Sculpture by Ania Modzelewski

8 thoughts on “The Aftermath — Part III, Multitasking

  1. The tens make me happy. I love that kind of stuff. Numbers are so … real. Well, not real exactly. They just are what they are.

    I’m an SM’r, yet I’m lying and juggling and struggling right now, not specifically in regards to my relationship, but just in general, which is weird because my life doesn’t appear to contain much “stuff.” I don’t get it. But I’m incredibly stressed out to the point where I think I simply might snap and break any second now.

  2. Hee. “SM’r” might be something other than Serial Monogamouse’r.

    P, have you considered trying, idk, hypnosis or taking a meditation class or something? To ease the stress, or help you cope with it differently?

    Cuz we don’t want you snapping, nor breaking. We rely on you too much. Who else will bring us cupcake goodness on the internets?

  3. Thx, I’m better now. Did a bunch of that “honesty” thing, got a bunch back. Weird. Good though! Also, six hours no Dad, mucho relief. Bought two sleazy romance novels at Tarjay for research purposes. Meditation sounds like a good idea, will have to check that out…

  4. @Paula: “Did a bunch of that ‘honesty’ thing, got a bunch back.”


    I’ve found no down side to it. To paraphrase all our moms, “If you can’t say something true, don’t say anything at all.”

    I’ll admit that there are times I absolutely will not say anything at all. That’s still fair. After all, as gekko said on her blog, “honesty [can become] almost an excuse to say hurtful things…” and that’s not fair.

  5. @Paula: Meditation has helped me tremendously throughout the past few months. Some days it goes better than others, but just taking the time to sit and be still is a benefit in and of itself.

    @Dick: I’m not sure I really understand what you’re getting at. Whether we’re polyamorous or not, we all deal with different, yet important relationships that we have to spin. As a young mom or dad you deal with your wife and kids. Maybe you might have an in-law living with you or an aunt or uncle is part of the extended family. But each important person in one’s life requires focused attention and how we manage it is, I think, dependent upon what works for us.

    I can’t deal with my husband’s questions and my daughter’s meltdown at the same time. I have to switch my focus from one to the other exclusively. This just seems self-evident, hence my confusion as to what point you’re making. Are you saying that I can’t then be a polyamorous person? I’m not, but I don’t think it’s because I couldn’t be depending upon certain circumstances.

    There are times when I think that it would make things less complicated if we were allowed to just love who we loved without all the petty jealousies involved. I do feel jealous, but more of my jealousy comes from feeling neglected and unincluded than it does from actually hating the thought that my partner might love someone else. I think it would be great if he did as long as I also remained important and he showed it. But then, I feel exactly the same way about my friends. I understand that they have other friends that they want to be with, and that’s not a problem. Problems arise when I get put on the back burner too long or I’m the one always calling them instead of them sometimes calling me.

    So, um, I’ve lost my train of thought and have no idea if I had a point, either. :-)

  6. @Arleen: “Are you saying that I can’t then be a polyamorous person?”

    No. You seem to manage time much the way most people do: you work on your husband’s questions then switch gears to work on your daughter’s meltdown. You probably reserve a little corner of you brain for the spousal queries while cooling the kid. I wrote that having poly tendencies may have more to do with the way we manage time than the way we reach for love.

    My point is that the same ability that lets us manage our lives also makes it possible (and perhaps even likely) for us to be naturally polyamorous. Those who practice what I preach are simply more likely to keep track of their lovers.

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