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Accidental monogamy: surviving the fires of polyamory March 25, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: , , , ,

People don’t tend to have one small set of coherent and well-understood wants and needs, easily compatible with one other person who also has their wants and needs categorized into an easily communicative format for ideal matching algorithms (not even OK Cupid’s!).  No; our needs are largely unknown, fluid, and evolving and in order to satisfy them we will usually need to have multiple outlets for them which are capable of handling the inevitable evolution of those desires.

For some, a monogamous arrangement may sufficiently satisfy both people involved.  But how can we be sure that this arrangement really does satisfy the needs of both people and is not merely a capitulation to pragmatism and lack of personal challenge?

Let’s start with a basic distinction.

What is the difference between:

    • a couple who have seriously considered and challenged what they want and subsequently arrived, accidentally, at a monogamous relationships structure which fits with what both ideally want and need.
    • a couple who have ignored, compromised, or otherwise rationalized their wants and needs to fit their relationship into the expected relationship structure in our culture due to concerns about jealousies, insecurities, and fear of social stigma?

Answer: one has survived the fires of polyamory and accidentally landed in monogamy, and the other has chosen monogamy without traversing said fires.

That is, the former didn’t create a rule of romantic or sexual exclusivity nor had they assumed monogamy via cultural defaults.  They are accidentally monogamous in that they simply have no desire to be with other people even if pursuing such a thing is permitted.  The latter type of couple cannot be sure if they are maximally satisfied with their relationship because they have not taken the issue seriously enough.  They may, in fact, be missing something potentially wonderful for the sake of pragmatism or insecurity.

In order to be sure that the monogamous arrangement is actually satisfying the wants and needs of both individuals (hence not needing to even create an exclusivity rule because neither partner is interested in straying) one has to address the issue of polyamory.

All too often, the idea of sacrifice, compromise, and repression of certain desires is chosen in place of satisfaction (or at last the attempt of such) of what we want to have.  Many people convince themselves that a relationship with one person is not only a better path to take, but it is more intimate and meaningful one.

That is, quite frankly, not only a myth but it is absurd and irrational.  We need to allow ourselves to explore who we are, if we care to find out, by traveling the paths that will allow us to do so best.  We cannot limit ourselves, based upon social expectations, to learning slowly and inefficiently lessons which will, be invaluable to us.

Calculating the probabilities

Monogamy is logically possible as a means to satisfying all the the wants and needs of two people.  In such cases where this is the case, I applaud the work that was needed and done in order to ensure that certainty, because such certainty cannot be achieved merely through assumption, cultural default relationship progression, or lack of honest communication about needs, goals, etc.

But something being logically possible does not tell us how likely it is.  So, how likely is it that two people would be ideally happy with only one romantic/sexual partner?

The specific sets of desires, personalities, and capabilities which would need to exist in two people will be highly unlikely to ideally math up.  This, compounded by the necessity that each person will have done the essential personal work to know what they need and want from themselves and others makes the matching up, in time, space, and single-ness, highly unlikely.  Also, they need to actually meet.

How I might actually calculate such probabilities, whether with some Bayesian analysis or by some other means, is beyond my ability to do.  First of all, I am not an expert in probability or statistics.  Secondly, I don’t know all the relevant factors or how to weigh them against each-other.  Thirdly, I don’t think that actual probabilities is necessary to make the general point; it seems highly unlikely.

And yet, monogamy is rampant.  My conclusion is that the vast majority of monogamous relationships are not ideally healthy, at least from the point of view of them not satisfying all the wants and needs of the people involved.  Perhaps not everyone shares the value of satisfying our wants and needs above social pragmatism, or something, but either way I think that the world has something to gain by addressing the issue of non-monogamy as a means of making our relationships better.

By putting ourselves through the difficult challenges of figuring out what we want, what others want, and allowing ourselves to find monogamy by accident rather than default, I think much can be learned and our relationships will be better, whether monogamous or polyamorous, for everyone.


1. Friendship and polyamory « Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - March 26, 2012

[…] Society, Polyamory. Tags: friendship, monogamy, polyamory, relationships, sex trackback In my last post, I discussed how monogamy is unlikely to satisfy all of our needs.  I was aware of a few issues […]

2. alphalifestriver - March 26, 2012

You made my life! I’ve never thought about such issues. You have a lot of experience. To meet You, will be my wish.

Thanks a lot, for sharing here!

3. The Monogamy Delusion? « Atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - March 29, 2012

[…] out, I admit having argued that a true skeptic should be polyamorous, but I have also argued that monogamy is legitimately rational as a needs-securing lifestyle for at least some people.  To be clear, my view is that polyamory […]

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5. Luna - April 17, 2012

“My conclusion is that the vast majority of monogamous relationships are not ideally healthy, at least from the point of view of them not satisfying all the wants and needs of the people involved.”

Can you offer any real evidence that polygamy would, on a broad scale, fill this void? That it is more “healthy?” You can argue that polygamy provides freedom and choice, but doesn’t the multiplication of choices in modern society also lead to the illusion of “difference” (this shampoo isn’t like that; my relationship with this woman won’t be like that one)? Doesn’t it lead to stress about what options you should choose or what options you are missing out on? By your logic, if you are monogamist you can never know if polygamy would satisfy you more fully, so as a polygamist you can never know that the partners you are with are fulfilling you as fully as, say, trying to f++k your way through the phone book. There are always going to be more “choices” than we can sample, regardless.

Your argument is also reticent of Christians arguing to polygamist Africans (very different from Western polygamy, by the way) that monogamy will solve their woes. “If you do things my way, it will improve your society.” Show me evidence that polygamy enhances anything to do with personal happiness, outside of offering a wider vairety of people to sleep with (which could easily be accomplished by choosing to not have a relationship, and sleep around, with much less stress) or have “loving relationships with” (also cured with friends) or that it is a social boon.

I’m playing devil’s advocate with my posts if you haven’t noticed. I have no vested interest either way. I think 99% of all people in relationships are f-ed up and have no desire to better themselves or be a real partner (i.e. giving respect, love, understanding and being able to compromise in the same way they – if they aren’t incredibly messed up – expect someone else to do for them). I’m not arguing against polygamy or for monogamy. I’m just presenting an argument that assuming your way is best is silly and cannot be proven.

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8. Keizick - January 11, 2013

Luna your comment is wonderful. We can’t presume to know what would work best for the majority of people. The best we can do is hope for a society that doesn’t care on way or the other, as long as no one is coerced. Getting that society is a whole different issue, though.

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11. Welcome Our America Viewers! | atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - March 5, 2013

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[…] between this and your garden-variety monogamy is that skeptical monogamy (or what Shaun calls accidental monogamy) would not have rules against outside sexual or romantic connections. They just wouldn’t […]

13. 5 years | atheist, polyamorous skeptics - February 12, 2014

[…]  We were in some documentary, apparently. another personal favorite is my post about accidental monogamy, where I started thinking about how there is no reason to ever want to be monogamous (one should […]

14. Toward a More Skeptical Monogamy | atheist, polyamorous skeptics - October 22, 2015

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