The Generosity of Polyamory

My last post was about being honest about yourself and how that can be polarizing. So let’s jump in, shall we?

 

Polyamory has a loaded history and generates extreme opinions in people. It’s been associated with swinging, open relationships, cheating, ethical non-monogamy, non-traditional families, etc. Many of these relationship expressions fit the Venn diagram for polyamory as they describe the ways that humans negotiate their sexual, emotional, and companionable relationships. I don’t care to deeply define polyamory here when *others have done a thorough and nuanced job of explaining its roots and current branches. 

Regardless of how you feel about polyamory or what it means to you, I want to focus on one of the biggest advantages I believe polyamory fosters and cultivates in its practitioners. 

Generosity in the face of greed

A friend of mine told a close family member that she was poly, and the family member remarkably took it in stride. “Ok, ok,” they said. “I think I understand, but isn’t that…greedy?” This is the unfortunate reaction that many people have to the idea of polyamory because we have been taught that love is a zero-sum game. If you give some of your love to someone else, there’s less for me. In such a scenario, we become love-misers, holding on to every scrap of affection as if it’s the last, anxious to corner the market with the people we love. If trying to lock down a steady supply of love that no one else can share isn’t greed, then I don’t know what is.

Scarcity mindsets never breed generosity or open-handedness, and a scarcity mindset about love is no different. The greediness here leads to asking too much of one person, requiring an individual to be your whole world when no one is a world in themselves. We need each other–I’m talking multiple people spanning diverse perspectives–to create the world we want to live in. That means I can’t demand of one person all of the interests, experiences, or affection that I desire.  

Generosity goes both ways

So you can have all the love you want from all the friends, lovers, and playmates you want. If you are someone who is skeptical of polyamory, that might indeed sound greedy. Especially if you are the person hearing that your partner wants more and wants it with other people. But the generosity of polyamory goes both ways if you are able to open your hands and let go of the restricted, controlling views you were taught about relationships and how you fit in them. 

No one person is my whole world. But the converse is also true: I do not have to provide an entire world out of myself to keep relationships with the people I love. The pressure is off to provide the human relationship equivalent of forests, oceans, reefs, mountains, and deserts. Instead, I spend my time and energy cultivating my corner of the world and cycling my interests and affections in and around those who delight in them. Freely. Believing that what I put into the world will come back to me, so there is no need to stockpile or cordon off myself or others. 

Generosity in love is not easy. I would never mislead you into thinking that. But it is empowering to define yourself as a whole and valuable person aside from your relationships. It is enriching to weave affection throughout the lives of friends and lovers while avoiding expectations no one person can fulfill. It is an exquisite joy to open your hand and find the world in it.

 

 

* For in-depth reading on polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, look for The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy and More Than Two by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux.

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