"Sweet reward of open loving but polyamory is no free-for-all"
The Australian, a conservative Rupert Murdoch paper that circulates throughout that country, cranked up a controversy last week over the Green Party's proposal to legalize gay marriage in Australia. Would multiple marriage be next? The paper falsely headlined an article "Marriage for four put to Senate". (No such proposal has been put.) When a Green senator was goaded into saying that polygamy is not on the agenda, the paper demanded in an editorial to know why not, and a columnist found and quoted Facebook comments from polys expressing disappointment with the Greens for abandoning them. See my coverage of the original article and the many followups.
In the midst of this, the paper asked Nikó Antalffy, one of Australia's most visible poly leaders and organizers, to write an op-ed article.
She agonized over whether to resist feeding the trolls or to take this opportunity to tell what poly is actually about to a very large audience that was only hearing about it second-hand. She consulted the poly community, then decided to go for it.
Her article just appeared:
Sweet reward of open loving but polyamory is no free-for-all
By Niko Antalffy
NON-MONOGAMY has been the flavour of the year. No wonder there is a near-universal desire to be with someone other than your monogamous partner. Or at least to get close to others in ways monogamy tends not to allow: to touch, to feel, to connect.
Sex at Dawn and other books have shown that humans have never been sexually monogamous, although social monogamy (pair bonding) is widespread in most cultures. We are simply not wired for exclusivity. Once the shackles of conservative tradition, religious morality and stifling cultural expectation have been thrown off by modernity, our pre-medieval ways have re-emerged.
Strong cultural monogamy developed only with property ownership as a means of preserving certainty in lineage. Underneath, our true nature has bubbled away. Most of us long to connect with more than one person and the ever-present desire to look elsewhere is almost impossible to contain. The good news is that now there are ethical and consensual ways of reaching beyond monogamy while holding on to fidelity and integrity.
One form that developed through the 1990s is polyamory, where longer-term intimate and sexual relationships are maintained with multiple partners simultaneously and ethically. If it's not consensual or ethical it's not polyamory. Polyamory doesn't mean a love or sex fest. Women are strong leaders because gender equality is one of the foundations of ethical non-monogamy.
The best way to imagine polyamory is to view it as loving multiple people. There is a utopian element tempered with a pragmatic outlook where all parties have to develop a skill set to deal with complexity and emotions.
Many have primary relationships where cohabitation, raising of kids or common ownership of property occurs that doesn't quite extend to additional partners even if love and closeness might be shared freely with all. Others share their time equally. One of the many strengths of polyamory is diversity. You get to shape your relationships beyond preconceived ideas and rules.
Polyamory isn't for everyone. It involves a lot of communication, deep honesty, trust, and often a lot of work that monogamous relationships do not. But all this brings its benefits: more self-knowledge, the possibility of deeper connections, and satisfaction. There's also potentially more risk (you may lose several relationships; get hurt by many). But the rewards are worth it for many. More freedom, more emotional and practical support and deep intimacy.
"Infidelity" is a concept that's bound to monogamy by definition. Often the storyline of cheating follows a cultural script mirrored in film, literature and TV that knows only one set of norms. But when there's a more open choice of partners, "cheating" loses its appeal; leaving your partner for another is unnecessary. The pressure also comes off partners to be the sole person to fulfil your needs. Some happy monogamous people have discovered this: sharing different parts of yourself with others (fishing with one friend, photography with another) means richer connections; the polyamorous extend this to sex and intimacy. So there's more to fidelity in polyamory than first meets the eye. Remaining true to each other is very important, except that this happens on negotiated terms that suit each person's needs rather than on terms that compulsory monogamy has bequeathed to all of us.
Monogamy can be great from the polyamorous point of view, as long as it is knowingly chosen by each party instead of a default setting that receives little critical scrutiny. But for that options need to be open.
Would people in multiple relationships want more recognition? Absolutely. Ideally this would happen in the form of a wider societal acceptance of polyamory as a viable alternative way of having relationships next to monogamy. Another form of recognition should be protection from discrimination that gays, lesbians and transgender folk already enjoy legally. These two would go a long way to create more equality and security.
There is also the question of trust and jealousy that comes up when discussing multiple relationships. Trust is built over time by honest communication, keeping to your word. Jealousy tends to be scary at first, but wrestling with the green-eyed monster helps you learn about your own emotions so it becomes easier to deal with. Some never feel it; some learn to tame it and ride it.
An unexpected delight is when compersion pops up: the overwhelming joy experienced when a partner is witnessed experiencing joy with someone else. It's the sweet reward of open loving.
Life is too short to limit human connections. I love my partners deeply and I want us to have as rich a life as we can until our time runs out.
Niko Antalffy is a leader in the Australian polyamory movement.
Here's the original article (May 29, 2012). Free registration required.
As a result of the article, Nikó suddenly has at least a half dozen more media inquiries.
She writes to us:
The drummed-up controversy in The Australian filled me with dread, as it pitted minorities against each other in order to serve a conservative cause. The day before my piece a same-sex advocate, in the same op-ed space, strongly spoke against plural marriage in words that were potentially hurtful to polyamorous people. Of course, it's well understood that same-sex marriage can achieve more mainstream respectability by distancing itself from the 'slippery slope'. With this op-ed I deliberately wanted to steer away from attacking back the same-sex marriage advocate or even to attack monogamy as not a valid choice. I think polyamory stands on the strongest footing when it's not adversarial in outlook.
I wanted to create a bridge between monogamy and polyamory that anyone can imagine walking onto. Despite boldly stating at the outset that humans are essentially non-monogamous (which I do believe is generally empirically true, but it's also a controversial opening to get attention), I also wanted to emphasize that we need to be aware of alternatives and make informed decision about relationships, whether we end up being mono, poly or something else. Once options are freely talked about, then it's a short step to wider acceptance in the shape of anti-discrimination and general social recognition of poly as a strong, ethical, viable alternative. Valuing poly is part of a wider appreciation of diversity, which in the end benefits all.