1. Why do you believe what you believe? What would change your mind?
You know the weirdest thing to me about this whole contest, about the entire framework the questions were asked in?
It doesn’t say a single word about kids. Not a question. Not even an optional prompt. The framing assumes an attitude towards relationships that is wholly foreign to me, and one I confess I don’t like: a focus on relationships as emotional support for the partners involved more than as a deliberately restrictive structure designed to create a healthy environment for future children. The level of attention paid to sex in conversations like this is similarly odd to me. Yeah, it matters, but there are so many more important things to talk about in my eyes.
I run the risk of coming off as a crank conservative here, I know. I won’t waste time establishing my liberal credentials. I grew up embedded in a traditional religion, and even though I left it and can now be fairly categorized as a secular liberal, liberalism is a second language to me. Its defaults are not my defaults. I know exactly how well my defaults worked for the people in my life. I recall two times in my life I saw my parents fight, neither at all serious. It just didn’t happen. I can count on one hand the people I knew until my mid-teenage years who didn’t come from monogamous, two-parent homes that at least looked healthy from my angle. And the whole while, I read online and noticed a) that the rest of society made fun of our approach, and b) that the rest of society seemed to have deep-rooted dysfunction, completely foreign to me. Because of this, every time someone proposes that those defaults are wrong and something else is better, I take a lot to be convinced.
As a gay man myself, I’m not going to tell anyone they can’t live in the way they feel is right for them. In particular, I think thoughtful, smart, pro-social people can make just about any arrangement work, and polyamory is hardly the strangest or most difficult. But positive structures are hard to create and easy to destroy, and entropy always looms. No matter how sincere and careful the people spreading the norms are, if those norms hint at hedonism, ease, and lack of structure, those are the parts most likely to trickle down and gain mass hold. A few happy, functional, pro-social polyamorous couples–stable, nice, and I wish them the best. A widespread norm of polyamory, though, is something I would expect to encourage a focus away from families as restrictive societal building blocks to relationships as hedonistic fulfillment of personal pleasure. Those two goals both have positive elements, but they are always in tension, and I value the first and want to live in a society that values it as well. This can be partially reduced to a tension between breadth and depth. By analogy, experts in a field can access aspects of human experience impossible to amateurs, and longtime residents in an area will build connections, memories, and understanding that necessarily elude tourists. An individual has plenty of depth, and long-term relationships offer an opportunity to build each other and raise others in a way that is fundamentally inaccessible with flings. This isn’t impossible in polyamory, but I believe it is more likely for someone focused only on depth to find the value there than for someone torn between breadth and depth.
Changing my mind here would mostly require seeing social scientists in the field landing on answers that contradict their own biases. I’m continually frustrated when I jump into social science research, see it reach a conclusion that strikes me as alien and bizarre (like “religious conservatives have higher divorce rates than others”), then dive in and realize the data says basically the opposite but the researcher massages it until they can technically get something that, if you squinted, looks like it supports their claim. Real example! I’d want to see socially conservative researchers find positive (or non-negative) social effects from polyamory before shifting my expectations substantially–or at least a project with a credible social conservative voice attached, even if they weren’t spearheading it. On a personal level, I see nothing that would convince me polyamory was right for me. It’s a firm dealbreaker.
2. Responses to scenarios
The prompt lists a number of scenarios, where all of the answers boil down more-or-less to “be generally decent and communicate openly.” Partner is jealous in a monogamous relationship? Talk through it. Affirm your commitment to them. Be trustworthy and trust them back. Have a crush on someone other than your partner? Well, committed love is hardly about crushes. Mention it if you feel the need, but if you’ve reached the point of serious monogamous commitment, you should have a lot more than a crush attaching you to your partner, more of a willingness to mutually build meaning than straightforward romantic feelings. Not that the romantic feelings for each other shouldn’t be cherished and sought after, but they’re just not the point.
In polyamorous relationships, I expect there would typically be similar open conversation in the case of something like an STI or tension between metamours. People are people. Most are decent most of the time. It would occasionally cause tremendous drama, and I expect one of your partners hating another would often lead to one breakup or another if they saw no way to make amends, but mostly it would just be the sort of hurdle that crops up naturally and can be dealt with reasonably in a relationship. And a date versus a hospital visit? Really, I’d be shocked if I had a friend in the hospital who needed focus and my partner wanted me to put a date above that. Given a closer relationship, the decision for both should only be clearer: visit the other partner in the hospital, find another time for the date. I would only add that time-dividing like that is part of the breadth-depth tradeoff I mention above, but in a case like that it’s not more than a passing concern.
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.)
If 90% of people in a society were polyamorous, the main difference I would expect is a massive nosedive in the number of children around. I’m also reminded of an xkcd comic I’m sure every polyamorous person is tired of seeing. People are complicated. Sex is complicated. Adding more people and more sex makes things more complicated. Society as it stands is already much more focused on sex than I’m natively used to, but I do expect that depth of focus on sex would increase given more polyamory. Many would prefer that, I imagine. I personally wouldn’t. The same goes for a broader feeling of hedonism. Since one-man, many-woman polygamous structures have proven viable long-term, I imagine looser polyamorous ones could find some sort of equilibrium as well, but I admit I have a hard time picturing a 90% polyamorous society not either shifting in the direction of de-facto monogamy or simply collapsing and reorganizing out of necessity.