So what is polyamory? The word can be broken down into two parts, “poly” means many, while “amory” means love. Having many loves, or having more than one intimate relationship at once with the consent and acknowledgement of everyone involved, is the simple definition of polyamory. Honesty is imperative in polyamory relationships, but how each relationship works is up to the people involved. It can differ from the swingers lifestyle, because the emphasis is on building relationships with emotional bonds, which may not be a priority for swingers. Showtime’s reality show, Polyamory: Married and Dating focuses on couples that are polyamorous and provides a glimpse of the lifestyle.
More importantly, polyamory is becoming a viable alternative to marriage. The Atlantic published an article emphasizing that families are radically different today than in the past, and that the law doesn’t reflect these changes in the legal choices offered. Diana Adams, a lawyer who lives a polyamorous lifestyle, was interviewed for the article, and answered a series of insightful questions:
How are you using the law to empower non-traditional relationships like yours?
Our laws are about 20 years behind what families actually look like. I’m working to create alternatives to marriage, because I think that if we could choose marriage affirmatively instead of it being a default, it would make relationships stronger. Marriage is an incredibly intense contract. It’s a legal-financial contract that you’re making, declaring that you’re going to be the other person’s social welfare state and safety net if they screw up. I mean, you’re signing the most important document you’ll sign in your life and people read it less carefully than a cell phone contract. People have no idea what they’re actually committing to and are horrified a lot of times when they find out.
What kinds of alternatives to marriage are available?
There are different options. Domestic partnership, for example, has tremendous possibility to create a more expansive version of what a relationship can look like. Domestic partnership was originally created as an alternative for gay couples who couldn’t legally get married. But then, all these surprising things started happening where these other kinds of people started using it for their own purposes. For instance, many elderly widow friends have entered into platonic domestic partnerships. It’s a situation like the Golden Girls. These are friends saying, “I live with her, and we watch out for each other, and I want her to be the person I can share my health insurance with.”
Another article by the Scientific American, titled New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good for You, also explored polyamory in the context of society. They report:
“an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans are looking outside their relationship for love and sex — with their partner’s full permission.”
On the topic of jealousy, the article explains the concept of “compersion“:
Take jealousy. If you ask most people how they’d feel if their partner had sex with or fell in love with someone else, the responses would be pretty negative: fear, anger, jealousy, rejection. Ask a polyamorous person the same question, and they’re more likely to tell you they’d be thrilled. It’s a concept called “compersion,” which means the joy felt when a partner discovers love outside of you. It’s similar to the feeling the typical person might get after finding out their best friend scored her dream job, Holmes said. But in this case, the happiness stems from a lover’s external relationships.
Furthermore, it explains that communication is key in making a polyamorous relationship function, and can be a skill that monogamous couples lack; however jealousy does exist for polyamorous people:
None of this suggests that polyamorous people are somehow immune to jealousy, Holmes said. But when jealously does occur, it’s discussed. The person feeling jealous is encouraged to examine their own psyche to find out what’s bothering them and which of their needs aren’t being met. Then the pair (or triad, or quad) can negotiate boundaries.
According to an article by the Calgary Sun, there is a resounding argument for humans being naturally monogamous:
Johnson claims that because we no longer live in small, close knit communities, “People now often depend on romantic love as their main source of social support.” She explains that the trouble with polyamorous relationships is they don’t fulfill our physiological bonding need to have “one person that we depend on, that we come first with.”
However, this claim doesn’t take into consideration the other side of the coin, which Paget, who wrote this article, elaborates:
Although life is easier when you have someone rooting for you, I’m hesitant to agree that monogamy is the only answer. Johnson’s theories discount the fact that humans can receive emotional support from other people besides their partner – whether that’s biological family or a “chosen family” composed of a closely knit network of friends.
As for Johnson’s assertion that couples in monogamous relationships have more satisfying sex lives, I’m sure many polyamorous people would argue that their sex lives are just as fulfilling, meaningful and scorching hot as those of monogamous couples (if not more so).
A poll conducted by Calgary Sun yielded the following results:
Question: Are humans meant to be monogamous?