With an admitted bias towards monogamy (only because that lifestyle works for me, not because it’s better), I would like to first express my admiration for polyamory before I challenge its claims as something “more evolved”. Today, there is nothing more perilous than questioning things like polyamory and in doing so I readily risk declaring my membership to the “socially conditioned” masses, shackled to allegedly outmoded ideas of love and intimacy. If you don’t know what polyamory is, check out More Than Two and read their FAQ, where they answer questions posed by just such a puritanical character they designed to represent the average ignorant monogamist. This site represents the difficulty non-monogamists have in promoting their lifestyle with sounding condescending. Even if they say there is nothing wrong with monogamy, implications are often made that it is somehow a limited and “less-evolved” prospect. Sometimes these implications are misperceived due to the insecurity of monogamists who feel narrow-minded in comparison to polyamorists. Sometimes the insecurity is on the part of the polyamorists, made adversarial by the non-acceptance of their peers. It really depends on who’s talking and to what extent they are foolish enough to promote their lifestyle as “the way”.
I do agree that polyamorists are misunderstood, always having to assert to the monogamy-normative masses that their relationships are loving and wholesome, not depraved and hedonistic. However, as with any unconventional lifestyle choice, the measures made by the non-monogamists in legitimizing themselves have gone a bit too far into superiority complex territory.
I must call into question their claims of having some kind of special understanding or experience of love and intimacy. I understand they are often taking this position to fend off the light of judgment, but this only continues an absurd dualism around something as subjective and varied as relationship choice – as though the “fullest” possible lifestyle could ever be determined. The absurdity really foams over when polyamorous communities quote ancient Yogic or Buddhist philosophies, suggesting that non-monogamy embodies these ideals. I’d now like to explore how we arrived at such a misunderstanding about love and intimacy such that a celibate Eastern master’s ideas about the boundlessness of love or the unity of human consciousness have entered some alternate universe where multiple intimate relationships is precisely how to live this truth.
I will now explore what is meant by these ideas of unboundedness, abundance and all that “bigness” we aspire to in our spiritual path – and really what this has to do with our love lives. More Than Two describes the monogamous model of love as both scarcity- and starvation-driven, i.e. we believe we only have enough for one person and/or there is only one person that we could love or could ever love us. Now this definitely does describe a self-depriving mentality that many people harbor and take into monogamous relationships. But just because this idea corrupts monogamous relationships, it doesn’t mean it defines them. In fact, polyamory unfairly diminishes monogamy by contrasting itself with broken, sickly examples of monogamy, not healthy ones.
Our idea of spiritual abundance or unboundedness has been sorely mis-modeled in our culture as some sort of “super size me” American idea of quantity. In this model more partners = “I love more infinitely”. But not requiring a multitude of simultaneous intimate relationships does not mean you only reserve your love for one person, it means your love for life and its inhabitants are not contained in the boundaries of your intimate relationships.
Having two girlfriends and a boyfriend who are all lovingly entangled with one another might mean your love is more unbounded than those with just one – that is, if that was the only person you loved. However, any parent of multiple children can tell you about boundless love (love that is often described as more powerful than love for their spouse). Or people that are loving to their parents, or siblings, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbors, or anyone they interact with in their lives. Or just in a default state of love, giving it to all who enter their perimeter. All-inclusive unity (in the Yogic sense) is cultivated as an inner state that radiates outward, not the shoring up of variety and quantity of experience. It is consciously inside-out, not materially outside-in. However, the demands of polyamorous practice can force someone to shift in that direction of cosmic thinking. Just know that it is not the ultimate example of it.
Polyamorists that are outraged by my conflation of parental love to romantic love should review the idea that “polyamory is about love, not sex”. To which we could perhaps elaborate: “well, it’s not about any kind of love, but that romantic, intimate kind that’s super fun and exciting…y’know, grown-up love.” Well, what is that kind of love? It’s sexual. Although More Than Two has made it abundantly clear that intimate relationships are not always physically sexual, those types are generally in the minority, and involve the exchange of a more sublime state of sexual energy. Tantric practices harness this energy to elevate conscious experience to our divine feminine and masculine natures. In Robert E. Svoboda’s eye-opening Tantric memoir Aghora, his master Vimalananda describes some relationships where the energy is so heightened, all that is sometimes required for deep gratification is a gentle passing caress, as it is more powerful than any traditional sexual act. Sure, these unions aren’t viscerally sexual, but sexual in a more refined and subtle manner.
Understanding Tantra is important in our understanding of what is emotionally at stake with polyamory and even monogamy. Many venture into practices of sacred sexuality without reading the disclaimer: unless you really know what you’re doing, do not do this with more than one person at the same time, and in fact, more than one person…in your lifetime…period. Why? Sex is binding. Tantra is a more powerful transmuted version of sexual energy and therefore even more binding in nature. In that regard, it is the opposite of our idea of “unbounded love.” Correctly practiced Tantra provides an unbounded experienced, which is ironically a process that binds each participant to the other. The love is unbounded, but the relationship is bounded. This is the nature of enlivening the sacred Shiva and Shakti within: Shakti wraps around Shiva.
No wonder non-sexual love is so much more easily spread around than sexual love. A parent with 6 kids? No problem. 6 partners? Different story. No one congratulates the spiritual integrity of a parent, but the polyamorous consider themselves heroes of unboundedness. I believe this a reward they give themselves for overcoming the tension of sexuality’s binding nature.
Polyamory as a “spiritual act” is the attempt to simulate these yogic unity experiences through our relationship portfolio, which is understandable since unity can be experienced relationally. And it’s true that one romantic relationship is nowhere close to union with infinity. But is 3 or 4 any closer? Is a billion even? Unity does not happen through the accumulation of individual connections. If we were to look deeper into Yogic cosmologies rather than just cherry picking their ideas for our convenience, we would find that deepening our connection to one thing (or person) is just as much a doorway to that experience of unity. And if you ask the Yogis bathing in enlightenment in Himalayan isolation, not only do you not need many people for that, you don’t even need any at all.
Polyamorists that are successful at confronting its challenges, while not inflating their self-image certainly have my respect, but I think it’s important to not exalt our relationships as some spiritual magic bullet. In the yogic worldview, romantic intimacy is not some “higher grade” version of love and unity. In the yogic worldview, there are not even varieties of love. There is just love – and within love we have varieties of relationships, expressions of love. Sexuality, romance, etc, is not love in its elemental state, but a relational filter it passes through to bind two (or more) people in a life-creating process – or a transcendence-inducing one if they are on a Tantric path. Both the biological and spiritual imperative of sex is to bind and this needs to be understood before thinking it is the pathway to liberation. In fact, considering our relationships the source of any kind liberation makes us externally-dependent, and by-definition not liberated at all. A truly evolved relationship is one we don’t need anything from at all. It simply serves as a collaboration of two already-liberated souls, an expression of the unboundedness that has already been established within.