Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.
I think that polyamory is better than monogamy.* This assertion is qualified only by the fact that by “better” I mean “more closely aligned with my value system.” However, I don’t think my value system, when it comes to relationships, is all that different from the norm. My line of thinking can be summed up in a syllogism:
Premise #1: All other things being equal, the greater the mutual love in a relationship, the better the relationship;
Premise #2: Polyamory is inherently more compatible with mutual love than monogamy
Conclusion: Polyamory is better than monogamy.
Premise #1 is relatively uncontroversial, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it, except to say that if you disagree, polyamory is probably not for you. I don’t intend this as a moral judgment. I think that transactional relationships can be very happy and fulfilling for some people. They are just not what I prefer.
Likewise, it seems clear to me that the conclusion necessarily follows from the two premises. This leads me to believe that most popular disagreement is with Premise #2.
Polyamory is Inherently More Loving than Monogamy
Like any good lawyer, I’ll start by defining my terms:
Polyamory: a style of relationship involving two or more people which has no rule or agreement (implicit or explicit) against pursuing other loving and/or sexual relationships.
Monogamy: a style of relationship involving only two people which has a rule or agreement against outside sexual and/or romantic relationships.*
Love: a very strong concern for another conscious creature’s well-being such that one’s own well-being is dependent upon the well-being of the other.
Respect: an attitude of deference, admiration, or esteem.
Polyamory, as defined above, is more compatible with love and respect for one’s partner than monogamy. To say it another way, the relationship that is maximally loving and respectful will necessarily be polyamorous.
I’ve dealt with this before somewhat. The only point of a rule or agreement against outside sexual relationships (i.e. a monogamous relationship) is that you anticipate having outside sexual interests. It’s a contingency plan. The only time such an agreement would have any effect whatsoever is a situation in which one or both parties has the opportunity and desire to pursue an outside sexual relationship. Therefore, when crafting such an agreement, both parties consider this at least likely enough to necessitate an agreement.
The effect of the monogamy agreement is to put the brakes on such a thing. It’s saying “if I want to fuck someone else, I won’t.” Making that sort of sacrifice for a partner (assuming that’s what your partner wants) is definitely consistent with loving and respecting your partner. The disrespect comes in the next step: saying “in return, if you want to fuck someone else, please don’t.”
Imagine saying that about any other topic. “Honey, let’s agree that even though both of us really like cheddar cheese, neither of us will eat it ever again.” “Honey, in the event you’d ever like to go snorkeling, please don’t.” Etc. It sounds ridiculous, because it is.
This is not to say that monogamy serves no purpose. Firstly, monogamy is the best way to ensure sexual safety and lack of unwanted pregnancy. However, monogamy done for that reason would still allow a lot of safe sexual play, so couples that have rules against all sexual contact (i.e. the majority of monogamous couples) can’t be doing it for this reason.
Other justifications are emotional. Monogamy arguably** enhances the stability of relationships by preventing parties from exploring other options. However, demanding monogamy from you partner for this reason is basically saying “if you meet someone who makes you happier than me, stay with me anyway.” It’s a selfish justification, and in opposition to love and respect as defined above.
Another popular justification for monogamy is jealousy.*** One party feels that if hir partner hooked up outside of the relationship, it would be upsetting. But that begs the question: why would it be upsetting? Sex is fun! A loving partner should be happy that hir partner is having fun. Instead, jealousy encourages a person to feel bad when good things happen to other people. To be jealous of someone is to wish ill fortune on that person. Jealousy is, in effect, the opposite of love. If love is a symbiotic relationship, where one party’s happiness creates happiness for everyone, jealousy is a parasitic relationship, where one party’s happiness drains happiness from all other parties. In that sense, the more love in a relationship, the less jealousy. Therefore, if you buy into Premise #1 above, the less jealousy in a relationship, the better the relationship.
This is not to say that polyamorous people are any less jealous, more loving, or otherwise better than monogamous people. As in any group, there is great diversity within the polyamorous community, and not all people becomes polyamorous because they love their partners. Many people become polyamorous for reasons just as selfish (or more selfish) as the reasons that people choose monogamy. Many polyamorous relationships are unmitigated disasters.
However, the most loving and least jealous (i.e. “best”) relationships will necessarily be polyamorous. Loving partners want each other to have the things that make the other happy. A loving partner will encourage hir partner to pursue a relationship if ze wants one. People who love one another want each other to have the things that they want.
What do you think? Agree/disagree? Let’s hear it in the comments!
*yes, I know that technically, “monogamy” refers to marriage. I’m using it in the way that most people do.
** this is not necessarily true. Nonmonogamy may do more to enhance stability by allowing parties more freedom within the relationship, and taking away a main reason for leaving a relationship.
*** the discussion of jealousy applies equally to possessiveness. Wanting to own a person is incompatible with loving and respecting that person.