People have interesting ideas when it comes
to love, life, and the socially acceptable arrangements thereof.
One thing I hear a lot is people complaining about polyamory
a long-term romantic/sexual relationship between more
than two people on the grounds that it doesnt work.
They say theyve seen too many disasters because of polyamory
to believe it can ever succeed. So Id like to take a look
at the ups and downs of human relationships in this regard.
First of all, I think the problem isnt
so much the practices as it is the people. The modern American
culture just doesnt do a good job of teaching most people
how to communicate, resolve conflicts, manage emotions, or other
crucial social skills. For havens sake, the standard male/female
marriage institution has a failure rate well over 50% in some
areas, with much associated human wreckage. If people who know
what theyre doing want to frolic, let them.
Those who dont know what theyre
doing and dont realize the problem and work on it will
run into trouble whether theyre living a poly lifestyle,
a theoretically monogamous one, or even a celibate one. Mature,
well-rounded folks with a good grasp of themselves can handle
just about anything they can dream up. People who already lack
a solid foundation and necessary skills arent going to
have much luck juggling a dozen eggs or even just a few. Ive
seen people thrive in fascinatingly complex situations; Ive
seen them flounder in a simple one-on-one relationship. Heck,
some dont even get that far. Its sad, really. I also
know folks who are painstakingly working their way up from a
rather patchy past to develop skills theyre missing.
So how does this polyamory thing work, anyway?
People usually make their own arrangements through negotiation.
They talk about what they want and need, and why, and how theyd
like to go about getting it. Then they settle on agreements that
everyone feels content with. Open communication lets them deal
with issues of jealousy, health and safety, time management,
favorite and unfavorite activities, trust, and so forth. Polyamory
includes a wide range of options from open relationships where
both partners occasionally have one-night stands with other people,
to closed marriages of three or six or however many individuals,
to couples who sometimes like to swap partners with other couples,
and much more. Whatever you can imagine, somewhere out there
is probably a family thats figured out how to make it work
A healthy society should be able to accommodate
diversity. This includes diversity in family life. People may
choose to be celibate, monogamous, or polyamorous according to
their nature. Number and configuration of partners should, I
believe, fall under the aegis of sexual orientation just as preference
for a partners biological sex does. It is painfully obvious
that social pressure produces no better effect on the former
than it does on the latter.
This brings us to the issue of idolizing monogamy.
Contrary to popular opinion, monogamy is not the only or necessarily
best sexual arrangement for primates, mammals, or lifeforms in
general. It works for some, not for others. The same is true
of humans. When you try to force people into a situation that
is not right for them, it tends to propagate disasters; you wind
up with monogamous relationships in which one or both partners
are miserable, or with serial monogamy where people
have only one partner at a time but many sequentially, or with
the ever-popular adultery in which people do irresponsibly
and secretly the kind of things that should be handled in a more
mature, responsible, and open manner. It takes only a quick glimpse
at the news to show how monogamy is not the answer to everything
and, in its modern form, not particularly successful.
Now, I dont feel that its fair
to single out a particular lifestyle and say that its wrong
or unworkable, just because people are currently having trouble
making it work; this goes for both monogamy and polyamory. Start
turning out better-equipped people, a more relaxed atmosphere,
and improved living conditions
and relationships of all
types will tend to work better. I worry more about the lack of
relational skills than about which type of relation people
are botching. And yes, I do what I can to move the world in a
positive direction so that people have the strength and flexibility
to express their creativity in relationships instead of struggling
just to keep them afloat. Expression should be a matter of taste.
Polyamory is not for everyone. It requires
a great deal of honesty, patience, and work. Monogamy is not
for everyone either. It too requires a lot of honesty, patience,
and work. This is why celibacy is a nice option for people who
find the whole sexual question boring or too much trouble or
the like. One size does not fit all. Historical cultures
have explored pretty much the whole gamut, with varying degrees
of success and sanity. Responsible persons and societies should
look at their own needs and interests, and come up with an arrangement
that works for them. Bugging someone else for living a life that
you yourself wouldnt enjoy is pointless and rude, both
for individuals and societies. As long as the people involved
are happy with their arrangement, and not actively making other
folks miserable, we should be content to keep our noses out of
their business. This is equally true whether they enjoy missionary
sex, or threesomes, or orgies that go through a carton
of condoms in an hour, or good old solitary sex in which the
fingers do the walking.
It helps to know what youre talking
about. Reading is an excellent way to learn more about polyamory,
and that includes everything from nonfiction guides to novels
with polyamorous characters. There are newsgroups, websites,
mailing lists, and many other online resources on this topic.
I once participated in a fascinating panel on the subject of
polyamory, for which I drafted a recommended reading list (see
below), and we had a lot of fun debating the what ifs
of complex sexual dynamics. Meeting and talking with people living
a polyamorous lifestyle is the best way to learn about it, though.
As long as youre polite, a good number of them will be
happy to talk with you; sometimes you can find parties or munches
specializing in this kind of interaction. So before you run around
calling the lifestyle immoral, or conversely decide it must
be for you, do everybody a favor and research first. You
are entitled to your informed opinion.