It’s about time I wrote a post on polyamory.
Polyamory was the major reason I broke up with Roser a few months ago. We had had an excellent relationship in everything except for our incompatibility on this issue, so it wasn’t a trivial decision to make. I’d been interested in a polyamorous relationship style since before meeting Roser, but it was only those few months back that I finally decided that it mattered enough to me to want to break up over it.
Polyamory is a philosophy that says, simply, that it’s possible and healthy to maintain romantic and / or sexual relationships with more than one person at the same time.
It’s often summed up as “ethical non-monogamy”. When everyone knows what’s going on and there is full and happy consent, it is – I think evidently – totally ethical to have more than one romantic or sexual partner. Everyone’s happy, no-one gets hurt – except for baby Jesus of course, who cries at our sinfulness. Poor baby Jesus.
I call polyamory a philosophy rather than a lifestyle, personally (if you get into this topic you will hear a lot about the “polyamorous lifestyle”), because I feel that the philosophy I described above is the core of the whole deal. You can be polyamorous without contradiction while having only one partner, or polyamorous and single, so long as you subscribe to the philosophy.
I also feel that understanding it as a philosophy distances us a little from the idea of a guy who wants lots of partners just because of sexual variety or whatever. While I think sexual variety is one valid reason to choose polyamory, it’s one of the most superficial, and it was never my particular interest when considering the change.
Polyamory is a philosophy, then, which lets us connect romantically with more than one person at the same time. Usually, this is done and not just talked about, and we can get all sorts of relationship configurations in practise:
From people who basically only have one partner but enjoy the freedom to go beyond that if they ever want to – to others who have one primary partner and a few on the side – to people with, say, two more-or-less equally weighted partners – to people who have 10 or more.
I’m leaning more towards the right side of that list at the moment. Currently I have four people in my life with which “something” is happening on different levels. If we include lighter stuff like caresses and emotional connection, the number would go quite a bit higher. We could say there are 11 people with which I do things that I wouldn’t be allowed to do if I had a monogamous partner.
Am I bragging? Maybe a little 😉 But most of all it’s something I’m excited to be experiencing, and I want to share that for the sake of the article.
So why did I choose polyamory? For me polyamory was yet another one of these things where I would say, “I don’t need to justify X; as the more basic option, I default to it for lack of justification for the alternative, Y.” So, I would say “I don’t need to justify polyamory; I default to it for lack of justification for monogamy.” (I wonder if a degree in philosophy would have given me a word for this. For now, you can read this article: The Burden Of Proof)
In short, it’s a sort of Occam’s Razor. Monogamy has rules and limits; polyamory is just you being yourself. Rules and limits aren’t necessarily bad, but they need to be justified BEFORE they are put in place, and not after. If they can’t be justified, we need to remove them until we have a real reason to consider that they need to exist.
Do we have any real justification for monogamy apart from the fact that we were brought up to believe in it? How do we know monogamy is the best way? There’s a pretty clear proof in the long-term experience of many people that polyamory does work in practise, and works very well. So why do we cling to monogamy?
On a more personal level, I found myself asking, “WHY do I have to limit my love? WHY do I need to only express certain things with one person? WHY is sexuality restricted to only them? WHY am I only allowed a limited intensity of loving feeling towards others?”
This lack of freedom was galling. I disliked sacrificing my loving feelings for others at the altar of monogamy. Moreover……………… it just seemed pointless. So,… Occam’s Razor with it.
I’d also Occam’s Razor the other side of the equation, that is, the assumption that we have to limit the freedom of our partner. There’s jealousy to deal with, and insecurity, but assuming we can heal these or get them out of the way, what harm does our partner’s freedom do us? None at all.
Above and beyond that, what *right* do we have to limit our partner’s freedom? I say, no right. They are their own person and the time that they don’t spend with us is theirs for them to do as they wish, so long as it harms none.
Now let me go a bit deeper into why I believe in polyamory.
For me, love is love and sex is sex. It’s pretty clear that sex can be done with no strings attached. That’s been readily accepted in our culture. And, love? Well, we can love anyone, right? But there’s supposed to be this thing called “romantic love” which can only be for one person. In my experience, that doesn’t exist. There is a sort of love where you get stuck in your head and idealise the other person. That’s usually monogamous. Apart from that, romantic love is the same love I express with anyone else, except that maybe in the case of romantic love we’ve made a relationship in which we feel safe going into deeper levels of love and intimacy together.
I want that deeper love with everyone – everyone who I can connect with on that level – not just one person. Not only do I want this love, I feel that is dishonest not to express it. I’d feel it anyway; or I’d intentionally block my heart chakra so as not to feel it. It’d be there. So just by being myself, I break the rules of monogamy. Screw that for a catch-22.
Deep love and sexuality are connected, though not the same. Deep love naturally brings you physically closer, and when that happens, if there is attraction, sexuality comes in. Sexuality can also be a wonderful way to express affection and experience love energy.
And, you know, sometimes I also just want to have a fuck. Not with someone I dislike, but not necessarily as a way of expressing the most transcendental energy in existence either. Just as a nice thing to share with someone whose company I already enjoy.
So polyamory sees deep love and sexuality as they are, and doesn’t add any extra meaning to them. They just are. You do them, and there’s no magical fairytale reason why they HAVE to happen with the same person all the time.
Let’s talk about jealousy now.
I’ve been rather theoretical, or idealistic, so far. Maybe this has stuck out for some readers. “If it harms none, fine, but what about the pain caused by jealousy?” – well, yeah, sure. I’ve so far assumed a perfect world in which we’re not possessed by excessive negative emotions. If too much jealousy is in the picture, then your being with another person might not seem to “harm none”.
However, I see jealousy a bit differently to how most people see jealousy; in fact, I think this is one of the cornerstones of the polyamorous philosophy. For monogamous people, moderate jealousy is considered healthy or at least normal. It’s considered normal to act on jealousy and these actions are seen as justified.
In the polyamorous mindset, jealousy still exists – we’re still human – but the approach towards it is different. We usually consider jealousy something that needs to be resolved in our psyche, something to heal – and, more to the point, even when we’re not doing that, we understand that we shouldn’t act on jealousy. We understand that there is no intrinsic justice or meaning to the actions jealousy brings us to take.
For me, jealousy might seem to cause pain in the person who has it, but it’s not a sort of pain that has any real meaning to it. To make a comparison – it’s an exaggerated and dumb comparison but I think the principle is the same in both cases – consider someone who acts depressed all the time to get attention. I’m sure you’ve seen someone like that in your life. They act depressed and they ARE depressed, but you soon realise that it doesn’t help anything to take them seriously. That’s actually exactly what they’re looking for in being depressed. The more you do it, the more their depression is reinforced as a good attention-seeking strategy. The best thing you can do is to basically ignore their emotion, at least on a mental level, and try and get them to join you in your own happier vibe.
I see jealousy as something similar. It’s not a “real” sort of pain in the way losing a loved one causes you pain. It’s an unreal pain, like the self-created depression. That doesn’t make the suffering any less real, but it does mean that taking it seriously will actually only make it worse.
This is why we don’t act on jealousy: we don’t take it seriously in ourselves. This is also why we don’t believe we need to limit our freedom for our partner’s sake: we don’t see any intrinsic meaning behind their jealous reaction if we do so. It’s just a reaction, but not a REAL loss like the death of a loved one would be.
I mean, think about it. Who dies when you sleep with someone who isn’t your primary partner? No one. Except baby Jesus of course.
The above described self-created depression is about getting attention. Jealousy, in turn, is about control or possession.
These respective goals are unconscious, of course. Unconsciously, someone who feels jealousy feels that unless they control the limited supply of love and affection, they will lose it. This is the same logic behind any sense of possession. Consciously, they just know that they feel a strong impulse to attack, impose, or control, and they’ll later make up a philosophy like monogamy to justify that unreasoned impulse.
By the way, I have said that jealousy isn’t real, but I’m not saying we should be in a monogamous relationship, cheat, and then tell our partners about it because their pain doesn’t mean anything. It does, it’s just that it’s not meaningful on any deep level. If we are in a relationship with a monogamously-minded person, we have no choice but to live according to their imposed rules. However, if we’re polyamorous (subscribe to the polyamorous philosophy), it just makes sense for us to look for relationships in which we can live in accordance to our understanding, at least in the long term.
Polyamorous people negate the unconscious precept of jealousy by affirming that love is infinite. There is no limit to love in the world and no limit to the number of people you can love. In practical terms there is a limit to the time you have available to spend on each relationship, meaning you have to prioritise. Still, there is no risk of ever losing love, no need to hold onto it or control it. There will always be more.
Love is something that is not limited to a single person. It’s not even limited to a person. Love can be felt while sitting alone, without any specific recipient. Love comes from YOU, and it’s not something that needs to be found out THERE. In practical terms you understand every relationship you have to be an expression of the internal essence you have, a joyful sharing of this essence between two people, and not a grasping for a limited resource.
In order to heal jealousy, some polyamorous people talk of a concept called compersion. Compersion means feeling happy about the joy which one of your partners is taking in their relationship with someone else. I think that when we’re not possessed by jealousy, it’s natural to feel compersion. After all, when we love someone deeply, we feel their happiness and sadness deeply. Their happiness becomes our happiness. It’s pretty gay if you think about it. :p
If you’re having trouble with jealousy at any point, you can often turn that around by exploring with your consciousness to find a perspective where you feel happy for your partner’s happiness. If you generally experience real, unreserved love towards them, I think that’s usually not too hard.
OK. I’m idealistic by nature; I try to temper it but the fact remains that I am. I believe that polyamory (the internal understanding, independent of lifestyle) is the ideal. This is a belief, okay, and I’m not trying to push it as objective reality. Everyone has to come to their own ideas.
Some poly people say that monogamy and polyamory are equally valid. I think there’s a good point to that and on one level it’s true – as I’ll explain further. But on the deep level, and as an ideal for humanity to evolve towards, I believe that polyamory (the internal understanding) is best. More than best, it’s *true*. It’s who we really are.
Monogamy and polyamory are equally valid in that we’re not living in a perfect world yet and not everyone feels ready to challenge their mental structures. For some people, jealousy is just too strong to cope with. For others, the effort to change their mental structures might be too much for now. Maybe they’re not strong enough to deal with the fears that accompany such a change, or maybe they just need to focus their energies somewhere else. Maybe they just don’t feel it at the moment. Or maybe they violently disagree with polyamory. And who’s to say they don’t have a right to that opinion?
Monogamy and polyamory are both valid in that all paths are valid. In life, we each choose what to do and what to believe, and I think that freedom is more sacred than anything we might hope to win by negating it.
All that said, I think anyone who feels that polyamory makes sense, and who feels able to, should make a move to become more free in their relationships and challenge the status quo. They’ll find greater levels of happiness that way – and possibly even more important, they’ll help to change our cultural conditioning. This will sow the seeds of greater freedom for society at large. Even when an individual freedom doesn’t seem worth fighting for, a common freedom still is.
In conclusion, polyamory is a philosophy, and, secondarily, a lifestyle, which has the power to significantly improve our happiness. I see it as just not making problems where there doesn’t need to be any, not complicating things where there doesn’t need to be complications. It’s about not defining your relationships, not putting them into little boxes like “friend” or “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”. Instead, there is love. With some people you construct relationships where it’s safe to share a lot of love. With others you are able to share a bit less. But there’s no fundamental difference between those two sorts of relationships. They are all just relationships.
In the same vein there is no difference between a tennis partner relationship and a sex partner relationship. It’s just a relationship featuring a shared activity. A sex partner relationship is unusual in that it often features a larger amount of love (and, I think, rightly so), but it isn’t fundamentally different from a tennis partner relationship. Polyamory means not looking for meaning here where there isn’t meaning. It’s not interpreting your sexual partners with limiting mental labels.
It’s just giving your sexual partners and your love relationships absolute freedom to be as they are, express themselves as they are, and evolve as they seem to want to evolve.
I’ve got more to write about polyamory, so stay tuned in. (edit: see: Polyamorous Relationships)