Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Polyamory Movement

Riding the coattails of gay marriage advocacy, here comes polyamory.

Basically, it's group marriage, or at least group romantic cohabitation. The relationships therein can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

And the idea has captured the attention of denizens of academe. As Stanley Kurtz has discovered, there is now a movement to mainstream polyamory, to make group marriage legal.

Hmmm. Of course, polygamy (plural marriage) is wrong, evil, threatens the social fabric, gives one warts and boils, etc., but polyamory, hey, it's just people living private lives, right?

Wrong. Start trying to redefine marriage, and you will find it impossible to get a definition all will agree on. You will find it hard to redraw the line at B after you just erased it at A. Why not draw it at C? Or F?

As to why polyamory is not the same as polygamy, I don't know. But in reading, there are different connotations. I guess I'm just not nuanced enough to see much difference between polygamy (plural marriage) and polyamory (group marriage).

P.S. Interesting discussion on marriage as an institution here.


At 3:56 PM, Blogger The Niem said...

Finally! If I have no sense of self and desperately prove to myself that someone loves me by sleeping with literally anyone who passes by, I can soon rationalize my unhealthy behavior with a new lifestyle term, and then try to force the rest of society to accept me.
Is it easier to change myself, or to force the world around me to change? (The real question is: Is it POSSIBLE to change myself, or rather to force the world around me to change?)
The odd reality is that if someone in that situation successfully forces the world to change for him/her, despite the extraordinary nature of that effort, and the energy, money, and time that goes into it, the person behind the effort never resolves anything personally. The person still continues to seek rabidly for a feeling and an acceptance that the world around her just can't give through that sexual behavior.

--View Number Two

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Tyler said...

I am n\both shocked and awed...

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Cain said...


Last update 10-May-2006

Note: This page is copyright by Franklin Veaux. You may reproduce the contents
of this page, provided you do so intact and unedited, and you provide credit.
A return link is appreciated, as well.

The information presented here assumes that you are in a traditional, monogamous relationship, and your partner has just told you that he or she is polyamorous. It's also possible that you may be a monogamous person considering starting a new relationship with someone who's poly--and already in a relationship. I'm working on a resource to cover that situation as well, which you will find here.

My lover just told me he or she wants other lovers. Now what??!

For starters, it's not what you think. It's not necessarily the "We should see other people" speech, and it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your relationship.

If your partner says that he or she wants other partners, your first impulse may be to feel attacked or rejected, and if the time comes when your partner does take another partner, you may feel that person is attacking you simply by existing. Take a deep breath, relax, and try to let go of it. You're partner is not attacking you, and your partner's other partner is not attacking you; it's important not to respond angrily, but to try to make a relationship that works for all of you.

Having said that:

Any relationship in which the people involved have different goals and expectations will not be an easy relationship. Making any relationship work requires a dedication of time and effort, and there are never any guarantees; a relationship in which one partner is monogamous by nature and the other partner is not is particularly difficult, and fraught with peril.

This doesn't mean it can't be done.

But it won't always be easy. Compromises will be required from everyone involved. This may especially be true of the monogamous partner, who will have to learn and adapt to a completely new way to approach romantic relationships that may seem at first to fly in the face of everything you understand about the way love is supposed to work.

There may be times when you will feel insecure, jealous, and hurt; this does not mean that your relationship is failing, and it is not wrong, bad, or irrational for you to feel this way. It simply means that your partner will have to take the time to pay special attention to your needs and your feelings, that's all. It also means, though, that your own ideas about relationship, your own fears and insecurities, and your own doubts will probably be brought to the surface, and you'll likely be asked to confront those ideas and doubts and insecurities. If you can find a way to confront and defeat them, then your relationship will definitely be improved.

It's no picnic for the polyamorous member of the relationship, either. As the poly person, it is up to you to do everything in your power to help your partner feel safe and secure. This may mean you must move more slowly in new relationships than you want to. It may mean that you must give up relationships that your partner finds threatening. It may mean that you must negotiate boundaries that are narrower than what you might otherwise want.

The place where it gets tricky, though, is in doing these things while still being compassionate and respectful to any new person who may join your relationship. Often, the temptation exists to create rules and set boundaries that will protect the existing relationship even at the expense of any other member of the relationship, particularly when it's all theoretical and there is nobody else involved yet.

This ability to compromise, and to negotiate a set of boundaries that both people can function in, is absolutely critical if you are to make this work. Equally critical is a commitment to follow through on the things you say that you will do, and abide by the negotiated boundaries in your relationship completely and without fail. A relationship where the people involved have different expectations is already under stress; even seemingly trivial infractions can easily be magnified to the point where they jeopardize everything you wish to build together. Remember, though, when you're building these rules: any new person joining the relationship is a human being, too. A new person joining your relationship is going to bring needs and desires of his own, and it's wise to respect them. Consider the needs of everyone involved!

It may not seem obvious why this is necessary, but it is, not only for the sake of that person but for your own as well. Actions can be regulated, but feelings and emotions are a bit trickier, and can't be controlled or dictated arbitrarily; if you agree to let your partner explore a new relationship, there's a very real chance that your partner will become emotionally involved with a new partner, and at that point, asking your partner to change or end that relationship is likely to hurt your partner. Think carefully before you do this, and understand that hurting your partner may have consequences in your relationship.

And relax. It does get easier over time. Security is learned. As your relationship progresses, you will find it easier and easier to feel safe with your partner, and to build a foundation that can make both of you happy.

There are, however, some mental roadblocks you'll need to get past before you can be happy this way. The first and biggest is in thinking your lover's polyamory has something to do with you--that you are insufficient, or you are not "enough."

But why? I don't get it. Why am I not enough?

If you are wired for monogamy, that can be a very difficult question to answer in any way that makes sense.

It's helpful to keep in mind that it really may not have anything to do with you, directly, at all. It's not because you don't have enough to offer. It's not because you don't meet your lover's needs. It's not because your partner doesn't love you, or because your partner is selfish, or because you don't satisfy your partner, or because you aren't good enough.

Many people seem to be naturally inclined, whether by learning or by hard wiring, to need only one person in their life. Such people experience a drive to seek out romantic companionship, but once they have found that romantic companionship, that drive disappears. It's as if the need to seek out intimacy is switched off; the drive is satisfied, and the person is content to settle down with his or her partner.

For other people, this is not the case. People who are poly by nature experience the same drive, the same need to seek out intimacy and romantic relationships, but once such a person has found a partner, that drive is not switched off. A poly person is still driven to seek out intimate romantic relationships.

This is what many poly folk mean when they say "Having one lover does not meet all my needs." It's not a way of saying that a poly person expects to have every need, no matter how trivial or transient, satisfied at once; rather, it's a way of saying that the need which is completely satisfied when a monogamous person finds a lover is not satisfied when a polyamorous person finds a partner.

Put simply: Monogamous people can be happy sharing their lives with one and only one other person. Polyamorous people can not.

It's not necessarily a choice. I don't believe polyamorous people choose to be poly any more than monogamous people choose to be monogamous. I know that I did not make this decision; it's simply part of who I am, and for better or for worse I cannot be happy with only one person in my romantic life. My wife can be. Neither of us is right or wrong; we are simply different, and we must acknowledge and accommodate those differences in order to be successful together.

If your partner is polyamorous by nature, then your partner's desire to have additional romantic partners is not your fault, nor is it his or her fault. It does not mean he or she does not love you. It just means you have different drives and different needs.


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