1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?
The cornerstone of most of my opinions about what lifestyles are and aren’t good for people is this:
People are different from each other.
People are different from each other.
People are different from each other.
People! are! different! from! each! other!
This is perhaps a bit much but – I do feel that usually when people think a certain lifestyle is Good For People, or Bad For People, without specifying which people it’s good or bad for, it is because they are seriously typical-minding and failing to appreciate the extent to which people are actually, really, truly different from each other and need different things.
In particular, different people need different things out of their relationships. Re: poly in particular:
– Some people are obligate poly.
– The possible pitfalls of poly are a less big deal for some than for others.
– The benefits of poly are more important to some than to others.
– Therefore even for people who are not obligate poly the trade-offs may work out in favor of poly.
Some reasons people may be obligate poly:
– Unusual needs, such as a rare but important kink or asexuality, may be hard to optimize for in looking for a primary partner at the same time that you’re filtering for all the other important things people want in a primary. If you’re instead okay with exploring that kink with someone other than your primary, or with your primary meeting their sexual needs with someone else if you are not interested in sex, that opens up a lot more options.
– (There’s also a less stark, more generally applicable version of that – if you’re not trying to optimize for all things at once, you can optimize better for each individual thing and get more of your needs met overall.)
– Some people may have a really high sex drive which is difficult to satisfy with one partner, or be too extroverted for just one relationship, or need more support than one partner can provide. (The last two can be satisfied by friendships sometimes, but for some people it works better to have more partners.)
– Some people find their mind just fits better with a poly conception of what relationships are – for example, they naturally fall in love with multiple people in a way where the different feelings don’t take away from each other, and/or they find “cheating” to be an alien concept that doesn’t feel in any way natural or intuitive or important to them.
– Some people feel a strong need for freedom of a sort where if their partner was preventing them from having certain kinds of relationships with other people they would feel strongly infringed upon.
Also, just empirically, it does seem that some people are way happier when poly than when they try to be monogamous.
People also vary in how big a deal the possible downsides of poly are to them.
– Jealousy: I think it’s true that some people pretty much always feel very strong jealousy if their partner is intimate with someone else, and those people should not be poly. However, based on my experience and the experiences of my poly friends I’ve talked to about this, this is by no means universal. Some people rarely if ever experience romantic or sexual jealousy, or at least not more often than other kinds (e.g. about their friends being friends with other people, which one obviously shouldn’t prevent). It seems fairly common to experience jealousy only in situations where one’s needs in a given relationship aren’t being met (and “monogamy” isn’t ordinarily one of those needs); this is probably not possible to fully prevent forever, but it can be mostly avoided and addressed by addressing the underlying needs (or ending a relationship if that relationship is chronically failing to meet those needs). In these cases jealousy is not a major downside of poly.
– Time/energy limitations: For one thing, people vary in how introverted/extroverted they are, how busy they are, how much energy they have, etc., so it makes sense that different people would have different optimal numbers of partners. For another, relationships can also sometimes *save* you time and energy, since partners tend to help each other with stuff. Also, though, a lot of the time secondary relationships can look pretty similar to close friendships in terms of the emotional energy they take to maintain? It does seem like people with a network of secondary relationships might be likely to have more close connections of this sort than people who just have one partner and some number of friends, but – I think the problem there is on the latter side actually? It’s sadly common in our modern atomized society for people to have significantly fewer close connections than they want or need, and to the extent that dating more people causes one to have more such connections, in at least the culture I live in that’s usually at the margin a good thing.
And there are things that poly does better, and people vary in how much those matter to them.
– Freedom, exploration, abundance: Poly lets you explore more facets of your sexuality. If you’re bi and you get different things out of being with people of different genders, being poly lets you keep those different things in your life. If you like types of sex your primary partner dislikes, it doesn’t mean you never get to do those things. Also – all relationships are different from each other; in each one, you can learn and grow differently and discover new parts of yourself – so having more relationships means you can grow in more directions and learn more about yourself over time.
– Flexibility: At least at current margins, I think poly people are as a group somewhat better at negotiating different ways relationships can work rather than relying on an assumed-shared script, and I think a lot of people benefit from that flexibility in figuring out what works best for them.
– My understanding is that cheating is actually rather common in relationships that are supposed to be monogamous? And while actual monogamy can work well for a lot of people, intentional consensual poly is pretty much strictly better than monogamy with cheating, which I think is sometimes what it in practice trades off against. It seems like a lot of conflict and drama sometimes come out of the possibility (or actual fact) of cheating in monogamous relationships, which with at least some kinds of poly would be non-issues?
So, putting that all together, it makes sense that for a lot of people poly will be the right side of the tradeoff.
What would change my mind: I guess, most obviously, well-conducted surveys showing that polyamorous people are generally substantially less happy with their relationships than monogamous people. Also if continued informal observation of my mono vs. poly friends seemed to show that the latter had much more relationship problems (that weren’t balanced by greater satisfaction/fulfillment).
2. (b) A monogamous person has a crush on someone other than their partner. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
The answer to any question in this genre should start with “talk about it”.
If it’s a very minor crush, talking about it can just be a brief “this person’s really cute!!”; it might in fact not even merit mentioning (though it shouldn’t be a dynamic where you feel the need to hide this fact). If it’s more notable, probably you should mention it.
It’s very important that the other partner be nonjudgmental about this! Even assuming the crush is unwanted, it is counterproductive and inappropriate to make you ashamed of your feelings – you haven’t done anything wrong, feelings aren’t volitional. And becoming ashamed about your feelings tends to if anything strengthen those feelings’ hold on your mind.
Depending on the situation, it may make sense to take steps to avoid feeding the crush. Be careful here – it would not do to just completely stop interacting with a close friend for this reason, and if e.g. you work together, avoiding the person entirely won’t be feasible or wise. But if there are some activities that particularly feed the crush – say, if you cuddle with them sometimes, or if you are not particularly close to them but you often hang out with them one on one – you might want to stop those (forever or for a while, depending on the situation). Allegedly some people can discourage a crush by thinking about the person’s flaws, might be worth trying that?
It’s also a good idea to make time for activities with your partner that encourage you to feel romantic and excited feelings about them – romantic dates, cuddling, sex, whatever other things make you appreciate how much you love them.
(e) 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?
In most circumstances, you go to the hospital. (You can pretty much model this as having a close friend in the hospital.)
If I try to construct a case where you maybe wouldn’t, it’s something like – there are enough other people who can provide support (though perhaps this is ruled out by “needs support” in the question wording?) AND the date is something unusually scarce like going to see Hamilton or something.
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.)
I think probably it’s not the case that 90% of people are preferentially poly, so probably this would be a poly-normative society where monogamy is a distinctly countercultural choice that not everyone even knows about – the mirror image of our current society, in which rather more people are monogamous than should be. (I do not think we should do this.)
So you’d probably get the problem that some people would find themselves in poly relationships who really shouldn’t be. They’d get jealous of their partners’ other dates and might be really sad about it but might not even have the concept that they could be filtering potential partners on willingness to date/have sex with only them, which seems quite bad! Though assuming a reasonable amount of freedom in this society, I expect that at least some people who are burned badly enough by poly would reinvent monogamy or something like it.
That said, I think a lot of people (most?) could be pretty happy either way.
People would get to explore more facets of their sexuality. Maybe more people would find out that they’re bi. Possibly people would spend more total time on sex/romance, which could be a positive or a negative depending on what that’s funging against.
In our present world, infidelity is a common reason for relationship problems and breakups/divorces. In this imagined world, I expect this would happen much less – not that non-monogamous relationships can’t have rules that can be broken, but even when such rules exist they prohibit fewer things than monogamy does, and also given a wide variety of poly relationship models people would be less likely to agree to restrictions they’re unhappy with, compared to our society in which many people are monogamous by default having never considered anything else.
It’s actually hard to tell if this change would increase or decrease the stability of primary relationships. On the one hand, people might be more likely to fall in love with someone else and want to switch primaries. On the other, if cheating is less of a thing, then fewer relationships will be blown up by it; also, people may be more accepting of some kinds of changes in their primary relationships (e.g. their spouse realizing they’re ace actually) if they can get some needs met in secondary ones.
There’d be less of the “toxic monogamy-on-steroids culture” thing you sometimes get in some places where people excessively police their partners’ interactions with people they might be attracted to. The Mike Pence rule would be much less likely to be a thing at all.
Such a society might have less excessive atomization/loneliness – polycules seem to often be pretty good support networks. This could be particularly good for raising kids – if you can get, like, five people involved in taking care of a newborn instead of two, that might actually be almost enough for everyone to not get instantly overwhelmed, maybe.
Overall I think that while 90% poly is probably not the right balance, I cautiously think it seems better than the equivalent mono-normative world? At least that’s the case if we assume a lot of flexibility as to specific type of poly relationship. Given a wide variety of setups, people would be overall more likely to find a setup that works for them. I also think it’s plausible that the decreased-atomization effect would dominate and such a world would be better than ours primarily just for that reason.