Friday, October 29, 2010

Friendship As Polyamory

Some of my friends have already read this because I posted it on my Tumblr (no longer in use). I feel that this information is worth repeating, though.


I tend to think that if you have more than one friend you are polyamorous.  So ultimately, probably most people are polyamorous but many may refuse to call themselves that because of taboos or misconceptions and fear.
Here’s one example of a situation, to demonstrate: the best friend and the romantic partner. You have a best friend, whose opinions you take seriously, and who you make compromises with, maybe you see them on a regular basis and have emotional intimacy with. You would consider not dating someone if they said that you and the romantic date/partner were completely wrong for each other and the partner gives them super bad vibes, right?
If you call your relationship monogamous, how do you justify having some of your emotional/intellectual/spiritual/other needs met by someone outside of the monogamous relationship? Why should friendship get to be a special exception to the monogamous rule? Is it because your friendships are assumed to be non-sexual and non-romantic? Why is one kind of emotional intimacy acceptable but not another kind of intimacy? What if your friend is romantically interested in you (but you do or don’t reciprocate), or there’s sexual tension or flirting but neither of you takes it further than that? What if your best friend’s needs are sometimes more important than your romantic partner’s needs? Is it still an OK exception to a monogamous relationship? I think the above situations all represent types of polyamory, but probably most people who call themselves monogamous will go through or have gone through these things and may have struggled as a result of being monogamous.
So I guess that’s why I think monogamy as an institution is harmful, like my friend E talks about. Because where do you draw the line between friendship and something else, and how can anyone have all of their needs met by one person? Monogamy is all about solid lines and inflexibility, which probably more often than not leads to one partner becoming jealous of someone else in the other partner’s life eventually (a close friend, a family member, even a pet could become a source of jealousy). So why not just decide to be polyamorous and be open to negotiating all of your relationships with honest communication? Or, if romance and sex with other people would be bad for your relationship, why not negotiate what is acceptable for the relationship? I guess this might be what I’ve heard E say is “monoamory.” With monogamy there are no negotiations, you’re just supposed to assume that any kind of intimacy outside of your relationship will destroy the relationship—that’s the nature of the beast.
By the way, I have decided that I’m not going to judge other the dynamics of other people’s relationships as long as they have decided on the dynamic together and believe it will be mutually beneficial.

5 comments:

  1. So basically it all comes down to communication, right? I find that applying certain discreet labels to relationships that are not always definable to be detrimental to all involved. What is the purpose of calling a relationship "A" or "B"? Those involved don't need labels or identifiers. All we need is deeply open honest communication and each other. Acceptance and definitions are your burden, not ours. Agreed?

    I would love to hear other's ideas and progress/grow together...

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    1. If you aren't familiar with Relationship Anarchy, then you might want to check it out.

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  2. People have had both friends and lovers since time immemorial. How neurotically twisted must our age be when someone can come up with such super-constipated blathering verbiage over something so straightforward?
    Are we losing all ability to think straight?

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    1. Possibly it's because, until recent times, the "romantic friendship" could exist within the context of monogamy. As the monogamous relationship has taken for itself several attributes that were shared with friendships in earlier generations, some people feel that something is missing from it.

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  3. A very interesting read. But what definition of polyamory are you using? I’ve been poly for a long time, and, no offense, I’d hate to see the word expanded as much as you’re suggesting. Polyamory is an active choice to pursue or have multiple romantic/sexual/queerplatonic relationships at the same time. If an individual polyamorous person wants to include their friends in their polycule, I’m not going to stop them--but I’m not going to include my (non-romantic/-sexual) friends in mine, because that’s not what polyamory is about to me.

    You say: "If you call your relationship monogamous, how do you justify having some of your emotional/intellectual/spiritual/other needs met by someone outside of the monogamous relationship?"

    But I've never heard a monogamous relationship defined as "only one person to meet allllll needs." Monogamous people have friends, and family members, and coworkers/classmates, and roommates... Those are different kinds of relationships, not related to monogamy or polyamory. Can lines be blurred? Of course! But taking it so far as to say "If you have more than one friend, you aren't monogamous" is......really extreme? And seems to be missing the point of monogamy. Monogamy isn't about only having one person in your life (that, for most people, would be incredibly toxic). It's about having only one romantic and/or sexual partner or QPP, as defined by the people in the monogamous relationship.

    “Why should friendship get to be a special exception to the monogamous rule? Is it because your friendships are assumed to be non-sexual and non-romantic?”

    Friendship isn’t a special exception to a monogamous rule. If someone tried to get their partner to forgo allllll kinds of relationships outside their monogamous one, that would be abuse. As for the second question, friendships with a monogamous person aren’t ASSUMED to be non-sexual and non-romantic--most of the time, they’re required to be. If a monogamous person added romance or sex to one of their friendships, they’d be breaking their agreed-upon commitments, at which point they can either end or change the friendship, or end or change their monogamous relationship.

    And as for these questions: “Why is one kind of emotional intimacy acceptable but not another kind of intimacy? What if your friend is romantically interested in you (but you do or don’t reciprocate), or there’s sexual tension or flirting but neither of you takes it further than that? What if your best friend’s needs are sometimes more important than your romantic partner’s needs? Is it still an OK exception to a monogamous relationship?”

    Those are wonderful questions for monogamous people to ask each other and themselves, but those answers can’t be applied to all monogamy, nor do they punch any holes in why people choose monogamy. All mono people have different boundaries and desires, and that’s okay.

    I totally agree that monogamy-centric culture is toxic. I’ve heard the term “ethical monogamy” used for people who want monogamy but don’t assume it as the default--ethical monogamy is all about monogamy that really fits the people involved, instead of a one-size-fits-all that, oddly enough, rarely fits anyone perfectly.

    I’ve rambled on quite enough here, so I’ll stop lol. Thanks for writing this! It gives me some stuff to think about.

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