"Welcome to the World of Polyamory"
In tomorrow's Observer, a big, respectable, middlebrow newspaper in London, England (issue of Sunday, July 9, 2006), there's a nice long feature article in the women's section about polyamory. It's rather skeptical but covers interesting ground, treats decently the people it profiles and most of all, introduces thousands of readers to the concept as something important and worthy of serious consideration.
...When you talk to polyamorists, they sound strangely calm and beatific, like mountaineers or mathematicians sometimes do people who have grasped at something fiendishly complicated and scary, and rendered it simple and safe. Frankly, they do not always sound believable. But then, I come from planet monogamy. Heresies such as polyamory, quite naturally, make me feel edgy and defensive.
...Like many polyamorous men, Michael is 'out'; like many women in the same situation, Danella is not. As always, when it comes to modern sex, men are in a less precarious position; they have less to lose.
...David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, and a leading thinker on the culture of human mating, points out, 'there are no cultures in which men are not sexually jealous'.... But if partner-sharing is not a natural state, nor is monogamy.... Faithful pair-bonding for life between two people was not the norm in the Stone Age, and, arguably, it's not the norm now, in an era when half of marriages end in divorce. A brief look at Darwin tells us why.
In order to replicate his genes, the best thing a Stone Age man could do was to impregnate a woman, and provide resources to protect her and her offspring, while trying to impregnate as many other women along the way as possible. And how much have we evolved since the Stone Age? As David Buss puts it, 'The picture is not a very pretty one, but humans were not designed by natural selection to coexist in matrimonial bliss. They were designed for individual survival and genetic reproduction.'
Seen this way, monogamy is a form of civilisation an attempt to control the rampant promiscuity and gender warfare that is man's natural state....
And that's what's interesting about polyamorists. Talk to them, and the thing they stress, above all, is the importance of order, of 'boundaries'.... 'These are things that get discussed,' says Danella. 'You have to set up boundaries. For instance, safer sex.' Some polyamorists create 'relationship documents', detailing who they've been with, when, and in what circumstances. Michael and Danella tell me that, since they moved to Medford from San Diego in the last few months, they've been 'dating' other couples in the area, but nothing has happened so far. One couple made it clear that they were only interested in a 'quad' relationship when both couples find their counterparts attractive. But there was 'not enough compatibility.' So, at the moment, as a couple, they're single.
...'The biggest misconception about polyamory is that it equals promiscuity. People assume that we have no boundaries. We do they're just the ones that we've put in place. For me, the golden rule is that we all look after each other. A set-up like ours is a delicate thing, so we need to be gentle with it.'
...Like Mike Shea, Julio has always seen himself as a 'poly'. 'To anyone considering becoming polyamorous: think about it very carefully,' he says. People imagine it will be the perfect solution - that they'll get one thing they need from one person, and something else from another. To a certain extent, that's true. You do get twice as much good stuff, but you also get twice as many problems. A situation like ours is fraught with ambiguity and misunderstanding, which can make for a rocky road.'
...And there are some things about polyamory you might never have thought of. Often, a 'quad' relationship starts well each man loving each woman, and vice versa. But the women in the group are far more likely, when a bond has been formed, to experiment with each other than the men are to do likewise. 'The men want brotherhood,' Danella tells me, 'but not a sexual relationship. But the women connect more sexually.'
Read the whole article.