“Goldilocks went upstairs, where she found three beds. There was a great big bed, a middle-sized bed and a tiny little bed. By now she was feeling rather tired. so she climbed into the big bed and lay down. The big bed was very hard and far too big. Then she tried the middle-sized bed, but that was far too soft. So she climbed into the tiny little bed. It was neither too hard nor too soft. In fact, it felt just right.”
-“Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” fairy tale
One of the cornerstone principles in polyamorous theory is that love is abundant, plentiful. And the more love that there is in your life, the more love you have to give. It’s like the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes, feeding large crowds with only meager supplies. Love is not zero sum. It isn’t like you can only feel so much love — when you love one person, you don’t automatically love everyone else less.
As Franklin Veaux writes in More than Two:
In the starvation model, opportunities for love seem scarce. Potential partners are thin on the ground, and finding them is difficult. Because most people you meet expect monogamy, finding poly partners is particularly difficult. Every additional requirement you have narrows the pool still more. Since relationship opportunities are so rare, you’d better seize whatever opportunity comes by and hang on with both hands—after all, who knows when another chance will come along?
Conversely, the abundance model embraces the premise that many, many opportunities for love exist. Veaux writes:
The abundance model says that relationship opportunities are all around us. Sure, only a small percentage of the population might meet our criteria, but in a world of more than seven billion people, opportunities abound. Even if we exclude everyone who isn’t open to polyamory, and everyone of the “wrong” sex or orientation, and everyone who doesn’t have whatever other traits we want, we’re still left with tens of thousands of potential partners, which is surely enough to keep even the most ambitious person busy.
The sneaky thing about both models is they’re both right: the model we hold tends to become self-fulfilling.
The Scarcity Model of Love Stinks
It’s true that the scarcity model causes a lot of problems. Viewing love as scarce often backfires. Fear makes us act in ways that are counterproductive to a good outcome.
When we worry too much that we’ll lose something, we can end up pushing and smothering. Paradoxically, our efforts to protect a relationship can lead to our losing it.
Furthermore, we may end up clinging to things that are not good for us because we’re afraid to be alone.
The scarcity model is really no good.
Viewing Love as Abundant is Better, Right?
So it would seem that the abundant love model is the way to go! Love is everywhere. In great abundance. Never-ending. Infinite!
Woah. Hold on there a hot second.
The scarcity model does stink. And there are many upsides to the abundant love model — the trouble with it, however? There’s a certain point where you can take it too far.
You have to be careful not to treat people like they’re expendable. Or interchangeable.
Some poly folks end up as relationship collectors. They seek as many connections as possible. Love is limitless, horizons infinite. They know there are always more fish in the sea, so they cast a lot of lines and catch a lot of fish. Trouble is that people are not Pokémon. It’s a very bad idea to try to fuck one’s way to better self-esteem, to collect admirers and hangers-on in a never-ending quest for attention.
And furthermore, if suitable partners are truly in endless supply, what’s to stop you from discarding people at the first sign of trouble?
I’m not going to sugar coat it. There are plenty of people who do this regardless of relationship style — poly, mono, or otherwise.
I’ve had to muddle through it myself over the years that I’ve been polyamorous. Trying to view love as abundant, but not expendable.
Looking to Goldilocks
Like Goldilocks, I found the happy medium, my “just right,” by attempting each extreme.
Viewing love through the lens of strict scarcity model meant that I clung to unsuitable partners, pushing them in ways that made us both miserable (see Toxic Monogamy).
And I was better served by taking my time and not gorging on the all-you-can-eat buffet that an abundant love model can present (even if it means I frequently under date). Doing this, I’ve avoided the stresses that I formerly felt as the busy hinge in a very troubled poly web (because abundance multiplies everything, even stress).
As Brené Brown writes:
The counterapproach to living in scarcity is not about abundance. In fact, I think abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.” The opposite of scarcity is enough.
Indeed, the fix for my feeling the constant strain that I would never be or have enough is not feeling like things are limitless.
It is feeling like I am enough. And that I have enough.
Sometimes this means accepting what I am and what I have and being satisfied with it. Sometimes this means recognizing that I want more and reaching for that (either inside or outside of myself).
Either way, it’s worth the effort to gets things “just right.”