We Are What We Love: How Polyamory Can Change the World for the Better.

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I’ve had lovers tell me I’m too rational about love.

I have, on numerous occasions, been caught analyzing and intellectualizing the sex I was either about to have, was having or did have. When a guy told me that I “thought too much about sex,” he wasn’t saying that I sat around all day with visions of naked people pressing up against each other, but that I sat around all day with visions of why people got naked and pressed up against each other.

For the longest time I’ve been attempting to figure out what love is, why people think they feel it, do they really feel it, what is it supposed to feel like, what people are supposed to do with it, etc.

I’ve read Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, William Wordsworth, Junot Diaz.

I’ve listened to Marvin Gaye and Adele.

I’ve even watch romantic movies like The Notebook and Fatal Attraction (ha!); but really, all of these outlets of expression exist because it’s such an abstract idea, and with abstract ideas people can get creative with meanings.

As Diane Ackerman says in A Natural History of Love:

“Everyone admits that love is wonderful and necessary, yet no one can agree on what it is.” She then adds, “We use the word love in such a sloppy way that it can mean almost nothing or absolutely everything.”

For the longest time I’ve been grappling between the theory and the reality of polyamory, which is the idea of being in multiple intimate relationships. I remember the moment when I felt I could dive into the polyamorous lifestyle and I would come out okay in the end. It was actually while I was watching the movie Adaptation, pretty much the only movie that Nicolas Cage was good in. There was this scene and the two characters conversation went something like this:

Donald: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.

Charlie: But she thought you were pathetic.

Donald: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.

Something opened up for me in that concept of “you are what you love,” it was beautiful to think about recognizing when there was love and being able to fully feel it. It almost gave a sort of permission to love fearlessly. To understand that even if a relationship ended, if there was love, that love never went away, it existed somewhere in the universe forever.

But yet, even though the Adaptation quote was moving, it never quite got to a definition of what love is. And how could I truly experience/share love with one person, let alone multiple people, if I didn’t actually know what it meant?

Enter bell hooks, social critic, intellectual, author, feminist.

Even though bell hook’s book, All About Love: New Visions has an overall monogamous tone, I’d like to take a moment and discuss why her theory and definition of love could, when combined with polyamory, actually transform the world into a much better place.

In my opinion it’s important to have a working definition of the one big abstract idea that is rooted in the basis of almost all human interactions.

We have to know what it means before we can do it.

When we look at love “as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” we begin to see how to better make love happen.

Love is not necessarily a feeling, but an action. Actions have reactions, consequences, the potential for transformation. If we can shift from this romanticized concept of “falling” in love we can move away from the idea that we don’t have any responsibility in the matter, when in truth we’re entirely responsible. We own it. And yes, we can control who we love. We can decide who we want to put our energies into, who we want to express care, affection, respect and trust with.

I think that’s the overarching beauty of polyamory when used in relation to this definition of love, because if one opens their world to loving multiple people, more people have the ability to reach their true potential.

I’m not saying it can’t happen in monogamous relationships, it obviously can, but with polyamory we have more people working together to help each other transform.

Let me do an analogy here. Our current basic living situations for a majority of the population consists of compartmentalized space, so either a one-family home or apartment separated from neighbors by thick walls, where life becomes individualized.

People literally shut each other out.

Now it has been a psychologically proven fact that people who are well connected to communities are happier.

So it would come as a logical solution to start tearing down the walls.

Perhaps we have to start first with our figurative walls, the walls that separate us from the ability to have true intimacy with other people. We have to learn how to not only believe in that definition, but live it day to day. We have to let go of fear, because there is no place for fear in love. When we let go of fear, we’re able to love more, whether we channel that love to one or multiple people. When we lose the fear and push each other to work on becoming our “true” selves, to grow and transform, we also transform our world, and that makes it a better place for everyone to live.

Like elephant journal gets sexy on Facebook.

Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: foxtongue}

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anonymous Sep 26, 2014 1:32pm

Great definition of love. Comes from M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Travelled”. Been my go to for over 30 yrs.

anonymous Sep 26, 2013 4:57am

Very interesting view point. I always look at these type of subjects from historical & cultural side too. Thus we could gain a wider understanding of the issue by learning how polyamory (and polygamy for that matter) is practiced in other cultures and religions. For a person like me, born and raised in the middle east, with US education, it still amazes me how quickly people forget that there are other cultures, religions and beliefs in our small world, beside our own. Polygamy is alive and well here, lets see if polyamory can fair the same in western libral culture.

anonymous Sep 26, 2013 4:30am

As someone who gave poly a good try, based on concepts and ideals such as these, I can say with confidence that much of what I experienced in the poly world was people that used poly as a means to actually refrain from the deepest intimacy. There was ots of distractions, drama, spiritual impasse, superiority and power trips. Granted, It does have it's value, if only as a temporarily lifestyle to learn from and experience..and certainly, there are those who, authentically or not, claim happiness in all sorts of realities, so who is to say what is truly best for another? Nevertheless, as I have come into deeper intimacy with myself, and accordingly deepened in all of my relations with others (which by no means requires sex, as opposed to a highly sexual past) the last thing I want is MORE people and energies around. Simplicity and plenty of time alone is key to inner peace, harmony and contentedness. I've been amazed at how much people, esp men, feel noticeably at ease and comfortable with themselves when they are with me when the pressure of a potential sexual interlude is not energetically storming around us. Life becomes much more rich, deep and real.

    anonymous Sep 27, 2013 12:21pm

    I like your reply – it resonates with me.

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 10:43pm

response to EBEE:

“Do one thing at a time if you want to be efficient and achieve the best results.”

I wouldn’t want to have ‘efficiency’ in my relationships,. of course, society loves efficiency for good reasons…

democracy is inefficient.

anti-capitalism is inefficient.

love is inefficient.

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 3:26pm

I appreciate this article even though I think it's naive. I appreciate it because disenfranchised people have to work hard and speak out to make their lives and ways of being possible. Women and people of color still working hard at it in this country, queer folk of all stripes likewise. Ridiculous competing generalizations are often needed before the marginalized/demonized can even get on the map, much less be tolerated and possibly valued (e.g, early feminism, early lgbtq rights, etc). I have lived a pair-bonded polyamorous life for over 10 years, most of it in a marriage. The depth of my primary relationship has been utterly enhanced by our love community, as has my integrity as a person and my capacity to love even when I don't want to. That being said, I agree with EBee that its maturity and self-honesty in the end that makes it work and that's what's required in long-term love of any type.

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 12:40pm

Perhaps you haven't seen Raising Arizona or Moonstruck?

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 11:31am

I just ended a polyamorous relationship a little over a month ago and although the experience I had is just one perspective out of so many more that are out there, it did teach me A LOT about the way both monogamous and poly-relationships work. A benefit is that I came to understand myself as a person better and what my needs and wants are. I also learned that poly relationships require a lot of work and I’ve met a few people who have made this work for them and are happy living this lifestyle. The ones that make the poly lifestyle work for them are incredibly communicative, truthful, and have emotional maturity and intelligence.

Unfortunately, my partner was incredibly immature used the polyamorous label and lifestyle as a way to justify his desire for sex and duality. He claimed that he wanted to create deep, intimate, & loving relationships with other women, but he clearly used it to satisfy desires and he had a double standard set up in his mind when it came to me being in any sort of relationship with other people. He also claimed that he wanted to share love and experiences between the both of us, yet through his actions he made it clear that he wanted to keep his relationships with others separate from me. I’m not going to argue that he is right or wrong, but I found out with time that I do better with monogamous relationships.

I once heard from a wise spiritual teacher, “Do one thing at a time if you want to be efficient and achieve the best results.” I believe the same holds true in my life with romantic and intimate relationships.

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 7:37am

the vast majority of population will not have the guts (including me) to truly love one person and most importantly to let someone else love them (that's the scary shit for most) profoundly…I don't know who said it or where I read it (but it was a man speaking), that he can't imagine why other people constantly need new sexual partners to be aroused, etc. he said that his lifetime will not be enough to know, TRULY know his beloved wife. How can he be bored and need novelty when he has so much yet to discover and learn?

    anonymous Sep 25, 2013 12:24pm

    I love what you said here and I completely agree. ♥

    anonymous Sep 27, 2013 12:16pm

    I find this to be partially true but, not fully based in reality – day to day. I believe that love can be forever (but, does not have to be forever). I also believe that monogamy can be stifling to love, desire and arrousal (does not have to be of course). i believe that it takes real effort on both people's parts to make a monogamous relationship last beyond the need to "stay together." I really loved this article. I disagree that love requires commitment (it can but, does not require). Explore what life has to offer – different people, sexual or not.

    anonymous Sep 28, 2013 8:07pm

    I don't agree that staying with your spouse exclusively means you will, or can always, keep learning. For some couples, there is a limit to how much growth can be shared between two people in a given arrangement. It's not spiritually weak or deficient for this to be so for many people–even though that is often implied in pro-mono arguments.
    I am in a poly marriage and have learned a great deal more about my wife, myself, and us since we opened things up two years ago–we've been together for 15 years. For us, the opening has lead to both of us deepening in ourselves and deepening our love for each other.
    Insisting monogamy is somehow spiritually or morally superior comes from a pre-set handed down idea from patriarchal religions of how human relationships should be, and what's "spiritual" and what's not in that regard.
    I prefer to trust that there are many humans who, living in deep integrity with love and respect for each other and the wider world, will choose and create relational and social arrangements that work for them regardless of whatever models mainstream culture promotes.

    anonymous Feb 28, 2015 1:15pm

    Its like saying that one person is all the stimulation another ever need. Just as we need multiple friends through out life to satisfy different aspects of self so to is physical intimacy stifled by the idea of only one partner.

anonymous Sep 25, 2013 5:27am

Don't you think people have a hard enough time being intimate and maintaining relationships with one individual? I respect your personal choices, but I think all the "more love" stuff about polyamory is just a way of diverting focus from and justifying that folks can't and/or won't commit to having sex with only one person for extended periods of time. Which is fine. We're somewhere between serial monogamists and pair bonders anyway. Have sex with as many people as you want. Just don't hurt anyone and who cares? But why feel the need to convince others? Who are you really trying to convince?

Commitment is an important part of what love is and should be. This makes me feel that polyamory condones selfish impulses, emotional immaturity, and commitment issues. And I've known and loved some polys. Thing is, they weren't really all that poly as they said they were as eventually (after a few years) they all paired off and went their separate, happy, monogamous ways.

But at least there's a bell hooks reference in this post. All About Love should be required reading for humanity.

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Krystal Baugher

Krystal Baugher lives in Denver, Colorado. She explores the real truth at goeatacarrot.com and the real fake news at whattheconspiracy.com. You can follow her on Instagram here.