Coffee with a polyamorist is not your everyday occurrence. Now let me just point out this wasn’t a date or an interview for partner number whatever, but a chat with a good friend. Many people frowned upon my liaison with this person or had various questions to ask. Yet most of us know people who cheat, flirt with others or live by the philosophy ‘kissing doesn’t count’. Perhaps polyamory and polygamy aren’t far out of place in our pluralist society; if we’re allowed to have multiple religions, several political beliefs and identify with different cultures, why can’t we have more than one partner?
For those of you who aren’t tainted by the Arabian Nights concept of one man and his harem of wives, a ‘polyamorist’ is a person who engages in multiple relationships and a ‘polygamist’ is someone in multiple marriages (think Big Love).
Contrary to popular distaste, all parties usually know each other and emphasise safety and understanding in their relationships. Polygamy is illegal in the majority of Western countries, though in some Asian and Middle Eastern regions, the concept is quite common, if not expected.
This trend is linked to Christian scripture, a long-time denouncer of polygamy, and the “sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman” has continued to be the Christian conservative’s answer to this matter.
Back to me and my latte, polyamory itself is not restricted by law, but my friend hints ‘if this were true, then everyone would be doing it’. This issue is topical for two reasons: Firstly, Polygamy is the main defence for opposing equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian people. The logic is if we let two consenting adults marry who aren’t man and woman then all hell will break loose (….), and secondly US presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a charismatic man who happens to be a Mormon. The polygamy stereotype haunts the Mormon community as its religious teachings are not opposed to the concept. Some may even think, given Romney’s background, he might be ‘hiding’ other wives and children, affecting his chances at the next election.
So when did this all become other people’s business?
My coffee date explained to me that polyamory is the ability to express oneself in numerous ways. In the past, strict traditions and social roles thrived in a monotheistic, mono-curricular, mono-occupational culture. Today, some people reject the belief one person can completely fulfil the needs of another person. Those who are pro-monogamy might choose to talk about the concept of intimacy through complete commitment and compromise. However, my friend told me sacrificing one’s own desires for the sake of society and propriety is a carryover concern from a world without the internet or Christina Aguilera’s ‘Stripped’ album.
In Western society, people are far more comfortable with flaunting their sexuality and the global village is too big to be worried by the tradespeople not doing business with you because of your reputation. Our world has changed to such a great extent that the old-hat concept of relationships should be scrapped, and an individual’s right to make the rules for their personal interactions acknowledged.
The fact is that for the most part a person is not characterised or summarised by their intimate life, in the same way a person is not by their lack of it. Perhaps polyamory’s problem is simply the way we react to it, and the way we talk about it in such a titillating and taboo way. I’m sure in a closed-eyes poll most people would say they’re envious of the sexual fluidity and romance that polyamorists feel. As for the rest of us? Well if you ask me, just getting one partner is hard enough!