Who Shouldn’t Be Polyamorous?

a wooden treehouse up in the branches of a tree in a forested area
Image by Martyn Smith / CC BY

Today’s article is a guest blog post by Matthew Shadrake.

Matt is a polyamorous switch and a big ole softie. He has previously contributed 3 posts to Poly.Land:

  1. Twin Demons: How I Learned About Toxic Masculinity and Toxic Monogamy
  2. The Difference Between Having Preferences and Being a Prejudiced Asshole in Online Dating
  3. Firing a Gun Into a Dark Room: Strip Clubs, Sex Trafficking, and the Hidden Cost of Hedonism

In addition to being a hell of a writer, Matt is one of the best conversationalists I have ever met and may even be a bigger psych nerd than I am. He’s definitely geekier about kink and the philosophical implications of hedonism and sex-positive shenanigans.

Matt’s regular blog is Confessions of a Hedonist. And check out what he wrote this time around for Poly Land:

Who Shouldn’t Be Polyamorous?

Kendra is about eight drinks in to a fun birthday evening. We’ve crawled to our third bar of the evening. Her parents start to discuss something related to their health – a topic drunk Kendra does not want to discuss on her birthday. She looks at me and quickly changes the subject.

“This guy’s actually a real player. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him. He’s got three girlfriends.”

“Only two,” I sheepishly object, shaking my head. I really am not looking to get into this discussion.

“What? Why are you doing that?” her also-drunk mother inquires.

“They know about each other. They have other partners as well. It’s all above board. I just love more than one person.”

“Oh no, that’s not real love,” the mother replies, hand-waving my entire romantic life.

“No… it is. I know what love is, what infatuation is, what the difference is. I know what I feel,” I reply. I’m a little annoyed now, but trying not to broadcast it too much.

“So if they’re out with someone else, that doesn’t hurt you?” Kendra asks.

“Not really, no,” I say. It’s an oversimplification, but I really just want to end this conversation.

“You’re going to find someone some day that’s right for you, and you’re not going to want to let her be with anyone else,” her mom replies between swigs. I make my excuses to leave for the bar for a check on my pizza, hoping that the topic has changed when I return.

Elitism and Polyamory

The truth is that I do get jealous sometimes. My partners do, too. Dealing with that jealousy is a tough and difficult part of polyamory. Poly Land will probably be writing on that topic until the heat death of the universe. But it feels like a hard conversation to have, hard to explain to someone at 2 AM who you’ve just met and has a half dozen drinks in their system.

I could explain those things in a different setting, but often I treat my polyamory as something of a graduate level course. Even though I know I can do it from my history, from my community that supports me and from my partners. I know people who have done poly for their entire adult lives, I read about it, I write about it, and I know my own feelings.

People who write about poly often couch poly as a sort of evolved thinking on relationships.That thinking puts me above those people in a way — but I don’t really think of myself as above anyone. As much as I hate close-minded folk hand-waving away my self-concept, when I refuse to explain polyamory to them I’m hand-waving away them. I’m telling them “you’re not smart enough/open-minded enough to get it.” That isn’t okay.

The Treehouse

In the US, polyamory is a counter-culture. Similar to the LGBTQIA+ community, similar to the punk rock scene. You can’t list multiple partners on facebook, or on marriage certificates. Poly people have in some ways been outcast, and have made the most of our tiny island away from everyone else. We say, somewhat in reaction, that poly is too cool for you normies anyway.

It’s absurd for me though, because I really became confident in my romantic leanings after reading Sex at Dawn, in which I learned most of nature isn’t monogamous, and in fact there’s a good reason to think prehistoric humans were promiscuous as fuck (pun intended). To me, humans have a capacity to love multiple people, full stop.

So why would I act as the bodyguard of our ultra-cool polyamorous treehouse on the island? Why shouldn’t I welcome them all in? Or say that “dating around” is effectively polyamory by a different name? Why shouldn’t we be saying that yes, open relationships and swinging are in some ways really similar to polyamory? If I’m secretly thinking that those who have had three husbands shouldn’t really be claiming that the natural order of things involves mating “for life,” why aren’t I saying it aloud?

I know most people draw the distinction for polyamory at love — swingers aren’t poly because it’s “just fucking” or something to that effect. Love is the poly establishment’s line in the sand. I say that love is a nebulous concept anyway; one person’s love might be entirely different from the next person’s. I don’t know what love is to a stranger, and I don’t know that every love I’ve had is the same either. That’s like drawing a line in the mud in the middle of a flash flood. Nobody can see that line anyway.

Poly for the People

Polyamory isn’t just for rich people who can afford to treat multiple people for dates. It isn’t just for people with secure primary partners. For the extremely liberal. For people with psychology degrees and high IQs.

The sole prerequisite for polyamory is the ability to love more than one person at once. If you’re like me and you believe that humans basically all evolved to be like that, then you have to accept the conclusion that everyone should theoretically have that capability. So polyamory is for everyone.

Except of course that society is weird and has all sorts of silly rules and customs in place. The way we normalize jealousy and possessiveness might not be natural, but it is a fact of life. Religious folk aren’t going to stop being religious because 20000 years ago humans were (probably) fucking like bonobos. Sex at Dawn is a good book, but it’s not going to change the fact that most people grow up thinking of marriage and monogamy as the only legitimate relationship type, and that everything else is to be comparatively discarded.

Just as some people internalize toxic masculinity or misogyny, people internalize toxic monogamy. Until people are more aware of the alternatives to monogamy, we’re always going to be dealing with preposterously full of themselves old people that think that polyamory is just a phase to grow out of. We’re going to be getting eyebrows raised from coworkers when we mention that we have *gasp* TWO GIRLFRIENDS. Because everyone works off a script where they assume that we must be players, deceivers, and cheaters.

We don’t have recognition from a well-known celebrity being involved in a triad. There aren’t politicians open about being in a open relationship. Pop songs aren’t being written about metamours. The world as a whole assumes that we’re just kids playing in our super secret treehouse and that eventually we’ll rejoin them in the “real world”

We are the visible examples. We are the proof that it can work. Being open and proud isn’t an option for some people for various reasons, but I know I can be. And sometimes that requires telling people who don’t get it and at least giving them the information. Even if they reject it, even if they think less of me for it — the exposure is important. Who knows who you might end up being a role model for?

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