“You Just Want to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too”

a cake missing a slice
Image by Didriks / CC BY

You polyamorous people, she writes, you just want to have your cake and eat it, too.

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I’ve never liked this analogy. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

The wording’s always been a little confusing since “have” is often used when talking about food to mean “eat.” So when I was a little girl, I was always going “what?” because it sounded like someone was saying, “You can’t eat your cake and also eat it.”

Which sounded dumb. Since that’s not how language usually works.

But over time I came to flip it around mentally in my head to “You can’t eat your cake and still have it around afterwards.” Which made a bit more sense.

Not that it’s always a useful argument.

People use this saying all the time to metaphorically mean that you can’t have something both ways. Or that you can’t have simultaneously have two things that are inherently zero sum.

Sometimes this makes sense. But I’ve always thought it was an odd and ineffective way to criticize polyamory.

The Cake Is a Lie

Okay, first of all I just need to be clear that it’s weird to equate people with cake. But that’s a superficial objection because metaphors are known for going strange places and objectifying people.

But also it’s weird to think of love that’s something that can be consumed. Something that’s destroyed once you experience it, like a piece of cake is chewed up and digested.

And the way a cake is typically structured is particularly ill suited to condemning polyamorous relationship systems. They’re meant to be shared. Cakes have many slices. It’s a rare person who downs an entire cake by themselves that very second.

Even someone who ends up eating way too much cake will typically cut the cake into pieces and eat them methodically one at a time. Rather than, like, slamming their face down into the cake and going at it with their hands behind their back, state fair pie-eating contest style.

And even if a person did consume part of their love by metaphorically giving a slice of it to one lover (and again, it’s really weird to think about love as something that disappears once it’s experienced), there’s a ton of cake left over. To have and/or give away to other people.

Plus, it’s normally quite possible to go out and buy more cake. Or bake some more yourself. So even if you ate this particular cake, it isn’t like there aren’t other cakes you could then go on to have?

Although, come to think of it, isn’t a cake’s purpose to be eaten? Not many people run cake museums out of their own homes where they just let a cake sit there looking beautiful with no one eating a slice.

Fewer Things Are Zero Sum Than Our Fear Leads Us to Think They Are

I suppose the buried thesis in all of this is by using this analogy you’re trying to say that love is zero sum. That if you give love to one person, you have less left to give other people.

I respectfully disagree (and so does Mister Rogers, see #4).

Good luck with your cake museum!

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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3 Comments

  1. I wonder too how the thought-process works where people assume you’re the only person with pieces of cake to share? Theoretically everyone has their own cake that they’re sharing with everyone else, and everyone else is sharing cake with them. To the point that everyone can give away their entire cake and still have just as much as they started with. I mean, this doesn’t account for actually eating the cake, but then like you said–just make more cake!

    Anyway, this piece is great. I was always in a similar place with this analogy… in any context. I just never understood why you would even get a cake if you weren’t going to eat it? What is even the point of a cake museum ?? Of COURSE I’m going to eat the cake. I put all the effort into buying or making it. It’s meant to be enjoyed.

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