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.
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.