1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?
Polyamory is not polygamy. Polyamory is a dating option where people are constrained only by their freely-chosen agreements. Polygamy is marriage – enforced by social opprobrium, religion, and/or force of law. Polygamy, whether seen in countries that permit it or illegally with cults such as the FLDS, is awful for women and tends to involve treating them as property. I would of course strongly support polyamory as an alternative to polygamy. But I assume we are talking about polyamory vs monogamy. And there’s a pretty key distinction right there in the lack of marriage. Marriage is not a mere contract, where people make up their own terms and conditions. We have dating relationships like that, where two people do all the “negotiating what they think they want” just like polyamorous people do, not trying to take the millennia of accumulated wisdom that goes into marriage, not trying to make a commitment beyond “I promise I’ll tell you if I change my mind, then we can break up or renegotiate”. Those non-marriage-minded dating relationships may sometimes be analogous to poly relationships in every way except the number of people involved. Very well*. But (monogamous) marriage is much better than making up your own monoamorous relationship. Marriage is when you really have a commitment – a moment you two decide to become a pair forever. I get that divorce is possible, but it comes with social opprobrium, with religious disapproval, with bureaucratic and financial hurdles. Marriage lets people specialize – whether it’s little things like who
puts the mental effort into the bills or big things like who handles the career and who stays home for better child rearing, without fear that the other person will exit and leave you screwed. Marriage lets people not think of “what’s best for me and nice for the other person” but “what’s best for us who have become one person”. It’s a huge deal, and dating ought to be marriage tryouts. I don’t want to knock a summer fling or FWB in college or whatever helps you understand yourself and have some fun before you are ready to settle down, but settling down with one person is great enough that it should be considered an end goal for most people.
I still have an asterisk on the “sometimes” equality of non-marriage-minded monoamorous relationships and polyamorous relationships, for two reasons. First, I think many people who think at first they’ve got a freely agreed upon non-marriage-minded monoamorous relationship eventually develop stronger feelings, and turn that relationship into real dating and then into marriage. Poly people have ways to deal with that of course, but none so nice as actual monogamous marriage. Second, I think many people agree to polyamory to be able to have the partner they want, but then realize/admit they actually want that partner just for themselves and can get pretty hurt.
What would change my mind are one of a few options. First, we might see polyamory flourish in a polygamous society, and see that polygamy turn into fair marriages that don’t oppress women. Second, we might see some set of polyamorous commitment models that actually work as well as marriage, in terms of having renegotiation/dropping of a partner be as infrequent as divorce (even when the people get old), and having the health benefits for the partners be as strong as marriage’s health benefits. Third, a sufficiently large number of happily married apparently-monogamous people could come out as secretly having a polyamorous relationship larger than what their friends/coworkers knew about.
2a. A monogamous person has a crush on someone other than their partner. In a healthy relationship, what would happen next?
The word “partner” here obscures a key distinction – are they just dating, or are they married yet? If you are married, you have committed to avoiding having (realistic) crushes on other people. If it’s a star and you are just following celebrity news, seeing their shows/movies, whatever. You can tell your spouse, they can handle it, maybe they can even lean into it by choosing those movies on date nights. If it’s a person you’d see in daily life, you stop seeing them as much, avoid flirting with them at all costs, make it go away. You’ve committed to your spouse not to this new crush. If you are just dating, different story. You explicitly *haven’t* made the full commitment yet, and it’s not too late to change partners. You certainly shouldn’t cheat but you have every right to figure out if maybe the new person is someone who’d be better to spend your life with. If they are, you can certainly choose to break up and ask them out.
2b. A polyamorous person gets an STI. What typically happens next?
Even as an anti-poly person, I assume that most long-term polyamorous people handle this maturely. They got an STI through sex that was permitted within the negotiated relationship. They tell every partner they could plausibly have infected. Those partners get tested, and don’t have sex with any of *their* partners until it comes back negative or unless they inform those partners and those partners nevertheless agree that sex is worth the risk. I assume there’s a majority among the newly-polyamorous and a minority among the long-term polyamorous who would have contracted that STI via cheating. I draw this distinction (long-term vs new) because I think a number of people seek polyamory to justify their inability to turn down sex, but that those people presumably eventually get kicked out of poly communities. Probably a large minority of those cheaters do not handle it maturely, hide the STD, and hope their partners don’t get it or don’t find out it was them.
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.)
Given human nature as it exists, there’s no possibility a majority of people could become polyamorous. There’s a reason, for instance, children of polyamorous parents generally choose monogamy for themselves. If 90% of people magically became polyamorous and constitutionally capable of polyamory, after a nasty transition period we would come up with much more polyamory-friendly norms. We’d practice non-jealousy as a skill as well as increased communication about emotions and relationships – possibly starting in middle school. Indeed, at the school age level this aspect would probably be healthier as a practice. We would see an end to marriage in the legal system or as a mainstream social norm – only particularly religious folks would marry if it wasn’t a norm, even if they preferred to stick with one person.
There would be some major societal issues with this. Close to 50% of polyamorous adults today and 50% of adults today have kids, so it wouldn’t just be the married folks having kids. Families would have reduced social stability, reduced economic stability, and more adults-who-aren’t-quite-parents coming through. We’d see the same problems we see today with unmarried parents: lower educational attainment, lower lifetime productivity and income, higher crime rates, higher child abuse rates. This would be a societal disaster. Unable to rely on one’s family to the same extent, we would see an increased role of the state in providing a social safety net. As usual, the upper-middle-class would be less impacted as their practice of polyamory would tend to be a much more stable variety just as they practice other social and marital arrangements in more stable fashion.