2012-08-06

Monogamy and polyamory in our culture

I know people who are innately polyamorous, and people who are innately monogamous.

The innately polyamorous people don't feel like they can be restricted to one partner, but they don't feel the need to restrict their partners either.

The innately monogamous people can't imagine their partner being with others, but they don't feel the slightest desire to be with others, either.

I believe, however, that many people - perhaps most - are neither the former or the latter, but are, instead, born hypocrites. We would like to screw around, but we don't want the same freedom for our partner.

Our education, therefore, needs to consist either of:

(A) reinforcing the idea that we shouldn't screw around because we don't want our partner to do so - therefore, monogamy;

or,

(B) reinforcing the idea that, since we want to screw around, our partner should be able to, as well - therefore, polyamory.

The thing is that neither approach works best for all people.

The innately monogamous have no desire to screw around. They only ever want one partner. So option A is natural for them, and forcing them into option B is awkward.

The innately polyamorous don't want to limit themselves, and have no desire to limit their partner. They're totally fine with freedom for everyone. So option B is natural for them, and forcing them into option A is awkward.

For the rest of us, however - who are born between the two extremes - I think it would be much better to coax us into option B, rather than option A. It's more constructive, and subject to less potential disaster.

What if monogamy wasn't default?

I think it's a tragedy that our society tries to encourage option A as the default, rather than option B. If we grew up with polyamory as default, that would encourage more fulfilling relationships, and a more developed ability to handle relationships, for most people.

In response to this, I've seen arguments that option B is too complicated for the average person to deal with; that it's easier for most people to stifle their own desires, rather than accept the desires of their partner.

But I would argue that:
  • This difficulty is perceived only because monogamy is the cultural default. What's pervasive in the environment always comes easier.
  • What's easier: making yourself into something you're not; or accepting a person the way they are? Isn't stifling your desires more of a violation of your identity, and more unrealistic to expect, than accepting someone else's?
  • If you fail at stifling your desires, or never intended to in the first place, this is much easier to hide than if you fail at accepting your partner's.
Reality has a way of confronting us with situations, and many can't handle them, because their whole lives have been built on avoiding that type of situation. Every divorce that happens because someone cheated - not because the partners agreed they're best off not remaining together - is a catastrophic failure brought about because we have monogamy as the cultural default.

Which is the real extreme requirement?

Consensual non-monogamy tends to be considered as something out of the ordinary; something that weird, unusual people do. There's also the perception that non-monogamy implies people who are extremely promiscuous.

There are, indeed, some people who have many different partners on a regular basis. However, I would argue that they are dwarfed by the number of people who engage in serial monogamy, without admitting they're promiscuous.

There are also people who have successful, simultaneous, committed relationships with two or three others - and no more.

However, many people who are consensually non-monogamous are in couples; and for many, non-monogamy means nothing more than one or two adventures in a year. If you're in a couple like that, of every 100 times you have intercourse, some 98-99 will be with your partner; and perhaps 1 or 2 will be with someone else.

Which is more extreme to expect of your partner? That they have sex with you a majority of the time? Or that they have sex only with you, 100% of the time, ever?

How many more relationships would last if it were more commonly accepted that, sometimes - perhaps a small percentage of the time - it's reasonable for a person to have sex with someone else; without having to hide it, and lie?

What if polyamory was the norm?

This is hard to imagine so long as monogamy is so pervasive. But there are parts of our lives where being poly is already the norm.

Take friendship, for example. Suppose you take friend A to lunch one day. The next day, friend A is occupied with work, so you take friend B to a stroll in the park. There's no sex or romance involved; suppose you're all hetero and the same gender.

Suppose, then, that friend A throws a tantrum about you going out with friend B. He says things like "you disrespect me in the worst way possible" - not because he has an issue with friend B specifically, but because you chose to spend time with someone else. He says what you should do instead is be alone, as a sign of respect for your relationship with A, when friend A was working.

Is it not reasonable to say that most people, given this situation, would assume that friend A has some serious issues, and needs to see a psychiatrist?

We don't tolerate this type of behavior from non-romantic, non-sexual friends. Yet, when it comes to romance and sex, we suddenly tolerate all sorts of psychopathic tendencies. We tolerate it because everyone does, because it's considered normal.

But is it normal, really? Is it sane?

2 comments:

Sunshine said...

Zanimivo... Jaz "polyamory" še vedno dojemam kot stanje, ko ljudje ljubijo in si želijo resne zveze z več ljudmi hkrati, ne pa, da si želijo samo spolnosti z več ljudmi hkrati. :O

denis bider said...

Saj imaš prav - to je glavni pomen te besede. Ampak včasih se uporablja tudi bolj ohlapno, kot sinonim za "non-monogamy". Takšna raba je nerodna, ker se pomen na tak način razvodeni. Ampak po drugi strani rabimo afirmativno besedo za "non-monogamy", ki ni tvorjena z zanikanjem. Mislim nekaj podobnega kot "secular" v primerjavi z "atheist".

Trenutno se ne spomnim drugega, kot poly, čeprav mi ta raba ni čisto všeč.