It is clearly true that most people believe in god and that, in the end, we should at least try to choose one life-partner. Not everyone will like that term, conservatively preferring the more traditional ‘husband’ or ‘wife,’ but this seems to be the prevailing assumption among people in our culture. Polyamory or some other form of non-monogamy (i.e. swinging, swapping, etc) is almost always seen as the exception to that rule.
So, how much of this is natural? Well, strictly speaking I believe (being a metaphysical naturalist) it is all natural because everything that happens in a natural universe is natural. The artificial distinction between the natural and the artificial is, well, artificial (to be slightly ironical). But I digress….
How much of this is due to our in-born behavior and how much of it is cultural? I am really not sure, to be honest. There seems to be components of both nature and nurture going on here. What I do know is that I’ve never believed in any gods, never actually believed in any supernatural powers or beings, insofar as I actually understood what those terms were supposed to refer to. I have also felt, in my moderate experience with monogamy, a little unsure about the idea that neither my significant other nor I would date or maintain other relationships while maintaining our own.
What’s wrong with monogamy?
I certainly do not believe that monogamy is wrong. Even for people within the polyamorous community (one among many), being committed to a relationship with only one person (even if for only temporarily, but sometimes for many years) happens and people are often quite happy with this arrangement. But why is it the cultural ideal or goal to work towards? Why, when we talk about the long term, do our minds assume monogamous relationships?
If I say that I am engaged and getting married soon, do you assume I mean that my partner and I will be monogamous (or at least attempt that ideal?). If I were to say that I was just married and that my partner and I are monogamous, would that seem redundant? Would it seem redundant or extraneous to say that I’m married and am not monogamous? How about if I said that I am in a committed relationship but not monogamous? Does relationship commitment imply monogamy? It does not to myself nor many polyamorous people.
My view about how relationships should form and be maintained is through conversation about what each individual wants and what can be negotiated through open and honest communication. But it seems that the assumed track, even now with our more promiscuous society, is that while we can date a number of people early on, there is a point after which one has to decide if they will initiate a “real” relationship with someone they have been seeing. The assumption is that after some time and intimacy, it is time to get serious and to make a choice about commitment, marriage, etc. And this, of course, implies the ideal of monogamy, if not its actual practice.
And that, of course, means that continuing to date other people or–*gasp*–maintain another loving and possibly sexual relationship cannot be permitted to continue. This would be cheating, after all, right? A commitment is a commitment. It is not possible to commit to two, three, or even four people, right?
But how often do people actually discuss the nature of and boundaries of their relationships? I do, and people who know how to maintain a healthy relationship do, but I wonder how prevalent this is. How often is the question asked “do we want to be monogamous?” rather than merely assume it? Certainly, some couples with ostensively ask “do we want to be swingers?” or “when I’m away on business trips can I fool around with other people?” but it seems that these are the exceptions to the rule; the exceptions to the assumed monogamy.
But why assume that?
The work and the benefits
Many will argue that monogamy is more stable. Possibly, but I don’t see why this is necessarily so. They will also say it is less complicated. That last part is very true. But we have to balance that against the fact that when we love someone, we can’t really not love them.
So, why artificially create a rule that you can’t act on or express those feelings because you have a relationship with someone else? Why limit this love to one person unnecessarily and arbitrarily? Convention? Tradition? Because that is what people want? Well, if it is what a person wants then I have no problem with that, but what we want certainly does not always line up with convention or tradition. But when people like myself want something else, allow them the same courtesy please, is all I ask.
The benefits of the work it takes to maintain a loving, communicative, and healthy relationship is worth it, and it will be worth it no matter how many people are involved, assuming those relationships are all desired to begin with. What else would be worth work more than that? And if people choose to love more than one person, share their lives with those people, and create a loving family not confined by the rules of monogamy, then why wouldn’t this be a goal worth working towards? Why would our culture not widely sanction this?
Fear is part of it. Insecurity, the daughter of fear, too. We fear that our lover will love their other lover more than us, that we will not get enough attention, that they may leave us for them, etc. But the bottom line is that these fears still exist within monogamy, and quite often they are not talked about between partners. Our creating the rule that we don’t act on these potential state of affairs (*ahem*) will not necessarily make them unwarranted fears. It’s not as if people in monogamous relationships don’t meet people they are attracted to, love, etc and act on it.
And when they do act on these feelings with the loving approval of those with whom we are in relationships, then we have one possible expression of a polyamorous lifestyle. Polyamory is what we make of it, after all. It is really just responsible non-monogamy.
Poly people quickly learn how to communicate with their partners well or quickly find their relationships failing. People in relationships of all kinds will find that this failing is allowed to often stretch into long periods of resentment and hostility that will boil under the surface without the presence of triggers such as seeing the person you are resentful of loving their other partner. The presence of such things don’t allow festering relationship sickness to hide under the surface for very long. Thus, where in monogamy unhealthy relationships can often be maintained for long periods of unhappy time, having other people involved tends to magnify these problems and bring them to the surface more quickly.
Relationships succeed in the daylight of honesty, openness, and effective communication; whether polyamorous or monogamous. The fact is that these skills are essential in being polyamorous while only being highly preferable in monogamy (unless you want an actually healthy monogamous relationship). Poly people become adept at being good at communication, honesty, and openness or they don’t succeed at maintaining loving healthy relationships with people. That seems to make sense to me. I wish the rest of the world would learn from this.
Polyamory is not for everyone…at least not yet at least
I sometimes have trouble understanding people who say that they could never be polyamorous. I understand that some people recognize that the work necessary to be successfully polyamorous is too much and so they choose not to try, but not the fact that they would not even want to. But other people want different things, and I recognize this.
But there are practical concerns too. I understand the social pressure to conform in order to not make their life more difficult; people are, after all, judgmental pricks quite often. I understand that from a practical point of view rocking the boat only makes things more difficult for you and your family.
But the above are more emotionally mature rejections of polyamory. The prerequisite to successful polyamory is the ability to maintain a healthy relationship with one person first. Only after this has been established can one even try to maintain a healthy relationship with other people, at least in some romantic and/or sexual way. There are other people who do not recognize that polyamory requires difficult work, and so their desires for more partners will often fail because they will do so at the expense of the needs of those they are with. This leads to cheating, broken marriages, jaded people, etc. To reject polyamory because one has not mastered first the -amory is not rational.
Isn’t polyamory just sanctioned cheating?
Embedded within the assumptions that many of us carry about relationships is that to allow your partner to develop loving and/or sexual relationships with other people is to just to allow cheating. But within the paradigm of polyamory, the open loving relationships that we have are all legitimate, and so your other lover is not a sanctioned affair or someone with which we are cheating. It is truly a relationship paradigm-shift in many ways.
Cheating is possible within polyamory; for when there is a lack of honesty and openness, the intimacy and sex that happens with others is not always acceptable to everyone. Polyamory is not a license to do whatever one wants to do. It is a continuous negotiation and discussion with the people we love to decide, collectively, what structure the relationship will take. A couple deciding that polyamory is a good idea is not license for either partner to go home with whomever they please automatically. This needs to be agreed upon. The rules of a relationship are for everyone involved to decide together.
So, what is it that I want? I want to live in a world where monogamy is not assumed as the ideal for a relationship. I would just like to get to the point where openly loving more than one person would not be stigmatized.
Let me emphasize that. I just want the freedom, for everyone, to openly love more than one person and maintain relationships with them to not be socially stigmatizing for doing so. That’s the state of our culture; it is considered wrong to love and maintain a relationship with more than one person. That sounds completely absurd to me. What a screwed up world we must live in!
And belief in god, especially the silly gods of the major world religions? Don’t even get me started…. That will be a rant for another day.
Most people believe some really silly things. Here’s to a world of rational and loving consideration of our human conditions. And here’s to real freedom of thought.
Love openly, love fully, and love well.