You don’t want to be poly? Excellent! You totally don’t have to. Really. It’s up to you.


Jordan Whitfield

So in my daily Google Alert email I have keywords such as “psychology” and “polyamory” and “sex” and “kink”. I get ideas for things to write about, I learn about new research, and I keep a pulse on opinions and thoughts about all the topics that I care about.

Lots of people have opinions that I don’t agree with. That’s fine. I have a big crush on the Vulcan motto: “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”. But when people complain about feeling pressured to try things they don’t like, my justified reaction is, “who asked you to?”

Kerri Sackville, in New Zealand’s Southland Times, whines:

It’s not fair. I can’t even seem to find one decent partner, and these men are looking for their second?

Well, I can’t seem to find one more client who’ll give me money on the regular, but you don’t see me writing thought pieces about how other freelancers are hogging all of them.

Look, Kerri, I’m sorry that your dating life is crap. My dating life is crap. It doesn’t mean that it’s the fault of polyamory.

The “poly” men you have been on dates with are not cool, because they should tell you that they are poly BEFORE you meet them. On dating sites, I mention that I’m poly so that I don’t go on dates with people who aren’t into that. That’s the fault of assholes, not polyamory. If they can’t be open about their relationship style, then I doubt they’re open about other, important things.

You add:

Well no s…, Sherlock. Monogamy isn’t natural. But you know what else isn’t natural? Pants. Also medication, currency, cars and fashion eyewear. And yet none of the people in open relationships seem to have a problem with those.

Actually, I agree with you on this. I doubt polyamory is a genetic thing. It’s probably completely socially constructed. But so is monogamy. When talking about poly, I never refer to it as “more natural”. Because nature doesn’t care about us, anyway. Liking chocolate is not more natural than liking vanilla. It’s a matter of taste.

I’m really sorry you’ve been on the receiving end of these terrible arguments. When people get past the excitement of their first months of poly, they actually realize that it’s no better or worse than any other relationship model. We just tend to identify with it, and protect that identity, because it’s still considered transgressive (and sometimes unacceptable). It’s not the fault of polyamory.

Towards the end, you mention:

Human beings do have a strong drive to pair bond, and to establish sexual exclusivity. And it’s kind of lovely not to have to share the joy of your partner’s body.

I will agree with the first part, with a caveat. Sexual exclusivity is, also, mostly socially constructed, around marriage especially. I can imagine a community where a handful of people have everything in common, and that men having children with several women, or women with several men, wouldn’t be a big deal. Now, if that actually happens in real life, I don’t know. But yeah, there are biological processes at play for pair-bonding. However, it doesn’t mean that these processes work the same for everyone. They can be weaker for some people. They can be stronger for others.

But that’s also the moment where your piece falls apart. On the one hand, you dismiss “natural” as a way to determine the validity of a relationship type, only to use the exact same argument a few paragraphs later. Either it is natural, or it isn’t. You can’t say that polyamory is just as unnatural as monogamy, and then argue that monogamy is natural and therefore more valid. Pair bonding is not a relationship model. You wouldn’t argue that prairie voles have a relationship model, even though they tend to be monogamous (although not all of them are).

And given that we have big frontal lobes and a highly developed cortex, we actually have a lot of control over what we choose to do and not do. We have constructed civilizations and technologies that are definitely unnatural, as you rightly say early in your piece. So I wonder why you resort to the “strong drive to pair bond”. It’s just another essentialist, naturalistic argument. I mean, we used to have a strong drive to hunt animals for dinner, but now we just go to the grocery store.

In short, I’m sorry that your dating life is disappointing. Finding someone is hard. It’s hard for poly people too, you know. Those men you talk about, you have a reason to resent them: they weren’t honest about their relationship status. They should be. A proper poly person wouldn’t date them, either. But it’s not the fault of polyamory. 

Don’t want to be poly? Then don’t be. There are plenty of monogamous fish in the sea.

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!