Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Polyamory 101: Scarcity vs Abundance

Lately, I've been writing some 101 articles for the blog; you can find them using the poly101 label on the site. In this article, I'm addressing a key idea behind polyamorous relationships.

We live in a world of scarcity.

There's only so much stuff to go around.

This is a very Western-way of thinking.

We are raised with a Western Mind.

As kids, we're indoctrinated into a world of scarcity, particularly when it comes to relationships and love:

  • Romantic love, we are told, is finite.
  • You can only have so much, and you must find that one person to share it with.
  • We are taught that we can engage only in one relationship at a time.
  • When one relationship ends, another one is given social permission to begin.
  • Conducting multiple relationships at one time may result in slut-shaming or social ostracism.
  • There can be only one spouse, and when one spousal relationship ends, another is free to begin.
  • Our fantasies and stories reflect The One, or, Princesses and Princes, the Romeo or Juliet, that'll fulfill our every need forever, removing the need to find other partners.
  • Sharing our limited love and sexuality is meant for a betrothed partner and desiring sex with more than one partner is greedy, selfish, immoral. It is hidden behind the practice of an affair.

In Polyamory, love is perceived as infinite. Your heart and feelings aren't constrained, and love can be shared - it is abundant. Poly emphasizes abundance thinking over scarcity thinking:

  • Romantic love, in Polyamory, is infinite.
  • As love is abundant, you can share it with anyone you deem it appropriate to do. Why not love in multiples?
  • Engaging in multiple relationships at a time is acceptable and a base tenant of our human nature. The Polyamorous person may ask, "Why struggle against that nature within the context of monogamous relationships?"
  • Social permission isn't needed to start and end relationships, and value judgements like slut-shaming is replaced with more sex-positve thinking.
  • Polyamorous folks may question the value of a singular spousal connection or even re-define marriage as a more flexible union that extends sexual freedoms to each individual.
  • And Polyamorous types likely see the expression of their sexuality as healthy and growth-oriented. Multiple relationships are celebrated and honestly shown to all.

In that there's a mindfulness around scarcity that some might perceive as being individually constrained or inhibited, most Polyamorous wouldn't go so far as to dismiss monogamy. Most Polyamorous folks that I know would want to avoid monogamy-bashing and suggest that relationship styles are individual choices. Monogamy isn't bad nor wrong. Both monogamy and polyamory have merits. Both can be practiced and respected.

Polyamorous people believe that the joy and expression of love doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be hoarded; that one person must promise emotional and sexual exclusivity for love to be real. On the contrary: love for someone may manifest in a variety of ways (life partners, casual encounters, deep connections, life-long friendships, fuckbuddies and Friends With Benefits, BDSM, dominant and submissive relationships, etc.). Poly makes allowances for more entanglements beyond "The One".

Further, no Polyamorous person would likely define Polyamory as a state of chaos or absolute freedom; even under a premise of abundance and infinite choice, we still operate under negotiated expectations with our partners. We can't do everything we want without risking others we love. There are still commitments that's brought on by a lot of talking and parsing through emotional muck.

Nor does branding oneself as Polyamorous bestow a license to engage in misbehavior. Claiming to be Polyamorous but concealing a relationship from a spouse is still cheating; having sex without telling other partners is still inappropriate behavior; a woman who identifies as being Polyamorous isn't saying she's easy; a Polyamorous person doesn't have defacto access to the partners of other partners. There are still expectations that we're to operate under, and being Polyamorous isn't adopting a lifestyle of irresponsible behavior.

Generally speaking:

  • In Monogamy, love is scarce. Love is finite; there's only so much to go around. It can only be felt for one person at a time and manifest in an ultimate, singular relationship.
  • In Polyamory, love is abundant. Love is infinite; there's so much of it to share. It can be felt for many people and manifest in completely different ways.



Unknown said...

I can't see how you can describe the love in monogamous relationships as scarce and then claim to not be mono bashing. There is something equally appealing about monogamy, the singular devotion, the sacrifice that doesn't feel like a sacrifice because of your overall fulfillment. It's about personal choice, as you also said. I doubt people in happy, healthy monogamous relationships feel love is scarce and would probably be offended by anyone suggesting otherwise.

Monogamous people can be equally ignorant about polyamory, I've seen it myself and will challenge their views similarly.

Anonymous said...


SharpLeft said...

This is definitely a straight & bi poly way of thinking about things. I've been chatting a lot with my gay and lesbian poly friends about this, and they say that even being poly doesn't take away the fact that just logistically there can be scarcity in partners just because gay folks aren't able to have sexual or romantic connections with as large a percentage of the people they meet.

Secondly, and this is the big one, you say that love is infinite, and that in monogamy it isn't seen that way. But you forget the other things that go into relationships, time and emotional energy being the big two. I know plenty of ethically consensually monogamous people who know that love is infinite, but they choose monogamy because their time isn't, and thy choose to spend their time in different ways, perhaps on solo hobbies or other things they find fulfilling.
In my experience many poly people are so focussed on love being infinite and spending all their time with partners or casual date/sex friends, that they end up with almost no platonic friends, and my monogamous friends have platonic friendships that they also pour love into, and that can be just as fulfilling for some people.