- Stable families require strong marriages based on ever-deepening and exclusive intimacy; human beings need and desire such exclusive intimacy by nature; and children benefit from growing up with a committed mother and father. Tweet This
- Monogamy helps one focus exclusively on one's spouse and children, increasing the likelihood of growing in the virtues of selflessness, better communication, intentionality, and emotional vulnerability. Tweet This
Recently, the New York Times published a story in its Modern Love column about polyamory, where a young woman named Silva Kuusniemi asks, My Boyfriend Has Two Partners. Should I Be His Third? In recalling her experience dating Juhana, a man with one live-in partner and another non-live-in partner, she reflects on the reasons why this doomed relationship reveals her own desire to be loved exclusively and concludes that some people like Juhana are simply polyamorous by nature. Some people, however, are wired to become disciples of "monoamorous, monotheistic" faith in a single lover.
Not Rigged for Exclusivity?
While the polyamorous "must deal with jealousy, infinite scheduling and complex interpersonal dynamics," the monoamorous must make peace with "a lack of diversity and newness and the gravity of commitment in a culture of too much choice." For Silva, and for those advocating "consensual non-monogamy," the monoamorous person hopes in a fantasy, since mating behaviors across the animal kingdom seem to suggest that human beings are not "rigged for exclusivity." According to polyamory activists, what makes "polycules" and open arrangements work is the degree and willingness of individuals to trust, communicate, be flexible and intentional. The implicit suggestion is that by communalizing commitment, humans free themselves from constrained notions of love derived from romantic tropes and, ultimately, cultural and religious dictates. So Silva admires Juhana's "excellent" communication skills and emotional literacy in "stark contrast to monoamorous men [she] had dated before," though she is disquieted by the seeming naturalness with which he makes reference to his partners in conversation and how his partners' belongings form the backdrop of his home. To Silva, Juhana is enlightened, sage-like in leading her toward an inward acceptance of polyamory in spite of her natural resistance, and like many trying to find their way during this culturally confusing time, Silva postures herself as "adventurous, open-minded, and creative." However, in her desperation for Juhana's single-minded attention, she equivocates about Juhana's relationships, leading his partners to believe her "emotionally manipulative." After all, Juhana was upfront from the beginning, and Silva is the one who perpetually lived in self-denial about her desire for exclusivity.
As polyamory seeks to widely cultivate intimacy, it ends up contradicting the very nature of intimacy, which calls for ever-deeper attention and investment into another's life.
Who's Right: The Monogamist or the Polyamorist?
Both traditional-minded people and polyamorists have accused each other of selfishness. The latter group claims that monogamous relationships are just as susceptible to selfishness and failure as any polaymorous relationship, and at least in that sense, are no way superior. Others believe that lifestyle comes down to personal preference and is not for everyone, since it takes a group adept at scheduling and communicating to successfully "manage" a network of interconnected relationships, of navigating "primary" and "secondary" relationships in terms of whose life is most practically enmeshed in one's own and not in terms of who inspires the greatest amount of feeling. Others point to the fact that many polyamorists identify as asexual, and as a result are not using people they're in relationships with for sexual gain. In other words, both polyamorists and monogamists can persist in unhealthy relationships out of personal insecurity and take advantage of their partners.
In light of these apparent equivalences, why do we support monogamy and oppose polyamory?
Monogamy Benefits Adults and Children
The first reason is that intimacy requires deep, ongoing attention. There is a saying, "a friend to all is a friend to none." As polyamory seeks to widely cultivate intimacy, it ends up contradicting the very nature of intimacy, which calls for ever-deeper attention and investment into another's life. This is why polygamy, for instance, can never replicate the comprehensive spiritual and bodily union of a man and a woman in marriage—the cultivation of lasting intimacy requires one's persistent and undivided attention. Polyamorists may be generous lovers, skilled communicators, and adept schedulers, but their dedication to each person is curtailed by the fact of multiple allegiances, making it nearly impossible to cultivate true and lasting intimacy with each partner.
The second and arguably most important reason for monogamy is that children need the love and undivided attention of mother and father—sexuality itself is directed toward procreation and child-rearing. While no marriage is immune to human selfishness, natural jealousy serves to seal the child's ongoing connection with mother and father.
Lastly, monogamy helps one focus exclusively on one's spouse and children, increasing the likelihood of growing in the virtues of selflessness, better communication, intentionality, and emotional vulnerability. All of these enrich marriage and family life in a way that benefits the broader community. Finally, friendship is a valuable category that risks being lost in the sea of polyamory. Since the terms of each polyamorous situation differ and some situations involve sex while others do not, there is little reason to differentiate sexual relationships from friendships. They are all converted, effectively, into "new relationship energy," a term that refers to the addition of a new person into a "polycule."
The Fate of Monogamy in an Age of Third-Wave Polyamory
So where does this leave those who desire to live monogamously during the coming wave of polyamory? First, we must call to mind our reasons for supporting monogamy: stable families require strong marriages based on ever-deepening and exclusive intimacy; human beings need and desire such exclusive intimacy by nature; and children benefit from growing up with a committed mother and father. We must also remember that our views are not "narrow-minded" and that our desires for exclusivity are natural and healthy. We must never compromise the truth, especially when we know it deep down in our hearts.
Julia Evanko is program officer at the Love & Fidelity Network, where she works to facilitate student leadership and to strengthen intercollegiate community. This essay originally appeared in the Love & Fidelity Network newsletter. It has been reprinted here with permission.