[epistemic status: trolling]

So, let’s assume there is some percentage of the population (call them “obligate mono”) who really, really want a monogamous relationship. And let’s say there’s some percentage of the population (call them “obligate poly”) who really, really want a poly relationship. There are probably more obligate mono people than obligate poly people, on account of they managed to get the entirety of society to agree to make their relationship goals mandatory. Call it three times more obligate mono.

However, there is a much larger percentage of the population (call them “undetermined”) who can be happy in either a polyamorous relationship or a monogamous relationship. This group is probably larger than the obligate monos and the obligate polys put together. This is based on my own experiences: before I was in the rationalist community, I found new partners by hitting on people who, in their past relationships, had been happily monogamous; not only did I only once get turned down because someone preferred monogamy (despite its obvious advantage as a face-saving tool), I also never experienced any problems from accidentally dating a mono person. I might be subconsciously selecting for poly-open people, but I’m not that good.

So let’s say sixty percent undetermined, thirty percent monogamous, ten percent poly.

The interesting thing is that undetermined people aren’t really undetermined- not most of them, anyway. Shifting an undetermined person from mono to poly, or from poly to mono, involves breaking up all of their current relationships– a hefty price to pay, particularly on the first date. And cowboying and cheating are both considered pretty bad behavior in their respective communities– not to mention being pretty unappealing gambles for the person considering them.

Therefore, obligate poly and (single) obligate mono people inevitably find themselves with competing interests: fighting for the pool of undetermined people. We can see this in the number of monogamous people who complain loudly about everyone in their social circles being poly, and the number of poly people who would complain loudly about everyone in their social circles being mono, except that you can’t do that because then you’re Saying Polyamory Is Superior To Monogamy and Don’t You Know You’re Not Allowed To Do That, Only Monogamous People Are Allowed To Say That Their Preferred Relationship Style Is Superior. Usually, this winds up soundly in favor of the obligate mono people, since there are far more of them.

But if a community (let’s call it, just as an example, the “rationalist community”) happens by chance to have a higher number of poly members– even as small a minority as twenty or thirty percent– they get a chance to take over and grab all the undetermined people.

This is, obviously, unfortunate for obligate mono people. But the situation of an obligate mono person in a highly poly community is worse than the situation of an obligate poly person in a highly mono community, for two reasons. First, currently monogamous people have the grace to remove themselves from the dating pool: the poly person in a highly mono dating community finds themselves with poly people (both obligate and undetermined), undetermined people, and the odd single obligate mono person. Currently poly people are not nearly so polite, and the obligate mono person finds himself picking through poly person after poly person.

Second, the poly network is self-perpetuating. If an undetermined person breaks up with their monogamous partner, they’re back on the market and can be poly or mono. If an undetermined person breaks up with their poly partner, they… probably have two or three other partners that mean they’re going to stay poly. A poly network can stay poly even if no one in the network is obligate poly. A community that has more obligate mono people than obligate poly people can stay primarily polyamorous because of quirks of the community’s founders. This is, to put it lightly, suboptimal.

Is the solution, then, stigmatizing polyamory?

The problem with stigmatizing polyamory is that obligate mono people really, really don’t want obligate poly people in their dating pool. Obligate mono people are so distressed by their partners cheating on them that some of them have murdered their partners over it. Since many people who cheat want multiple partners, if all the obligate poly people date each other, the obligate mono people are at much lower risk of experiencing this pain. Stigma is a blunt instrument; what we need is something that separates the obligate poly people from the undetermined people.

The solution is obvious.

Baby, we were born this way.

Present polyamory as something genetic, something set before you’re born. We managed to do it for homosexuality despite it being literally less genetic than how nice a person you are, so the facts won’t get in the way. Present obligate poly people as a tiny minority who discover who they are in adolescence. The people who don’t discover that they’re poly will assume they were just born monogamous, like everyone else, and become happy monogamous people.

Some undetermined people may notice that they can be happy in both mono and poly relationships. It might be wise to stigmatize being undetermined. The stigma against bisexuals is instructive here. Teach everyone to consider them fakers, unable to make up their minds, just trying out polyamory for some sexy thrills before they leave you for their real monogamous relationship. Undetermined people might have their own stereotypes: for instance, mono people might stigmatize them as cheaters, and poly people as having crappy communication skills because they can get away with that in monogamous relationships.

But even if being undetermined is destigmatized, most people don’t notice that they can be happy in a poly relationship until they try it and like it. The most important thing is to hide that fact: to tell people that you have to know you’re poly, that you can’t try it out. The relatively few people who are self-aware to notice are no threat compared to the number of people who might like it if they tried it. As long as that happens, poly people will be a minority in all communities not specifically aimed at us, and both obligate mono and obligate poly people will be happy.