Poly trend examined in Malaysia
The largest English-language newspaper in Malaysia devotes major Sunday feature space to examining modern polyamory and open relationships among Malaysians, especially the urban educated class.
Loving many = loving more?
By Andrew Sia | Feb. 7, 2010
RAYMOND spends two nights a week at the condo of Susan, who also meets up with Michael for meals, movies and sometimes “a bit more” at his place. Yew Ling is Raymond’s occasional travel cum romance partner on short holidays. Michael also has a few companions cum girlfriends.
All the parties know about each other and are cool about it – a classic open relationship. These well-educated, middle-class, English-speaking Malaysian Chinese, all living around the Klang Valley, are a nascent example of polyamory (literally, many loves).
A Newsweek article last July calls it “the next sexual revolution”.
“I don’t believe in marriage,” says Susan, a marketing manager in her mid-30s, who earns a five-figure salary.... “Love is really about genuinely caring. You can love your brothers, sisters, children and animals – it’s all plural. So why does your partner need to be limited to the singular?”
...Susan encapsulates the key factors that drive polyamory – scepticism about marriage, and women’s independence and empowerment.
...A basic explanation by Loving More, a polyamory advocacy group (www.lovemore.com), states that it’s not really about having more sex, but having more love:
“The point is love, romance, intimacy and affection with more than one person, openly and ethically by mutual agreement all around. For some, sex is a driving factor in relationships. For others, romance and emotional or spiritual connection are more important.”
“Polyamory is not a fancy word for cheating because the latter involves deception and violation of an agreement,” the group says.
“The point of polyamory is not secrecy but openness, communication, and sharing the love. It’s about disclosure, trust, and respect.”
Wow, some of that is my writing! I was invited to do an edit job on Loving More's poly FAQ last year.
...Among Malaysian Chinese, it was certainly not uncommon for wealthy men in the 1960s and 1970s to have legal second and third wives. During the Rajah Brooke era in Sarawak, the Ibans would offer visitors to the deep interior one of the women of the longhouse as a sign of hospitality. This custom stopped only after “modernisation” and conversion to Christianity.
The nagging feeling remains that having multiple partners is perverse and unnatural. But statistics say otherwise.
Of the 1,270 human societies catalogued in Murdoch’s Ethnographic Atlas, about 85% indicate some form of multi-spouse relationships. A Psychology Today article (June 5, 2008) on polyandry (one wife, many husbands) states: “A comprehensive survey of traditional societies in the world shows that 83.39% of them practise polygyny (multiple wives), 16.14%, monogamy, and 0.47%, polyandry.”
A check on Wikipedia reveals that 62 countries worldwide recognise polygamy under their civil or traditional laws....
While I was searching for interviewees on Facebook, my friend Alistair King helpfully pointed out: “Polyandry has happened in Asia for centuries (in certain tribal groups). Check out the Paharis of North India and the Todas of South India. The Todas, with whom I lived, have a system (going out now) in which the wife was ‘married’ to all the brothers of a family. They all have a go and when the child is born, a ‘Naming of the Father’ ceremony is held, whether or not the person named is the biological parent.”
...The Time magazine cover story of August 1995, entitled “Infidelity – It may be in our genes,” suggests that women evolved that way to get more help in raising kids.
It quotes Nisa, a woman from a !Kung San (the bushmen of the Kalahari desert, Africa) hunter-gatherer village, telling an anthropologist that “when you have many lovers... one comes at night with meat, another with money, another with beads. Your husband also does things and gives them to you.”
...If science suggests that polygamy is more natural, why is monogamy often touted as the “right” choice?
It can be argued that this is more of a Christian practice that European colonisers spread around the world to “civilise” the natives, even though the Old Testament itself does mention how King Solomon and Abraham (among others) were polygamous.
And Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity, found nothing in the Bible that outlawed polygamy. In fact, in his autobiography (The Life of Luther), he recalls how he granted a German nobleman, the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, permission to take a second wife rather than live “in a state of adultery and fornication”.
Another sociological argument could be, as the Observer article, puts it: “Monogamy is a form of civilisation – an attempt to control the rampant promiscuity and gender warfare that is man’s natural state. And it has its advantages – it creates family structure, naming systems, and accountability.
“It’s a response to the invention of property and money, too. Monogamy is an enabling tool for the inheritance of goods. So maybe it’s not natural, but simply useful as a way of bringing order to a chaotic world.”
But uncontrolled libido is not what polyamory is about, as groups often set rules and boundaries.
And according to the great pragmatist Lee Kuan Yew, controlled multi-partner relationships such as polygamy can even promote social progress....
Read the whole long, well-researched article (Feb. 7, 2010). Update: Read the author's followup with comments on reader reactions (Feb. 28, 2010).
The article comes with two sidebars:
1. A wholesome affair?
FREE love is about sharing. That’s what a former hippie-era soul, now reincarnated as a New Age thinker and blogger, advocates.
From his base at the orang asli village of Kampung Pertak, Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor, Antares, 59, says true love goes beyond jealousy and possessiveness.
“My first wife began an affair when she discovered I was shagging a colleague,” he recalls. “The guy happened to be a kindred spirit, a gentle soul who played exquisite ragas on the guitar.
“For a while I struggled with my jealousy circuits and my cuckolded ego. Yet I was able to connect with him and enjoy the powerful love connection my wife had with him.”
Soon, Antares (also known as Kit Leee in his days as a writer, cartoonist and musician) was chauffeuring his wife to her “soulmate’s” house.... “Yes, it was a wholesome molecular family, especially when I observed that my two daughters were extremely fond of him and that he treated them with utmost affection. When I found a new girlfriend we often went out to live music events together as one large family.”
...Antares is convinced that his early experiences shows that polyamory (or what he calls “the molecular family”) is workable. “But the initiative must come from individuals who have successfully freed themselves of boxed-in thinking.”
As he writes in his blog (magickriver.blogspot.com): “I’m convinced that if polyamory was included as another way to explore love and harmony, the world would blossom into a spiritually wholesome and truth-valuing place – where deceit, hypocrisy, guilt, and vindictiveness cannot flourish, and destructive jealousy will be seen for what it is: an emotional disease!”
...“In Malaysia, I have met many young women who are beginning to openly talk about polyamory and perhaps even practise it, but secretly, for fear of a bad reputation.”
Does he think that younger women today, fuelled by increasing economic power, are claiming their sexual independence by asserting their choice? Or, perhaps, even carving their own territorial domain over several attentive males?
“More and more females are displaying stronger male aspects, while their male counterparts are becoming more feminine. Perhaps it’s Nature’s way of rectifying a patriarchal bias that has lasted too long.
“An empowered and liberated female attracts a string of admirers and is in a position to enjoy their affections without demanding emotional commitment or becoming over attached.”...
Read the whole sidebar
2. A Practical Solution?
WOMEN who are more open in their relationships are those in their late 30s or early 40s, with successful careers. Whereas women in their 20s are still looking for a husband,” says Zainal, an articulate, successful businessman in his mid-40s who claims to know “the KL scene” well.
“Some of them earn over RM20,000 a month. They have decided they are happy alone, and are not interested in marriage but want companionship. Or they can’t find a guy they really like, so they don’t mind an open relationship in the meantime.”
...Zainal advocates a new model of society.
“It’s not about being immoral. I tell people, like it or not, this is happening. The social environment has made us like this. It’s a new society and we need new ways, new mechanisms.... An open relationship is about two humans caring for each other without trying to own or possess each other.”
Read the whole sidebar