This has been floating around in my head for some time now and given the interview on SBS Insight the other night, it seemed timely to drag it out into the interwebs.
The allure of polyamoury is pretty simple. If you fall in love with someone else but still love your partner, why shouldn’t you have the freedom to pursue the other person? Given that everyone is amenable, there is surely nothing wrong with having two partners. After all, there’s a strong tradition of multiple marriages throughout history usually with a man having multiple wives. Polyamoury merely redresses a historical gender imbalance by providing everyone with similar choices.
So far so good.
However, it may be worthwhile considering in a bit more detail what happens before you meet this other person.
The first set of questions is around this: What are you really looking for?
If you are unhappy or emotionally unmet by your current partner, why stay? You’d probably be far happier with someone else or even being single.
If you are partially or incompletely emotionally fulfilled by your partner, do you need another lover or would friends and family satisfy that desire? Maybe a bit more of a social life and a hobby? Even more radically, maybe one could work a little more on one’s existing relationships, spend a little bit more quality time together and build some real intimacy not only with one’s partner but also one’s friends. Emotional connection after all requires intimacy. Relationships do need work and most polyamorous texts out there will say exactly the same.
One of the problems with contemporary western society is that romantic love has been a bit oversold as a panacea for emotional disconnection. The chemical highs of the initial romance is fun but it does wear off and what happens then? If one has not got the habit of building and maintaining intimacy, emotional connection would not last that long either. Within the polyamorous outlook, adding another partner is acceptable but do you really want to be living a life chasing one high after the next? Will that facilitate emotional intimacy or actually detract from one’s existing relationships?
Finally, and this is a big question: Do you need to have sex to be able to offer and receive emotional intimacy? If you do, you may want to consider if this is actually workable.
If it is not emotional intimacy that is the need, then perhaps it is sexual variety. The questions around this desire for sexual variety are slightly simpler. Where does it come from? Is your libido a natural physical drive or is it an ego-based drive? Wanting to have sex with large numbers of people because it makes you feel attractive or a better person are examples of ego based reasons. Again, these reasons are worth considering and investigating.
If you do have a naturally high libido and assuming your partner is not able to satisfy the drive, the first question then is whether you need to be in a relationship with the other person to satisfy. Avenues exist for this: swingers clubs, anonymous or near anonymous casual sex websites. These avenues will also satisfy those who desire sexual variety.
It is also worth reconsidering the amount of sexual growth that can still happen with one’s partner. Western sexual tantra can offer some insights working with one’s partner to focus and channel sexual energy. These techniques also increase emotional intimacy.
The harder and more radical questions around sexual desire is whether you need to satisfy it at all. Another one of the problems with contemporary western society is that in general only two options are presented with regards to desire: expression/satisfaction or repression/denial. The other unspoken option is to manage sexual desire. Techniques of acceptance, diffusion and redirection (to one’s partner) exist. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Buddhist and Stoic approaches to desire all have different techniques to offer.
These are not easy questions to ask oneself nor are they easy ones to answer. But if one is going to take a step into polyamory which is in itself a difficult and risky move (and most polyamory texts will say the same), I do believe that some time and effort spent first looking deep into oneself is worthwhile.