Talking About Love..
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick will write about their views on one of them. This month we’re talking about “love”.
There are likely as many definitions of love as there are combinations of people who have professed to know it, and times it has been uttered. As quoted in a favourite movie of mine:
“Talking about love is like dancing about architecture!”*
It hasn’t ever stopped us though, has it? The oldest thoughts recorded by man, each time we uncover and decode a new glyph, consistently centre on the myriad of ways we love. The love for fellow man, for a partner, for family, for a God, for oneself, for society/state..
Most modern psychological theories acknowledge that to love and be loved is a necessary precondition to health, and not just emotional health – physical wellbeing too.
Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs places love as a requirement only secondary to only the most rudimentary physiological needs (food/water) and basic safety. The anthropologist Helen Fisher (who interestingly was, for a time, consulting for match.com on scientific theories of matching) used fMRI to show some of the striking detrimental effects of not believing you are loved. Carl Rogers took Maslow’s theories and suggested that what every human being had in common was a universal desire to work our way up these hierarchies, an impulse he called the “Actualising Tendency”. He suggested that all of us will ultimately gravitate to conditions which encourage positive growth. Because of this, he goes on, we have developed what he termed “Organismic Valuing” (read that one carefully!) This simply means we have a tendency to place the greatest value on things which assist the Actualising Tendency. So when we’re hungry, we find food – but not just any food, we find food that tastes good because millennia of evolution has made us aware that food that tastes bad may be spoiled or rotten.
Not all food is equal; and so it is with love.
I believe, as Maslow, Fisher, Rogers and countless others, that love is a necessary condition for health; not a luxury, a necessity
So far so good, right? But how does this relate to polyamory specifically? Well, if you’re willing to accept that love is good for us because it allows us to climb our way up that hierarchy towards ‘self actualisation’ / fulfilment / being the best version of us we can &c, you probably ought to examine why this is the case.
It is generally accepted that ‘healthy’ love is unconditional. That’s not to say that (one of) your partner(s) could go on a murderous rampage and you’d love them anyway – there are limits! More that unconditional love doesn’t need to be continually earned in any way. Most children are loved unconditionally. Your belongingness* to that family doesn’t revolve around you getting good grades at school for example – you belong because of who you are, and you known for who you are. This creates in us a sense of acceptance and a secure base from which to level-up to those skills higher up that triangle!
Most established couples love each other unconditionally but, for various societal and religious reasons, ignore this in certain cases, e.g. infidelity. We don’t stop loving our partner when they cheat, but (for the monogamous majority) we still cauterise the relationship! Our love is unconditional, but the structure of the relationship is very conditional indeed. I think it is this conditionality which drives monogamous couples to hide from one another external feelings of attraction, lust and arousal that are near universal. We (by which these days I mean “they”, of course) participate in a grand charade which locks us somewhere in the middle of that pyramid – not being able to be fully loved for who we are.
For me, non-monogamy has offered two distinct and vital things which have demonstrably helped me grow as a person.
Firstly, it has offered unconditional love. I can explore other feelings freely; I can feel lust for that person, I can kiss this person, I can fall in love with that person – my original relationship doesn’t change. It sees these things in me and accepts these things in me – both vital. The second thing non-monogamy has offered is the chance to love from many angles. (Oi, quit giggling at the back!) To be able to explore being the more/less confident partner, the louder/quieter partner, the more/less emotional partner and the difficulties that come with each is something most of us experience with serial monogamy, yes, but doing it in parallel drastically reduces the feedback loop. I no longer have to break up with one partner in order to apply those hard won lessons to the benefit of my next partner; when I am the more independent person in a relationship I instantly see the point of view of the partner(s) with whom I am the more dependent person. I can immediately be both more tolerant of them and kinder to my other partner for seeing both sides. Sorry to get pragmatic on y’all, but if the aim of the game is to learn and apply our knowledge, poly puts you on a fast track!
In short, honest, unconditional love is good for us. It helps us climb up past mere physiological survival to higher levels of living. The more we can see the people around us for who they are, and love them anyway; the more we can be known, warts and all, and loved anyway; the better a chance we have in every other facet of our life. From physical health to career advancement – the facts are there. Moulin Rouge basically had it right, love does “lift us up where we belong”..
Finally, this is a post about love not sex, so even the strictly monogamous of you might want to consider what unconditional love really means to you. Beginning, perhaps, by being more honest about your attraction to other people. After all, your promise is not to act on those feelings, not not to feel them – right?
*Incidentally I have, in fact, danced about architecture – but that’s another story and has the GCSE Dance syllabus and my 15 year old artistic soul to blame!
** it’s totally a word!