When I talk about polyamory and other forms of honest, egalitarian non-monogamy, what negative responses I get can generally be sorted into three categories. There’s “I think that’s morally/spiritually wrong,” there’s “I don’t think it can ever really work,” and there’s “I value monogamy for myself, and I think non-monogamy undermines it.” This post addresses the third category: it’s for people who are vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of non-monogamous relationships, because they themselves want a monogamous relationship and the feel like maybe their potential for relationships will be undermined if non-monogamy is widely accepted.
They have a bit of a point. If, ten or twenty years from now, polyamory, open relationships, and everything in between are socially accepted and widely understood, then people who don’t really want a monogamous relationship will be removed from the monogamous dating pool. The likelihood (for someone who wants a monogamous relationship) of meeting someone you really like, connect really well with, but who doesn’t want to get married and have a single partner for the rest of their lives goes up. And that will suck for the monos.
But there’s a flip side, and it’s this: people who don’t really want a monogamous relationship will be removed from the monogamous dating pool. Which means that people who really want to enjoy new partners occasionally, people who can’t cope with the occasional dry spells of married life, and people who can fall deeply in love with one person while remaining deeply in love with someone else, are less likely to end up married to a hard-core naturally monogamous person. Which is better for everybody concerned.
It should be obvious that the “monogamy is natural for humans” argument and the “if people are free to be non-monogamous, it’ll undermine monogamy” argument are mutually exclusive. If monogamy is natural for humans, most of them will choose it even if non-monogamy is a socially acceptable option. Trying to make both arguments at once only works if you hold some kind of “what you want is bad for you” worldview. In this area, I don’t. I’ve seen too many healthy, caring, mature people in various kinds of non-monogamous relationships — I’ve dated several of them — to do anything but scoff at the idea that non-monogamy is somehow intrinsically unhealthy, selfish, or immature.
Of course mono/poly relationships can work too, if both partners are committed to working hard and extending beyond what feels natural to them for the sake of their beloved. But accidental, unaware, unhappy mono/poly relationships are tragic to me. People who got married because they loved their partner and that’s what you do when you love someone, but who desperately want the freedom to also explore other relationships; people who have tunnel-vision when they’re in love and are heartbroken because they think their partner’s ability to look at other people means they don’t really love them; both these kinds of people would benefit from understanding non-monogamy as a valid lifestyle choice, and making an informed decision about what kind of relationship to have, and what kind of person to have it with.