I was talking to a girl about my opinions on love, and on the topic of polygamy I told her that theoretically (it's hard enough falling in love with one person!) I could see myself with two women that I completely loved. She told me that I confused her because she could not square that statement with a previous statement where I spoke of my want for true love. I told her that I didn't see any contradiction between those two sentiments. Maybe if I understood why people are opposed to polygamy I would have an easier time defending my opinion on the subject. So why is it said by so many people that it is impossible to fall in love with more than one person at the same time? When I ask these people why this is so they can not give me a clear answer. Can you provide a clear explanation for why love must (or allegedly must) be exclusive to only one sexual partner?

I think the reason people can't give you a clear answer is that there isn't one. It just seems to be a fact that some people really can love more than one person deeply at the same time, and I'll confess to finding it puzzling that this would puzzle anyone.

As for opposition to polygamy, it would be hard to make the case that it's simply wrong. It would be particularly hard to do it a priori, without looking in some detail at polygamous societies. There are some worries one might well have (for example: worries about polygamous arrangements that favor men over women) but that's different from saying that all polygamous arrangements are wrong.

None of this is a recommendation for what anyone should do in a society like contemporary America. Marriage and romantic relationships fit into formal and informal social institutions in a complicated way, and not every change we might contemplate is liable to work out well. Once again, there's no saying a priori.

I'd add that "falling in love" isn't always clearly distinguishable from infatuation. Simply following one's infatuations whoever they may lead may not only be a less than successful way to manage one's own life, but it may end up hurting others for the sake of passing gratification. There's probably a reason why 60's style "free love" seems both quaint and silly in retrospect.

Why might someone think that polygamy is inherently incompatible with genuine love? One very plausible reason is that it sounds like you are asking your 'true loves' to enter into an inherently unfair and inequitable relationship... you would receive 100% of the relational attention from two women, while they each have to settle for about 50% of your relational attention. That means you receive quadruple the relational benefits (from the two of them combined) compared to what each of them can expect to receive individually from you. That sounds like a wonderful arrangement for you, but not a very good deal for them.... and asking them to be involved in that doesn't sound very loving. I don't deny that it is possible to have deep sentiment for multiple people at the same time, I'm just saying that it looks like you're asking them to enter into a type of relationship that is objectively unfair and not likely to be in their best interests (and why would you do that if you truly 'love' them?).

There are probably other problems with this sort of relationship. For one thing, polygamous romantic relationships are even more emotionally complicated than traditional dyadic relationships and have a lot more room for potential conflict. It is hard to see why someone would voluntarily accept one of the 'inferior' roles in these relationships. This might explain why this model for relationships occurs most frequently in societies that are either male centered or where there is gross economic inequality (or both).

Now, I could imagine some unusual societal circumstances where a polygamous model for relationships makes pragmatic sense. Suppose we have a society where men tend to die at a significantly younger age than women do: I'm not talking about a situation where women die at 77 and men die at 70.... I'm talking about something much more extreme than that. Let's say there is a society where due to war 20-25% of the men die in battle before their mid-twenties. It might make sense for such a society to accept polygamy since 20-25% of the women would have no chance to marry (and presumably have children) at all if they insisted upon monogamy. In such a situation it still seems the polygamous model for relationships is objectively 'unfair,' but allowing polygamy in such a society might be better than the alternative (a situation where 20-25% of the women have no chance to marry or reproduce).

Addendum: Richard Heck brings up an interesting possibility (that I thought of, but did not comment upon because I saw no indication that this was the original question's intent): could a polygamous/polyamorous relationship be more equitable if two ot its members were bi-sexual/bi-amorous?

At least, this would eliminate the inherent structural inequality in traditional polygamous relationships, while leaving open the practical questions concerning whether the day to day workings out of such a relationship would really be stable and positive for all involved. Besides the obvious three way struggles over the remote control, menu, and finances that such an arrangement would entail, the most difficult aspect seems to be whether each of the three members could treat each of the other two fairly and equitably long-term. It seems that it would be difficult long-term for all three members to avoid choosing a 'favorite' among the other two...and if the third member starts to feel like a 'third-wheel' it is easy to see how jealousy and instability would result.

In any case, I think we've done a good job answering the original question... why does the questioner find that many women react negatively to his suggestion that he could really be in a long term loving relationship with two women? Probably because the women he is talking to are not bi-sexuals and therefore for them a polyamorous relationship would entail the deeply unattractive structural inequalities that I mentioned earlier.

Without meaning to take a stand on anything, I think it is worth mentioning that, in most actual "polyamorous" relationships, things are not as Eric describes, where one partner "receive[s] 100% of the relational attention from two [others],while they each have to settle for about 50% of" the former's. Rather, people who enter into such relationships are very often bi-sexual and bi-amorous, and so each partner distributes his or her attention to both of the other two. Of course, that probably makes the relationship even more emotionally complicated.

The other remark it may be worth making here echoes one of Allen's. One often hears it asked: If we allow gay marriage, why not polygamous marriage? Partial answer: The laws on marriage really do assume, in ever so many ways, that a marriage is a relationship between two people. There are, for example, no provisions whatsoever for the dissolution of part of a marriage, in which two of the married parties might decide to continue without the other. But, as the Massachusetts Supreme Court observed, there really aren't any such deep assumptions about the gender of the parties. That is why essentially no changes were needed when Massachusetts started allowing same-sex couples to marry. Other, that is, than changing the language on some forms. If one were going to allow polygamy, then lots and lots of laws would need writing and changing. That is not in itself a reason not to allow polygamy, but it is a reason to think the cases are different.

Other Addendum: No doubt Eric is right that polyamory, as usually practiced, probably wasn't what the original questioner had in mind. Or, at least, those to whom he was speaking.

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