Love Without Limits

Reports from the relationship frontier

Beyond Polyamory

Where is the line between optimism and denial?


When I first began consciously thinking about non-monogamy in the early 80's, I thought of my direction as going beyond the limitations of monogamy. I was not alone. An earlier generation of pioneers, inspired by Robert Rimmer and Robert Heinlein had been producing articles, books, and newsletters entitled "Beyond Monogamy" since the early 70's. One of my first moves was to adopt the term responsible non-monogamy, to differentiate my area of interest from what I regarded as the less noble variations on monogamy. I think all of us on the scene in the mid 90's heaved a big sigh of relief when the word polyamory caught on and we could liberate ourselves at last from the shadow of monogamy.

Flash forward another decade. After nearly twenty years of slogging around polyamory land, and watching wave after wave of new explorers stumble through the same jungles I have made my way across, I begin to wonder, what's next? While the freedom to explore polyamory is crucial to both spiritual and cultural evolution, I believe it's a mistake to view polyamory, however you chose to define it, as the destination.

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There is an old story about a highly optimistic little girl who's asked Santa to bring her a pony for Christmas. She eagerly awakens on Christmas morning and races downstairs to open her presents only to find a huge pile of horse manure. Her puzzled parents ask her why she's jumping up and down with excitement and gratitude instead of feeling disappointed. Her response is that with all this shit there must be a pony around somewhere.

For many people, polyamory is a bit like this. They are expecting great things - more love, more sex, more family, more fun, more pleasure, more excitement. What they find is more jealousy, possessiveness, manipulation, control, self-centeredness, lies, melodrama, chaos, power struggles, and pain. The good stuff may be there too, but usually firmly attached to the not-so-great stuff. Certainly there are no ponies without pony poop. Polyamory can bring you face-to-face with exactly what you don't want to see. It takes enormous optimism to continue believing there's a pony around somewhere when you're inundated with horse manure. Where is the line between optimism and denial? The truth may be that there is no pony. Or that you really wanted a puppy. The truth may be that we have not escaped monogamy's shadow after all.

For better or worse, the world of polyamory is no longer new and exciting to me. It's not that I'm done with it, any more than I could be done with breathing. Love flows and nothing I can say or do will change that. Rather, the world of Spirit is calling me and romantic intrigue is not. My nature is to keep exploring, to keep going beyond the beyond, to venture into unknown territory. Consider the following letter I recently received from a new recruit:

"This monogamy versus polyamory lifestyle is all new to me, and I must admit, I have been brought into it kicking and screaming. Much more relaxed into the idea/lifestyle now, but still have questions, funny feelings, and aversions.

I see that polyamory is exciting and it can really juice up the love making. New partners, new energy, all of the thrill of first time, being vulnerable with someone new and learning about them and about you in relationship and reflection in them. All the flirting and coyness and such.

Maybe I just haven't met enough people who are into this alternative lifestyle, but many of the people I have met are looking for the one, deep, committed relationship. They've been through many partners and are looking for the stability, commitment, and "mature love" of one person. Many of the polyamory people I have met are thrilling, exciting, creative, juicy individuals, but I sense part of it is a mask, and under it I get the feeling of a deep sadness.

So yes, monogamous relationships do tend to loose some of the thrill and excitement and juiciness of new relationships, so I see that something needs to be done to keep them thrilling. Maybe new partners is the way. But also I see that long-term commitment allows both partners the security to be out there in the world from a stable place. So no answers here, just some observations."

True enough. I loved this letter from a man whose wife of sixteen years decided she wanted to try polyamory because of his willingness to just take a look at what's so. And what's so for him is this ever present monogamy/polyamory polarity. Changing the name from responsible non-monogamy to polyamory doesn't make this comparison go away. In most people's minds, monogamy and polyamory are opposing points of view. Opposites.

The trouble is that backing away from polyamory and trying to escape into the comforts of monogamy doesn't rid us of this deep sadness he's observed. In my view, this sadness is not caused by polyamory. Rather it's pervasive throughout our whole, confused culture. The National Institute of Health recognizes that we have an epidemic of depression in this country. Polyamory shakes us up enough to crack the mask and reveal the sadness underneath, but it is neither the cause nor the cure.

As my first teachers in this strange territory told me many years ago, if you look to your relationship(s) to bring you happiness, sooner or later you're going to be disappointed. Bring your own happiness to your relationship(s) and everyone will thrive. This is the new paradigm. It is a genuine change of heart. But we don't want to change our hearts. It's far easier to let our minds toy with a new idea that we think will bring us happiness but which is actually just the old idea with a few new twists.

Most people that I see experimenting with polyamory these days have glimpsed another way of loving and living with more freedom and more love. But they want to take their familiar, comfortable, secure, stable beliefs and behaviors with them into this new world. It doesn't work. You can't mix paradigms. Or rather, you can but you will end up with the old. Like a dominant gene, the old paradigm will color everything it touches with its pervasive aura.

Which brings us back to the question of what's next? What is beyond both monogamy and polyamory? Beyond power struggles? Beyond Jealousy Jungle and The Desert of Blame? In other words, where do you find your own happiness?

I can't say for sure because I'm still looking, but the longer I'm on this journey, the more apparent it seems that the answers are all inside. How can we possibly hope to find wedded bliss with one partner, let alone many, when we haven't managed a solid union between the Masculine and the Feminine within. Often, when I talk to people about this Inner Marriage, they get an idea about getting in touch with the Inner Female or the Inner Male. Kind of a variation on getting in touch with the Inner Child. This is all good, and the Inner Marriage goes far beyond embracing your cross gender qualities.

Rather, this Hieros Gamos or Sacred Marriage is a transcending of our dualistic thought patterns. An end to the battle between our animal and our spiritual natures. A simultaneous embrace of both the wave and the particle. A melding of the right and left brains. A fusion of ego and essence into one harmonious whole. It's about changing your mind and your heart. It's about mating with your own soul. It's about experience, not words, but hopefully these words can point you there.

 

Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D., is the author of Polyamory in the 21st Century and other books.

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