Poly as "the relationship status of a totally fabulous future"... And from long-timers, warning signs.
Ever more articles and postings are calling polyamory an emerging relationship model of the future, or even America's next romantic revolution. As someone who dreamed for decades of moving the poly-awareness bandwagon so much as an inch, I find this enormously heartening. Within our lifetime I think we may see a Mission Accomplished, at least for my own personal mission: helping make the world aware that successful multi-loving relationships, families, and networks even exist. And that this life can be a surprisingly realistic option for some people who come with the right motivations, attitudes, and values, especially if they learn the skills and best practices that the poly world has accumulated from hard experience.
But as I've also warned, when any small, specialty niche thing starts to become cool and widely popular it moves downmarket, where it can turn ugly and start to stink. More on that in a bit.
First, some recent, diverse straws in the wind.
This article appeared at Dazed & Confused magazine, "at the forefront of youth culture, defining the times" for a claimed 550,000 readers:
Polyamory is the new monogamy
Why loving lots of people at once is the #relationshipstatus of a totally fabulous future
By Pinar & Viola
Every year, we, Pinar&Viola ["Dutch artists and brand creatives"], launch a... collection inspired by the desires of that year that also reflects the trends and cravings for the year to come. The subject of each collection is kept secret till the last moment, yet we'd like to make an exception this year for the Sex issue of Dazed & Confused. Recently, we were introduced to something which we believe is in the the air; it's not even avant-garde yet, but we believe it will rise in five years' time, and be accepted by openminded people in about ten years.
This new fascination is polyamory, the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person. Our contemporary-culture scanner instincts tell us that polyamory will be the next sexual liberation and sensual sensation. The collective, deep, committed, long-term loving relationship is slowly rising up from the underground, emboldened by the success of gay marriage.
...It's an ideology [for] people who would like to love more than one person in a way that is sexual, emotional, spiritual or any combination thereof. Bien sûr, this multi-love setting is a game changer for the mono-love deal referred to as "monogamy". Yet when you think about it, why is it perfectly fine for us to have sex with multiple people but the setup becomes creepy when it's about loving multiple people. Weird. IKR!
...Polyamory is like welcoming a new friend in your circle. You don't think who you should drop when you have a new friend. It's the introduction of honest, larger-group dynamics into what we define as a love couple....
...Judith Butler gives good insight in her interview over gender trouble, and makes a prediction on the future uncrowning of monogamy. It's obvious that the idea of leaving monogamy behind will scare people, shake them up and make them question their world-view. Now let's begin....
Read the whole article, with its sometimes fractured Dutch English (May 11, 2013).
In a very different context, the website of a church-based health-care network in Nebraska offers this informative briefing in the Sexual Medicine section of its website for the public:
Polyamorous relationships becoming more mainstream
By Brier Jirka, Sex Therapist
Polyamorous relationships. What are they? Who do they involve? Are they common?
Research says that as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in polyamorous relationships, or consensual non-monogamy — which involves permission to go outside of the relationship for romance or sex.
This population has been around for a long time, but it’s just now popping up in mainstream culture as society becomes more accepting of alternative lifestyles....
...These relationships can be hard to define because each has its own set of rules, boundaries and structure set by the various people involved. Keep in mind these people can be any number of sexual orientations — heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender.
Poly relationships are not to be confused with bigamy (marriage to more than one person, which is illegal), “wife swapping” or “swinging” — which are usually based on sexual activity... there is an emphasis on the emotional relationship, as opposed to just sexual pleasure. Communication is what makes poly relationships stable. The focus should be on honesty and a basic set of rules....
See the whole article (June 4, 2013). It goes on to quote at length Stephanie Pappas's excellent LiveScience article, "5 Myths About Polyamory", which was also published on the Scientific American site and elsewhere.
In yet another context: a columnist in the Colorado gay magazine Out Front writes,
‘Monogamish’ and the gray area between monogamy and polyamory
By Lauren Archuletta
...Is monogamy going out of style? Maybe it is to an extent. But maybe there are just many more legitimate options now, which we’re more open to talk about as parts of human nature, relationships and curiosity....
The whole article (June 5, 2013).
And maybe you remember "In our progressive, forward-thinking college town it’s becoming almost a faux pas to be monogamous", from a Western Massachusetts alternative paper.
And "Polyamory is Boring as, in some places, it becomes normal".
And Laci Green, the popular young sex-ed vlogger, saying "Polyamory is quickly becoming this generation's sexual revolution".
And there was that episode of Fox's New Girl sitcom in which Schmidt, a 30ish Gen Y-er, thinks he's getting old and un-cool. To dramatize this, the screenwriter has four hip, cool Millennials move in across the hall. Schmidt laments, "They’re the future of humanity! A pan-ethnic, pansexual hive mind and they want nothing to do with me!" His roommates try to explain: "Brory, Sutton, and Fife are in a triad, and Chaz is a floater." Schmidt wails, "They’re polyamorous?! Dammit!", feeling even older and more out of it.
All good, right?
Well, anything is likely to go bad if it becomes too cool too fast, says my glum conservative side. As I was putting together the stuff above, other straws in the wind appeared on the Polyfamilies Yahoo list (an old favorite of mine, with its sharp minds and ascerbic bullshit-killers). There, longtime poly advice writers Franklin Veaux and Goddess of Java (the Polyamorous Misanthrope) shared an ominous observation. Quotes are by permission. Franklin:
I get a lot of email from my poly website. About two or three times a week, I'll get requests for advice, almost always from folks who are new to polyamory. I try to answer all of these....
In the past six months or so, the nature of many of these emails has changed. I call them Sudden Left Turn emails.
They start out ordinary enough — someone says they're in a poly relationship, they describe a bit about the relationship, they start to talk about the problem they want advice with. And then the email takes a sudden left turn into horror, with some situation that totally blows my mind.
A couple of weeks ago a woman wrote who's in her first poly relationship, partnered with another woman who has a long-term boyfriend. It was ordinary enough; the existing couple has a rule that the woman's girlfriend is forbidden to spend the night with the woman, and that was something that bothered her… and then she said "Oh, yeah, my girlfriend and her partner have decided they want me to have her boyfriend's baby. They told me about this last night."
Or another email I received yesterday from a woman who's been in a monogamous relationship for years, and then her partner told her that he wants to explore polyamory, and he'd like to start dating another woman he's become close to… and then she added that he thinks if he has other partners, she should have other partners too, but he doesn't want her dating any other men, only women. Catch is, she's straight, so he told her that if poly is to work, she has to become bisexual.
Almost always, these emails end with "I've never been poly before, is this how all poly relationships are?"
I'm not sure what's going on.... Is it the inevitable consequence of polyamory becoming more visible in the public sphere? I mean, who tells a partner "By the way, we've decided you have to have this guy's baby," or "By the way, you have to become bisexual now"? I really feel bad for the people in these situations, being asked to do things that are so far outside the bounds of reason that you can't even see reasonableness from where they are without a telescope…and I'm starting to see a LOT of emails like this.
...I definitely think that poly being in the public eye has opened it up to more people, some of whom are doing it more or less badly (and/or without adequate basic relationship skills). I have noticed an uptick in the visible "poly means I get to do whatever I want" contingent lately, too.
To which Noel replied,
I've been getting them. I went off on this ranty tear in some recent Misanthrope articles about treating people as things and asking where the fuck the love was, in reaction to the same shit. I've been getting them at least that long. I haven't answered an email in the blog in several months because some of 'em made me cry
in pity and frustration, and I just didn't want to plow through it to answer.
...I think there is this idea that if poly is an option, the newly poly can start ordering their partners to put up with some heinous shit. They're missing the important part: ***LOVE***.
So please, people — to repeat a speech I delivered five years ago:
People who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move.... Unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch. Survivors loot the wreckage and disappear, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.
Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....
So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it. As it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to:
1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, ethics, integrity, generosity, and concern for every person affected;
2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many;
3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";
4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends or acquaintances for whom you genuinely wish good things. And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become. This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.
And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."
Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or less than what we know it to be.