Get on your knees: Polyamory as the new church

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Romper just published a long read on “The Nonmonoga-Moms Next Door.” One part I found interesting was this claim: “Polyamorists have the greatest overall relationship satisfaction. The next happiest are swingers. Polyamorists win because the near-constant open communication and honesty that polyamory requires is associated with better relationships of any kind.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading studies on happiness, it’s that the most important factor by a whole lot is the quality, and then the quantity of your relationships.

People debate whether polyamory or monogamy is best for the average person. I honestly don’t know or care. I think every person should be free to choose their relationship style as free from stigma, discrimination, and criminalization as possible.

I also think there’s a misconception that consensual non-monogamy (CNM) has been normalized or is even being pushed on people. I think this is because people tend to be finely tuned to change and nearly totally unaware of defaults. Sure, in some areas of the country CNM is somewhat less stigmatized than it used to be. But stigma is still the norm.

The article quotes a social psychologist who said she never encountered more resistance to publishing than she did when she reviewed the existing research and found no evidence that monogamy offers couples the benefits that people believe it does. “It was like I shot the reviewer’s dog,” she said.

What I do believe is that most people just aren't horny enough to justify all the stigma endurance and having to chart their own path and learn a new way of loving and all the other work polyamory involves.

I think what most people need is mostly more and better friends. We all need systems of social and practical support.

What I see is polyamorous partners taking on the roles churches, immigrant communities, and multi-generational families used to play and still play for ever-shrinking percentages of the population.

The problem with monogamy, in my opinion, is less about having sex with just one person and more about a system which burdens two people with an entire family’s worth of childcare, domestic labor, financial support, and emotional and sexual needs.

It didn’t used to be this way. Churches, immigrant communities, and multi-generational families used to take on much of the burden for families with young children. They used to provide childcare, domestic help, chauffeuring services, financial assistance, and emotional support. And in some places in the US they still do.

But the United States continues to pull apart. High-earning families tend to move to opportunity and away from their extended families and communities. Those communities are left without the people who provide the scaffolding to civil society. For more on this I highly recommend Alienated America.

Often in the US sexual relationships are closer than platonic default friendships. We often expect things of our lovers that we don’t from our platonic friends, like driving us home from the hospital or caring for us after losing a relative.

The article describes how poly families are able to distribute responsibilities among multiple people. I wonder how many people stay in poly relationships because the default nuclear American suburban family unit doesn't make room for the kinds of relationships that give our lives meaning and make our lives more livable.

What bothers me about social conservatism, well, one of the things that bothers me about social conservatism, is that instead of looking at the root causes of social problems they like to blame benign social changes they find frightening.

The erosion of civil society in the United States is a real problem with disastrous consequences. These include, if Alienated America is to be believed, Trumpism. The alienation and isolation of the average American nuclear family isn’t good. The impossible expectations we put on marriage are almost certainly a huge factor in the divorce rate. As is the lack of social and community support for American families.

But, folks, polyamory isn’t to blame for any of this. Polyamory is, for many, a way for a certain percentage of the population to cobble together needed support they can’t find elsewhere.

Contrary to conservative and Evangelical predictions, gay marriage didn’t turn everyone gay or usher in a wave of child abuse or bestiality.

Similarly, currently between 5-10% of people practice any form of CNM and I’d be surprised if that number went up significantly. Not only will polyamory likely continue to be practiced by a small percentage of the population, but will likely have little-to-no negative impact on society at large.

By contrast, the forces that are actually harming the American family seem likely to continue unabated. Among them, of course, is widespread and growing loneliness. And the impossible expectations we put on marriage.

But nothing consensual happening in anyone’s bedroom is causing these problems.

It’s telling that the biggest cause of divorce isn’t sex. It’s money. Job opportunities are likely to further concentrate in a few superstar cities. Housing, healthcare, and childcare costs are likely to continue rising faster than median wages.

Perhaps if Christian churches in America hadn’t spent the last 50 years blatantly, demonstrably lying to their congregations about sex we wouldn’t be seeing such a precipitous dropoff in church attendance. Perhaps then church could continue to play the important roles it has to play for more of America’s isolated families. What I’d give for an American Christianity that spent less time telling people what they shouldn’t do with their genitals and more time being a support system for the families it claims it’s trying to protect. Less moralizing. More babysitting.

If we want the American family to thrive, we need to stop worrying about the nonmonoga-moms next door and start worrying about the shitbags in our cities stopping new housing construction, the shitbags in Congress bailing out yacht owners instead of underwater renters, and the new National Socialists who want to throttle economic growth with protectionism and regulation that benefits incumbents. There’s nothing Raytheon likes more than monogamists fighting polyamorists. Let’s not give them what they want.

How about this? Instead of making it poly vs mono, let’s make it everyone against the tiny minority of people who are actually in exciting, enriching, and satisfying sexual and romantic relationships. Everyone can get on board with that. And the rest don’t need our help.