SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Should singles focus on finding “the one,” or is it alright to have more than one romantic partner? A new study argues that being in a polyamorous relationship can bring the same physical and emotional benefits of monogamy. While there’s still a stigma surrounding people who have multiple lovers at the same time in many cultures, estimates show roughly one in 20 Americans say they’re currently in a consensually non-monogamous relationship.
Justin Clardy, a professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, says that modern society often views monogamy as the “ideal” form of romantic love. This starts in childhood, as many books and films portray true happiness as finding your one true soulmate for life. At the same time, Clardy notes that governments offer financial, legal, and even social incentives to married couples — such as tax breaks.
Meanwhile, the researcher says people who engage in romantic relationships which stray from the norm are often on the receiving end of public shaming or criticism.
So, is there really an ‘ideal relationship’ in modern society?
Clardy explains that many legal and political scholars are now debating whether societies should reform their policies regarding familial law. This would recognize a wider variety of relationships, other than the traditional husband-wife relationship. Moreover, Clardy says his studies show people in non-monogamous relationships thrive just as much as those who choose to stay with one person.
“Polyamorists face the risk of being fired, denied housing or citizenship, or having their children taken away from them because of their polyamorous identities and lifestyles,” Clardy claims in a media release.
“However, in many cases poly relationships are more durable than monogamous ones, because their flexibility allows them to meet shifting needs over time in a way that monogamous relationships don’t.”
In his book, “Why It’s OK To Not Be Monogamous,” the researcher explains that there is a theory suggesting that humans evolved to be monogamous because of the extra care their newborn babies need — since children emerge at a younger gestational age than other mammals.
“Monogamy is therefore seen as the ‘natural’ order of things. However, many homosexual and heterosexual monogamous couples either do not want, or cannot have children, yet this doesn’t exclude them from being able to marry, and enjoy the rights and privileges that come with marriage,” Clardy continues.
“Others may see monogamy as a moral command given by God, however does this mean that atheists and agnostics are disqualified from romantic love, even if they find themselves in happy, healthy, and satisfying monogamous romantic relationships?”
Why do people argue against polyamory?
In the researcher’s book, which attempts to debunk these theories, Clardy notes that one of the most common arguments against polyamory is that (eventually) someone is going to get jealous and unwilling to share their lover’s affection. However, the author says many monogamous couples experience this as well. In fact, vulnerability, possessiveness, and a sense of entitlement to another person’s love are often key problems in monogamous relationships.
Conversely, Clardy contends that polyamorists are able to refocus their attention on how their partner is doing in their other intimate relationships.
“When governed by mutual consent and understanding, polyamorous relationships can allow people to share more fully in the happiness of others,” Clardy adds. “This can be achieved by confronting and managing one’s vulnerability, by softening our propensity to be jealous, and by learning to pay attention to the flourishing of others.”
Another argument against polyamorists is that non-monogamy damages the “family unit.” This may lead to divorce and families fracturing. Clardy, however, says his research finds that polyamorous families do exist in modern society, and they can actually benefit children.
“It may not take an entire village to raise a child, but it stands to reason that all things being equal, having more than one ‘father’ or ‘mother’ as a caregiver may be even more conducive to meeting children’s needs, as children may be loved and nurtured in unconventional families,” Clardy explains.
“Indeed, it may turn out that on average, the existence of more than two caregivers is the superior parenting arrangement.”
“Polyamorous relationships need support and protection that the state is uniquely able to provide and is best placed to carry out,” Clardy concludes. “Just because a way of relating might deviate from well-established social norms like monogamy, this does not mean that they don’t have considerable value— morally, socially, or politically.”