Dancing cheek to cheek to cheek?

Dancing cheek to cheek to cheek? May 27, 2014


Dear John,

As I read through your interview with a polyamorous woman (1 Man, 2 Women In A Polyamorous Relationship), I found myself tearing up. Because the woman you spoke with explained the whole love dynamic that I have been experiencing in my life for so long.

I also appreciated her making the point that being poly is about love, not sex. That is so important to stress, because a lot of people believe that polyamory is primarily driven by sex. But for many of us, it is just an expression of love in the way we see fit.

I would rather love two people, and have them both on board with that, then love two people and keep it a secret from my original partner, so that I have to live a lie.

I have many polyamorous friends, and a lot of them are working professionals. An English teacher, a bus driver, foreman at a plastic factory. I am a musician, artist, and mother, and it is so important that I teach my beautiful son that love comes in many forms, and that he has the freedom to choose for himself which form works for him. As long as he and his partner/s are happy, then who am I to say anything? Honesty, after all, is always the best policy.

Thank you again for sharing your views and opinions on polyamory. It gives me hope for society, yet.

So I got that letter in. Interesting, no?

Also interesting (to me, anyway) is that since publishing 1 Man, 2 Women In A Polyamorous Relationship, I’ve gotten in quite a few letters from people living in polyamorous relationships who say it works just fine for them.

“I love two people; they both love me; they also love each other. Where is the harm in that?” they ask.

That’s a fair enough question, don’t you think? It’s one that I’m asked all the time—albeit usually by right-wing Christians (always, alas, bitterly) making the point that if gay marriage is legalized, why shouldn’t three-way marriage also be legalized?

Why indeed? I see nothing at all inherently immoral about polyamorous relationships. If three people living in such a relationship say it is working for them, why should anyone argue it? If no one is being hurt, how is it anyone else’s business?

I personally am a monogamist. Why is that? To put it, I suppose, troglodytishly, because I want my (straight) wife Catherine (Cat) to love me more than she loves any other man. I want all of Cat, not some or most of her. I want her 100% emotionally and physically intimate with me, and no on else.

I want her exclusively. I don’t want the power of our intimacy diluted by one-third.* I don’t want her love for me to be something she does by way of emotionally multi-tasking.

In for a penny, in for a pound—and in for life. Relationship-wise, I personally think that’s the way to go.

Also—and this is no small thing—I don’t think there’s time in life to really love—to really get to know—more than one person. Each person is a world worthy of ten lifetimes of exploration, let alone one. You can only know two people half as well as you can know one, because there’s no more time in life than that.

Exclusivity-wise, Cat feels the same way about me that I do about her. She’s as possessive of me as I am of her. She’s not about to share me with anyone. So that’s how we’ve been living since we got married in 1981.

(As for Cat’s general opinion on polyamorous relationships, she said, “I think being in a polyamorous relationship is a way to avoid emotional intimacy. When you’re splitting your love between two people, you’re giving all of your love to neither.” Which I think pretty neatly nails the gist of it.)

Does being monogamous make me, or Cat, barbaric or simplistic? Does it mean that we see each other as some kind of chattel that we own? Of course not. If for any reason Cat was determined to leave me, ultimately I’d want her to, because by far above all I want her to be happy. We’ve agreed to stay exclusive to each other because we believe that, over the long haul, that’s what provides the most bang for life’s buck. (*snerk!*)

Again, I do not think monogamy or even sexual fidelity, in and of itself, is a moral issue: if a couple agrees to have sex outside of the marriage, and everyone is okay with that, I see no moral foul there. Being monogamous is essentially a practical issue. I want the most I can get of what is arguably the best thing life has to offer: romantic love that lasts, and is exclusive, for decades. I want the most I can get out of the phenomenon of emotional intimacy. When I’m an old man I want to look back on my life, and know that emotionally I could not have gone any deeper with my heart and my mind than I did. And to me that means one wife (or one husband, if I were gay), one marriage, for life. So that’s what I’ve done with my life, and will continue to do until the end.

How about for you? Do you agree with Cat and me that the ideal—that ultimately the most rewarding life prize—is a monogamous marriage for life? Or do you think that notion hackneyed, provincial, old-fashioned? Perhaps you think it’s different for everyone, that it is possible to be as intimate with two people simultaneously as it is with one—that Cat is wrong when she ventures that having two spouses is a way to avoid committing to one.

I’d sure like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

* P.S. An hour or so later, I’m finding that consistent within the comments is this reasoning: “Of course I can fully love more than one person at a time. And the proof is that I fully and equally love each of my children.”

So I thought I’d take a quick moment to say this: Yes, a parent loves each of their children equally. But obviously no one does (or should) make love to their children. No one does (or should) give themselves sexually to their children; no one is (or should) be having loving, regular, intimate, emotionally vulnerable sexual intercourse with their children. Therefore, by definition, one is nowhere near as intimate with their children as they are with their spouse. And of course that’s how it should be. No one wants their mom or dad trying to be as emotionally and physically intimate with them as they expect and desire their spouse to be. And for a parent to try to play that role in the life of their child is of course wildly inappropriate.

We are partners–we are equals, peers, comrades–with our spouses in a way it’s not possible to be with our children. We love our children. We both love and are in love with our spouse. Whole different can of Valentine’s Day cards. There may be perfectly sound reasoning leading to the conclusion that one can love more than one spouse with the same depth and intimacy that one can love one spouse alone, but starting with “I love both my children equally” won’t get you there.

And, what the heck, by way of perhaps more clearly defining what I’m meaning to communicate in this post, lemme here toss in a couple of thoughts I shared in response to a couple of comments below:

… That’s really the question, isn’t it? Is the way that monogamous people are wired intrinsic to all human beings? Is it true for every human being–in the way it is true that, say, we all must eat, and we all desire to be loved unconditionally by our parents, and we all know right from wrong–that the overall richest way to spend his or her adult life (or as much of it as possible–and as difficult as doing so can certainly can be) is through exercising whatever discipline it takes to remain emotionally and sexually fidelitous to one other person who is similarly wedded (whether legally or not) to them? I believe that it is the case: I think it’s that truth which informs and sustains the whole marriage/coupling compulsion. But I know enough about life to know that I could be mistaken about that.


So, to my point of view, when you say, “I can share those thoughts, attention, affection, and emotions with the person in front of me…and with the person to whom I am traveling…and the person from whom I am traveling,” I hear support for my idea that one of the main things happening there is that you’re simply not experiencing as much love—as deep of a love, as complete a giving of yourself, as fully an enmeshing with another—as you would if you were physically and emotionally fidelitous to but one person. To me (as obnoxiously suggestive as this metaphor is) you are snacking in several places, but eating well in none. What I hear is that you are (and perhaps purposefully so, which is fine) avoiding full emotional and physical commitment–and that ultimately the reward of such commitment would be better for/to you than anything you’re now doing. Which I know sounds obnoxiously aggressive and necessarily offensive. For which I apologize. I’m only being as honest as I can be–AND, again (and again and again and again), I’m not so dumb that I don’t realize that of course I could be mistaken about this aspect of human nature. I’d be very surprised to learn I am–that what I believe is true about this stuff is not true for any human, in the way it’s true that all people, say, desire for their parents to love them well and unconditionally, or know right for wrong. But maybe I am mistaken, of course. …

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