Polyamory Isn’t Selfish — And Here’s Why

a chocolate cake with one slice missing
Image by Bob Peters / CC BY

“You know, Page,” she says. “Polyamory sounds so great in theory. It’s just…I can’t get past one thing: Even considering polyamory makes me feel so selfish.”

She brings up her own partner and says she imagines they might be uncomfortable with her having other lovers. She hasn’t asked them or anything, she says. Because she doesn’t dare, worrying that the mere mention of polyamory might plant a seed in their mind that she doesn’t think they’re enough for her.

And that’s not the issue at all, that’s not why she sometimes thinks polyamory might have benefits. It’s not that she thinks her relationship with current partner has any deficiencies. Nothing like that.

“It’s just…” she says. “As far as I know, we only get one life. And I’m always connecting with people and thinking ‘what if?'” But she loves what she has with her partner. Wouldn’t think of throwing that relationship away to chase potentials.

“Polyamory seems like an awfully selfish idea,” she adds. “Having your cake and eating it, too.”

“Well,” I say, after thinking on what she’s said for a moment, “the reason for that is that your mental model of polyamory has a big casting problem.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

What’s Selfish in One Context Is Sensible in Another

“When you’re hypothetically thinking about polyamory, you’re putting a person who wants to be monogamous into a polyamorous role. That’s why it seems selfish to you,” I say. “And sure. Forcing polyamory on an unwilling partner or trying to coerce them into a relationship structure they don’t want — well, that could be pretty selfish, yeah.”

“Right,” she says.

“But that doesn’t mean that polyamory itself is selfish. If you were in a polyamorous relationship system where everyone involved wants to be polyamorous, then it’s not selfish at all. Then, it’s just sensible. And frankly equal since everyone has access to the same freedoms that you have.”

“Huh,” she says.

“Sometimes I’ll run into other polyamorous people who will actually claim the opposite. That requiring your partner to be monogamous is selfish. Because it robs them of opportunities. You know, one life and all as far as we know, just like you were saying. But I don’t think that at all. I don’t think that monogamy is inherently selfish either. It’s the same as with polyamory. If you are in a monogamous relationship where both parties want to be monogamous, that’s also not selfish. Again, it’s very sensible.”

She nods. “I’ve always liked that about you. That you aren’t one of those pro-poly folks who are anti-monogamy. That you think both monogamy and polyamory are fine. I mean, you’re someone who can do either happily, right?”

I nod. “I’m ambiamorous. It really depends on what’s going on.”

“Ambiamorous, what a word,” she says. “Land or water, you’re set!”

We both laugh.

Polyamorous Life Is Difficult to Sustain Long Term If You’re Selfish

“Now, I’m not saying you won’t find some selfish people if you start going around rounding up polyamorous people, doing some kind of weird survey,” I say. “People period can be selfish. Regardless of their demographic. Whether they’re poly, mono, ambi.”

“Hey, it’s selfish when you do it, but it’s self-care when I do it!” she jokes, because we were just talking about that a little earlier, the rise of self-care as a trend (mostly a good thing but with some interesting cultural side effects).

I laugh before continuing. “You’ll find selfish polyamorous people scattered in, just with any group,” I say, “but I’ve found that selfish people don’t do terribly well long term trying to maintain multiple relationships. They crash and burn pretty quickly. And their love lives end up being the messes of legend, especially since word can travel pretty quickly in local polyamorous communities about who acts like a jerk wad.”

“People talk?” she says.

“People talk,” I agree.

“You know,” she says. “I think you’re on to something… I look at you and a couple other polyamorous people I know who’ve been that way for a long time. And you’re some of the most giving, selfless people that I’ve met.”

“D’awww,” I say. “Thanks. Well, in my case, I think it’s because I’ve learned to accept the fact that not everything is about me all the time. Not even in my own love life. It keeps you grounded. Gracious.”

She nods.

“Well mostly,” I add. “Sometimes I act like I’m the queen of all that the light touches.”

She laughs. “I’m having a hard time picturing that.”

You Can’t Control How Someone Else Will React to the Idea, But Considering Polyamory Doesn’t Make You Selfish

I say, “You know, I can’t guarantee your partner won’t be offended if you bring up the idea of opening your relationship. People can have pretty odd notions about polyamory, what it means or doesn’t mean, especially if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. Once upon a time, I myself recoiled at the idea. Thought it meant that I wasn’t enough. So if you don’t feel comfortable bringing it up to your partner, fine. One hundred percent your decision.”

“Thank you,” she says.

“But I don’t want you to think you’re selfish for even considering it. Because that just isn’t true.”

She nods. “I appreciate that.”

I tell her if she ever wants help with that particular conversation to let me know. And then we switch to gossip.

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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