I get the following question a lot: “Can you learn to be polyamorous?”
Now, some people find this to be a peculiar question — and they’re particularly likely to think so if they view polyamory as an innate orientation. Lots of these folks will argue that you’re either naturally polyamorous or not. (And some will even so so far as to argue that everyone is naturally polyamorous, that being monogamous is a horribly unnatural state for all human beings).
I’m not someone who falls into any of those bins. Instead, I’m a person who is unnaturally polyamorous. When I started having polyamorous relationships, I not only didn’t know if it was something that I in particular should be doing, I didn’t know if anyone should be doing it.
Hilariously, 12 years later, I’m a prominent teacher and writer about consensual non-monogamy.
Anyway, I think what people really want to know when they ask “can you learn to be polyamorous?” is this:
“Can you learn to thrive in polyamorous relationship systems if polyamory isn’t natural for you?”
And the answer to that is — a resounding yes. But only if you’re someone who has the right attitude. And that mostly hinges around whether you believe you can learn anything.
Fixed Versus Growth Mindsets
I go into more depth on Dweck’s fixed versus growth mindsets in my book Dealing with Difficult Metamours (a troubleshooting guide for polyamorous relationships, with a reader’s guide in it that polycules and webs can use to work through the book), but here’s a quick summary from an earlier blog post:
…with fixed mindset. I viewed ability as a finite resource, and because of that, I was more focused on demonstrating my competence than actually developing it further.
A growth mindset, however, views ability as malleable and talent as able to be developed and improved. A person with this outlook also tends to attribute their success to work that they’ve done rather than natural ability.
According to Dweck’s work, if you were to ask children with these mindsets how they got a high grade on an assignment, they’d have markedly different answers:
Fixed mindset: “I’m smart.” “I’m good at this kind of stuff.”
Growth mindset: “I worked very hard.” “I studied a lot.”
Research has consistently shown that a growth mindset is the far more advantageous of the two. Students that feel like they can improve their abilities and focus on doing so go further and have an easier time adapting to adult responsibilities and the workforce.
Here’s the absolute bottom line:
If you think you can’t learn anything new, chances are you’re right.
If you think you can, chances are you’re also right.
And yes, that applies to the interpersonal skills that you’d need to thrive in a polyamorous relationship system.