October - November 2001

Polyamory, Part One

The issues of monogamy and possessiveness are Scorpionic to the hilt, though with any relationship discussion where possession comes into focus, we're talking about Taurus, too. In astrological terms, the Scorpio-Taurus axis of the zodiac, and the 2nd-8th house axis of a chart, are where we explore these questions. On the Scorpio/8th side, there are issues of commitment, honesty, jealousy, secrecy, power and control built into the whole experience of bonded relationships, all going back to the concepts of death and dowry -- the two earliest known themes of the 8th house.

Discussion of these issues happens a lot among people who know themselves as polyamorous, a subculture in which the cultural taboo on honest discussion of sex is lifted.

On one of the Loving More polyamory lists, a discussion emerged a few months ago about whether the definition of polyamory should include loving friendships experienced outside of a primary partnership, though where sex is not a factor. Loving More, a magazine which functions these days as an international public relations arm of the responsibly-nonmonogamous community, includes what some call 'platonic' friendships in its definition of poly. (Remember, though, that platonic love, in ancient Greece, was experienced only between men: women were not considered to be on a high enough spiritual plane to express platonic love, or agape. The modern definition of platonic partnerships refers to nonsexual friendships between men and women, sometimes referred to as plutonic, which would strike most astrologers as funny because anything plutonic would hardly be platonic. Besides which, there is no such word.)

That poly might include nonsexual relationships has raised the ire of some people who have worked hard to demonstrate the need and legitimacy for new models of sexual relationships, because if we're not talking about sex when we talk about poly, then what are we talking about? Outside sex is supposedly the big threat to a supposedly secure relationship, and the basis for the new models. But if a definition of polyamory includes everyone on the planet, then how is it meaningful?

There are few arguments where I am capable of sitting on the fence, seeing the clear legitimacy of both irreconcilable sides. This was one, and I found my own divided thinking intriguing. I hung with it for a while, and then, a light went on based on some personal experiences I was having at the time, with a plutonic lover.

What I figured out is that the idea of 'polyamory' is a function of the idea of 'monogamy'. In other words, were there no concept called 'monogamy' we would not need or have the ability to design a corresponding concept called 'polyamory'; it would have no basis for existence. This does not mean that monogamy came first: it didn't, it just came along (by church decree, most of the time) and defined itself as the only legitimate relationship modality in the known universe. For women, that is.

As a result, one's definition of polyamory is entirely dependent upon their definition of monogamy. There are some monogamous couples in which if one partner so much as looks curiously at a member of the opposite sex, there's hell to pay. There are others in which intimate friendships with opposite-sex partners are encouraged. So for those who are way at the jealous freak-out, controlling and insecure end of the scale, then opposite-sex friends are a form of polyamory, and as much a stretch as a man watching his wife fuck her best friend for the first time.

The problem with defining polyamory as a function of monogamy is that there is no sane definition of monogamy upon which to base it. (There are seven definitions, as posted yesterday.) The lack of clarity between and among the monogamous, even those within one relationship, or rather, especially so, becomes obvious when we begin to explore the actual variety of relationships people have, all of which they deem monogamous. It becomes really obvious when we see that there are many 'monogamous' people with more than one lover.

Here is why discussion of polyamory is met with such resistance: it exposes the shams and contradictions of monogamy. Worse, it exposes that the word monogamy, so often spoken in sacrosanct tones, is perfectly meaningless because there is no one such thing; it's what the courts call 'void for vagueness'.

Relationships are made of people. People tend to follow cultural rules, or their own instincts. We tend to be more or less honest, healthy, scared, mature, kind, and free. We tend to me more or less horny, more or less interested in people. We do need to make the world safe for sex, and we also need to make the world safe for love. But most of all, we need to make the world safe for reality.