Is polyamory really the way to go? It’s a question I ask myself as I browse dating sites, swiping left on the men who are in a relationship.
Happily married but looking for extra fun.
In an open relationship.
Want a new playmate!
Please note I have a girlfriend, but she’s cool with me being here.
It’s not fair. I can’t even seem to find one decent partner, and these men are looking for their second?
There are more and more people embracing polyamory with the enthusiasm that I reserve for napping. There are poly websites and poly dating sites, and a wealth of advice on how to “do” poly properly.
Sex columnist Dan Savage, for example, regularly preaches the benefits of “open” and “monogamish” relationships on his hugely popular podcast.
And poly proponents are quite passionate about their choice. I have (unwittingly) ended up on dates with poly men who explain to me earnestly that monogamy “isn’t natural”.
Well no shit, Sherlock. Monogamy isn’t natural. But you know what else isn’t natural? Pants. Also medication, currency, cars and fashion eyewear. And yet none of the people in open relationships seem to have a problem with those.
“Monogamy isn’t natural”, but neither is polyamory (or “ethical non-monogamy”, as it is also called). Nothing about our modern society is natural. Culture is created, and it is constantly changing. What seemed “natural” 200 years ago – chastity belts, for example, or slavery – isn’t acceptable now. And much of what is acceptable now – homosexuality, kink, pre-marital sex – was considered to be aberrant back then, or still is in other societies.
Polygyny (one man with several female partners) and polyandry (one women with several men) is out of favour, but polyamory is gaining traction as a sexual/romantic lifestyle. And that’s fine, if it’s your cup of tea, but polyamory is no more natural or unnatural than any other form of human relationship.
You see, polyamory isn’t a free-for-all. It isn’t a “love from the gut” kind of lifestyle, where everyone just does what they “naturally” feel like doing. Every poly couple must negotiate a range of rules and boundaries, to suit their particular poly lifestyle. According to the website Poly Coach, these include:
- How do we handle dating other people?
- How much information do we agree to share with each other and how do we share?
- What are the parameters around having sex with others?
- How do we want to practice safe sex? Do we agree to use condoms with others?
- Can we have sex with others in our home/ in our bed?
And considering that every poly couple is in a relationship with one or more other people, that’s a lot of agreements between a lot of people.
Then there are all the emotions to be managed. In a monogamous relationship, there may be issues with emotional and sexual frustration, because – as the poly guys remind me – “you can’t expect to have all your needs met by just one person”. (Well, that’s why I have friends, I always respond, but it’s not really what they mean.)
Polyamory does away with frustration (theoretically, anyhow), and replaces it with compersion – the feeling of joy one gets when a loved one is experiencing romantic or sexual pleasure.
I don’t doubt that compersion exists (though I seriously doubt it could exist for me). Having said that, compersion is a learned response, and poly people acknowledge that they need to work through layers of jealousy and insecurity to get there. Is it worth it? They claim it is. But is it any more “natural” than sexual fidelity? No, of course not. All relationships require us to manage our emotions, compromise, and work hard to stay connected to the other. Or “others”, as the case may be.
Now, I’m not saying that monogamy is ideal. Of course, it’s tough to stay faithful to the one person for an entire lifetime. Of course, many people fail in the attempt. But that doesn’t mean the pursuit is without value. Human beings do have a strong drive to pair bond, and to establish sexual exclusivity. And it’s kind of lovely not to have to share the joy of your partner’s body.
For me, though, it boils down to logistics as much as emotion. It’s hard enough finding one man I want to sleep with, let alone two or three or several.
And even if I did find a few, I really don’t have the energy to manage all of my men and my men’s other partners.
All hail to compersion and poly and monogamish, but I think I’ll retain my enthusiasm for napping instead.