Polyamory and monogamy as belief systems / paradigms
I'd like to explore the notion that polyamory and monogamy may be, at root, little more than differing systems of belief, and primarily a set of common (or less common) beliefs about loving relationships.
(Perhaps it will turn out otherwise, who knows? This is an open inquiry, not a finished "position" that I'm going to defend as if I had full and certain knowledge.)
In another thread, moments ago, I said that I used to be monogamously inclined and that I changed to become polyamorously inclined. When I look at what this transformation entailed, I see that what mainly changed for me was my belief system about loving relationships (and sexuality as well, and "romantic love").
I used to believe (however consciously) that "true love" was something that happened between two people, and two people only. I believed including another romantic love partner beyond this dyad meant either "watering down" (diluting) this love or otherwise discrediting or diminishing it. This I no longer believe. In fact, I believe having more than one love at the same time can raise the overall love level--and have had this experience.
There are many other beliefs, some core and some more peripheral, which comprise what I've recently been thinking of as two very different "paradigms" or theories of love -- romantic or otherwise. The one I just described seems to be at the core of the two contrasting paradigms, and I'd like -- over time -- to identify and share more beliefs of this kind. Perhaps you'd like to help?
What are the differing belief systems in their particulars? Of course, differing people will have varied particular beliefs in either paradigm, but I feel there must be a basic pattern to these differing beliefs / paradigms.
Perhaps down the road I'll assemble a sort of "map" of the contrasting belief systems I mention above. In the mean time, I hope to build up some sketches and notes to draw from. Just observations and recollections.
One friend, upon learning of my polyamory, asked me "How could you do that to your partner?" Even when made aware that my partner was okay with my polyamory, and told that my partner is also poly, this person thought I was somehow harming and hurting my partner by loving another. In this thought, I'm taking something away from my partner which is precious and sacred.
This sketch indicates something important about what many or most monogamous people believe about love. You're very welcome to add your own "sketches".
"What, aren't I enough for you? Aren't I good enough?"
When this question is asked from within the "paradigm" of monogamy / monogamism, it is taken for granted that one person should be able to supply all of one's most intimate companionship -- to complete satisfaction --, and that dissatisfaction with this purely dyadic "picture" of love must indicate one's partner in love is failing and inadequate.
The poly view is that this need not be the case at all. From this perspective, it is unreasonable to expect one person (any person) to be "everything" to any of us. We generally acknowledge this in the arena of friendship. Most mono people would not prohibit close and intimate, albeit nonsexual, friendships. But why limit loving relationships in this way? Why the expectation of sensual/physical/sexual exclusivity?
Poly folk will generally interpret this expectation as a barrier to intimacy with others rather than as some sort of sanctification of a relationship. Mono folk will generally consider physical exclusivity a sort of sacred oath of "true love".
Saying so doesn't mean voluntary monogamy is "less than" poly. Poly folk generally have a live and let live attitude, wheras most mono folk tend to think their approach is the one correct one.
Some thoughts on this:
Monogamy implies that we can have only one true match and that we are only capable of truly and fully loving one person, and there is a schema that two people marry and establish a unit.
Poly is a multischema practice. It may include a relatively small closed unit or a more freeflowing open unit, but basically accepts that we love more than one person with a special feeling for each person that is unique to the relationship with that person, but not detracting from the relationships with our other loves. Some loves may include sex, other loves may not yet be very intimate and there may yet be loves where it is more sexy than intimate emotionally and all are okay depending on one's emotional style and needs.
Even as a teen, there were times in my life that I was in love with more than one person at the same time. I didn't think I could act on both of them at the same time since I was growing up in the conservative midwest. So I broke up with one of them in order to be with the other.
For me, polyamory is an orientation not a belief system. I realize that this may not be true for everyone... :)
We all have beliefs and operate within belief systems until we see those beliefs do not work for us anymore, or out of habit even after we see them for what they are. I have long said that "our beliefs are just beliefs" meaning that they don't have any impact on our lives unless we let them. I could believe that the sky is green, but that doesn't mean it's true. Our approaches to relationships and relationship structures such as polyamory and monogamy will naturally be influenced by our beliefs and cultural conditioning. I think it's really important to be aware of our beliefs and how they influence us, and to challenge them.
Most of the beliefs I have about myself in relationships have to do with issues of abandonment and feeling worthy of someone's love, time, and attention. Those are the beliefs I struggle with, which naturally come into play whether I'm in a poly or mono relationship. As far as beliefs about relationships in general, I think there's this underlying one I was taught, about men being rescuers, like a knight in shining armor, and that eventually I would find the one man who would rescue me, turn my life from shit to gold, and make everything all right. So mythic! However, that belief is completely at odds with my beliefs about myself being unworthy, so it's all a mindfuck in the end.
Potential long post incoming, so apologies in advance.
I personally believe that polyamory and monogamy are completely unrelated things. I think polyamory is the personal capability of someone to love more than one person, and I think this actually applies to all humans - that is to say that every human is capable of loving more than one person at a time. Just like the oft-used example of loving more than one child without loving another any less, I think that a person is able to love more than one person, but through a combination of social pressure and learning in the vast majority of cases, and where people who have come into contact with polyamory and have questioned their own beliefs about relationships etc and still prefer monogamy, I think that is a case of still being able to feel love for more than one person at once, but their DESIRE and PREFERENCE is monogamous arrangements.
There is huge social pressure against cheating, promoting monogamous arrangements and yet we hear of infidelity constantly. Now, yes, in some cases it's purely sexual, but we also hear about "emotional infidelity" where there is no sex involved, or the sex is incidental. To me the answer to this is because humans are naturally polyamorous, and to the "uninitiated" (i.e. anyone who hasn't examined their own love life to work out what it is that they want from it OR people who enter monogamous relationships as a form of control on their partner to protect their own feelings) there is conflicting desire between their promised monogamous relationship and their natural ability to love more than one person at once. I'll talk about people who HAVE examined their own lives as regards monogamy soon, once I define what I think monogamy is.
I believe that monogamy is a relationship SYSTEM - i.e. (generally) exclusive, one-one matches etc. We call it polyamory when we follow any of the huge number of possibilities that exists outside of monogamy, but I think non-monogamy is a better term, since as I explained above, I believe polyamory relates to our ability to love more than one person, rather than how we structure our loving relationships. If you're having trouble understanding this point, then try and define a polyamorous relationship... you can't do so without saying something like "it's not monogamy" - there are too many different ways of structuring relationships for it to apply to any one type of things.
I said that I'd mention people who have examined their own lives and still choose monogamous arrangements, or even define themselves as monogamous people. A frequent message on this site is that love is an infinite resource, but things like time and energy are not. While someone may be ABLE to love more than one person at once, they may only WANT to feel that with one person at a time. Obviously we're not including anyone who only gets into monogamous relationships because that's what they've been taught (although we shouldn't entirely discount the social learning that happens for years, reinforced all around our society - movies, books, tv shows etc) but people who have realised and understand that they WANT and CHOOSE monogamous relationships for themselves. I guess the best way to explain this is to say that while I think that all humans are ABLE to love more than one person, they are not REQUIRED to love more than one person, or even anyone at all.
I believe the difference between monogamy and non-monogamy as relationship systems can be compared to the people who naturally prefer to have a small group of close friends to a larger group of less close friends. While someone who prefers a small group of close friends would certainly be ABLE to add a new friend into the mix, they might not WANT to. Similarly for monogamous arrangements, someone might be ABLE to love a second person, but they don't WANT to. They understand themselves well enough to know that they prefer to invest their limited time and energy into one relationship with one person.
At this point, I'd like to bring up poly-fidelitous arrangements, a sort of half-way house between monogamy and complete non-monogamy - a group of people who only have sex and romantic connection to other people within the group. To me, this actually reinforces the idea that monogamy (as a system) is a chosen system - while it's clear that these people can love more than one person (since the group is more than two) at the same time they're promising EXCLUSIVITY to each other because they, like those who choose monogamous relationships, prefer to invest their limited time and energy into those people within the group.
For all other non-monogamous arrangements, the people prefer to invest their time and energy with multiple people - I don't have to say a whole lot on this, since anyone on this site either knows, or is learning about it :)
These "belief systems" (I use quotation marks because for some people it's belief, some people know it instinctively and some people actively and consciously seek it out) are subject to the fact that we are all human and therefore make mistakes and don't always know what's best for ourselves. The changes from mono->poly or poly->mono are often brought about by shifts in our beliefs, and a greater understand of who we are. However, it's rare that you hear about people who go through the same process of introspection and/or learning but instead of changing their mind, it REINFORCES their belief in their own system. This is important to note, because I believe that each system is a totally valid way of living your life and managing your relationships, as long as you know that it's right for YOU. Any type of relationship borne out of fear and insecurity is a recipe for disaster.
Of course, polygyny was common, allowed and practiced BCE (and still is practiced in some Jewish and Muslim communities to this day).
Monogamism developed out of an idea of St Paul's that a Christian bishop should be the husband of just one wife, to ensure he didn't spread himself too thin, and have plenty of time left in the day to focus on God and his church group. This was later extrapolated out into the general public.
Unless you believe St Paul was a true prophet of YHWH, you'll see that his ruling about one man/one woman went against what his Jewish ancestors were doing, with God's apparent blessing, back in the day. YHWH's greatest prophets and heroes all had multiple wives, and still had plenty of time to hear the lord and do his bidding. :p
There is also evidence in the Bible that not only did Jewish men have multiple wives, temple "prostitutes", aka holy ones, of both genders, lived and practiced in the Jewish Temple. Also, orgies at certain holidays were an approved practice (even in the Temple courts!). I have no doubt women also had female lovers, but this isn't mentioned in the Bible, because lesbian sex can't cause pregnancy, and therefore doesn't count. :p
One of the most central issues/beliefs I have spent time on is the notion that what makes my love special is the fact is is given to one person.
I really needed to strip that away and build this belief;
My love is special. (FULLSTOP)
This was a process I had to go through for myself, it was part of reevaluting my life and my personal value to myself. It was really important for me to accept that my love is special, in and of itself.
This was a very confronting process.....as I feel quite often the value of our love is validated by the people around us. Itís often the case that other people give our love value. My aim was to remove external validation in order to explore this. I found this to be extremely confronting....initially I felt scared, very, very, scared. For a period of time, I made a conscious decision to not be in a romantic or sexual relationship in order to focus my thoughts on valuing my own love for what it is for me, not for what is was for other people. During this period I spent time studying the way I build relationships, friendships...family, work colleagues...I studied the way or style in which I care for people, I studied the way I love people....Iím not finished this process of course...
But I do firmly believe my love is special. It is special because it is special. The number of people I give it to has no bearing on itís value (yes...it may for them, I understand that part). This was one core belief that I challenged...quite a few others of course, but this one was central for sure..
Iím not quite sure Iím explaining this very well...I wanted to own my love, it is mine...I may give it to you, and it is mine to give...it will have my value...and you can attach youíre own value too...but it is essentially mine, not yours....
Now, if there is a font to slightly reduce the selfish tone in my words...Iíd apply it ;)
People believe in monogamy as a cultural tool because its been handed down to us over many many generations of both thought and physical. Its only recently that humans have had the time and resources to farm less and think about things like romance more, and for the last few thousand years its been monotheism which has dominated most of the world, who wanted to reinforce the system that bred the most people to push the darkness of the wild back, and for good reason.
De-programming oneself from one's dominant culture is not easy but it is hopefully a worthwhile pursuit for those of us that want to spend the time to examine what a life of non-dominant paradigms could potentially offer.
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