Many Loves: An Alternative Loving Lifestyle
Monogamy may be an ideal system for many, but some people cannot or have no wish to commit to a pair-bond for life. Perhaps it is time for people to debate this issue honestly. Perhaps individuals should challenge the norm, to create and develop new ways of loving with integrity which suit them and their circumstances, and which change over time, rather than continuing with an archaic model of one lifestyle for all.
However my broader point is that as with most things in life, I suspect that that one model for relationships simply does not suit all people throughout the life course.
Polyamory is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, 2006 as: “The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned”.
Theoretically, this allows the freedom to fall in love with more than one person at a time and to follow and act on those loving feelings openly, with a clear conscience. However, it presents many more challenges than Monogamy, not least having to take moral responsibility for structuring one’s own specific relationships and the happiness and health of more than one partner. Therefore it is a lifestyle for those who are attracted to the intense combinations of moral integrity, emotional closeness, risk and adventure.
Far from being an advocate for this alternative arrangement, I consider that in a culture founded on Christian religion, Polyamory would be more difficult to sustain than most lifestyles, including serial affairs (cheating). This is because of its oppositional stance to cultural norms and legal structures and the practical complexity of allocating resources equally between lovers, such as time and attention.
Those who live alternative lifestyles when it comes to relationships, threaten the cherished, traditional order of Monogamy and the fantasy of there being only one way to conduct relationships. As with any sexuality, some who know they have this inclination will choose not to act on it because of the social opprobrium which such a lifestyle might attract.
If you think an age-gap relationship between a younger man and an older woman is tricky, consider the tribulations likely to be evoked by this lifestyle, which is bound to be controversial in our society! In my view, there is a nightmare potential for tangled webs of desperately lonely individuals surviving in deep emotional turmoil. They would be viewed as suffering from self-inflicted wounds and empathy might not be easy to find.
My conclusion, although a few pioneers of such lifestyles do exist, is that the era of genuine relationship choice and acceptability is not yet with us at this point in time. It seems probable that as modern human society evolves in the future, new models for relationships are likely to develop and become acceptable, to allow individuals greater freedoms and choice as to how they live. That would require open debate, a cultural sea-change and an upheaval to legal and social systems which I do not believe will happen during my lifetime.
Although I find certain conceptual aspects of Polyamory genuinely appealing, particularly its emphasis on genuine relationships, open communication, and the veto on lying, I suspect it would be something most people would experiment with in youth, prior to reverting to mainstream culture.
Further information on this lifestyle, including authors, websites and articles, mainly based in the United States, include:
Dossie Easton; Deborah Anapol; Tristan Taormino