An Observation on Polyamory & Game Theory

Christopher Neitzert
3 min readMar 29, 2017

Many do not know about polyamory, most that do only do so through sensationalist media often portraying the practitioners in negative light. Truth be told it there is much more to it than that and for those curious, I suggest the densely packed library of resources over at More Than Two. Though the TLDR;

polyamory, n.

poly • am • ory

The fact of having simultaneous close romantic relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

— Oxford English Dictionary, 2006

Game Theory is a completely different sort of animal to grab by the tail. I think it best defined by wikipedia:

Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic, computer science and biology. Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which one person’s gains result in losses for the other participants. Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.

I have been a practitioner of polyamory in its many forms in many relationships over the past 30 years of adult life. From flagrantly open, to don’t-ask-don’t-tell type relationships, a majority of those I have been intimate with and I have practiced some form of consensual non-monogamy for a multitude of reasons on all parts. For me, this is fine and natural, for as the witty and wise Christopher Ryan said in his Ted Talk. “You can choose to be a vegetarian,but don’t think that just because you’ve made that decision, bacon suddenly stops smelling good.”

My observation around polyamory and game theory directly relates to The Pleasure Paradox aka. The Paradox of Hedonism and leans heavily on the Rational Choice Theory framework.

Throughout my adult life, in this practice of consensual non-monogamy, I have seen, and often found myself in conflict with ‘Doing the right thing’ and ‘Doing what feels good’, both within myself and in the behavior and words of my partners. Towards that end I have reflected, and watched others over these many years and with a recent experience following some interesting discussions on game-theory in one quadrant of my social life, and discussions on consensual non-monogamy in another the following red thread made itself apparent and I write to share it.

The paradox of hedonism claims that “constant pleasure-seeking may not yield the most actual pleasure or happiness in the long run — or even in the short run.”

It is an axiom of game theory that when people are faced with two choices; The first ‘correct’, ‘Long term’ and ‘the right thing to do’ and the second, is ‘exciting’, short-term, and new or “shiny”, A majority of people will go for the second option, often lying to themselves along the way about their self-justification in choosing the short-term over the long-term.

Many practitioners of consensual non-monogamy develop “rules” in their relationships to augment human nature, and when they are respected, treated as duty and obligatory by all involved they work, and they work well. When they don’t work, they fail spectacularly.

My observation simply put is that When these rules are not evenly applied to the relationship, in word or practice. When discussions about the rules, or related activities are met with conceit, gas-lighting, denials, pivots towards aggression, and/or communication is stopped or dishonest, AND, when faced with a choice between long-term and short-term rewards, the player in the relationship who does not treat the rules as duty will choose the short term happiness over the long game every time.



Christopher Neitzert

Human, Hacker, Technologist, Ocasional Artist. This is where I sometimes document the ideats rattling around inside my head. more at