So like, sometimes I want to tell you guys about a story that's, like, too nuanced and complex to distill into a cynical one-liner. And then I think "pageviews!" and just skip it. But what the hell: it's about a small polyamory convention going down somewhere in exurban Pennsylvania, and it kind of — I know, I know — made me reexamine my prejudices (?) a bit. I mean, polyamory is one of those things it's all too easy to associated with, like, free-bleeding and Xena conventions and other subcultures too dorky, too fully occupied by people who are just too completely divorced from the desire for mainstream acceptance, to really want to examine in a way deeper than "not that there's anything wrong with that," right? But the story, while rife with harmless little digs at classes with names like "Hap-poly Ever After" and "Threesome, Foursome and Moresome," actually poses a striking question: is poyamory actually maybe a utopian ideal borne of a courageously humanistic mix of selflessness and pragmatism?
"Many of us tried to make monogamy work," Wagner says. But monogamy, she says, often seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Its practitioners would break off "perfectly good relationships" just because of intellectual incompatibility, for example, or because one partner liked ballet and the other liked bowling. Doesn't it make more sense, polys ask, to keep the good parts of a relationship, and find another boyfriend who likes "Swan Lake"?
The compartmentalization of affection: It's completely at odds with today's Disney Princess/Coldplay-lyric view of marriage, in which your spouse is your lover, best friend, therapist and Wii buddy, and you also have identical taste in movies.
But as people are increasingly expected to self-actualize clear to the grave, what are the chances that they'll pair up with someone who is on the exact same path of discovery?
Thought: Maybe you can have it all. You just can't get it all from the same person.
It's the thought that illustrates a paradox in polyamory: Its practitioners have astonishing optimism for humans' endless capacity to love, to share, to forgive, to grow, to explore. But that optimism seems rooted in a cynical belief that the monogamous are stuck in a myth, one that leads to cheating, unhappiness or divorce court. They believe, as do some evolutionary biologists, that most humans do not have endless capacity to be faithful to just one person.
There's a vague aura of entitlement to polyamory. The concept that one deserves complete romantic fulfillment seems a decidedly Me Generation concept.
So how does this poly stuff work?
Nicole, James and Rebecca acknowledge that a group marriage requires work that a monogamous one does not. "At first, I felt interrupted all the time," says Rebecca. "We all have different communication styles."
"Sure, if I'm putting the baby to bed for two hours while they're having hot sex, I get annoyed," says Nicole. "But it's not because they're having sex without me. It's because I'm really tired and I've been putting a baby to bed for two hours."
Yeah, it takes a strong woman to stand by another strong woman who is married to your husband.