I have seen bad, abusive and unhealthy polyamorous relationships. I have also seen beautiful and functional monogamous relationships that last a lifetime. I also have seen how toxic monogamy can twist our ideas of healthy relationships and how it dominates our cultures to the point that we expect everyone to follow the relationship escalator of marriage and kids, despite high divorce rates. What I’ve found is that the more I observe relationships of all kinds and remain open to their foundation ideas, the more complicated it appears to name the “best” way to have a relationship.
We are all living our own little lies about our relationships. We convince ourselves that being polyamorous is more ethical because we try not to cheat on our partners and instead follow new passions in the light, and we try to convince ourselves we are building relationships around trust and understanding. It ends up that there are people capable of loving relationships with each other regardless to the setup of those relationships, and people who aren’t. Sometimes it is the same people who are capable and not capable depending on the situation. A certain pairing could end up in total disaster, and those people can move on and find themselves growing into beautiful happy relationships with other partners.
So What Am I Getting At?
Polyamory isn’t the one true way. Anyone who tries to say that about a relationship style is full of shit. Yep, you heard me. So full of shit that flies are buzzing around their ears. Relationship styles and choices are tools not truths.
A lot of this boils down to nature. Humans are fluid in our relationships styles, ways of life, and communication. We have historically been capable of both polyamorous/polygamous arrangements, and scientists argue back and forth about the reasoning behind the ‘true’ or ‘right’ theories behind how we organize our families. What we seems to forget is that there is history of several different family setups functioning depending on the needs of the humans in it.
As polyamorous people we need to stay humble in our ideas. Even I have been guilty of saying that my way is right, and will always argue that certain relationship principles are more successful than others. In fact, I get paid to do this. However, the majority of my relationship principles apply to any relationship setup, monogamous or polyamorous in nature (or anywhere in between). This is because my relationship theory isn’t about one way being right for everyone, but giving people the tools to create relationships that are healthy and functional.
Polyamory has some Serious Issues
For a few years of my life I lived and breathed polyamory. I championed the words of The Ethical Slut and More Than Two¹, and was active and open with my polyamorous lifestyle. The majority of my relationships from this period of my life were rewarding, positive and functional. Not everyone I know experienced the same poly truth. In fact, some of my friends who went down the same path as myself (maybe some of them from my enthusiastic encouragement) had much the opposite experience. When I had the most epic multiple breakup of my life that included a move to a new country, I had a lot of time to reflect on how things went wrong and took more of the role of ‘observer’ of relationships rather than participator. During this time I learned a lot about myself, what I was screwing up, and also had a lot more time to provide support for my friends who were going through much harder times than myself.
During that time I started to get bitter. I was cut off from the poly community that had been my only social circle for years, and kept myself distant on purpose. I watched from the outside as drama ripped through these circles, and had a lot of time to think.
Now, to piss everyone off I have compiled a list of some of the seriously fucked up things about polyamory:
- Polyamory is a perfect playground for predatory men who never actually want committed loving relationships to go around having sex with as many women as they want, and not be called a player because they are telling all their partners about their sexcapades. These predatory men, usually claiming to be feminists and sex-positive will use threats of having sex with someone new to keep an older partner compliant, and in general are manipulative with an even more dangerous guise of feminist to hide them.
- There is usually a party that is at a disadvantage in a polyamorous setup, no matter how hard we try not to make it so. The partner not living with the couple, the unmarried boyfriend to the married couple. More energy has to be spent on trying to fix and balance this power in relationships, and also a lot of energy on people claiming there is no disadvantage instead of trying to fix it.
- You are in a higher risk group for STDs and STIs². Everything is about your acceptable level of risk, however not everyone has the same acceptable level for risk. Not all polyamorous people are practicing safe sex. In fact, very few I have met have safe enough sex standards to be managing their risk properly (and still seem surprised when an STD runs rampant through their network). Being in a faithful, long-term monogamous relationship or not having sex at all are always the lowest risk relationships.
- Because polyamory operates outside the usual norms of society, our support network for discussing the troubles in our relationships is limited. This leads to toxic use of online forums, our partners, and facebook groups to complain about our relationships and look for advice and validation. I have found that this leads to a dramatic and somewhat toxic culture about how we manage breakups and our personal issues.
- Polyamory is a privilege, and the community has largely excluded people of color. Polyamorous people like to think that we are better communicators and more self aware than our monogamous peers, but we have the same issues that we are blind to. Along with this, practicing polyamory usually means you are in a position with your field of work and blood-family that you can either support yourself if they shunned you for your lifestyle choices, or that they are supportive enough that you don’t need to.
Now if I haven’t lost you to a frothing rage, you will likely agree with me in saying that these issues can be worked at and hopefully resolved at least partially. Monogamy has lists also of bad traits, especially because monogamy has it’s issues even as a research subject.
Most of the issues in polyamory have to do with the ego, and convincing ourselves that our lifestyle is justified and therefore morally right or superior to monogamy. The temptation to do this is pretty great, especially when you have the pressure of monogamy to fight against. You can know your lifestyle is justified without putting down other lifestyle choices.
Learning to be Moderate
In our current day and age, we have the freedom to design our relationships the way we want. We have the free time to choose what to do when we aren’t working, and in most parts of the world an open enough culture that we can easily make more lifestyle choices than our ancestors. Especially with the invention of birth control, women are able to engage in more casual sex without as much worry of getting pregnant or suffering stigma that will hurt their well being. All these choices mean that we are starting to see a lot more variation in the normal social culture, but we still are sometimes having trouble adapting to the fact that everyone is different and will want different things out of their relationships.
Especially in American culture, we are driven to form an opinion and choose our opinion as the ‘one true way’. It reflects in the American political system, and trickles down to frivolous things like which soda you like and what sports team you support.
What I’ve learned is that there are good and bad sides to everything, so to assume that your way is the best for everyone is going to get you into trouble. I challenge polyamorous people to look at the beautiful monogamous relationships they likely see in their lives, as well as analyze the ones that went wrong. I challenge them to look at the pitfalls of polyamory and fight the issues that cause it to break down.
I used to say that I always have been, and always will be polyamorous. I’m embarrassed when I look back at that statement plastered all over my online profiles. Why? Because I will never be all one thing and none of the other. I do have the natural ability to love more than one person at once, but that doesn’t mean I always have to choose this, or even that it will always suit me best. In fact, because I’m also a solo-oriented person with a huge amount of hobbies and interests beyond the romantic, I sometimes find that only having one-or a smaller number of partners fits me better. Not because polyamory is wrong or immoral, or even a broken way to form a relationship, but because my needs are met by more than just romantic and sexual outlets. I can cheat myself of those hobbies if I’m spending too much time managing multiple relationships.
I still love More Than Two and The Ethical Slut. These two books are excellent tools for understanding different relationship styles and illuminating new ideas about how to ‘do’ love. What I have done is also read books from experts in marriage and monogamy as well, and found value in the teachings from more mainstream culture sources.
Serial Monogamy is found to have fairly high risks of transmission of STDs and STIs (source), but non-monogamy is more risky as well. So if a poly person pulls the ‘serial monogamy’ card as being more risky, they aren’t calculating all of the stupid shit they probably do that can transmit infections.