May 25, 2015

The Other Type of Love: Polyamory.


Relephant read: More Sex with More People: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Open Relationships.

Every time I post an article about the psychology of love, invariably there are a few comments questioning how the concepts relate to the other types of love.

Polyamory is a philosophy that seems to dominate these comments—which should come at no surprise considering some estimates put the number of American adults living in polyamorous relationships as high as half a million.

In researching the topic I found a veritable banquet of articles, books and videos touting it’s benefits. I also found a raging torrent of critics pointing out some obvious, and some not so obvious, issues with the practice.

The purpose of this article is not to side with either the banquet or the torrent, but rather, take an impartial look into the brave new world of alternative relationships.

First, to clear up a few misconceptions. The word polyamorous is an umbrella term describing relationships that involve more than 2 partners, often used interchangeably with ‘non-monogamy’.

While there are many different variations, many proponents of polyamory are quick to differentiate it from polygamy (which includes polygyny, where one man takes multiple wives as well as polyandry, where one wife takes multiple husbands).

It does not necessarily involve group sex or a lack of commitment. Contrary to popular belief, many polyamorous relationships are in fact committed relationships. As such, Polyamory appears to be more focused on the idea that affection, attraction, intimacy, passion and connection can be felt toward more than one person at a time.

The ‘poly’ community often paraphrases the Buddhist quote: ‘Thousands of candles can be lit by a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.’

At first glance, the lifestyle is intriguing. With monogamous relationships failing at an unprecedented rate (as high as 50% ending in divorce in some Western societies) it is no surprise that many are looking for alternative types of love.

But, before you jump right in, here are a few things to consider:

One of the main arguments for polyamorous relationships is that having multiple partners provides greater emotional and spiritual freedom and fulfillment, as each party draws from diverse sources of validation and connection.

Many members of the community believe that love can be experienced, strengthened and developed in multiple combinations, provided that clear relationship values and boundaries are established and maintained.

Many believe that the key component to a successful polyamorous relationship is a concept known as compersion. It is the process of learning to find satisfaction in your partners happiness, regardless of the cause of said happiness. Proponents believe this philosophy of non-attachment is about finding joy in the joy of others, free from jealousy.

On the other side of the coin, critics often ask: “How would an already complicated relationship between two inherently complex beings be made any easier by adding extra partners? Wouldn’t it be even harder to deal with relationship issues such as insecurity, infidelity, and jealousy?”

They often go on to describe the concept of compersion as nice, but so rare that it becomes impractical.

Sure, if you are able to practice consistent non-attachment, go for it. But, keep in mind that you will also need to find partners who can maintain the same level of consistent compersion.

So, after much research and many sleepless nights of philosophical pondering, where do I stand?

I am all for people expressing their love in whatever format they desire. I am, however, still a bit dubious about the practical realities. The time, effort, and emotional resources needed to maintain a relationship are limited, and many of us struggle to fulfill even the most basic requirements with just one person.

I take great joy in cooking intimate meals for lovers, but I barely have time to cook nice meals for myself. I love doing things that are thoughtful and caring, but I struggle to find enough time to be caring towards myself.

So for now, I will choose to implement my own version of polyamory by firstly maintaining a strong relationship with myself and then, if time and resources permit, adding extra partners, one at a time. I doubt if I will ever be able to add more than one, but I will at least keep myself open to the idea.


Author: Garrick Transell

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Robert Ashworth/Flickr

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