[ANNOUNCEMENT FROM OZY: about half the participants are anti-poly and half the participants are pro-poly. So far, the voters have declared 11 of the posts to be written by pro-poly people. I have made this announcement in case voters had an inaccurate belief about how many participants are pro-poly because of my previous announcement that anti-poly people were underrepresented. If the comment section is full of people who are like “oh shit! now that I know that the field is not overwhelmingly pro-poly, I’m going to change my vote,” I shall put up a google form after the ‘pro’ section is done.]
1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?
The quick version is roughly: Society should have a strong commitment to autonomy and consent. In some areas, such as platonic friendship, society has somewhat healthy attitudes. In others, such as romance and sexuality, society has a very unhealthy attitude. We should treat sex and romance more like how we treat friendship. But in general society’s commitments to these ideals are not nearly strong enough. Default monogamy is downstream of unhealthy attitudes in general. So it is important to discuss more than just relationships.
It is also important to be clear on what we mean. Actually defining ‘polyamory’ is not obvious. Aella has a good article where she talks about a spectrum of uniamory vs multiamory.
- 0. Exclusively uniamorous; all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed; no flirting, sexting, nude photos; can include forbidding being alone for too long with other people or ‘leading them on’; usually uncomfortable with watching porn or expressing attraction to others
- 1. Predominantly uniamorous, only incidentally multiamorous; all obvious extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but leniency for flirting or engaging in light touch. Acceptance of expressing attraction to others and porn use.
- 2. Predominantly uniamorous, but more than incidentally multiamorous. Most extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but with strong leniency; can include approval of nude photos, kissing and light petting, or attending sex/nude/kink parties (as a couple, without interacting with others). Most camgirl’s partners fall within this category.
- 3. Equally multiamorous and uniamorous: Includes swinging, having threesomes, and occasionally allowance of very casual/occasional extrarelationship interactions, but with disallowance of any serious or regular extrarelationship interactions.
- 4. Predominantly multiamorous, but more than incidentally uniamorous: general extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with several rules, such as strongly enforced relationship hierarchy, and can include regulations of number of partners allowed, the frequency of their interactions, or moderate restrictions on their sexual activities
- 5. Predominantly multiamorous, only incidentally uniamorous: the majority of extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with few rules; can include light prescriptive hierarchy or minimal regulation of sexual behavior.
- 6. Exclusively multiamorous: all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed; no rules or requirements are instituted, and no prescriptive hierarchy is instated.
By ‘polyamory’ I mean levels 4-6, though I am not a big fan of many styles described by level 4. Importantly the number of people you choose to date is not relevant to my, or Aella’s, conception of poly/multi-amory. The question is what is allowed.
For the majority of people, I think the healthiest relationship style is described by level 5. You should respect your partner’s autonomy as much as possible and only accept limited and pragmatic restrictions. Most people agree with this until we get to sex, kissing, and cuddling. Their ethics have a bunch of unprincipled exceptions. In a healthy society, healthy relationships would mostly be level 6. In general we should treat romance much more like how we treat friendship.
You don’t get to decide with whom your partner is friends. Maybe it’s reasonable to decide as a couple that you are going to watch new episodes of Game of Thrones together when they air. But you cannot declare that they are only allowed to watch television with you.
Why would you want to limit your partner’s autonomy? Every time you do this you are crushing their ability to flourish. You are preventing them from experiencing growth, joy, connection, and love. Every relationship you prevent in the name of defending your own insecurity represents an irreparable loss. We can never get the love that would have grown back. The world’s history will forever be less beautiful and kind.
Sadly we have to exist under capitalism. Under capitalism, the concept of ‘people who are romantically entwined commit to each other and share finances’ is a useful one. Normies tend to call this marriage but it is more general. I am in such a relationship, and we are getting legally married in a few months. If you are only sharing finances with one person, there is an obvious sense in which all your other relationships are lower in importance. It is also probably pragmatic to have some restriction on who your ‘primary’ partners have children with. So I do accept some restrictions. However, in a healthy socialist society, neither of these restrictions would make any sense. There would be no finances to share. And there would be no practical reason to want to control with whom your partners had children. Children would always be taken care of well and not considered the de facto property of their parents.
It is also obvious from first-hand experience that polyamory can work amazingly well. Lots of anti-poly people like to cite child-raising as a reason to reject polyamory. But the healthiest families of which I know are poly. Children are much better off when they have a variety of adult friends who respect them. And parents are much better off when they have people who can help them out. I can only imagine how difficult and lonely it must be to raise children in an isolated nuclear family. Obviously, non-poly people can get help from their families. But many people move away from family and lots of biological families are extremely toxic.
To be clear I am not in favor of forcing people to be poly. People always have the right to enforce any boundaries they want. It is very hard to unlearn social conditioning. Capitalist society teaches people scarcity mindset and to see others as threats. This leads to them being taught to be jealous. Not everyone can unlearn their jealousy. But the healthiest relationships for the vast majority of people are polyamorous.
As I said I am pragmatic. The most convincing plausible evidence would be if my poly friends mostly decided they could no longer make it work. I would still have a commitment to freedom and autonomy. But I would be forced to conclude we need to build a better world before we promote polyamory widely.
2a. A monogamous person is jealous of their partner (for example, because they’re afraid their partner has a romantic interest in someone else). In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
I will talk about romantic jealousy in the next answer. I will assume this is normal jealousy. For example, you are jealous that your brother and sister play a ton of basketball with each other but don’t play much with you. In this case, you should talk to them and express how you feel. Open communication can resolve many issues.
There are two major principles I would keep in mind. One is that your siblings probably don’t want to hurt you. But the other principle is that your siblings are their own people and have the right to play Basketball without you. The same principles apply to romantic relationships.
2b. A monogamous person has a crush on someone other than their partner. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
A truly healthy relationship is unlikely to be monogamous. There is really no good way to handle this. Presumably, both parties entered into this relationship with the understanding they would remain monogamous. If this is a committed relationship that needs to be weighed heavily. Of course, I will still suggest open communication. Most crushes don’t develop into anything that serious and many mono relationships can handle open expression of crushes. But if you impose a condition of monogamy the interests of both parties in the relationship are no longer really aligned. If this crush develops at least one partner will get hurt. Being on different teams from your partner is not fun. Avoid being monogamous if possible.
2c. A polyamorous person gets an STI. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
This is controversial but I do think your partners should be informed of your STIs. This is true despite the fact that most people overate how dangerous STIs are.
2d. A polyamorous person hates their partner’s other partner (their metamour). In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
They have the right to avoid the metamour if possible. Or they can try to find a way to hate them less. But in general you should not have to spend much time with people you hate.
2e. A polyamorous person has a date scheduled with their primary partner, but their secondary partner is in the hospital with an emergency and needs support. in a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
They should support their partner in the hospital! The same would hold if their friend was in the hospital. Just text your primary and explain what happened.
3) What would happen if 90% of people in a society were polyamorous? (You may assume they all practice one style of polyamory, or different styles.)
This feels like it overlaps quite a lot with question one. Based on my answer to question one, you can guess my first thought is ‘people would be happier and free.’
But I can go into a little more detail. One major difference is that people would have way more of their emotional and sexual desires met. Many people have kinks they don’t share with their otherwise wonderful partners. Or they have desires to date people of multiple different genders. Normalizing poly would also be a godsend for people who are asexual and aromantic. Romance and sex are tied into various economic and social institutions (like dating and marriage). This results in ace individuals being put in situations where they are pressured into social and sexual acts to which they don’t enthusiastically consent (or worse!). These consent violations are a very predictable consequence of a default-monogamous society.
Default monogamy is actually part of a larger system. In this system, we expect other people to censor their desires and pretend to consent. I will give two examples that illustrate the wider system: Pressuring friends who are on a diet into eating things like birthday cake is tolerated and often praised. If the friend objects too strongly, they can even get accused of ruining the fun! Children are forced to hug and kiss their relatives. If the children don’t comply enthusiastically, we are taught to consider the children rude. In this system, not only is it ok to pressure people, overtly resisting the pressure can be considered a norm violation!
The same principles apply to monogamy. We are taught not only to demand our partners remain ‘loyal’ to us but that our partners should hide their true feelings. If they express a crush on someone else we are supposed to be jealous. If we could engage with our partners openly and honestly we would see there is no reason to be jealous. Even if they have other partners and other desires that aren’t fundamentally a threat to us getting our needs met. But we are indoctrinated to do the opposite.
I hope a society that had dismantled the system of default monogamy would have dismantled many other systems of indoctrination. In particular, I hope it would be much better about enthusiastic consent and bodily autonomy.