Monday, August 13, 2012

The Answer is Both Part II: A Polyamory Tangent

People are generally uncomfortable with relationship arrangements that go against the cultural norms of the society they live in. Marriage, in particular, is an institutionalized way of organizing relationships based on rigidly defined social norms. Deviating from these well-defined social norms tends to scare people because having a rigid understanding of any concept is easier than recognizing nuance and complexity. It's easier than allow more flexibility and personal freedom. It's easier than allowing for deviations that might produce uncertainty or stimulate critical thinking. A rigid construction allows for a very clear roadmap for life-- a wash, rinse, and repeat lifestyle. 

And that's where polyamory comes in. Polyamory is a philosophy toward love, intimacy, and relationships that differs greatly from the rigidly defined norms of traditional marriage. It is defined as, "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time." 

People who learn about polyamory often react strongly against it and are quick to immediately reject it. It's difficult for many people to understand how you can have more than one fully-committed, emotionally intimate relationship. It does not fit our rigid social norms about relationships. It's different and to the mainstream, different is's perceived to be's perceived to be unstable. It's that "otherness" that makes so many people uncomfortable. It produces a fight or flight response. People attack difference or run from it.

But despite these rigid social norms, you can pave your own way. You can have both. You can have fully committed intimate relationships with more than one person. You can fully commit yourself to multiple people. You don’t need to be exclusive to have commitment. You can have multiple commitments, love multiple people, and maintain multiple relationships. You can value them all and be secure in them all. The existence of one commitment doesn’t invalidate or deprecate the other. All commitments can be strong, fully committed ones. As one gets stronger, the others do not get weaker.
So, why do people react so strongly against non-exclusive love? Our society conditions us to believe that exclusivity and commitment go hand in hand. We are told that love is a limited resource and that exclusive love is the ideal and most romantic love of all. You see it in movies, songs, books…but to quote Robert Heinlein:

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”

While it’s true that you can multiple commitments that you are “fully committed’ to, the one thing that is limited is a person’s time. And that is sometimes an issue with poly people. Poly people don’t have an issue with loving many, but they don’t have all the time in the world to love as many people as they could potentially love. As such, they have to be careful about how they delegate their time and resources. They must nourish and nurture each relationship and make sure they have enough time to foster them all.
The book “The Ethical Slut” talks extensively about poly relationships. It talks about navigating one's time and making sure to appreciate all your partners and relationships. That’s why it’s important for “poly” people to recognize that they cannot spread themselves too thin. There are many, many people in the world that you could find to “love” if you opened yourself up to loving those people. At the same time, it would be impossible to give a large number of people the time they would want and deserve to nurture a truly loving relationship. Heinlein talks about time in regard to poly relationships, and he says that:
“The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.”
So, for poly to work, people must be open and honest in their communication. They must express their wants and needs and establish what their goals and expectations are in their relationship(s). They must be honest with one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. In fact, poly people typically view themselves as committed and fidelitous with their various partners, but they just have a different definition of that compared with monogamists. For poly people to be “faithful,” means that they are abiding by the promises and agreements they made about their individual relationships.
Like plants, it’s also important to note that people and relationships need different levels of nurturance. Some require more “sun” than others to maintain. Some you water once a week. Some you water less frequently. What’s important is that you consider the needs of each individual relationship and you provide the right level of nurturance for that relationship.
Like some plants need more sun and some need more water, some relationships will require more time and resources—that may vary too, throughout the relationship, depending on each individual’s needs at the time. What’s important is that you are sensitive to the needs of the relationship. What’s important is that you delegate enough time and energy to the needs of each relationship and that you’re sensitive to changes in those needs.
One of the best things about polyamory is that you can offer different things to different people that you love. Different people will appreciate different things about you. Different people will be nurtured by different qualities in your personality. Different people can also offer you different things from their own personalities and experiences.
Why limit yourself to only having one person that you are intimately close to in your life when opening yourself up to more committed relationships can enhance your life and provide you with a larger human family? Why limit the amount of support and love? Why limit your sense of family? Why limit your sense of community?
Why shrink our worlds so small and limit what we can draw from when there is so much out there? We can learn so much from different people, and we can teach different people different things. Why rely only on the families that we were given by accidents of birth when we can create our own? It's about making the life you want. It's about not limiting your life based on arbitrary, rigid social rules.
Scholars have also discussed how polyamory allows people to enhance their sense of community and expand their support system. One of the best quotes is from Echlin who writes that:
“It is a hankering for community ... we have become increasingly alienated, partly because of the 20th century's replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family. As a result, many of us are striving to create complex and deep relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and extended families ... Polys agree that some people are monogamous by nature. But some of us are not, and more and more are refusing to be shoehorned into monogamy."
While strict monogamy and traditional marriage works for some people, monogamy as a dogma is problematic, because it limits peoples’ viewpoints and perceptions about the types of relationships they may want or can have. It’s as if you walked around looking at life through a paper towel tube and only saw what you could see through that hole.  
There’s no reason to limit, but our society encourages these limits because they are “safe” and “known.” They provide for (on the face of it) a more “stable” social order that is more predictable and efficient for our capitalist, consumerist economic system. But, why serve that system when you can serve yourself? Why serve that system when you can serve a community that you make with others? One that is localized and that serves you in return.
Polyamory is also about not being bound by binary thinking and allowing yourself to live life in the shades of grey. It acknowledges that you can be both fully committed and open to loving others at the same time—these two are not mutually exclusive concepts merely because they sound, on the face of it, like opposites.
It can be said, again and again. And it should be said, again and again.
The answer is both.


  1. I came to your site as I was at 50Watts which led me to... uh, (checking the History) yeah, Anonymous Works, which led to your FringePop... I have a bunch of those 60's sleeze and wacky paperbacks... and so amazed at you in your video presentations (please, do a flat version of the cover, so it can be seen in entirety, as in a scan, or at least, think about it) and finally here, which is your rant/muse/blog version of things you think, I guess. Certainly, this work of social fiction (OK, joking, really, but can it work in REAL life?... fantasy is hey, fantasy, right? Like those wacky sex paperbacks)
    ah, so, I thought, OK, I gotta send that email to somebody else than just the young guy who I talked to at an art show opening in Chapel Hill. Hey, you might just read it and ... OK, since I might not get this done if I don't move along, I am 65, married, a graphic designer for America's largest soccer, lacrosse and rugby merchandiser. and worldrugbyshop, com among others. But I'm a free-range social and artist "artist" like you seem to be, from your interest in 60's fringe and fashion and so on. I was in NYC back then, and knew alot of people in the fashion/art circles, but was a hippie cartoonist/designer myself.
    OK, the email was for a guy who told me he went on a pilgrimage for his father, who has a dread rare disease and is slowly dying. The kid is going to UNC-Chapel Hill, and he came to the FRANK Gallery downtown two weeks ago Friday night for a show opening.
    OK, the email. It's somewhat long, but.. Hey, I hope it goes through, and you like it. For some reason.
    I thought your article is thrilling in the muse sense, that is, inspiration is love, and impression is energy, and youth is wonderful, but hey, as I said, almost anyone who is married is not free to love others. Not really and intensely and fully, over time and devoted to being together. It breaks a rule of 3-D physics, which is, you can't be in two places at one time. But true, opposites do attract. In fact, I lean more toward wave theory than string theory. String theory is really just making a mathematical cats-cradle.

    OK, the email:
    AW, FUCK,

    Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters

    I'll do the email another time.
    Best wishes,
    Hillsborough NC

  2. Part II:
    Wave theory is like polyamory. (Just sayin')

    It has co-wave organizations of either/or, also called null-A, or non-Aristotelian, that is, not EITHER/OR, but BOTH/AND. The digital on/off is only a singular manifestation of the similar double helix-like twirl of life, or wave of harmonics.

    What is an Energetic Wave

    During the Big Bang, shrinking energetic space exploded in a critical condensation. As a result, it changed its direction to the right and expanded into its previous space in the form of wave patterns (swirls). Every one of these formations contains two perpendicular loops. The rotation of energetic matter in each loop is different. Consequently, each loop contains distinct forces or behaviours: one has magnetic (concentration) properties; and the second with energetic (expanding) behavior, which is currently beyond mankind's ability to actually observe and is referred to as dark matter.

    This ingenious unbelievable formation that occurs while undergoing phase transitions creates and explains everything.

    This formation - the closed wave - is the fundamental and sole element that created and creates EVERYTHING!

    Nature recognizes only simplicity. Consequently, the wave formation and its interaction with other waves is very simple, but is nevertheless extremely sophisticated.
    Dr. Chaim Tejman, Copyright© 2001. All rights reserved.

  3. Very interesting how you've correlated physics principles with polyamory. I can see how the comparison is apt. I just finished reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and Pirsig discusses non-Aristotelian thinking quite extensively. One thing I will add is that I have seen polyamory work in actual relationships (i.e. not just fantasy or social fiction as you mentioned, albeit the relationships can be complicated). Granted, like you said, you cannot be in two places at the same time, as that does violate the basics of physics. That's a limit on the principle of polyamory in terms of time devoted to relationships-- I alluded to that in my own way when I talked about how people are limited in their time. If you live with one person, you obviously (by default) would not be spending equal time with your other partners. The exception to this would be if you lived communally with those you loved. That way dividing time in a more equal manner would be more feasible. While time is limited, I would still argue that you can love many. Love does not need to be limited to one person. Although, at the same time, I would never push this principle on anyone or ask them to accept it as some sort of dogma. I would merely hope that people would take a moment to question their socially constructed biases and beliefs and open themselves up to other possibilities.