Entry 89

Cognitive Bias¹

Two thousand seventeen was the year I undauntedly began to mingle with the polyamorous folks.
At that point, I previously had three years of experience in solid kitchen-table DIY Polyamory, a year and a half of which I had also lived in a close-knit, family-like three-way relationship complete with house and kids – and now, accordingly, I thought I was ready for more prospective loved ones.
Those days, before the Corona plague, were benevolent to such intentions. I already was a member of the largest German Polyamory forum on Facebook at that time – and there it was not unusual, simply for networking purposes, to write to interesting people with whom one had already once found unanimous agreement in contributions on various topics and – if the kilometre radius of the mutual places of residence also still indicated an economically useful proximity – to simply meet live and in person.
So, in this way, my significant other and I had a few first meetings of “date-like” character at that time.
The situation was indeed somewhat “gold feverish”, because the “other side” was usually just as anxious to see who and what one would meet as one’s own self.
And “gold feverish” was definitely a good description as far as I was concerned.
First of all, this was due to the fact that two or three opportunities for meetings quickly arose in this manner, which suggested a certain abundance and variety of choice.
In addition, it was the case that almost all persons who were courageously willing to date in this way, like myself, had just “stepped out of the polyamorous broom closet” recently – and now wanted to give their idea of ethical multiple relationships a more substantial comparison with green life (in any case, more than in the somewhat bleak format of a mere forum discussion…).

In this way, I met with Kristina several times. Kristina was outgoing and witty ( I had already noticed her that way on social media) – but she was much younger than me and a more detailed comparison of our further interests (apart from polyamory) soon proved that there weren’t too many similarities. In addition, Kristina’s appearance reminded me a bit of a former, rather pushy neighbour (who in turn had been older than me) – and a very cranky part of me feared that Kristina might resemble her in a few years, which I found hard to bear as an unpleasant reminiscence.
If some of you readers are rolling your eyes now, then I can only agree with you from my point of view today: I was on the go with a “checklist in my head” – and believed that “the perfect date” would surely come up soon. Quite in accordance with the silly saying “…therefore he who is about to commit himself longer, should check whether something better might be found…”. And due to this complacent approach, I quickly lost the ability to recognize these shortcomings in my own field of supposed expertise.
The second time we met, Kristina and I were sitting on the sofa at my house and Kristina was talking…, ah, about whatever. We must have been curious enough about each other, otherwise there probably would not have been a second meeting – but due to the above-mentioned suggested abundance, I considered that too for naturally granted.
So I watched Kristina talking more than I actually listened, thereby realizing almost physically that I meanwhile reached a point where all of a sudden the option opened up for me to fall in love with her.
“Oh,” I thought, “that’s fabulous how Polyamory works!” Being “polyamorous” seemed to put me in a position to fall in love with (another) person willingly, despite my ” mental checklist” which stated practical, theoretical, and even aesthetic reasons against it. And I was quite obviously enabled to consciously choose or avoid the switch “Falling in love – yes or no?” because of my acquired ability to navigate habitually through the various spaces of multiple relationships. Ingenious!
Back then I decided for ² the switch and chose “Fall in love!” – and enjoyed the following minutes in which Kristina talked on unsuspectingly of my inner considerations, but for me an increasingly wonderful aureole of attraction and loveliness condensed around her and I became more and more enamoured with her from one moment to the next.
That same afternoon, it also became clear to Kristina that something had significantly changed the atmosphere on my side. Kristina was – as she later admitted – already quite taken with me, but, since she was sufficiently shy, was at first somewhat unsettled by my previous attitude. So when I finally gave my butterflies permission to take flight, hers immediately fluttered up to me – and the rest, well, the rest could be history.
No, the rest IS in fact unfortunately history, because my relationship with Kristina lasted only about a quarter of a year and then things went against the wall – for reasons that I maybe will explain in some other Entry – but today it’s supposed to be about something else.

Six years into the universe of multiple relationships later, I regularly think about that afternoon with Kristina.
Because for quite a while there, several amorous fallacies entrenched themselves into my brain, unnecessarily twisting my perceptions over the next half decade concerning “Poly- and Oligoamory”.
Fallacy 1: There are many exciting people out there who are open to multiple relationships. With some research ability and perseverance you will always find someone interesting and you can always consolidate (maintain or reinforce) the circle of your loved ones.
Fallacy 2: You have the ability to fall in love purposefully – or you can choose not to. This way, you will assemble just the right group of people for your network. You will neither fall for the wrong fellas, nor will there be any “head-over-heels” actions.
Fallacy 3: You are a great guy and have a lot of potential to offer. If you make an offer, it’s already so good at this point that it’s almost impossible to turn down. The benefits of being in a relationship with you are obvious.

In 2017 I did not yet know that these were false conclusions. On the contrary – I thought these ideas were (self-)explainable and therefore plausible.
Issue 1, however, led to an ever-increasing effort in my dating behaviour, so that at the peak of my “sorting mania” I was a member of almost a dozen dating sites – firmly convinced that “more choice” would inevitably lead to “greater accuracy of match and compatibility” in the long run.
Issue 2 made me believe for a long time that with the gift of “falling in love consciously” I would posess some kind of inner protection against wrong decisions in love matters – unfortunately, however, exactly the opposite was the case.
And Issue 3 was simply pure overconfidence – approving things that were or could not be taken for granted in any way – and thus a kind of consumer attitude that was not in the least sustainable and therefore did not fit in at all with the philosophy of Oligoamory (see its subtitle).

Just recently, in April 2023, I read a fascinating interview with the well-known German actor and narrator Bjarne Mädel³ in the newspaper “Einbecker Kompakt” (physical edition 19.04.). To the question of journalist Kristian Teetz “At what point am I myself?” Mr. Mädel answers:
»This is an exciting philosophical question: Who are you really when no one is watching? Who am I when I’m not watching myself? That’s almost impossible to say. That’s why I never started writing a diary, for example: Because when I read it later, I want it to be grammatically correct and well written. And in a moment like that, when I think about how and what I’m writing, I’m right into performing and no longer into honestly recording what I really feel at that moment.«
And Bjarne Mädel adds in the same interview:
»But nevertheless, it has also happened to me that I have pretended to be someone else in private or have tried to put myself in a good light. I remember, for example, my time with a good friend in a shared flat: one day I tidied up my room, put out a pot of tea with a mug and a few cookies, and then sat down on the sofa with a book. It all looked very comfy, but afterwards I realized that I had actually only done this in order for the “picture” to be coherent in case someone peeked into my room. My state of mind was completely different. I was trying to live up to a sophisticated image that I would have liked to have of myself in that situation.«

With these descriptions Bjarne Mädel has also unmasked me: In the world of multiple relationships I also was far too long on the move with an “image” of myself, which I would have liked to have had of myself – and of which I also wished that I could at least have presented it of to other people around me. But in doing so, I compromised the much more important factor of “authenticity” – because I wanted to appear more “dignified” and less nervous, inexperienced, and self-conscious than I realistically was.
What was worse, however, was that in my direction at least this self-deception worked a little too well: for so I ended up thinking that even my infatuation was an integrative, self-induced part of that “image”.

Fallacy 1 – the one about the abundance of potentially available loved ones – is quite easy to disprove when looking at it more closely. In Entry 78 I mention about 10,000 truly active polyamorous people in Germany, elsewhere the figure of 0.2% of the total population is referred to, who can imagine a life in multiple-partner-configurations at all (which puts us at 84 million inhabitants somewhere just above 160,000 potentially polyamorous people nationwide…). So even excellent research skills – which I actually do posses – will in any case sooner rather than later simply face very some real resource limits here.
Fallacy 2, on the other hand, led to a kind of self-sabotage that was very persistent. And foolishly, by the self-attribution of an “ability of falling in love”, I exchanged the exception – so to speak the miracle (!) – with the expected. After all, falling in love is something that doesn’t happen to me very often, just like it is for the vast majority of people. Therefore, it was also in my case with Kristina something quite extra-ordinary.
Which meant that exactly Kristina was something special as far as I was concerned (Fallacy 3). And that should have better affected my feeling and thinking from there on – and not the somewhat self-righteous belief in sufficient choice and causability.
Because if I had correctly assessed the distinctiveness of the situation of falling in love, I probably would have fought for this relationship much more dedicatedly and determinedly, especially in the bumpier times that inevitably followed. So I’ll write it down for you once again: infatuation, folks, that’s you; there you will be most likely truly yourselves, completely and genuinely from your deepest inner core! Trust yourselves in this respect – and do not assign falling in love to the mere liberty of feeling and acting in possibilities of multiple relationships!
Four years of Oligoamory later, I now know about myself that falling in love is (still) the big exception for me – no matter what relationship model I’m in. Today I know: When I am in love, it is “right”. But there I am at the same time also genuinely challenged to contribute all the good sides of commitment, sincerity and responsibility, precisely because it is so un-self-evident.

In the aforementioned interview, actor Bjarne Mädel creates a very fitting metaphor. A protagonist in his new audio book is »…envious that others have this feeling of belonging. He describes a longing for consistency, for true connection. That is a topic that interests me as well: What does it mean to be “at home in oneself”?«
Bjarne Mädel adds two questions later:
»And so I coined the phrase “others inhabit their lives”: there are people who clearly know where they belong, and they “inhabit their lives. With myself, it’s rather draughty and a door is open. […] But actually, these people are often much happier, because they don’t think there’s more going on at the next party, and they don’t think they always have to be on the lookout. Such people are more likely to say: We’ll stay at this party until we’re tired. Others rush from one party to the next all evening and in the end they haven’t really partied anywhere, haven’t really met anyone, haven’t really talked to anyone seriously, haven’t experienced anything.«

Absolutely wise words. In recent years I have also found out about myself – and this bLog has contributed an important share – that “belonging” and “clearly knowing where I have a place” are central issues in my life. This is by no means to be understood only geographically (but it is too) – but above all it concerns “being at home in oneself”.
If I would be surer of that with greater habitual certainty, then I would probably not have succumbed to my self-staging for such a long time. I would more trustfully “dwell within myself” – and thus also trust the impulses of myself to a greater extent.

So after more than four years of Oligoamory, I wish us all today consequently with the words of Bjarne Mädel that we therefore also “inhabit our relationships”.
Which seems to me to be a completely appropriate metaphor: to really get to know a person like a (new) environment, to dedicate ourselves to this person like a home – unimpressed by whether there might be more going on elsewhere – and to stay until you get wrinkly together.

By which things are again consistent with the Oligoamory: I am convinced that we can be at home in more than one place – but not in an arbitrary number of places.
And we can reliably recognize “home” by the fact that we are allowed there to be completely “us”: committed, authentic, beloved and free of fear.
For home is – as the proverb say – where the heart is.

¹ Cognitive bias: is a collective term in cognitive psychology for systematic erroneous deviations from normality or proportionality in judgments. People create their own “subjective reality” from their perception of information. The individual construction of reality (and not the objective information content) can thus determine the behavior of individuals. Therefore, cognitive biases can sometimes lead to perceptual distortions, inaccurate judgments, illogical interpretations, and irrationality.

² Those readers who now grin and think “Haha, Oligotropos, I would have also decided FOR love…” need to know for the sake of completeness that in the following years I had numerous dates where I decided AGAINST it. At least, it’s what I thought – that I decided that…. The uncorrupted truth, on the other hand, was most likely that in those cases I simply didn’t feel any spark of infatuation for the other person. So much for the topic of consciousness…

³ Bjarne Mädel is known in Germany, among other things, for his performance as Crime Scene Cleaner“. Journalist Kristian Teetz (Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland) interviewed him on the current release of a new audio book with texts by Ingrid Lausund “Bin nebenan – Monologe für zuhause” (SpeakLow 2023, length approx. 4 hours), which B. Mädel directed.

Thanks to Enrique Meseguer on Pixabay for the photo!