I have been obsessing about Love ever since I was 12 and fell in love for the first time. My life over the next few years could easily be fit in one word: misery. There has been nothing I have ever wanted more than to love and be loved and thus throughout my teenage years I either pitied myself for not being with someone, suffered the consequences of my dysfunctional relationships, or grieved over my past romances. It was a vicious cycle I had fallen into and didn’t know how to break away from.
In 2012, I travelled to Thailand for a meditation retreat. The Thai monks who led the retreat promoted unconditional love and among the many different Buddhist values they introduced me to, the idea of non-attachment and non-possession in relationships were the ones I felt the most urging need to master. “Could I who was a slave of Love and always vanished into my relationships practice non-attachment and set myself free? How could it be?”- I asked myself doubtful. Yet, exhausted of the all-consuming quest for relationships and sick of searching for love outside of myself, I decided to give it a try.
It was a whole new world of perception I was entering. As I strived to learn more about the appealing practice of “love without attachment”, I wondered whether it was a mission possible for people other than ordained Buddhist monks who had anyway given up on most of worldly life’s temptations. Meanwhile, I was myself exploring Love in ways I hadn’t experienced it with a German guy, called Carsten, whom I had met on the retreat. Carsten and I spent hours talking and sharing; helping and disturbing each other’s meditations. Our relationship was unfolding easily, most naturally- without the gender games, inauthenticity and need to create conflicts to deepen the connection I had assumed to be integral components of relationships.
As I discovered that relationships are a powerful way to learn and grow and started practicing letting go and non-possession, I opened myself for greater compassion, greater passion, and greater Love. And while Carsten and I had to part ways a couple of months later, due to the fact he was not ready to face the realities of “free love”, I knew there was no turning back for me. At about the same time I mysteriously stumbled upon the formal definition of what seemed to best incorporate the values and freedom I aspired to create and share with others- polyamory.
Polyamory or “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved” goes far beyond justifying multipartnering. To practice polyamory is to be willing to face the social stigma and unacceptance, in addition to one’s own deeply rooted fears and insecurities, in order to intensify personal development and improve one’s relationships with others. Polyamory as a spiritual practice is not much different from yoga or meditation- it takes time and effort, and determination. Yet, learning to be mindful towards oneself and others, taking control over one’s own emotions and behavior, and creating relationships based on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of neediness, desire to dominate or fit social expectations is crucial. It is crucial because it empowers people to be effective communicators and to support each other’s growth, resulting in the creation of happier, more aware and more emotionally mature individuals.
Polyamory “is not a sign of an attachment problem or other disorder”- Tamara Pincus, D.C.-based Clinical Social Worker/Therapist says: “it as a valid relationship choice”. Polyamorous relationships exist in different forms and configurations, yet are built on the premise that “openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved”. As I started practicing polyamory and discussed it with potential partners and friends I always came across surprised faces and repeating questions. The most stubborn one of all: “How can you love more than one person?”
In fact, we all practice polyamory, only without realizing it. A person has a variety of relationships and is capable of (and most often than not “guilty” of!) loving more than one person at a time. And while, of course, the love we feel for our mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives is different, isn’t it Love after all? Polyamorous people, often referred to as “poly”, do not believe that love is a scarce resource. Love is not something that If I give to you, I cannot give to someone else. For, indeed, love is different! And every time we love someone, it is as if we love for the first time for we have never loved this very same, unique person!
Polyamory does not view people as interchangeable, which is often the case in modern monogamous relationships. When people act in certain ways or reduce their array of choices out of fear not to be replaced, they are deprived from their most basic, yet most important human right- freedom. The tendency of individuals to hold themselves back to remain loved is a common denominator in many relationships. When love is assigned conditions, fear of change is installed. If the bond in a relationship is based on shared interests, views or activities, partners often feel pressured to stay as they are, so that their relationship will not be harmed. Many times people “brake up” because they become accustomed to a certain way of being together (as when they are madly in love with each other), but as they lack tolerance, when the dynamics of the relationship change (and things settle down a bit, making space for new experiences and emotions), they fail to see the positives and think their relationship is over. Lack of acceptance of change on an individual level is shadowed by non-acceptance of transformations of the relationship, too. Just as every person undergoes different processes and metamorphosis, so does any relationship. Learning to accept and value the changing dynamics is crucial to creating healthy relationships and embracing unconditional love.
Since a little girl, I had attributed to Prince Charming a long list of qualities I examined thoroughly (even though not quite consciously!) every time I was about to start a relationship. Having expectations and trying to fit men into my idea for an ideal partner was never a success. As I explored polyamory and examined relationships as we know them, I realized there will never be a single person able to fulfill all my needs and more importantly- there shouldn’t be. Every person adds something new to our lives and “we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph”. Objectifying people and trying to make them appear or be as we want them diminishes the chance of truly getting to know them and learning from them. The created resistance, pressure and pain cause emotional damage to everyone involved.
Another concern non-polyamorists often address is that polyamory overvalues sex. Such an argument seems to be easily proved in the context of the allowance of having multiple sexual partners in polyamory. Yet, polyamory emphasizes on building and sustaining relationships, be they sexual or not: “ Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships.” Monogamous relationships, on the other hand, clearly stress the importance of sexual exclusivity. While one’s partner is not (usually) forbidden to love other people, sharing sexual intimacy with others is an absolute taboo which implies that it is valued over everything else, “as if it is the one thing you must “own” to feel safe”- says Mystic Life, author of “Spiritual Polyamory”.
The reason why we only agree to open ourselves to one person at a time and expect the same is a matter of instruction. In “Sex 3.0- A sexual revolution manual” British author J.J. Roberts claims that monogamy was socially applied for economic reasons. The author presents a comparative analysis of the nature of sexual and social relationships starting with the Ancient nomadic societies. The nomad tribes had no notion of ownership, since they moved from place to place taking just as much as they could carry with them. Women and men contributed to the tribe equally and since the tribe was collectively taking care of all children born of the tribe, men and women were free to mate with each other according to their own free will. Ownership over land and consequently- women, was established with the agricultural revolution (“the transition from a pre-agricultural period characterized by a Paleolithic diet, into an agricultural period characterized by a diet of cultivated foods”).
As men started to own and inherit the land they worked, they wanted to ensure that the children they will feed and give inheritance to will be theirs. “A system of control needed to be invented… to calm male paternity concern; a deal which allowed men to claim women as their sexual property”- and thus marriage was created. But what is more- Roberts proposes- with the cultural transformation was introduced a second plane of human sexuality. The “natural” plane of sexuality is defined by nature and is observed throughout the mammal kingdom, while the plane defined by the word “normal” is prescribed by society. Consequently, many individuals who have the natural need to experience love and intimacy with more than one person feel pressured to compromise their values and carry the burden of what is considered “normal”.
While polyamory as a relationship choice offers countless benefits among which personal freedom, appreciation, conscious sexuality and relating, deepened connectedness and intensified personal growth, people remain critical as to whether they would personally consider it, pointing at jealousy as an excuse not to challenge the norm. Jealousy is described as a “secondary emotion that generally refers to negative thoughts and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of value – particularly a human connection.” Interestingly, jealousy is often viewed as a part of the human condition we lack control over. Being jealous has nothing to do with genetics, however. Improved control over our emotions is the result of understanding the underlying forces which trigger one’s outbursts of jealousy.
Attending a workshop on emotion management, I learned that whenever a negative emotion arises, it is because of the lack of its positive counterpart. Whenever one feels jealous, for instance, it is an indicator that one’s need for love, or security is not met. Knowing what lies in the core of one’s emotions, significantly increases the chances of positively resolving the issue. Whether it is by receiving help or working alone on personal issues as low esteem or people attachment, or giving honest feedback that our needs are not met or that we feel threatened by certain situations are some of the options that create not only more self-knowledge and opportunities for growth, but ultimately- more love. Respecting your partner’s freedom to experience intimacy with others is a sign of spiritual maturity: “sharing the body of another human being is the greatest ego challenge we face in our desire to experience unconditional love”, “Spiritual Polyamory” insists. As jealousy and control are transcended, joy overtakes. For what can be greater than seeing your partner happy, even if it is not always you the one to bring this happiness.
“It’s funny how heterosexuals have lives and the rest of us have “lifestyles”- Sonia Johnson, American feminist activist and writer, adds. Undoubtedly, polyamory has a long way to go before it manages to overcome all deeply rooted cultural prejudices which inhibit our thinking. As polyamorists we have a long way to go to challenge the status-quo (“Nearly all of romance and sexuality has been portrayed in a monogamous context. People who are in love with someone and fall in love with someone else are usually demonized”) and earn the humane respect that is our birth-right. The biggest challenge for all of us, no matter how we distribute our Love, is to stay engaged and strive to improve ourselves and bring the most out of the people we share our lives with and the relationships we build with them. Continuously. One at a time or simultaneously altogether, for those of us who like a good challenge.