Polyamory is by no means for everyone, and monogamy certainly seems to work best for most people. But one of the more unfortunate features of monogamy is the way it tends to force relationships to be either The Right One, or nonexistent. The general goal of monogamy, after all, is to find that one person you can spend the rest of your life with, forsaking all others. And for some people, this can work really well, for a really long time.
But codified into the cultural rules of monogamy are so many traps that often prevent success. Interested in sex with someone else – as so many human beings are over time? That’s not allowed, and you have to do it secretly – which, by the way, is the ultimate betrayal you can commit in a monogamous relationship. Attracted to someone and want to spend more time with them than you might an ordinary friend? That’s frowned upon, too . Your partner doesn’t want kids and you do? Better leave that partner before it gets any more serious. You’re a perfect match in every way except that the sex is so-so? Better settle in for boring sex the rest of your life, or risk losing all the other wonderful emotional, intellectual and other benefits of being with that person.
Polyamory mitigates these traps in two ways: it relieves the pressure on any one person to be the One and Only Perfect Partner, and it allows you to have relationships with other partners who also aren’t perfect, and who might even drive you crazy if they were your primaries, but whom you still love to spend time with for other reasons.
The beauty of this, besides the variety and richness of experience, is that you can get to know each person you are with outside of the confines of traditional relationship goals. Rather than wondering if someone is “the One,” you can simply ponder whether you want to continue spending time with him, and if so, in what way? If you don’t try to push each relationship into a particular shape, it will find its natural shape – a shape it might never have been able to take on in the context of monogamy.
For instance, I’m married. My husband is clearly not “the One” for me in the traditional sense, but he is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and we have committed to do so in joy and freedom. I have a local boyfriend whom I see weekly, and love deeply, but neither of us can picture ever living with the other: our values and habits are too different. Not having to choose between them means that I can enjoy all of the wonderful things about my relationship with my boyfriend without trying to force it into being everything to me, and I can enjoy the stable and deep home life I share with my husband – without forcing him to be everything, either.
Monogamy would force me into one of three unsatisfactory options: leave my husband, even though I still love him, because I’ve fallen in love with someone else; cheat on my husband (that is, lie about the affair); or break up with my boyfriend and live with my husband in resentment over it. While being poly doesn’t always mean having it all, it definitely can allow for more options, and greater love.
In my experience, the most insidious piece of the cultural assumption of monogamy is the one that insists that falling in love means you must either lie or sever your previous love relationship. Falling in love should mean more love, not less; synergy and greater integration, not destruction. Love for one person should not automatically mean the betrayal of another. And an alternative to that model is probably my favorite thing that polyamory allows.