CNN ran an article online Wednesday, October 28, called Mate Debate: Is Monogamy Realistic? (http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/10/28/monogamy.realistic.today/index.html) The article mentions polyamory which is another example of the growing mainstream interest in the subject. I agree though with Alan of Polyamory in the News (http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/) said “I just wish the subject had been treated more as a positive expansion of love in its own right, rather than as a workaround for monogamy’s failures.” The article talks about perceptions in other countries about sex and infidelity stating that Americans tend to be the most uptight and judging. It was interesting however that in light of all the evidence the article ended with “Mongamy’s payoffs”. I see this over and over again in the US media, they tentatively bring up the subject of infidelity and non-monogamy, talk about the studies, challenges and evidence that monogamy for most is not working and they conclude with some reason about why monogamy is better, healthier or good for society and children. In this particular article they talked about the need for trust and security.
Most of these articles only mention polyamory and say that it is challenging and difficult but what about the upside. Certainly poly relationships have their challenges as do monogamous ones. What I think many people do not realize when looking at how polyamory works or doesn’t work is the learning curve involved and the learning of new way to think about our needs, communication and even honesty.
Most of us can remember the agony of dating as a young adult or teen. Most people do not take to dating or relationships naturally; they experience growing pains and drama. This is true of people new to polyamorous dating as well. The challenge is many people who dip their toes in the poly pool, do so as adults. They come to explore and falsely believe as adults they are equipped to handle the emotions that come with poly dating and exploring. What they don’t realize is that just like dating when they were younger, they will experience unfamiliar and challenging emotions that will create similar drama to when they first experienced romantic relationships. It is normal but many do not realize or allow themselves to grow through these emotions and experiences.
When we are a teen or young adult and we feel jealousy, hurt, excitement and pain of loss, we can often turn to an older sibling, parent or other person to talk about these emotions. Our mother will tell us this is just part of the process of growing up and relating as an adult. People around us often support us through the process of learning relationship skills and offer advice. As people explore poly, many do not expect it to be challenging like this. When they are hit by the whirlwind of conflicting emotions they don’t often have someone to talk to who has gone through this. Their partner is usually dealing with their own emotional chaos and not always the best person to help you through this learning curve. As more books are written, advice available and support from family because of acceptance, I believe the success rate and stability of these relationships will go up.
We know and understand there are challenges to open relating much of it from our cultural programming but what about the good side of polyamory? What are the perks and why is it that the mainstream media rarely covers the perks?
In the CNN article they talked about monogamy providing for our need for trust and security. It is true that humans need to feel a sense of security and trust with their partners. This can come with monogamy and polyamory. Polyamory can provide a venue for profound honesty, intimacy and security. As I have moved through the growing pains of polyamory I have grown to appreciate the security of knowing the truth of my partner’s desires, needs and that they will tell me when they are interested in being with or loving another person. The more my partner shares this with me, experiences connection with others and still spends time loving me, the more secure in the relationship I am. When I know that he or she will tell me what they are feeling for me and for others, and then trust grows as does intimacy in a profound way. My security comes from knowing my partner or partners are with because they truly want to be there, not out of duty, obligation or for the kids.
Polyamory can expand our experiences of love, physical and emotional intimacy, community and support. Poly relationships can be secure and a great place to raise kids. Most people come to explore polyamory as an alternative to monogamy, many find much more. People often find a sense of community and extended family. Sexual and pleasure bonding with other people brings connection and trust among a group of individuals that goes deeper than simple friendships. Even when we speak of the very common V-triad, the connection can extend beyond the hinge person (the person in relationship with two people not involved with each other) and the two people not sexually or romantically involved can have an intimacy with each other they do not have with others. This is directly because of the shared intimacy with the person who is the hinge of that V. This does not always happen but when it does it can form a deep bond between all three people. This extends as a possibility from quads to networks of intimate and romantic relationships.
I believe for many poly folks, myself included; polyamory offers connection and extended family that many of us are missing in the nuclear family/monogamy model. We live in a culture that can isolate families. The US population is very mobile, moving for careers, relationships and just to be somewhere new. We often do not live close to family or we do not feel a close connection to our family. There was time when we lived with and around extended family. We had grandparents, aunts, uncles and such for support, to help with family needs and child rearing. Now most people live far away from their family of origin, grandparents are often retirees ready to enjoy life rather than help raise children, careers demand we be mobile and we have been sold the idea of an independent nuclear family. Church can replace the need for extended family for some but if you are not religious there are few alternatives to finding the support that more adults can bring. Combine this need for connection of extended family with people’s basic nature of intimate connection beyond their partner and polyamory can become a great solution for many.
This is not to say that for some people monogamy is the best choice, it is for many. What polyamory as a movement is saying is that there is a workable option. There is an option of love, of cultivating intimate and sexual bonds that bring with them security, trust, love, support and family. We have more than one option for finding security, love, long term companionship, positive environment for children and something that can strengthen our society. It is possible to accept polyamory without rejecting monogamy. Both forms of relationship structure are valid and possible. Both take honesty, sensitivity to others needs, trust, communication and love.
I do not believe open relationships, polyamory, swinging or Polyfidelity will replace monogamy. I do see hope in the fact that polyamory and other open relationship styles are becoming more talked about as a possibility. I understand this is scary for some people and that mainstream media does not want to seem as if they support anything other than monogamy for fear of the backlash. Still amid the propaganda of family values and shunning of cheating spouses, open relationships and polyamory are expanding people’s possibilities. This movement is growing and shows little chance of slowing down anytime soon. People want to have loving relationships that work and for many this means looking for alternative to monogamy or the painful practice of serial monogamy, divorce and the judgments that often comes with it.
Polyamory for me has brought challenges but more it has brought wonderful perks. I have grown as a human being and as a partner to those I love. I have experienced wonderful intimacy with men and women, found community and extended family. I have learned to look within myself first and then to speak as honestly as I can about my needs and desires. I have met amazing people and I feel blessed to have an expanded family of choice. My kids have learned amazing lessons by being a part of mine and their father’s journey. They communicate their needs very well and take responsibility for their choices and actions. And yes it has even brought stability and security to my life and the lives of my children. I am very glad to see the awareness expanding and can only hope it will continue and eventually become as acceptable and normal as monogamy is.