People are not possessions (or a Happy Poly Valentines)

Polyamory is all about love, and so you’d think that Valentine’s Day is a veritable jackpot for poly people. But as I discover to my dismay year after year, Valentine’s Day reinforces many things I find abhorrent about society’s view of monogamy, so this year I’ve decided to write my rants into something coherent and sensible.

Don’t get me wrong, I fall for the capitalist bullshit that is Valentines as much as anyone else. I’m extremely lucky that I have three wonderful partners, and I want to let them know that they are important to me, every day. I bought them all something little, and even though I can’t be with them all on V-Day, I make arrangements to see them all and have some quality time with them. But buying suitable cards proved much more difficult. As I browsed card shop after card shop, I grew increasingly exasperated at the sayings on the cards, which I found unsuitable and/or abhorrent.

I realise and accept that as a poly person, not all V-Day cards will be suitable for me. Things saying “You Are My One And Only” are obviously for the monogamous person, and nothing untoward with that. I’m looking for cards that talk about love in a non exclusive way, but every year I struggle to find cards that simply say “I love you” without any further reference, claims or provisos.

An alarming amount of cards had sentiments such as “Be Mine”, “Belong to You” and “My Heart Is Yours Forever”. I found myself picking card after card up only to put it back mumbling under my breath at the awful possessive lines in them. I understand that for monogamous people, emotional and sexual exclusivity equals security.  These cards are churned out to feed into the need for monogamous couples to declare their fidelity, and therefore assure the strength of the relationship once a year.

All this shows to me is that V Day, and romantic/sexual exclusivity, is peddled as a cover for an uglier thing altogether. The concept behind it is that love is a shackle that ties you to someone, and that people are possessions to be secured and fought for against potential thieves. How many songs are written about the “dirty ho who slept with my man” but rarely about dealing with the cheater themselves? Why is loving a competition, a survival of the fittest?

I don’t mean to be a monogamy basher. I don’t believe monogamy is better than polyamory, or vice versa. What I believe in is being honest and true to your desires, and your loved ones. Monogamy works for some people fabulously, some people can’t deal with polyamory. None of these states are wrong. However, I do believe monogamy isn’t suited to many people in many ways, and makes a mockery of the whole “love = exclusivity” concept. People can love without exclusivity, and exclusivity is often not as secure or sacred as our society likes to make out.

If we take a look at divorce statistics in the UK, we can see that 34% of marriages have ended by the 20th wedding anniversary (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/divorce-rates-marriage-ons). Divorce is currently in decline due to the recession, but is higher than a generation ago. These statistics show very clearly that one third of all long term relationships legalised into marriage don’t last for twenty years, never mind for life. This doesn’t take into account the significant numbers of people who never marry, adding to the evidence that romantic relationships with one person are rarely for life.

So why is that? You’ll hear many divorcees saying that their former spouse just wasn’t “The One”, or they just grew huge differences over the years. This highlights a major downside with monogamy: we expect one person to encompass all of our many needs for the rest of our lives, and vice versa. Love maybe a strong force, but it isn’t that strong, for most people, forever, as the relationship statistics show.

What happens when a monogamous person isn’t having their needs fulfilled? A variety of things. Some people are bona fide honest monogamous people. They either work the relationship out, or end it, and be serial monogamists. Nothing massively wrong with that. However a large proportion of people (if the statistics are right) don’t do that. They cheat. Cheating is cited as legal grounds for divorce in 14.7% of cases presented to the courts in 2011 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/divorce-rates-marriage-ons). (It is important to note the legal issues around using adultery as grounds for divorce, it is far easier to go for unreasonable behaviour even if adultery has occurred. We can therefore assume adultery is involved in divorce far higher than actually recorded.)

Clearly the data indicates that many people who are ostensibly monogamous have desires to or actively engage in some level of emotional and/or physical cheating. Beyond the issue of why they aren’t being honest with their existing partner, this indicates to me that many more people have non monogamous leanings than we admit. Somewhere between 30-40% of people are believed to have cheated at least once on a partner, which is a significant sector of the population. Some people may have cheated only the once, and felt it was an issue with a person or a relationship that now is dealt with. Others may be serial cheaters who repeatedly do so in their relationships, and have no desire to cease this behaviour. A quick look at sites such as Illicit Encounters or Ashley Madison can testify to that.

So what does this mean for us as a society? I think it has significant implications, and I wish they would be dealt with head on. The first and most important issue to me is that we need to reject the concept that love equals exclusivity, and to stop treating people as possessions. If we treat people as privileges in our lives, and relationships as honest, fluid connections between people, the world will be a much better place.

Second is that we need to encourage people to be honest in their desires, and to engage in relationships ethically. If someone wants to have casual sex with five people, so long as all involved are behaving ethically, and are happy with the arrangement, let them. If someone in a monogamous relationship feels they desire to have other relationships, let them be able to talk to their partner about that without recrimination for their desires.  If someone is unhappy in a relationship, let them be able to leave rather than stay in a mediocre relationship.  People we love and respect have the right to truthful dealings with us, and we breach that trust if we stay in a relationship that isn’t working out for us.

Finally we need to break out of the monogamy mould as a relationship default. As the statistics show, nearly half of the population have admitted to cheating within a monogamous relationship. Let’s educate people about alternative forms of relationships that involve love, sex, intimacy and most importantly honesty. As a society let’s accept people’s choice of relationship structure and not pass judgement on them if they don’t conform to the choice we have made for ourselves.

I love my husband and my partners, and they love other people too. My love for my husband is not dependent on him only loving me, in fact I feel more secure that he has the ability to love others, to be loved and have more of his needs met by different people. Moreover, demanding exclusivity clearly does not result in security of relationship, fidelity or love. My partners love and are in relationships with me because they actively choose to do so, every single day of our time together. That means a million times more to me than a false sense of security that exclusivity offers. Finally, can we please have some declarations of love that are just that? Love from one person to another, and nothing else.

Rx

References:

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/divorce-rates-marriage-ons)

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/miss-rosie-freeman-jones/uks-largest-survey-infidelity (heavily weighted to be from people cheating)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/mar/07/polly-vernon-infidelity-betrayal-help-relationships