In this article I am speaking to a growing trend whereby people speak of polyamory as a more mature form of love. They speak, quite articulately I may add, to the idea that to truly love someone is to let them be “free.” Many who pursue polyamory are highly intellectual and have developed very enticing theoretical views on the subject. The nature of this form of relationship also often gives a lot of practice with talking about sexuality, feelings, and boundaries. They speak to an understanding that we should not bound our lovers to ourselves, nor ourselves to them. The theory of this resonates with many, yet many find themselves heartbroken, challenged, and sad in the pursuit of the promise of its glory and universal love. Often people wonder what they did wrong, or even what is wrong with them that they can’t let their lover “be free.” To answer this call, this article talks about some of the inherent problems with many forms of polyamory, and about how monogamy can offer a route to truly love and cherish your partner in a way that helps you both grow and mature. I encourage anyone who is pursuing polyamory, or encouraged to do so, to read this for a balanced perspective. I encourage this even if, and perhaps especially if, it is working for you. You’ll see why.
Note: This is specifically written to be one sided. Why? Because it was written as a small rant to be a counterpoint to a lot of work already out there. I’ll write some more balanced pieces at some point that go into the nuance of healthy relations in monogomy and polyamory and safe ways of approaching both or rewrite this entirely. I believe that both are normal, but argue that you should always yield to ones tendancies towards healthy attachment. I would also argue that true healthy polyamory is less common in general and less common than it is practiced.
“Every day I will be there for you. Like the Sun, I will love you so consistently you may even confuse my presence with the concept of a day itself. If you were to go without seeing this love you may find yourself wondering if a day had truly passed.”
The question of polyamory vs monogamy for me comes down to which way forward is more loving. I believe it is the presence of love that makes us happier, not just sex. Otherwise masturbation would be the obvious answer to fulfillment in life. This is a question you can not answer adequately without talking about attachment. That is, sex naturally links to attachment. Some animals attach for life immediately, others do not create strong attachment at all. Humans attach. We do this through chemical bonding and social bonding. How quickly, or how strongly, can vary.
A common issue I have seen with polyamory is that the couple, or an individual within a couple, is naturally slow to attach or has naturally weak attachment styles. This encourages them to engage with many people. Why not? Sadly many of their lovers develop strong bonds to them only to be dismissed as “breaking the agreed upon relationship rules.” Essentially people think it’s a great idea, then through sex become bonded, and end up getting left alone. This creates drama and much heartache, and in some cases can be a traumatic experience. If you are surrounding yourself with this drama and heartache is that really the most loving, healthy way forward? For you or them? Sure the sex can be great, but what is one missing?
Attachment is on a scale, like many of human phenomena. Some are slow/weaker to attach others much faster/stronger. Women more than men in general, I’ll get to that.
On a physical level this is due to oxytocin and the limbic emotional bonding. A similar bonding that is created between a mother and her infant strongly at childbirth as well as through nursing. When people have sex their brains release these strong bonding hormones. These emotional ties hurt when they are broken. Women have a larger limbic system and therefor have the capacity for stronger ties than men though it does not always manifest in this way and can be quite the opposite within a relationship. Aside from the physical we create social bonding as well. Humans begin to reorient their sense of beauty, conception of love, and can even shift values based on the connection they create with their lover. There is a beauty to this that creates lasting relationships that support couples though raising kids and even through the last years of ones life.
With polyamory we often see people who are essentially single, but still want to have a deeper level of connection with people, just without the commitment. We also see couples who commit to each other, but explore with others, or couples that create commitments with other couples. Countless variations really, which is beautiful. I’ve seen more than one slow to attach couple (primaries) do just fine, but many who they are with are written off. It is the “secondary’s” I’m worried about. Because relationship style is cultural, but bonding though sexual contact is a natural thing that is more strong in some than others. People agree to not attach, but it happens anyways. This creates strain for the new partner, and a emotional drama for the primary couple even if just under the surface.
Another contention I have with some of the language often used is that monogamy is control though commitment. That is not the point. It is about being “all in.” A relationship fundamentally changes when someone is there 100%. This is true with all relationships, especially intimate ones. Sometimes people are sort of into their partner but have reservations. When you feel these reservations it can cause yourself be subconsciously reserved, or trigger other relationship problems. When two people are 100% there for eachother it creates a magic that cannot exist in any other forms of a relationship. Why? This comes down to time and resources, as well as emotional commitment. If you are being romantic and entertaining such a deep relationship with more than one person, and pursuing your dreams, and having children there really isn’t enough time to do your best it doesn’t leave a lot of time. Now if you are both very low on the attachment scale and sex is a major priority thats not an issue. On the other hand it is easy for a sensitive person to feel your connection to the others in a way that triggers the bonding they have created to you; thus, make them feel unsafe and less likely to open up completely. Or worse. They will still open up, but in to a container where they are not protected. So mutuality is very important here.
Monogamy is saying I will make love to you because it feels great and because it connects us. I will not just learn what feels amazing you, but how you grow, change, and evolve your feelings of ecstasy. AND I will hold a safe container for these natural attachments that develop when making love. Why? Because by doing this I get to see you thrive in complete safety, and trust. More than just hold a safe container, I will cherish the connection and nurture our love. Safe sex is a lot more than just watching for STD’s or having a baby, it is also being loving and safe with the feelings of the person you are with.
If you are having sex in the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle it is responsible to have a plan in place to take care of any child that may be birthed by your union or use protection. With emotions there is no condom. There are no right time of the month. Every time you have sex, be it intercourse or not, you are calling in attachment. You don’t get to decide either. One cannot just decide not to become attached for this sexual activity or that sexual activity. It does change though. The mind is the largest sex organ and when there is more Love present attachment will often come quicker and stronger. It is most loving for couples, then, to pursue the lowest common denominator. That is, be there for the person who attaches quickest and strongest. Because this isn’t always uniform it can make sexually active dating quite tricky, and with relationships, I would argue, never a good idea.
When you do decide to walk these waters, as we usually do expecially when dating, it is good to have a backup plan. That is, how do you intend to hold space for the person you are connecting with if their feelings of attachment become greater than your agrement? If it would feel too restricting for you to say… not connect with anyone else for a week or two while you process a seperation, then please ask yourself if you are really in the space of mind to be responsible tapping into this level of intimacy with another. If not that is ok. There are many wonderful ways to enjoy someone without getting as close to chemical bonding.
I think of this as a yield sign of sorts. It is the difference between triggering deep pain that can take years to heal through verses just being disappointed. It is important to recognize that the two forms of pain are not comparable, yet both valid and should be supported. We are hardwired to feel attachment as an unbearable pain that shows up when one looses or may potentially loose their greatest love. The pain of loosing family, loosing a child. It is suppose to fell extreme and often can feel dispropotionate. Because of this comparting needs can be a little like comparing holding ones hand to a fire verses telling someone they can’t see a concert they really want to see. Neither are healthy for the relationship and both could justify breaking up, but lets not pretend they are comparable.
The feeling of being trapped can feel very scary for some. It can even trigger trauma. Usually it comes from trauma of some sort that you bring to the relationship. I am not trying to downplay this at all, but there is a fundamential difference here. That is choice. When you decide to connect with another you get to make a choice of being lovingly there for them and what comes up in that experience. If this connection starts to overwhelm you then you can just leave. This can be tough and sad. With bonding its a little different. It doesn’t matter what you decide. It can just invite itself in. When it is there if it is shunned, not respected, pushed away then the resluting break of chemical and social bonding can cause lasting emotional harm that can take years to heal from. The difference? The container. Leaving a relationshp that is unhealthy is a very healthy thing to do. If you are feeling trapped by your partner and leave it is liberating and there can be a healthy explortion of what was good and bad just like any breakup. With rejected attachment; however, it can be a little mroe confusion. Here we have situations where on the surface everything is greast and within agreements, but because of something inside of you now its bad. People take it on as something is wrong with them because of teh feelings they attach, or can project a very nasty something is wrong with you becuase you didn’t attach like I did. It is the confusion, the complexity in handling these issues, and the tendency to interpret the problem as your love. Let me say that a another way just for further clarity: The difference is that people find their natual state of falling in love to be the source of pain and that is a real headfuck. Its way different than an external source like “my partner is overbearing.”
This is where monogamy shines (actual monogomy, not cheating). It doesn’t matter who attaches first, how strongly, etc etc. In that there is a container where if the relationship does or doesnt work, its simply just because of that: the relationship did or didn’t work. That doesn’t mean that other issues cant cause damage, but issues of chemical and social bonding stay safe and people can simply choose if they want to deepen these bonds with or not.
Getting sexual fulfillment from others while triggering attachment that you do not intend on holding space for is not loving. It is arrogance. I know, a strong statement. It is justified by the countless tears of people who have had their hearts wrenched by an experience that is neurologically similar to being separated from your child.
When dating it is normal and loving to work with the people you are interested in and discuss what degree of sexuality is safe before this attachment is created. If you do this you are playing with fire a little so it is good to be mindful of this by not making assumptions that words and logic have control over physical experiences. Check in with one another regularly and make sure that everyone is safe, i.e., not becoming attached when the other isn’t there to catch them. Be aware that attachment can sneak up, and often people will try to hide it if they think it will push away the person they love. Nonetheless, many playful, healing, sensual, loving experiences are available. In fact it can be very healthy to explore sexuality in forms such as massage, sensuality, etc. And if attachment is built too early, then to lovingly, and with intention, separate. Hold space for what pain may come up.
So remember, monogamy isn’t here because of control. It is hear because evolution found it valuable, and we are hardwired in ways where relationships based on monogamy provide a loving structure for humans to flourish. It is part social and part chemical bonding to more than anything making sure the male stays around to increase resources for kids so they can have longer postpartum brain development, but the consequences of that fundamentally effect us within any sexual relationship.
When it works it is great as very strong bonds can last until the last years of onces life, and the ways in which people can become a team are quite remarkable. The emotional, physical, spritual, and social joining can be personally transformative. In fact a healthy monogamous container will force you to grow. You wont be able to hid from anything as your partner will become a very loving reflection. Essentially: people thrive when they feel 100% safe. The closer you get to this the more you will see your partner thrive. The more you are connecting to others who are thriving the better as well. If you or your partner(s) are connecting with someone not thriving you will both feel that too. Monogomy does a graet job and creating a structure for this safe form of thriving. Polyamory can create this for some, but for many, whether you like it or not, sadly, it is out of the pictrue. So be very careful, honest, and sincere. And always go to the lowest common denominator.
As a short aside: I’ve talked a lot about attachment here and its is good to note that attachment is actually a very healthy thing. People often misapply translations of attachment from eastern paths like Buddhism to demonize these feelings. I will be writing more articles on this specifically to talk about when how attachment and jealousy can be very healthy emotionally and common gender differences from an evolutionary perspective.
No, polyamory isn’t more “natural” either. People have written whole books talking about how polyamory is a more natrual human sexaul experience. They cite lots of anthroplogical research and some modern science about the process of conception. It is easy to be impressed any time someone cites lots of research. Most of this research is borrowed, not well suited to study human sexuality, and the conclusions they draw don’t hold water. This list isn’t exhaustive, but gets at some of the major pitfalls of logic that they make time and time again when trying to present their argument.
- Comparable primatology is not an adequate method of discovering sex habits of a species. Even small evolutionary branches can lead to entirely different sex patterns.
- Just because it happened in the past does not mean it was an enjoyable loving experience.
- Humans at no point in time stopped evolving and somehow need to go back. We are where we are now and need to have relationships based on our current state. Today most human brains tie bonding in with sexuality. Monogomy holds a container for that bonding.
- Contraception doesn’t change the game. The concept that men get jealous because they are afraid that they will raise a child other than their own is not scientifcially validated. In fact, men, just like women, are pre-programed to feel nurturing feelings towards all babies. There are species where males will be aggresive towards young that is not there own, but humans today are not one. From the perspective of basic psychology jealousy in men is better explained by the fear that someone else will raise their child (If you were to take an evolutionary approach). People are fine raising another child but like to raise their own. It also has a lot to do with the psychology of a relationship, shared resources, goals for the future, and love. So no, contraception doesn’t mean that jealousy doesn’t have its place. Jealousy is a healthy reaction to healthy attachment.