Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

May 28, 2012

"Sweet reward of open loving — but polyamory is no free-for-all"

The Australian

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.





Blogger Simon said...

Hi Alan, I appreciated Niko's article in the Oz and had a question but couldn't find an email (I don't blame her).
So: personal context - I'm not poly-amorous though a serially monogamous & faithful male. I'm also a therapist who works with couples so fidelity as an issue comes up a lot.

My question to Niko (and yourself?) is around fidelity. First she says "The good news is that now there are ethical and consensual ways of reaching beyond monogamy while holding on to fidelity and integrity." No problem; but then she says '"Infidelity" is a concept that's bound to monogamy by definition. ' and

"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."

To me this seems to confuse reserve "infidelity" to conventional monoamoury and to imply that in polyamory one only finds "fidelity", albeit fidelity to terms negotiated between the parties.

I have no argument with what I take to be the spirit of what she's saying but am wondering whether her apparent write-off of "infidelity" as a term which is ONLY applicable to conventional monogamy under-appreciates the impact, within a polyamorous relationship, of a departure from the negotiated parameters or relating?

May 28, 2012 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Niko Antalffy said...

Hi Simon,

Niko here :)

I agree with you, infidelity is possible in polyamory and in no way was I trying to exclude this possibility. But infidelity, generally, is a concept and occurrence that's more common and bound to monogamy and one of the delights of poly is getting around this. This was my main point.

I had a 700 word limit so you probably can appreciate how much subtlety and complexity I was able to squeeze into such a short piece while also delivering many punchy lines and ideas alien to mainstream audiences.

My priority was to get the most important ideas across to the average reader. For poly complexity there are blogs and longer articles, and books, that will go into that level of detail. I hope I have aroused enough interest that more readers will seek out those sources now :)


May 28, 2012 11:08 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Thanks for the reply Niko: yes, the constraints of space. :-( I thought you exactly met your aims.

As therapists my wife and I see the life changing impacts of relationships and the hot-house that monogamous relationships have become in our de-clanned culture so we're very interested in how people make sense and humanity in their lives.

One factor that's top of my mind is the effect of parenting on the kids. In our hot-house family, research shoes kids developing (now I'm space constrained) relational habits that tend to prime them for a one-person attachment. I'm wondering if the poly world (has any evidence that it) raises kids that are perhaps less inflexibly pointed at a "one and only" partner?

May 29, 2012 12:57 AM  
Anonymous Niko Antalffy said...

Hi Simon,

I think we need much more research into the effects of various parenting styles in poly households on children. I don't have any evidence either way from research.

I'm hoping to establish such a space where my future child can establish several connections and feel safer in a wider community that embraces diversity.

What's your perspective from therapy?


May 29, 2012 1:50 AM  
Anonymous niggle_c said...

Way to go, Niko. Love your work.
Nigel (in Campuhan, Bali)

May 29, 2012 5:11 AM  
Anonymous Donny said...

Good article. Very clear and concise for the lay person. Very interesting reading about stronger gender equality in polyamorous relationships. I would like to discuss this with you one day Niko. As a precursor though, do you believe in the idea of the alpha male?

May 29, 2012 7:01 AM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

Just wanted to say that I find your blog very interesting. I appreciate your openness and direct approach in discussing a topic that many people avoid. I have an online magazine for women and I recently published a series of articles about cheating - hence my interest.

All the best - wishing you continued success!


May 30, 2012 10:44 AM  
Anonymous JasmineGld said...

Simon, because you are a therapist, you might be interested in this brochure:

"What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory"


One additional comment on the "infidelity" question. In our conversations with others, polyamorists are plagued by recurring insistence on a misdefinition of "infidelity" as "ANY extramarital relationship." This misdefinition is indeed bound to monogamy by definition.

The task of correcting the definition to "violation of negotiated parameters of the relationship" is huge, difficult, and often unsuccessful. Depending on the audience (and word count limit), the difference in definition can easily get lost.

May 30, 2012 12:40 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Thanks to JasmineGld for her clarification...I can see the problem.

Niko, responding to your question, I doubt that there's a valid perspective on this from a therapeutic point of view; no doubt others will disagree. My understanding of the research (Bowlby, Main, etc.) is that it was all done with kids of monogamous parents so has nothing to say about other relationships.

The only relevant perspective I know about is the pretty unanimous finding that a newborn's mother is, first of all, the utter centre of the child's world as it begins to find itself and a place in the world. This absolute centrality then begins a long transition in which the mum's centrality to the child decreases as the child grows and finds some physical and emotional independence.

Obviously, there are many cultures in which care of the child is delegated to siblings, servants and extended family members. the crucial points seem to be the emotional quality and stability first of that primary and intense attachment to mum and then the care, affection, stability and involvement of secondary carers, regardless of family structure.

May 30, 2012 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Susana said...

Hi Niko!

Finally I understood the deep meaning of polyamory!
Thanks to you Niko to bring to me this explanation!
Me and my partner have been in a monogamous relationship for 13 Years, and now we open our hearts and our souls without fear letting others are part of our lives. We have 3 children and ask ourselves what is the effect that our choice will have on them. well, let the time to answer :) Thank you! It was really so good to read your words. Hugs from Portugal!

June 01, 2012 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Carole said...

Excellent article and perspective provided Niko. Good on ya

June 02, 2012 2:06 PM  

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