Even though polyamory may have become a household word since the recent premiere of Showtime’s reality series Polyamory: Married and Dating, my spell check continues to reject the word. So in case you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, perhaps I should define it. The term was created in the late 1980s and literally means ‘many loves’. For more details on its origin, I will defer to a book by Dr. Deborah Anapol called Polyamory in the 21st Century. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Anapol, whose earlier book, now out of print, Polyamory : The New Love Without Limits, actually changed my views several years ago on love, sex, monogamy, and relationships.
This is a continuation of my last article, “Are You Bored with Monogamy?” where I discussed swinging as one option for open relationships. The fundamental difference between swinging and polyamory are as follows: Swinging is for couples seeking sex, and just sex, with multiple partners. Polyamory is for couples who seek multiple loving and interconnected relationships. But regardless of your views on monogamy or really, serial monogamy, which is what most of us practice in today’s society, I think we all have much to learn from the concept of polyamory.
Dr. Anapol describes her first book as a manifesto for those who had newly discovered they were polyamorous. She says that her latest book, while beneficial for anyone who practices polyamory, is also beneficial for anyone who has questions about the lifestyle. My feeling after perusing Polyamory in the 21st Century, is that it can be helpful to anyone who has challenges with monogamy, questions the connection between love and sexuality, or struggles with feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. As Dr. Anapol states in her newest book, “…the most important aspect of polyamory is not how many partners a person has. Rather, it is the surrendering of conditioned beliefs about the form a loving relationship should take and allowing love itself to determine the form most appropriate for all parties.” Dr. Anapol told me that she believes polyamory is about allowing the truth of the relationship to define the form it takes, rather than some traditional and unexamined idea of what a committed relationship should look like. “If people are consciously choosing monogamy they will be much more satisfied than if they are doing it just because their parents or our society has deemed monogamy the only way to live”, says Anapol. And I couldn’t agree with her more.
Unfortunately, monogamy is not seen as a choice in our society, but more of a mandate. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but why should the government or religious organizations determine how we live, how we love, or what we do in the bedroom? Let’s face it, just because we get married or agree to a committed relationship because we truly love someone, doesn’t mean we won’t feel attraction to others. We’re only human after all. But isn’t choosing monogamy in spite of human nature a more affirmative statement of love than doing it because we fear the backlash of society, burning in hell, or disappointing our parents? In fact, if we all felt free to make the choice between monogamy and polyamory, once we know all the facts, many would still choose monogamy because they don’t want the complications that go along with having multiple partners. Statistics show that 70% of so-called ‘monogamous’ marriages are afflicted by extra-marital affairs anyway. Since the real damage is done, not by the act itself, but by the lies and the betrayal, wouldn’t it be easier if we could just be honest about it?
I asked Dr. Anapol if she thought polyamory could work for anyone. Her response was that anyone can try it, but for some it will be more of a struggle than monogamy and vice versa. “There is always a cost and a benefit. There isn’t one mode of relationship that is better for everyone. Those who try polyamory without having done a huge amount of personal work are going to struggle, as are those who do not truly enjoy intimate relationships. Polyamory is for those who enjoy intimacy; it is not just about the sex even though there are swingers who probably cross over into polyamorous behaviors and vice versa.”
Dr. Anapol continued to say that polyamory has become more mainstream and somewhat watered down as a result. Unfortunately, (and I have seen this in my own experience) some people use the term to excuse their breaching of monogamous agreements after the fact, which is still being dishonest and unethical in my opinion. There is a chapter in her book on ethics that explains that honesty is of the utmost importance in this type of relationship. On the other hand, Anapol says, in some ways, perhaps polyamory becoming mainstream has enabled people to be more honest about their unethical behaviors.
Compersion – another relatively new term that spell check rejects is the opposite of jealousy – loving someone so much that you can allow their happiness above your own feelings of insecurity. As Anapol points out, “Although territorial responses are biologically hardwired, jealousy is a learned behavior. For example – that jealousy is a sign of love – which couldn’t be further from the truth.” Jealousy and betrayal as a result of dishonest behavior can be an issue in polyamory as well as monogamy. “As a society we have been conditioned to be dishonest for so long, that just because we are given permission to be truthful, does not mean we will be. This is a major shift in consciousness and approach to relationships, and it takes time and work to realize that you don’t have to lie anymore”, says Anapol. She also wrote a compersion E-book – a book of meditations that help people to examine why they have feelings of jealousy – a way to reprogram our thinking. Again, this is another tool that could be useful even in monogamous relationships.
Many assumptions have been made that it is easier for women to deal with a man having multiple partners, or that it is easier for women to remain monogamous, or that they even prefer it or are biologically inclined that way. This led us to the topic of alpha males and alpha females. As Dr. Anapol stated, alpha males, unless extremely evolved, will become territorial and want to drive away other males. The same could be said of alpha females. “The alpha male doesn’t want an equal – he wants a woman to follow him – which is not natural for an alpha female. The new paradigm is to have relationships which include multiple men and women who see themselves as equals rather than having one person control things through a power structure.” Anapol is conducting workshops worldwide called “Pelvic Heart Integration Training” to help people become more conscious and make a shift from the old to the new paradigm. As she explained, this is not so much about the number of partners anyone has but about individual internal dynamics.
Dr. Anapol’s feeling is that it is hard to find an emotionally mature and conscious male over the age of 45 who wants to partner up with an equal rather than to control a woman, unless he happened to be raised by parents who shared the power in the relationship. This was certainly not news to me. She says that our younger generation, men and women in their 20s and 30s are more open to this, because it is more likely that they were raised by empowered mothers. But Anapol also says it’s quite rare to find older men who are mature and empowered enough to get it. Could this be why so many women in their 40s and 50s are now attracted to younger males in their 20s or 30s? It makes sense to me. “We are all still evolving,” she says. “If you do the inner work, what others do becomes less important.” Since I believe that what we project, we attract, I would agree.
The bottom line is that it takes conscious individuals to create a healthy polyamorous relationship. It is not a solution for all dysfunction in traditional relationships or a quick fix if you are bored with monogamy. But, hopefully, what a discussion about polyamory has done is to open up conversations for behaviors that have previously been in the closet, or feelings that we have denied for fear of disapproval.
Deborah Anapol’s book is available on Amazon.com. You can sign up for her newsletter and find out about her workshops and coaching at her website lovewithoutlimits.com.