March 18th, 2011 – By Toya Sharee
If you’ve ever tuned in to the TLC network’s reality show “Sister Wives” then you’ve witnessed the trials and tribulations that can occur when one person’s love and affection has to be equally distributed between four in a marriage. It’s hard enough to maintain a healthy relationship between two people, so you can only imagine the drama that can ensue when the complex emotions of three other people are added to the mix.
On top of love and affection that have to be shared, there’s also the investment of time and energy that can be hard enough to set aside for one person, let alone four. Kody Brown, the head of the “Sister Wives” polygamist household, finds time to make sure each of his four wives is satisfied, although sometimes jealousy and resentment try to get in the way.
Although monogamy is a widely accepted relationship style across mankind, within the animal kingdom…not so much. While 90% of birds engage in social monogamy, only 7% of mammals are quick to mate for life. Is monogamy something that is as widely practiced as most would like to believe, or merely the ideal relationship we all hope to achieve?
Some women dream of a life of settling down after a few years of random hookups free from the pressure of commitment and lessons learned from failed relationships. Other women were picking out wedding dresses, drapes, and diaper bags long before their first kiss. What ends up true for most of us though, is that we kiss a couple frogs before we get our prince and our dating behavior is more consistent with serial monogamy, than it is traditional monogamy. Traditional monogamy is a mutually consensual relationship where one’s primary partner is the only person with whom they engage in sexual activity with throughout their entire life. Serial monogamy is the belief that you should only have one lover at a given time.
The confusion comes when partners aren’t on one accord about the relationship. When does monogamy start and end? Is monogamy limited to sexual activity or does infidelity include sharing mental and emotional relations as well? What is the difference between polyamory and an open- relationship? Who the hell would want to even be in a polyamorous relationship? The only experts that are qualified to give the answers to these questions are the partners within the relationship. They set and define the guidelines in the relationships by clear and effective communication.
When most people think of polyamory, they picture a situation like “Sister Wives” or the popular show “Big Love” where the affection of one man is shared by several women in a living situation. In actuality, polyamory is best described as people who are in more than one relationship that are on-going, regardless of gender. By this definition, you could have several men sharing the love of one woman. Or several partners sharing eachother’s affection. This is different from polygamy which is when one has more than one spouse at a time. Polygyny is the practice of having more than one wife at a time and what most Americans are witnessing more and more through shows like “Sister Wives” . Less common is polyandry which is the practice of having more than one husband at a time.
The difference between the lifestyles listed above and infidelity is the amount of knowledge held by the partners. Infidelity usually occurs when one partner has little or no knowledge that the other is sharing time, affection, emotion or participating in sexual relations with someone else. It’s when one person feels the relationship is exclusive and the other isn’t acting accordingly. It’s important that partners communicate about the boundaries of the relationship and are honest and realistic about it’s future, whether that includes the next year or only the next day.
More and more Americans are choosing traditionally unconventional relationship styles and customizing them in a way that directly compliments and enhances their lifestyles. Many of them find themselves in a daily defense against labels and stereotypes that are often associated with any relationship style that doesn’t involve commitment to one person wrapped in a wedding bow. Here are a few myths and facts to help you look past the judging and focus on the loving:
1. Myth: The main goal of dating for most people is to eventually find the person they will marry.
Fact: Dating is a social practice that allows people to interact and get to know one another; marriage is not always the intended goal. Marriage is not necessarily for everyone. People are often happier romantically when they realize if this is true for them and act accordingly instead of settling for society’s standards. Marriage is a religious sacrament, civil union and a legal union recognized by the state. “If he liked it then he would’ve put a ring on it?” Not necessarily. The practice has both benefits and disadvantages and not all people agree with the concept of marriage. While marriage already strengthens a stable bond, it doesn’t necessarily fix one that is faulty. Marriage doesn’t guarantee fidelity and is only as strong as the two partners involved. What is important is for people who are entering in relationships to express if they have no intention of marriage so that the other partner can choose whether or not to continue within the situation.
2. Myth: Everyone wants to be in love and have a relationship, even if they say or act as if they don’t.
Fact: Many feel pressure from society to be in relationships since it is often depicted in popular media that relationships are what are needed to feel fulfilled and happy. Would you watch “The Notebook” a dozen times if it wasn’t about love lost and love found? Relationships whether real or imagined are perfect entertainment. They often involve drama, suspense, sex, lies and all of the other little things that box office blockbusters are made of. People often are heavily influenced into thinking that’s how a well-balanced life should be, but this isn’t always the case for everyone. Many people prefer singlehood to avoid those things.
3. Myth: Only commitment-challenged people or nymphos choose polyamory.
Fact: Many people legitimately have romantic feelings for more than one person at a time and find monogamy unnecessarily limiting. Choosing to live a polyamorous lifestyle doesn’t mean that a person needs to engage in promiscuity, it just means that someone chooses to have several relationships at one time and all involved are aware of the situation.
4. Myth: Open- relationships are for “freaks” or women who are afraid of losing a partner so they choose to settle for someone who claims they are incapable of being faithful.
Fact: If what you want is a committed relationship, then you should seek someone who is at a time in their life and similar state of mind to give you just that. By settling for being a “main chick” when you know you want to be the only one, you are putting yourself in a situation that may cause your partner to lose respect for you and take advantage of you. In a truly open relationship the primary partners remain emotionally exclusive, but are honest, comfortable and free to explore sexual relations outside of that primary bond.
5. Myth: Polyamory is a flawed relationship style because jealousy is a natural emotion.
Fact: While jealousy is a natural emotion, not everyone is as seriously affected by the little green-eyed monster. People within polyamorous relationships experience jealousy just as people in monogamous relationships do, but choose not to allow that jealousy to disrupt the stability of the relationship and work hard to work through feelings of jealousy that can occur.
6. Myth: Polyamory is just “swinging” with a socially palatable label.
Fact: Swinging involves recreational sex with often no emotional or intimate ties. Polyamory involves intimacy and emotional closeness with multiple partners and doesn’t necessarily involve sex.
7. Myth: Finding “The One” is a simple definition of traditional monogamy.
Fact: I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for penguins based on their ability to mate for life. Could you imagine having to hear that same squawk every damn day? I also admire couples who maintain a strong relationship with their first love throughout a lifetime filled with problems that include a whole lot more than finding fish. Traditional monogamy is ideal for many, but uncommon for most. It doesn’t necessarily represent perfection either. People who are traditionally monogamous have their share of problems as well. Serial monogamy or some of the other relationship styles allow people to get to know a variety of people and get a more accurate feel for what they desire and do not want in the relationship they eventually settle down in. It isn’t healthy to sacrifice your happiness trying to live up to society’s expectation of true, romanticized fairy-tale love. While traditional monogamy could be described as finding “The One”, most people will experience longevity and fulfillment with “The Third”, “The Fourth” or the “The Fifteenth”.
So tell us what YOU think about “Polyamory”
Toya Sharee is a community health educator who blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.