The pitfalls of polyamory


I can’t say that I’ve always identified with the polyamorous life; as a younger person I often spent time imagining a future life as a father and husband.  With time and experience though, I became skeptical about the prospects of long-term pair bonding.  The lack of positive role models in this regard, coupled with my own personal experience left me somewhat crestfallen as to the plausibility of a lifetime union.  My leery attitude towards marriage shouldn’t equate with it being ‘unnatural’, because I don’t believe that monogamy (or for that matter monoamory, the practice of exclusive sexual relationships) is unnatural either.  However,  in its current configuration it may be highly impractical.  I can’t make any claims as to the natural position of the human animal when it comes to romantic intimacy, either.  Many intellectual pursuits have failed to identify the ‘natural’ human instinct towards love and family.  If any ‘natural’ or original inclination can be surmised, it is that human behaviors and cultural practices change over time as we adapt to meet the demands of a constantly evolving environment.

Choosing a polyamorous life enabled me to find solutions to many of my interpersonal problems.  It helped me to resolve the plethora of uncomfortable emotional experiences that typically come along with traditional monoamory, i.e. jealousy, insecurity, and possessiveness being among the worst offenders.  The genesis of such feelings likely arose from the historical tradition of ‘taking a partner’, wherein that person becomes the property of their mate, thereby unintentionally resulting in the fear of loss, and the desire to protect and defend ownership.  By giving up the illusion that the person I chose to sleep with or confide in was ‘mine’, I found immeasurable freedom in my relationships.  Polyamory has its practical applications as well; long distance relationships and hectic schedules are made more manageable by an ‘open borders’ styled approach to dating.

I also believe that a polyamorous approach to intimacy honors the human animal more honestly because it takes into consideration our internal experience of desire, intimacy, and sexuality.  At any given moment, I could engage in sexual fantasy about a coworker, a commercial advertisement, a passerby, and if I’m feeling particularly imaginative, an inanimate object.  My body will similarly respond to external stimulation whether I desire to be aroused by it or not.  In a certain sense, the body has a mind all its own.  To acknowledge and accept these physiological and psychological truths, and not resist or agonize over them because of societal pressures is ultimately healthier and more fulfilling.

And then of course, there is the biological perspective: A monoamorous relationship (I’m choosing to use this word rather than monogamous because I’m mainly interested in discussing relationships that are neither legal nor religious unions) is antithetical to the biological imperative for men.  My DNA wants me to procreate often, and with as many different women as possible.  Unfortunately for me, in 21st century America this is not a socially sanctioned life strategy.  Even with the escalating divorce rate, the practice of marriage is a still thriving cultural device.  And to be clear, I’m not making the argument that marriage is a meaningless or useless institution.  Rather, that the union of two people remains a culturally preferable lifestyle choice.

With that being said, polyamory is a difficult, challenging lifestyle that demands self-knowledge as a deeply held virtue and is not just a way to get your rocks off.   Polyamory is not a vacation from the challenges of emotional and physical intimacy.  To the contrary, I would argue that it requires a greater capacity for honesty, maturity, and self-ownership than is found in traditional Western relationships.  Polyamory is primarily about radical autonomy and emotional self-awareness.  In monogamous/monoamorous relationships, it is all too easy to expect one person to fulfill our needs.  Freudian theory suggests that we seek romantic partners that help us to heal wounds generated by our early interactions with our familial partners; this sometimes results in our parents being replaced by our lovers.  This unconscious process can govern our sexual selection, leading to disastrous consequences.  Practically speaking, that is too much stress and expectation to place on a single person.  Given these unconscious motivators, it’s no wonder that long term relationships are increasingly more difficult to sustain.

From the outside looking in, there is a ‘sexiness’ to the polyamorous lifestyle; depictions in the media, and associations with hedonistic communities like those found among kink, BDSM, and swingers inevitably attract more people than does the self-ownership component.  I believe this is misleading, not because I disprove of those communities, but rather because I think that the polyamorous lifestyle is for some people a kind of badge they can proudly display to their peers –  a way to earn social brownie points.  For some people, the polyamorous lifestyle is nothing more than permission to be a shitty person.  These are not people who’re interested in the self-discovery component of polyamory; they simply want an excuse to go all id.  Such people seek to have their every desire fulfilled in an idealistic way, without considering the consequences.  There is a considerable amount of forethought that should be undertaken before deciding to open up a relationship.    Some questions need to be answered beforehand, such as “What is my value in the sexual market place?”; “How will I feel when my partner meets someone else?”; “What if they like that person more than they like me?”; “Can I share in my partners experience through dialogue?”; “Can I balance my life schedule while continuing to meet new people?”

Polyamory suffers a bit from ‘the-grass-is-always-greener’ syndrome because outwardly it appears to be an easier, more desirable alternative to the current standard.   All the sex you can think of with as many people as you want? What person in their right mind would turn that down?  It is on this point that I’d like to share a quote from the author Timothy Ferris, “There’s no free lunch.”  In essence, there is no solution that doesn’t offer new challenges.  For every action has its consequences, each decision will lead to but another series of problems yet to be solved.  If you’re considering breaking out of a monoamorous lifestyle, be sure that you’re taking all the necessary steps to protect yourself.  For many people, going from an exclusive relationship to an open one is a lot like the novice swimmer who has only swam in the kiddie-pool his whole life, who then one day dives into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  It’s always a dangerous prospect when taking a new direction in life, as there is no certainty of its outcome.  The best we can do to defend against such unknowns is to arm ourselves with knowledge; be informed and make educated decisions.



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