Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Followup on Saturation (Or, the Other 'S' Word: Selfishness)

Instead of digging up the notes I have on my "5 Love Languages" book review (which I'll get to, I promise), I wanted to follow up on something I pretty much pooh-poohed in my last post:
There's a term in Polyamory called "polysaturation," which is basically the same principle applied to having multiple partners. One hits his or her polysaturation point when they have too many partners to adequately maintain relationships with them or to maintain a life balance outside of them.

I realize that folks who are critical of poly will tend to roll their eyes at this and think, "Poor poly people and their first-world problems." Get it out of your systems, folks. I'm moving on.
I'm not trying to dismiss anyone's very real frustration at this; it just wasn't quite what I was getting at in my last post. Time for a follow-up.

It isn't really polysaturation here that's being called into question, but the act of having multiple partners in and of itself: if you have multiple partners, how on earth can you devote enough time, resources, and just plain intimacy to the partners you have without leaving them wanting? It's the root of the whole "Polyamory is selfish" belief that many people on the outside - sometimes on the inside - of such relationships can have.

Let's take a step back and bring in an old friend we see pop up on Facebook and Twitter now and again:

Veracity of the quote aside (everyone quotes it, yet nobody seems to have a source), let's forget about resources: for many people, it's the act of loving another that undermines the first relationship. We see things through our own filters; if we're monogamous pendulum-types, then yes, nurturing feelings for another does negatively impact our existing relationship. Any pendulum-type who would do so should expect this, and therefore is being selfish by neglecting their existing relationship in favor of someone new. Lack of available resources just adds to the mix, when someone is okay with the concept, just not so much with the execution.

There's a huge disconnect between monogamous pendulum-types and polyamorous fountain-types in their understanding of each other. Many poly folks get out of sorts (and rightly so) when they see things like the Depp quote above, or hear that Poly folks are selfish. In their defense, some trot out our other good friends we see time and again:

  • My friends don't feel neglected when I make new friends, do they?
  • I don't love my children any less when I have another child, do I? Maybe I should put my first child up for adoption because I can't love them as much as my youngest.
Or the jokes:
  • That's right, I'm stealing ALL THE LADIES! Well, you can date them too! How is that selfish?

As I mentioned back in my first post here, these responses do nothing to bridge the gap - instead, they just cover it in day-glo yellow paint and highlight it even more. The sheer nature of a romantic relationship to a monogamous pendulum-type person is very, very different from either of these, and it's like equating apples to elephants. Of course it doesn't impact your relationship with your friends or your children. Of course it does impact your romantic relationships! And the poly, fountain-type person just sits there baffled by the distinction.

My point in all this isn't to scold anyone, or to fix anything single-handedly. It's just to present the understanding that there is a very real disconnect in the ways in which Poly and Mono folks see romantic relationships and love others. The perspective that polyamory is selfish is a byproduct of this.

It's a belief that such a relationship has to, by nature, be selfish, because we pendulum-types see things through our own filters (as does everyone else). It's not always an attack on Poly folks (although I'm sure some folks say it with enough distaste that it may as well be). It is a very real perspective that needs to be acknowledged and not mocked or dismissed out of hand (or wittily wordsmithed away into friend or child analogies) before we can ever work on understanding the "other side."

Poly folks - open your minds a bit and realize that Mono folks may really feel this way, for good reason. For a pendulum-type, nurturing romantic feelings for another would be selfish and unfair to their other partner, because their love would be divided.

Mono folks - open your minds a bit and understand that Poly folks don't love like we do. That the child and friend analogies actually make sense to them because they don't feel romantic love as exclusively as we do. Just try to accept that if they really are polyamorous, they aren't giving anyone the short end of the stick, love-wise. See what time and experience tells you as their relationships develop. Try asking your friends in polyamorous or mono/poly relationships what they really need in a relationship, what they really gain from this relationship (not in a snarky way, either!), and see how they respond.

And everyone? If you have multiple relationships, make sure everyone's getting what they need and that resource allocation isn't a problem. It's no success to have a partner who accepts or groks Poly while they starve for your time and intimacy. Loving More is great. Loving Well is a different skill entirely.