Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Buddhist's Critique of Polyamory

This morning, as I was contemplating what I ought to write about, now that I am free to swim in the topical seas of polyamory like a parasailing jellyfish every Tuesday, letter or no letter, I came across this article from the creators of the movie Monogamish (not yet released), and I thought to myself: bingo.

Aptly titled "A Buddhist's Insights: Sustaining Love in Relationships," the article is about what an emotionally and spiritually mature relationship looks like. It's also a pretty harsh critique of polyamory. Says Fabrizio Chieza, "From what I have seen over the years, people who preach about...open relationships, no matter how eloquent they may be about the philosophy behind it, do so for fundamentally selfish reasons."

Them's fightin' words. 

Here are some more excerpts of what Chieza has to say (in blue), followed by my comments:

If you don’t try to deeply know yourself, to see how conditioned you are, and how most of the time you are not really acting but just reacting, if you never trained yourself to observe your emotions and thoughts, to see how compulsive and repetitive they are, and you never tried to unroot the negative ones, then you will never be able to have a stable and healthy relationship — and monogamy will feel like a prison. Your relationship with your partner will always be conditional on how well he or she caters to your needs and wants. In the same way that we tend to alternate moments of self-loathing with moments of self-adoration, we do the same with our partners. More so even, we keep projecting on our successive partners our own frustrations and humiliations. When you’ll be bored with yourself, you’ll be bored with them. And when you’ll want to hurt and sabotage yourself, you’ll hurt them.

I agree with him completely here -- but I resent the implication that anyone who feels like monogamy is a prison is someone who has failed to develop the self-knowledge and discipline required to treat oneself and others well.

[O]nly emotionally and spiritually mature people can have an occasionally open relationship without inevitably losing their partner’s TRUST.

Again, agreed. But what's with the word "occasionally" here? Well, it turns out that Chieza is not categorically opposed to extramarital (or extra-couple) sex:

If both partners in a couple really aspire to make the other person happy, the right compromises about sexual exclusivity can be made. That means that one, or both, could allow the other to have occasional sexual encounters with third parties when it’s not the self-defeating repetition of a compulsive craving, but rather something that will truly make your beloved happy, and strengthen your friendship.

Aha: so, "occasional sexual encounters" with "third parties" might be okay, in certain situations, but an actual relationship with someone other than the one person you're supposed to be all couple-y with, now that is a different story! Because, as we all know, The Couple is the end-all, be-all of human relating: human beings come in halves; only by finding your better half can you become a whole entity; and since only two halves are required to make one whole, any person outside the couple is by definition "extra" -- a gift to be given, an indulgence allowed.

[Which brings me to my biggest concern with the Monogamish movie, and the term "monogamish" in general: Does that "ish" do nothing more than disguise the fact that we're actually still mired in business-as-usual bullshit? Does it reinforce the idea that relationship equals ownership? Is it another excuse for "couple privilege" and the messes it makes (e.g., failing to treat "third parties" ethically, because one's real allegiance is to the almighty couple and only to the two people therein)? I guess we'll see....]

If I am in a swinging relationship to begin with, let alone a polyamorous one, it will be even easier to leave that main partner who has become a burden. The “polyamorous community” has tried to deal with this problem by making up a set of rules (uh oh, here we go again), a little bit like the rules at swinger parties: when your main relationship is in trouble, you should abstain from seeing other sexual partners — unless you decided to break up — until the problem is resolved … Sounds great, but no one really follows those rules when they become too uncomfortable or inconvenienced. Who’s going to enforce them anyway? Not the church, not the government, not the neighbors. And your friends most of time will just say whatever you want to hear.

Whoa: "...let alone a polyamorous one"? And what's with the scare quotes around "polyamorous community"?

Tell us how you really feel about polyamory, Chieza.

They want some stability for the down times, but also excitement in the high times. More importantly they want to keep their options open, and keep experiencing the thrill of ego-boosting seduction. Contemporary Western society which promotes both self-affirmation and the myth of romantic love encourages this kind of attitude. It’s a consumeristic, opportunistic, A.D.D. approach to human relationship

There we have it. Apparently, people who practice polyamory are not capable of the kind of discipline, devotion, and commitment that sustainable relationships require. We're all so busy running after the Next New Shiny that we never learn the Really Important Stuff -- namely: 

• The less egocentric you become, the more generous and kind your love becomes, and the more you want to allow your partner to be fulfilled — in any way, including sexually. You may even offer your wonderful lover to a friend who you think would benefit from his/her attentions.
• The deeper you understand that everything changes constantly, the more equanimity you will have if the relationship evolves, and goes through unsettling stages. You know that the tough times will pass too.
• The more you know who and what you really are, the less you’ll be afraid to be alone. Therefore the more you’ll be able to love another human being without losing your center, without betraying your true self. The less afraid you are to be dumped, the less you’ll be inclined to make pre-emptive strikes.
• The more you learn to trust your life, with all its inevitable disappointments and contradictions, the more you can accept contradiction from your partner, and deal with it skillfully.

Funny -- I would've said these are all things I have learned in my polyamorous relationships. (Well, except that bit about the Limited Time Offer, the loophole through which I give MY lover to MY friend, temporarily, if I feel like sharing.) Huh.

1 comment:

  1. I read the whole thing, and golly, what an idiot. Why would a Buddhist be so attached? Attached to the idea of attachment! I was actually amused in a sad sort of way. As if one can only learn trust, or discover one's own illusions and obstructions, in a monogamous couple. How hilariously limiting!