By Logan Robinson
Polyamory is not a social contract between individuals who are simply too afraid of commitment. It is not a relationship system born out of fear. In fact, it is born out of the courage to set personal boundaries, be honest, and become a better person. Polyamory also relieves pressure and protects against potential heartbreak.
“All or Nothing” – The False Dichotomy
Suppose Jim and Carlyle really like each other but Carlyle doesn’t have the time or energy for a traditional monogamous relationship. Suppose, though, that Carlyle caves because he doesn’t want to NOT be in a romantic relationship with Jim. Given the dichotomy, they would each rather be with each other than not. Now a month into the new relationship, Jim is upset because Carlyle isn’t paying enough attention to him, and Carlyle is feeling drained and annoyed because he doesn’t have the energy to satisfy Jim. Both grow to resent each other and the relationship ends.
Let’s try this again. Suppose instead that the two are familiar with polyamory. Now Jim and Carlyle have set up to go on dates twice per week. Texting response times are an average of thirty minutes but they go on throughout the day. This is a good compromise for both.
When Three’s Not a Crowd
Now, of course a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy, but that’s where the polyamory part comes in. Jim meets Carina online and they start going out. Carina has things in common with Jim that Carlyle doesn’t – such as taste in books and music, but she’s not into sci-fi like Carlyle. Most importantly, Carina likes to keep in contact more often. Now Jim is very happy as more of his needs are being met, and Carlyle doesn’t feel drained and overextended.
On their first first date Jim was upfront and honest about being in an open relationship, and Carina was fine with that. Having the safety net of someone else to lean on even if the date went poorly allowed Jim to be more honest and less nervous. He had less incentive to try to be someone he thought she wanted him to be, so he didn’t play games.
Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
The situation with Carina, however, is different. She does not have that safety net. She gives that first date her all and maintains a great image for a solid month. But unconsciously she fails to maintain it. Her baggage and biases become apparent. Jim notices this change in Carina and feels deceived, confused, and hurt because he does not understand why she is changing for the worse. Jim withdrawals, and Carina, unaware of her image change, is hurt too because Jim appears to have shut down for no apparent reason. A safety net like Jim’s might have helped her out.
The Damage of Mononormativity
Mononormativity – the assumption that all romantic relationships are monogamous and differing from that norm is not only strange but wrong – is arguably more pervasive in our culture than heteronormativity. The stigma has caused unnecessary pain for untold numbers of people who feel boxed in by this norm.
There are plenty of people like Jim and Carlyle who need different things out of romantic relationships. You might think “they’re just not right for each other – they should accept that and move on.” But you don’t have just one friend; you have one friend to play video games with, another to work out with, another to talk about deep things with, another to smoke pot with, another to gossip with, another to vent with, and so on. We have all these friends because they each satisfy a different need. It’s absurd to make yourself choose between all of these people because you want to be ‘loyal’ to one of them, so why would you do it in an area of your life as important as love? In the same way that there are different things you can bond with a friend over, there are different ways in which romantic love manifests.
OK, fine – it’s totally cool if you’re just not into it. Really. One of the coolest parts about relationships is that you can write your own social contracts. But what isn’t cool is shaming polyamory. The stigma keeps countless wonderful relationships from ever happening and alienates people already in wonderful relationships.
If you choose monogamy, choose it consciously
Bear in mind also that being monogamous for selfish reasons, like jealousy, is not healthy. Jealousy is not considered healthy when your coworker gets promoted, it’s not healthy when your neighbor gets a new car, or even when your friend gets laid twice as often as you. So why isn’t it considered unhealthy when someone you like is building a relationship with someone else? Jealousy is not cute. It’s not heroic when you punch a guy out at a bar for hitting on your girl or guy. (I got death threats from a senior when I was a freshman in high school for hitting on his girlfriend.)
And it’s not OK to forbid your partner from seeing a member of the sex he or she is attracted to because you’re too insecure to trust your partner to not cheat on you. If you consider yourself to be monogamous simply because imagining your partner holding hands with someone else elicits a negative emotional response – whether anger or fear from self doubt – monogamy, for you, is not just a preference, but a need to control. And that, most certainly, is not cute.
There are plenty of political and economic reasons why monogamy has prevailed and remained in Western culture. But the polyamory movement will grow (though delayed) as our culture increasingly values individuality, and as it does, I hope more people will be emboldened to try it. It might just be the answer so many of us have been looking for.
Logan Robinson was raised in a conservative home where lifestyles other than heterosexual monogamy were frowned upon. Upon entering into a relationship with a more socially liberal partner, he was thrown into the world of polyamory. After a sharp learning curve, he says he realized the “immense benefit” of having multiple partners, and having his partners have multiple partners.