“Having the capacity to feel romantic attraction for multiple people is polyamory, even if you are not acting on it.” does it follow that monogamous ppl don’t have the capacity to feel romantic attraction for multiple ppl at once? I thought being poly was about choosing to act on that attraction, and mono was choosing not to?
This is a topic that blows up my blog every time I get questions about it, and I’m tired of it, but I think it’s really important that we in the polyamorous community work things out so we don’t hurt ourselves, each other, or anyone else.
Dan Savage and the book Sex At Dawn put forward the argument that monogamy is unnatural and purely a social construction; so all humans are inherently polyamorous and being monogamous means choosing to not act on our natural attraction to other people. So that is one way of thinking about it. I don’t believe that, but many people do.
In an old column, Dan Savage tells one person that they cannot have “poly” as an identity. (He does not similarly correct people who identify as “a furry” or “a kinkster” - he reserves this identity and language policing for people who see polyamory as an identity.) When someone on twitter pointed out that this “it’s a choice whether or not to give in to that desire, not an inherent identity” rhetoric sounds similar to what we hear from anti-gay bigots, he doubled down on his insistence that polyamory is simply not an identity. Dan Savage is welcome to his perspective, but I do not appreciate his claim that his perspective is the only correct one and thus gives him the authority to invalidate the identity of anyone who experiences their polyamory or their monogamy as anything besides a choice.
Personally, I think that polyamory and monogamy can be different ways of being, along a spectrum much like the Kinsey Scale. Or, it can be a choice. Some people are happiest and most fulfilled in monogamous relationships. Some people are happiest and most fulfilled in polyamorous relationships. Some people could make either one work. For some people, it feels like an identity; for others, it is a disciplined choice. Dan Savage is clearly in that second camp, which is fine, but the issue is he believes that everyone else is as well, and so he has the right to tell people their experience of their identity isn’t accurate. It’s important, I feel, not to silence or deny people’s experiences of themselves, even if they don’t line up with our own.
It’s also important to recognize that we get a lot of messages about monogamy from the time we are born, so it’s disingenuous to act like there’s some neurological structure in every person’s brain that’s either shaped like POLY or shaped like MONO. Many people have traumas, internalized images or expectations about love, specific fears or insecurities, or other things that make them more or less able to be happy and fulfilled in a poly or a mono relationship. We are not all these blank slates that, according to evolutionary psychology, can all just jump into nonmonogamy.
It is critical that we in the polyamorous community honor and respect monogamy and monogamous people. If you believe that everyone is actually capable of polyamory, deep down, and all it takes is education and overcoming some assumptions to totally be okay in a poly relationship, you risk badgering and pressuring people in ways that are not appropriate, and disrespecting their feelings and relationships. If someone identifies as monogamous, fine. If someone identifies as polyamorous, fine. If someone believes that it’s not an inherent identity but rather a choice to either act on or resist certain urges, fine. What’s not fine is to insist that your internal experience generalizes to everyone’s, and so people who have a different perspective than you must be wrong.
I get a lot of messages from people on this blog who deeply feel that their polyamory is a part of who they are and not something they can simply choose to give up. I get a lot of messages from people on this blog who deeply feel that their monogamy is a part of who they are and not something they can simply opt out of. There is a lot of pain and grief in these messages. I hear from lots of people who desperately want to think themselves into polyamory or choose themselves into monogamy, but can’t. I also think that this “polyamory and monogamy are choices anyone can make” rhetoric creates a lot of hurt, because people think “if my partner truly loved me enough, they’d be able to choose polyamory or act monogamously for me, but they won’t make that choice for me - I’m not good enough, I’m not worth it, they refuse to do that for me.” But I hear from people who do love their partners, fiercely and deeply, and if they could make that choice, they would - but something in them cannot change.
So I believe, based on my experience and the reports of others, that healthy polyamory is not an option available to everyone; and healthy monogamy is not an option available to everyone. For some people, both are options! For some people, it’s not really an “option.” Turns out, there are lots of ways to be a person. There are lots of ways to be in relationships. There are lots of ways to conceptualize your identity and your choices. Remember that your perspective isn’t the only one out there. Someone doing things differently from you doesn’t invalidate you; and it doesn’t mean you should go and invalidate them.