Western poly ideas spread to South Asia, and thoughts on the far future
I'd put lower odds on America in its current form. A better world in coming ages will mean embracing sustainability ― and here in the U.S., the topmost elites who dominate business, policy-making, and the limits of acceptable discussion have mostly become so denialist and brittle that they would rather crash American civilization, and much of the world with it, than get behind, say, a carbon tax.
Long views like that are part of what keep me in this polyamory-awareness business.
Okay, what's the connection?
Getting to a sustainable world — one that is both good and able to last ― will not happen without the emergence of genuinely attractive life alternatives to high material consumption. It will also require economic structures that do not depend on ever-increasing material consumption year by year to stay ahead of economic failure.
Bear with me.
A sustainable world, on the far side of whatever is coming first, will surely require more people sharing homes, kitchens, child-rearing, goods and resources of all kinds.1 Life in more crowded quarters, in a low-consumption economy of resource-sharing, is generally a worse way to live under present circumstances. People strive hard all their lives to move in the opposite direction: to get bigger homes farther apart with more empty rooms. Closer living will be attractive to people only in a new culture with unusually high interpersonal and group-living skills by today's standards.
Never mind about sex and romance for a moment. I see today's polyamory community gardening up sprouts of these next-level interpersonal and group-interaction skills, and the ideology of this new culture. I really want these ideas and practices to take root well enough to survive through ugly times, if that's what's coming, and be there to seed the ground on the other side.
Second point: back to sex and romance. A sustainable world is going to require attractive ways to pursue and acquire richness and purpose and meaning in life that do not depend on Getting More Stuff. The ways that people find richness and value and meaning will need to have low resource costs. Which means finding these things in each other. As the bumpersticker says, "The best things in life aren't things." A culture offering wide possibilities for romance and sexual intimacy, or just deeply intimate socialization throughout life, can offer richness and purpose in abundance. A materially simple life need not be simple in any other way.
Don't get me wrong; I have no use for New Age woo-woo about these things. But I do think that the polyamory paradigm might help to humanize the world. I think that it might even someday generalize the magic of romantic love into something that's larger and more powerful in the world than the isolated couple-love where society has safely walled it away ― thus helping to provide ways to lead rich, rewarding, meaning-filled lives without the Earth-killing pursuit of Ever More Stuff.
Thirdly: Sexual repression in a culture is an accurate predictor (as the CIA is said to be quite aware) of that culture's war hysterias, religious fanaticism, submission to authoritarian rule, and pathologies of denialism toward reality-based ways of thought. So, a safer world will have to be freer of it.
Hmmm... some of this may get into the keynote speech I'm giving at the opening of Loving More's Poly Living conference in Philadelphia this Friday evening (February 10). You can still sign up for the weekend, and maybe tell me in person I'm full of shit about this, though I like hugs too. Hope to see you there.
Okay, back to India.
The ideas about relationships that we polys are seeding into the Western world are starting to get attention in other places too ― places that might someday be in a better position to develop them and carry them forward. Here is a roundup of such attention in South Asia.
● In southern India's leading English newspaper, The Hindu:
Is our society ready for multiple partner relationships?
By Vijay Nagaswami
...The general theme of what most of my interlocutors had to say centred around the belief that since multiple-partner relationships are successful in many parts of the world, they should, therefore, be acceptable in our country as well. Although my research hasn't provided me any convincing data that such relationships actually work in the short or long-term, I thought it may be politic to examine some of the dynamics in some clearly delineable prototypes of multiple-partner relationships.
The first of these are what are usually referred to as ‘open relationships', wherein both partners are free to get emotionally and sexually involved with other people without needing the partner's consent every time.... In other words, the element of exclusivity gets taken out of your open relationship, although commitment is still inherent.
This is different from ‘swinging' and ‘spouse-swapping' in which the focus is more on sexual rather than emotional intimacy....
And in recent times, there is the new phenomenon called polyamory or simply, poly, sometimes described as ‘responsible non-monogamy'. While the definition of polyamory is not always absolutely clear, and can include open relationships as well in its ambit, it is distinguished from swinging because it's seen as encompassing sexual, emotional, romantic and spiritual dimensions. The basic understanding here is that anyone is capable of having simultaneous, multiple, deep, intimate relationships, and that the ‘distracting' elements of marriage, like jealousy, exclusivity, power imbalances etc., are squarely removed from the equation, thereby creating opportunities to grow as human beings.
However, jealousy does appear every now and again, and the successful poly is one who has been able to conquer this emotion and replace it with what is referred to as compersion (the opposite of jealousy, where you experience genuine happiness that your partner finds fulfillment or joy from somebody or something other than yourself). Fidelity, loyalty, honesty, equality, respect and transparency are big virtues among polys, for, no relationship takes place in the absence of consent and consensus. If ever consent is withheld, the reasons have to be substantial.
Polyamorists may engage in long-term relationships in triads, quads or networks. They would still tend to have a ‘primary' relationship and one or several ‘secondary relationships'. They are a growing movement in the United States (apparently there're about half a million polyamorists there) and also participate in Pride parades to highlight the legitimacy of their cause. Polyfidelity is a more controlled method of engaging in multiple relationships. The partners that one can choose from are limited to members of a group, network or commune. And fidelity to this group is demanded at all costs. Otherwise, the dynamics are similar to polyamorous relationships....
...Some research into multiple marriages is under way in the West, but it's too early to tell whether it is a viable and sustainable alternative to monogamy....
Read the whole article (Jan. 7, 2012). More about Vijay Nagaswami and his book 3's a Crowd: Understanding and Surviving Infidelity.
● In Outlook India, one of India's four top-selling English weekly newsmagazines:
Indian couples are exploring a few ‘open’ ways out of desultory middle life
By Ira Trivedi
...Just down the road from Renu’s South Delhi home, I meet Sangeeta. For a soft woman of benign, even nondescript appearance, short and pudgy — clad in a simple salwar-kameez — she is surprisingly loquacious. An eager Sangeeta talks freely, almost in a manner of showing off, about her open marriage.
“An open marriage is not what people think. Some of my friends do think that I am promiscuous, or that my kids see me with other men. Many of my so-called friends ended their friendships with me, they thought I was immoral, and that the only way to live was in an orthodox marriage, caged in with the in-laws. But my husband and I know that our marriage looks like most people’s marriages, except that we are honest with each other, and that we are happier than we have ever been before.”
...At 35, Sangeeta has pretty much overhauled her views. A three-year overseas stint in the UK with her engineer husband, exposure to glossy magazines, television and liberal faceless friends made on the internet have encouraged her to enter new forms of relationships — something she would never have imagined she would do when she was 18.
“My husband and I know that our marriage looks like most people’s marriages...except we’re honest with each other.”
...The relationship paradigm is slowly changing in pockets of India where a subculture is brewing which is dancing an unconventional dance to the conventional song of marriage.
When I was a kid, my girlfriends and I teased each other chanting the popular jingle, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Smriti with a baby carriage.” In the Indian context, the order of love and marriage was understood by all of us to be the other way around. At this time, such truisms were uncontroversial and as empirically accurate as they were morally prescriptive.
Those were the days when any sort of love other than arranged monogamous relationships dared not raise its head.... Just a decade ago, Indians could not imagine procreation and marriage as separate, or even procreation and sex as separate. We never imagined tolerance for premarital sex, live-in relationships, or open marriages, yet as I interviewed urban, and largely middle-class couples and individuals for this article, I found them speaking eagerly about their unconventional relationships and desires.
...A prime reason for this shift, continues [Sanjay] Srivastava [professor of sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth], is the increasing distance from wider kinship networks. Couples marry, move away to other cities, and are less likely to be under surveillance from kinsfolk than before. So, urban mobility, changing nature of work and, very significantly, the lessening of stigma (at least in some circles) on women having unconventional relationships, is also an important context in this regard.
...Unconventional forms of relationships such as live-in partnerships and open marriages are certainly not the norm or the mainstream in India, but through these new paradigms we get a sense of where marriage and sexuality may be headed, not according to statistics that tend to capture the most tectonic shifts, but according to pioneers, such as the people who I have spoken to, who stand on the frontlines.
...It is surprising to see the large number of low-conflict, melancholic marriages, mostly in the cohort of people in their late ’30s, 40s and early 50s. My interactions and studies indicated a beguiling paradox: many of the people who I spoke with either felt more comfortable existing within the rules of melancholy marriages/relationships or with breaking them completely through affairs and divorce, than by revising their mindset towards relationships.
It seemed that even though there existed an incentive to bring about change, couples seemed disinclined to figure out how marriage and sex might evolve substantively, and not merely superficially into something better and more satisfying within the existing relationship. This is probably linked to the shortage of marriage counselors, sex therapists and family psychologists who can speak freely to couples and guide and counsel them. As the uncomplicated (though not necessarily happier) age of the baby carriage comes to end, we are presented with a brand new frontier, one in which the future is uncertain as old standards, traditions and priorities are gently blown away.
Read the whole article (issue dated Dec. 26, 2011).
● Commentary by a female writer in República, a newspaper in Nepal:
By BHUSHITA VASISTHA
Polyamory (pronounced Pou-lee-aa-moukh-ry) wasn’t the word I was prepared to encounter on one of those lousy days at my office, when the sun hung low in wisps of mist and warm air from the heater burnt my nostrils to fatigue.
When I first stumbled upon the word, amid a jumble of other adjectives dedicated to describe French existentialist writer Simone De Beauvoir, well, it was merely the Frenchness of the word that invoked my curiosity....
...On close follow-up, the idea came as a full-fledged concept, which was adopted by a noticeable chunk as a lifestyle. And there are, actually, psychiatrists specializing on the issue, even though American health insurance doesn’t recognize their charge as medical expense yet.
And wait, they aren’t swingers (one who swap their partners for pleasure). Uh, uh, not even polygamist (those who, as if not suffering enough, go for multiple marriages).
Polyamory is defined as, “a lifestyle in which a person may pursue simultaneous romantic relationships, with the blessing and consent of each of their partners. This is in contrast to monogamy, where relationship partners agree to romantic exclusivity. This is also in contrast to infidelity, where someone takes on additional lovers without their partner’s consent.
Polyamorous people commit to honesty, negotiation, and clear communication about each of the relationships in their life (Hymer and Rubin, 1982).”
While the concept as a whole was intriguing enough, what really got me was this term “romantic exclusivity”. Of late, I’ve pondered a lot on this particular aspect of relationship, yet the neatness of the summarization — romantic exclusivity — came as some sort of revelation....
...[The polyamory school of thought] claims that love always multiplies on sharing. Or in more plain terms, it suggests if you share a loving relationship with 10 people, it's more extensive than loving one person. Simple mathematical axiom!
And when you experience more freedom in a relationship ― not just freedom to pursue multiple relationships, but freedom to be yourself, whoever that is ― the dynamics of relationship expands from mere attraction to mutual respect. From my own experience, whenever my boyfriend trustingly lets me be with other friends, even male friends, I feel more loving towards him; I feel this great joy for being trusted. And funnily, the more I’m convinced that he trusts me with other men, the lesser I’m motivated to cheat (ya, that’s a huge word) on him. I can be friends with men, be myself, and joke around, without any murky desires lurking on the backyard of my mind. And that is so beautiful, so meaningful, so relaxing....
Torn amidst this desire to break free and allow freedom, I’m extremely fascinated to polyamory as an intellectual theory, but I wonder, if pursuing 10 relationships at a time, per se, wouldn’t be ten times more problematic, if not as hectic.
Read the whole article (Dec. 3, 2011).
● In Chauthi Duniya, a national Hindi weekly newspaper (English edition):
Have you always wanted to have more than one partner and be honest with them about it? Check out the life of a polyamorist.
Polyamory is the term consisting of the Greek word for more – ‘poli’ and the Latin word for love – ‘amor’, and it therefore refers to “love for more than one partner”. This love can be sexual, emotional, spiritual or their combination....
...Polyamory is based on honesty and openness and the key values of polyamorists, as they call themselves, are fidelity, loyalty, respect, trust, dignity, mutual support, communication, negotiations and unpossessiveness. For that reason, polyamorists are also familiar with the term ‘coming-out’.
They imagine fidelity and loyalty in a slightly different way than most, monogamous people. Jealousy isn’t considered a sign of love or moral weakness, which is sometimes used as criticism by people who don’t understand polyamory (they therefore don’t take respect and mutual communication into account) and want to drag their partner into a relationship he or she isn’t ready to establish. Jealousy is just an emotion that requires our attention, similar to depression, and has to be explored.
What’s love like with several partners?
Some relationships are bisexual, while others are monosexual (that is, solely heterosexual or homosexual). Polyamory may have a hierarchical structure. The hierarchical version distinguishes between primary, secondary etc. partners. The status of the primary partner may be equal to the status of a marital partner.... There are different variations in terms of number and gender structure and in terms of partners’ residence and division of work. Some relationships last for a long time and people also have children.
Polyamorists say that in fact people aren’t polygamous or monogamous beings. There are only polygamous and monogamous relationships. Everything therefore depends on the arrangement between all the people involved....
The whole article (2010). It also appeared in the magazine ZeeNews (Aug. 28, 2010).
● Deborah Anapol, who has lived in India, wrote a long article "Polyamory in India: Then and Now," with "then" being ancient times:
Like China, India presents some strange paradoxes when it comes to sexuality and intimate relating. The famous erotic temple sculptures of Khajuraho and the present-day practices of existing indigenous tribal peoples in central India, the well-known writings of Kama Sutra, and the popular worship of Krishna with his thousands of wives, and legendary queens and goddesses with more than one husband, all point to a culture where sexuality was celebrated and multiple partner relating was sanctioned.
...Uma, a psychotherapist in Mumbai, feels that the British are primarily responsible for the sexual repression that has prevailed in Indian society for the past century and that most Indians "have not managed to shake off yet."...
Read on. (July 12, 2010).
Update, March 26, 2012: Thanks to Pieter Schultz for spotting this:
3 on a bed: India’s first polyamoric film
In a fully packed auditorium... I saw the première of Rajdeep Paul and Sarmistha Maiti’s 32-minutes short film ‘3 on a bed’, on Saturday, March 24, 2012. Produced by Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) and inspired by Girish Karnad’s Kannada play ‘Hayavadana’, this is said to be India’s first polyamoric film about a ménage-à-trois or a threesome of two men and a woman.
As the name suggests, the story revolves around three friends, Kapil, Debdutta and Padmini, all art college pass-outs, sharing their bodies, soul, food and a bed....
...While watching ‘3 on a bed’, I recalled an article published in popular Bengali news daily about the life-story of a business person; living at Garia in Kolkata; who is married to two women, who are sisters. He also has had children from his wives and they all are living together happily, under one roof. Perhaps, people may term this as an exceptional incidence of our society, but the truth is, it exists and relationship is successful.
The concept of this film raises the same issue; can this kind of love and sexual relationship exists in our society? If so, what shall be their terms? What should be the model of our social system?...
...As the film ends, it leaves the audience with a feel good feeling. When we see the three characters to unite again, it’s a strong message given by the director duo; yes, a new world is possible, what we all need to do is to love others selflessly.
As Debdutta, replied in his interview, “it might be your dream; but you need a team to realize your dream”, I wish, the team of Rajdeep and Sarmistha will continue making films and keep sharing their dreams with us.
Read the whole article (March 26, 2012).
1. For instance: Why do eight houses on one cul-de-sac require eight riding lawnmowers? Two reasons. First, unless more lawnmowers are made, marketed, and sold than are needed, businesses suffer, workers become unemployed, stockholders lose value, and any downward economic spiral is accelerated. Second: From the individual homeowner's standpoint, a private lawnmower spares you from having to interact with the neighbors ― to negotiate and maintain agreements about sharing its use, costs, and upkeep. This matters, because by new-culture standards, most people today interact rather poorly.
I believe these two seemingly separate reasons actually depend on each other, and reinforce each other, and perpetuate each other. Multiply that by practically all the other material things that surround us.
Labels: India/South Asia, New Culture, poly, polyamory
“Sexual repression in a culture is an accurate predictor of war hysterias, religious fanaticism, submission to authoritarian rule, and pathologies of denialism toward reality-based ways of thought.”
That doesn't just apply to whole countries. That applies to subgroups within a country. You do know you've just nailed today's Republican Party, right?
Excellent post, Alan!
It's odd that the Republica article has a quote allegedly from a 1982 article (Hymer and Rubin) that uses the term "polyamory", when the word is supposed to have been invented by Morning Glory Zell and Jennifer Wesp in the early 1990s. My researcher self wants to know where the error is. :-)
Here's the likely citation (lifted from a guest column by Geri Weitzman on www.polysavvy.com): Hymer, S. M., & Rubin, A. M. (1982). Alternative lifestyle clients: Therapists' attitudes and clinical experiences. Small Group Behavior, 13 (4), 532-541.
I have not been able to locate the text of the quotation online, but I'm guessing that it was actually written by Geri Weitzman, and the citation of Hymer and Rubin was Weitzman's citation. Another possibility is that the text is a paraphrase of Weitzman. The reason I think this is because the content of the quotation is extremely similar to what Weitzman says in her column on polysavvy.com, and to what she says in her article "Counseling Bisexuals in Polyamorous Relationships" in Beth Firestein's volume _Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan."
OK, enough academic geekery for today ...
Nice article Alan. How unique is the India/Nepal area in this? Do you have a sense of the level of interest in polyamory from other countries and cultures around the world? We mostly hear of this as regards poly interest in North America and Europe, it was great seeing your references to a discussion of polyamory from outside those areas.
Excellent article, especially the preamble about environmental costs of Western society, the only suitable response to that is 'Word'!
Alan, I enjoyed this very much and look forward to hearing what you have for us Friday night at Poly Living. There will definitely be hugs involved. :)
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