"Polyamory is about balancing individual freedom with mutual care"
The UK's New Statesman, a 103-year-old progressive weekly aligned with the Labour Party, is out today with a new polyamory article, two years after its last one. A young contributing editor explains things to the unaware:
For many in my fearful, frustrated generation, “having it all” means opting out of monogamy
The Daily Mail would have you believe that polyamory is all wild orgies. Think more tea and washing up rotas.
By Laurie Penny
Polyamory, if you believe the newspapers, is the hot new lifestyle option for affectless hipsters with alarming haircuts, or a sex cult, or both. A wave of trend articles and documentaries has thrown new light on the practice, also known as “ethical non-monogamy” – a technical term for any arrangement in which you are allowed to date and snuggle and sleep with whomever you want, as long as everyone involved is happy. Responses to this idea range from parental concern to outright panic.
Having been polyamorous for almost a decade, I spend a good deal of time explaining what it all means. When I told my editor that I wanted to write about polyamory, she adjusted her monocle, puffed on her pipe and said, “In my day, young lady, we just called it shagging around.” So I consider it my duty to her and the rest of the unenlightened to explain what’s different about how the kids are doing it these days.
...There is nothing new about shagging around. I hear that it has been popular since at least 1963. What’s new is talking about it like grown-ups. It’s the conversations. It’s the texts with your girlfriend’s boyfriend about what to get her for her birthday. It’s sharing your Google Calendars to make sure nobody feels neglected.
Over the past ten years, I have been a “single poly” with no main partner; I have been in three-person relationships; I have had open relationships and have dated people in open marriages. The best parts of those experiences have overwhelmingly been clothed ones.
There’s something profoundly millennial about polyamory, something quintessentially bound up with my fearful, frustrated, overexamined generation, with our swollen sense of consequence, our need to balance instant gratification with the impulse to do good in a world gone mad. We want the sexual adventure and the free love that our parents, at least in theory, got to enjoy, but we also have a greater understanding of what could go wrong. We want fun and freedom, but we also want a good mark in the test. We want to do the right thing.
All of this makes polyamory sound a bit nerdy, a bit swotty – and it is.... Polyamory is a great many things, but it is not cool. Talking honestly about feelings will never be cool. Spending time discussing interpersonal boundaries and setting realistic expectations wasn’t cool in the 1970s, and it isn’t cool now. It is, however, necessary.
...If there is an economic type that is over-represented among the poly people I have encountered, it is members of the precariat: what Paul Mason memorably called the middle-class “graduate with no future”.
...Not all polyamorous relationships work out – and nor do all conventional relationships. We’re making it up as we go along. It would be helpful to be able to do that without also having to deal with prejudice and suspicion. Still, it’s easy to see where the suspicion comes from. The idea of desire without bounds or limits is threatening. It is a threat to a social order that exerts control by putting fences around our fantasies. It is a threat to a society that has developed around the idea of mandatory heterosexual partnership as a way to organise households. It is threatening because it is utopian in a culture whose imagination is dystopian. Freedom is often frightening, and polyamory is about balancing individual freedom with mutual care. In this atomised culture, that’s a revolutionary idea.
That boldfaced definition of polyamory is already running loose on social media this evening, courtesy (as far as I can tell) of Joreth Innkeeper.
Read the whole article (August 12, 2016). It first appeared in the print issue dated August 11, 2016.
As a print mag, the New Statesman is small (33,000 circulation in 2015) but influential for its size. Its online version claimed an average of 6.3 million pageviews a week during June 2016 (in the aftermath of the Brexit vote).