Friday, August 1, 2014

On Analogies and Love

If you've taken the SATs (at least, back in the dark ages when I took the SATs), I'm sure you remember that accursed analogy section:
Obsequious : Toast :: Ubiquitous : __________

If we weren't familiar with the words, and we were lucky, we could eliminate a couple choices and have maybe a 50/50 shot of coming up with a right answer. If we weren't lucky, we were sitting, scratching our heads, thinking, "This is a word?!"

Here's one for you:
monogamy : polyamory :: ? : ??

Yeah, I know it's unfair to have two unknowns in the analogy. It's also spot on.

How do you, as a Mono partner of a Poly person, translate your partner's entire way of loving into something you can relate to? If you're like me, it's not something you can emotionally Grok. Intellectually and logically? Sure... you get that monogamy : polyamory :: one : many. That's the easy part. If you're monogamous by nature, though, it's incredibly tough to understand - really understand - how someone can deeply, intimately love more than one person.

It was obvious that my friends didn't understand, either. I heard comments like, "Well, you're the one he really loves; she's just a fling," or, "Well, he'll pick one of you and settle down eventually." Things that were meant to be supportive (and, at one time, were probably exactly what I wanted to hear), but weren't reality.

To be fair, my partner didn't understand me, either. Why was I hurt when he told me, when we were starting our relationship, that he fully expected me to date? Why didn't more love from more people affect me in a positive way by spilling over into the rest of my life, rather than making me a miserable, conflicted mess? Explaining myself to him was like trying to explain what water tastes like. You can't find any words that work, even though you know the feeling quite well.

Some folks like to try to bridge the gap using the "child analogy":
If you have more than one child, you don't love either of them any less.

True. And I understand the point people are trying to make: having multiple romantic partners doesn't have to mean that you love any of them less, either. However, there are a couple reasons this falls flat for me, one of which is simply that the parent/child relationship is vastly different from a relationship between romantic partners. I'm raising my kids to be independent adults, self-sufficient, and able to leave the house and make their own way without me (although a call once in a while would be nice). I'm not grooming my partners to leave me; at least, I hope I'm not. There are enough differences between the two types of relationships that it seems to require a different sense of the word "love" altogether, meaning that we're not really comparing the same thing. Apples and Volkswagons.

I don't really like the "explain Poly by equating it to Mono relationships" type of analogies, because they seem to always fall flat with someone, regardless of how clear the analogy seems. I did prefer the, "Why did you choose to have two kids?" over the previous child analogy, since that seems to remove the whole "love" comparison and just boil it down to, "Because I wanted to." However, not everyone feels the same about it. The, "You don't stop making friends just because you already have friends, right?" analogy sounds great, up to the point where the Mono person responds back with, "But you don't have to sleep with friends." Again, two very different relationships are being compared.

Instead of relating Poly love directly to Mono love, I tried something else: relating them each to familiar, but individual ideas that people can understand. I switched around the analogy:
monogamy : ? :: polyamory : ??

I'm Monogamous. My love is a pendulum.
When I am fully invested in a romantic partnership, that pendulum has swung all the way in that direction.
When I am casually dating, that pendulum is somewhere in the middle, tending to everyone, but nowhere as intense.
I cannot be fully invested in more than one person. My (romantic) love is a zero-sum game. More there equals less here.

My partner is Polyamorous. His love is a fountain.
Everyone within the radius gets just as wet as everyone else.
Space (and time) is a zero-sum game, as there isn't room for everyone in the radius (and some people's radii are smaller than others). However, his love is not. Everyone has the potential to be just as important as anyone else, provided they're fully in the circle.
If one person tries to keep that love all to themselves by putting, say, a bucket over the fountain, it just ends up messy and people still get wet.
He cannot be anything but fully invested within that circle, regardless of how many people are there.

If you've experienced love as a fountain-type your entire life, you can't even comprehend why telling your partner to date would ever be a problem. If you're a pendulum-type, you've just heard, "I want you to love me less." It's no wonder we're completely baffled by each other when we talk about love.

monogamy : pendulum :: polyamory : fountain

Sounds like there should be a fish on a bicycle joke in there somewhere...

What analogies have resonated with you (positively or negatively)? Please share your experiences in the comments.



  1. Finally. Thank you Jen for this. I hate that child analogy and others like it because as you say they are fundamentally a different TYPE of relationship. Children should not be compared to lover/partner/spouse IMO. I appreciate your fountain and pendulum analogy-it makes sense to my mono self and resonates more meaningfully with me than anything else.

    Thanks again for making yourself and your thoughts available and giving us monos a resource by one of us, for us :)

  2. I'm male and mono dating a poly woman. I've toyed with the idea of poly myself, but also feel like she's enough and adding someone else would leave me unfocused.

    I can't stand the child analogy either. I have children and it's not the same at all. Additionally, while you may love both children, it's fairly common for a parent to 'like' one child over another. Many parents don't care to admit this, but it doesn't make it less true.


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