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The More the Merrier?

Although I had a fantastic date with The Consultant a few weeks ago, he travels a lot for work and I have not been able to see him again. Rather than put all my eggs into one basket too soon, I had a date with someone else this week. This guy’s on-line dating resume had many of the requirements I am seeking: highly educated, attractive, and seemingly adventurous. He selected an upscale bar/restaurant for our date.

After a few light-hearted exchanges, I asked him how he has been enjoying the dating scene. Turns out he was enjoying it just fine, except when the women he dates were uncomfortable with him being polyamorous. Hold up! I about choked on the olive I was eating out of my martini. “Did you say... polyamorous? Yes, that is what he said. He had conveniently left that out of his internet profile.

As a scientist, I was naturally curious. Compared to other aspects of relationships, psychologists don’t know much about polyamory. I asked him how he defined polyamory. Evidently, it did not mean being a swinger or promiscuous for him. Like many other polyamorous individuals, Mr. Big Love practiced what some have termed responsible non-monogamy, which emphasizes love, intimacy and friendship.1 He wasn’t looking to just hook up: he wanted intimacy, passion, and loyalty -- with the understanding that he also wanted to share those feelings with someone else.

To date, I have used a scientific lens to explore non-monogamous relationships in my own research, and have even browsed through Dr. Anapol’s recent tome on the topic. However, I have not fully considered whether I, myself, would be comfortable with non-monogamy.  I am not looking for a serious relationship right now, but I am interested in developing intimate and fulfilling relationships. Maybe this would be an ideal situation for me? I asked whether he had a girlfriend. Yes he did. How did she feel about him being on a date with me?  Great. In fact, she was on a date with someone else at this very moment. I took another large gulp of my martini.

I challenged myself to consider what it might be like to be in a relationship with him (and in some ways, her). Would I feel jealous? Psychologists define jealousy as an emotional response to the perceived or potential loss of a valued relationship.2 If I was also polyamorous, then his other girlfriend (or girlfriends) posed no threat to a relationship that we might have together. So why did I still have a lingering feeling that I would experience jealousy?  

Monogamy is the cultural norm in the U.S., and some scientists argue that this norm is at odds with our biological drive for sexual diversity. When young men cheat, for example, it is often not because of lost love, but because they struggle to deal with competing desires for recreational sex and monogamy.3 In a large meta-analysis (which is a statistical summary of the results of many research studies), men and women were similarly upset by emotional infidelity, more so than sexual infidelity.4 But what does infidelity really mean? Although Mr. Big Love was not technically cheating, my anticipated feelings of jealousy likely come from this monogamy norm that I have internalized. Am I uncomfortable because I feel that there should be only 2 people in a relationship?

Maybe I just need to open my mind and heart to see whether I can simultaneously love more than one person at the same time?  At the moment, I am not entirely certain I would be able to stop myself from interpreting his relationship with his girlfriend as being anything other than emotional and physical cheating on me. Given time, it is possible I could get the polyamory shoe to fit, but for now I will just keep my dating options open.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Klesse, C. (2006). Polyamory and its 'Others': Contesting the Terms of Non-Monogamy. Sexualities, 9, 565-583.

2Parrott, W. (1991). The emotional experiences of envy and jealousy. In P. Salovey (Ed.), The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy (pp. 3–30). New York: Guilford.

3Anderson, E. (2010). "At least with cheating there is an attempt at monogamy": Cheating and monogamism among undergraduate heterosexual men. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 27, 7, 851-872.

4Carpenter, C. J. (2012). Meta-analyses of sex differences in responses to sexual versus emotional infidelity: Men and women are more similar than different. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 25-37.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger... Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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Reader Comments (4)

As a bisexual person I have considered the idea of polyamory, especially if I were to be having a relationship simultaneously with the woman as well as with the man. The problem that seems to manifest is when I propose that to the men that I have been involved with, all of them are put off by the idea of sharing the other person they wanted to be with with me. I believe there are limits to the idea of polyamory and that we are more possessive than about relationships than we realize.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCJD

I think the question you have to ask yourself, Dr Harman is does this sound like something you would want to do for the long haul or do you want to do this just for now. I believe that polyamory is fine for some people, but in my advanced age I really think that one other person is enough. I think that relationships should be what works for you, and if that's polyamory so be it.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

We are a primally bonded couple, married 30 years with three kids, and happily poly. As trust built, so did our willingness to grant each other the thrill of new relationship energy (we married young, and missed the boat!), and passionate friendships, Other folks are simply better than me at fulfilling certain of my sweetie's needs and interests, go for it! Bring some of that new energy home, and we'll share it with each other. Perhaps we will reaffirm our bond with hot interaction. Yeah no problem!

Ten years into marriage we were already having fun. Yeah, we blundered sometimes, but we learned how to avoid trouble, and to afterward laugh at the spirit of adventure. We almost never think about the fact we are poly (so rarely do I write about it); that's how natural and no-big-deal it feels now. I think that a poly lifestyle can work for most any reasonably emotionally stable person who has learned to live with compassion, honesty, openness and self-appraisal. Certainly not all of our poly companions are primal-oriented. That's just our style, I suppose.

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLitzgo Dancyn

so are u with more then one partner or ur still thinking about it i only really know of somthing like this from sister wives and didnt really know there was stuff like this going on around the corner from me im a little confused...sorry if i sound ignorant or rude iam geinuanly intrested and wud love to here about this from someone who is actually a part of it

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrit
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