In this Entry I would like to talk once again about Polyamory – which is, after all, in a way the godmother of my “Oligo”-amory”.
Why does Polyamory exist and why do we want to be polyamorous?
When I read through the flurry in the media on- and offline, as well while browsing through all the different discussion forums on the subject from Instagram via Facebook (or here) to BmorePoly, it seems to me that the term Polyamory primarily continues to serve the purpose of describing any promiscuous ring-around-the-rosy with more than two participants. And on the one hand, to draw almost all its fascination from this – but also, on the other hand, all the resulting interpersonal drama.
That makes me sad. And angry. Because Polyamory is actually so much more. Even this little “actually” is not an appeasingly restrictive phrase, but very deliberately chosen by me, because the word “actually” means “as a matter of fact, really, in truth” – in other words: “belonging to the essence of its genuineness” (says Etymonline…).
So what is it that is “genuine” to Polyamory, that belongs to its innermost essence?
These seem to me to be three aspects in particular, all of which are usually thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater – and which are almost immediately forgotten as soon as people plunge themselves into a multi-person romp under the fig leaf of “Polyamory”.
As a bLogger who is dedicated to the topic of committed-sustainable, and above all ethical multiple relationships, it is my concern to once again underline those three essential cores of Polyamory that I have identified, since , in my view, by their presence or absence, the whole construct will inevitably stand or fall.
As far as I am concerned, the three ingredients that are absolutely inseparable and interact together in a polyamorous relationship are: idealism, pragmatism and love. Or – for those who consider this too educational or too abstract – unselfishness, suitability for everyday life and appreciative attachment.
The immanence of these three core components of polyamory are not, in my opinion, a “steep thesis” – in fact, I say that no person can seriously use the label “Polyamory” for themselves who tries to establish any multiple relationship arrangement outside their context.
Why am I so seemingly strict in this regard and how do I come to my presumption of such supposed interpretive sovereignty?
Precisely by reminding myself once again toward what goals polyamory once primarily aimed at, what impulses motivated the people who conceived and implemented it in the first place, what vision of the world and of our life in this world shaped its original “DNA“, so to speak.
In my Entry 49 on the “History of Oligoamory” I honour the circle of people around the visionaries, authors, and neo-pagans Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart and Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, the former of whom initially coined the word “polyamorous“.
At its time this act was not done on a whim or out of fancifulness, but astonishingly, first and foremost out of clamant pragmatism.
“Necessity”, they say, “is the mother of invention” – and it is very often the case that certain questions – even of an ideological nature – usually only really impose themselves to be solved when there is an acute need for action. This was also the case with the people around the Zell-Ravenhearts, who – after intensive periods of deeply trusting, highly self-honest and self-revealing psychological as well as spiritual group work – were eventually confronted with the fact that loving relationships had begun to form within the group between participants who were not necessarily already devoted to each other in a social(ly sanctioned) connection – or who were rather either even in a relationship with other people inside the community OR in fact with completely different people outside the group.
To “cope” with such circumstances, even in the 1990s the well-established options of serial monogamy, secrecy/betrayal or “open relationship” would have been available – but the Zell-Ravenhearts chose of all things (the new-found) Polyamory…
I would therefore like to dwell for a moment precisely on the pragmatism that actually set the ball rolling in the first place: practicality, feasibility and suitability for everyday life are never small nuts to crack. No outcome of coalition-talks or any climate debate would be purposeful without this kind of being dragged out into the “hard light of reality” – indeed, even more so: wouldn’t be viable in the long run. In other words, feasibility in the form of viability for everyday life as well as a resilient long-term perspective were among the most important parameters of “Polyamory” from the very beginning.
Which, in my interpretation, never aimed at the facilitation of short-term playmate interactions, mere weekend affairs or workshop liaisons, but rather toward the desire as well as the self-commitment to be able (and allowed!) to establish the gift of multiple love into fully-fledged, entitled and functional relationships in the midst of the lives of those involved [see also Entry 45 on the “Wonderful Ordinariness of Being”]. “Fully-fledged”, “entitled” and “functional” thus immediately mean, of course, openness (yes, also publicness) and honesty, as well as eye level and participation of all involved. And it means commitment and liability to contribute to the overall functioning – meaning to the sustainability – of the relationship as a whole, with the full programme of agreements, the establishment of mutual understanding and also the occasional self-sacrifice.
By which “pragmatism” seems to be the “stale bread share” of Polyamory…. But without the reality check based on the “stale bread share”, there also won’t be a “cake share” of a truly mutual relationship that is regarded by all parties as a trusting, secure and predictable venture in which all can experience themselves as valued contributors on account of their inherent value.
About “idealism” in Polyamory, I have probably written the most on this bLog – being an idealist myself. An idealism that I have translated above as “unselfishness”….
So if you want to call yourself “polyamorous”, what kind of “mindset” would I wish you to have?
The aforementioned Zell-Ravenhearts had filled themselves to the brim, so to speak, with idealistic content by the time “polyamory” was formulated as a way of life by them.
These people were concerned with nothing less than a new world – a new approach and a renewed way of interacting with everything that is contained in the cosmos.
As pragmatists – which they were at the same time as capable philosophers – they applied such idealism as a priority and virtually from the beginning to themselves: Concepts such as “non-violence”, “awareness-raising”, “integration”, “engagement”, “taking responsibility” and “commitment” should not remain mere theoretical ideas gathering dust in some cloud cuckoo land. By using the approach of Maslow‘s “self-actualisation” mentioned in Entry 49, these courageous people strove to become “a little bit more the best version of themselves” every day. Dishonesty, intransparency, egoism, ruthlessness, unawareness and declaring oneself as not responsible were no longer options that they wanted to take with them into that new world of equal dignity, empowerment and acceptance.
So when suddenly the fact of extended loving relationships created out of trust and togetherness became a reality, the only option was to anchor their feasibility and livability within the same high ethical ambition that was meant to be the guiding principle for thinking, speaking and acting in all other aspects.
Since the Zell-Ravenhearts, through their own group work approach, had thereby pursued both individual (i.e. focused on the self) and collective (i.e. focused on the group, the common) goals, another component merged almost unnoticed into Polyamory: The multiplication of resources and all-round welfare, which I regularly refer to on this bLog as the emergence of “more than the sum of the parts”.
In my own experience, it is precisely this supra-individual overall benefit that is one of the most meaningful effects of successful Polyamory, which is why I also synonymise idealism with ” unselfishness” in the introduction: If we succeed in no longer taking ourselves as individuals quite so seriously by following an ideal as a guiding star, then we embark – regardless of whether we will ever achieve it completely or not – on the famous “path of the greatest possible courage”, on which we can grow beyond ourselves. In particular, because in doing so we bow at the same time to the realisation that nothing in the universe truly exists “separately” from one another and that we therefore, as consciousness-possessing human beings – and even more so as lovers – have a special responsibility for everything around us.
Which brings me to the third core component, which has even made it into the word “Polyamory”: Love.
Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux (the authors of what is still to me the greatest Polyamory guidebook “More Than Two” ¹ – who have meanwhile unfortunately fallen out with each other, precisely because they did not adhere to the most important rule they themselves had formulated for Polyamory “Don’t be an asshole!”…) called love in their book “the great clarifier of values” [see also Entry 64 on “Meaningful relationships”].
And, oh yes, it is, because without it all that which I have so beautifully compiled above about pragmatism and idealism would only be pretty – but ultimately lifeless – piecemeal.
By love, however, I don’t mean “making love” which is always too easily read into it – this stuffy, Anglicised euphemism for sexual activity from the late 1940s ² [I mean, really!!! Who seriously says “Come on, let’s make love…” anymore???]. That is why I do not primarily refer it to eroticism, lust, desire and passion (although I consider the presence of these aspects in love matters to be a possibly profitable contribution…).
No, above I equate “love” rather with “appreciative attachment”. This “super-concentrate” of such a complex topic as “love” has accompanied me since I first received the very plausible indicators for it from the psychologists Cohen, Underwood and Gottlieb in Entry 14, that we are a) being understood, validated and cared for because b) we matter to the self-concption of our loving partners, thereby c) being able to have resilient confidence in our acceptance while d) perceiving esteem for our own core-selves because of our inalienable intrinsic worth.
Appreciative attachment, ok, I can certainly experience that during the course of a hot night of passion too. For our lives, for our daily present – and thus for the far greater part of our (seemingly) mundane hours – it is, in my view, even more significant if we are able to recognise this appreciative attachment in the supposedly “small things” and to realize it’s meant for us: Who fetches me the nasal spray from the pharmacy in November without being asked, who lovingly and relentlessly sees the children off to school, who stays with me – even when I’m in a bad mood and not very entertaining, for whom do I wash the favourite shirt one load faster, who drives to work every day and earns money for our community, who visits my querulous mother with me, whose dog have I deflead – even though I never wanted a dog, who calls me “super sweetheart”, who do I pick up at 2 a.m. in some godforsaken place, who tells me about the feelings of abandonment as a teenager when the beloved grandpa died?
Love is thus for me the great bond that ultimately connects and holds together any overall package of pragmatism and idealism. Entry by Entry (most recently Entry 69), I keep bringing up the “Emotional Contract” behind every (loving) relationship, which is about the “implied acknowledgement and agreement – as a result of a mutually established emotional close-knit relationship – regarding the totality of voluntary yielded obligations, self-commitments and care which have been reciprocally contributed and are potentially enjoyable by all parties involved”. At first glance, this sounds very sober, very much like the “stale bread share” I mentioned when I spoke about pragmatism. But it also contains all the promises of shared togetherness, familiarity and intimacy. However, it is precisely because of “love” as the bond and wrapping of such an arrangement that it becomes obvious that we are not invested in it because we are obliged to for better or worse, but because we WANT it again and again from the bottom of our hearts and with the deepest conviction.
Those who are not yet convinced may apply a “negative checklist” – and define one of the mentioned components out of a supposedly polyamorous situation:
A relationship that is sustained by love and also idealistically unselfish – but without a pragmatic component? Will be a spatio-temporal flame that never gets a real “seat in the life” of the participants. May last for quite a while through that certain exclusive sparkle, but never lose that tarnished veil of deniability and non-commitment.
So rather pragmatic, practical, full of love, but without ideals? Even such self-denial can be maintained for a while…. However, such a connection will most likely run out of love one day. Either because all those involved have finally become as similar to each other as the proverbial dog owners are to their dogs – or because, due to a lack of impulses for further development, a paralysing boredom has at some point taken hold of all the occupants who are still clinging on. Or it blows up very quickly – on the day when most of the participants realise that all are actually striving by inward urge for completely different things.
And a union – both pragmatic and idealistic – but without love? Our grandparents probably called it a “laundry-and- potato-agreement”. Or a “relationship of reason”. In any case, our hearts will remain cold in it, standing longingly in the rain with collars turned up on a draughty bridge. Which is a guarantee of premature ageing and withering – unless you were possibly a narcissist benefiting from such an arrangement, drawing your energy from exploiting others in such a system without contributing a shred of true affection yourself….
All three negative tests, unfortunately, I have encountered far more frequently on the “polyamorous” continent than the fascinating, mutually beneficial way of life the concept was once composed to be: A blueprint to ensure consensual, fully transparent, consistently sincere, committed-reliable multi-person loving relationships designed for everyday suitability, whose inner space is given the potential for self-development both for the individuals involved and for the collectivity or the relationship as a whole through resource networking and all-round participation.
And therefore I, Oligotropos, reject the use of the term “polyamorous” as a (self-)designation for all those persons and states of desire, which thereby above all want to describe that with more than one further person some predominantly erotic context is shared. Especially because I believe that in this way the potential as well as the origin and application backgrounds of the thus presented relationship philosophy are ignored, disregarded or, at worst, deliberately obscured.³
¹ Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert: “More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory”; Thorntree Press; 1. Edition (1. September 2014)
² By the way, the term “make love” has been around for quite some time, it just meant something different for most of its existence. When, for example, in Jane Austen‘s novel “Pride and Prejudice” the phrase “he made love to all of us” was used in the original text in 1813, it did not imply a mass orgy, but simply amicable behaviour in a social setting.
³ Why I, as the author of this bLog, relocated my ambitions from Poly- to Oligoamory I explain among other things in detail in Entry 2.
Thanks to congerdesign on pixabay.com for the photo!