I had an interesting conversation the other day about polyamory and monogamy and what makes someone naturally inclined toward one or the other. There is an aspect of the language people use around poly and monogamy and preferences that I have a problem with that I had never been able to articulate clearly before this conversation. I’m still not sure I can articulate it perfectly, but at this point I feel confident enough to give it a go.
I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have said that they could never do polyamory because they get too jealous. I think this is a completely understandable reaction to the idea of polyamory, and a completely understandable decision to make for oneself. At times, though, I have heard this decision with respect to jealousy conflated with the idea of being “naturally” monogamous*. That idea sits less well with me, and I think I have finally figured out how to express why.
In my mind, jealousy is a different beast altogether from relationship style preference. In my mind, saying that you are “naturally monogamous” because you have too much jealousy in poly situations sounds similar to saying something like, “I’m heterosexual because I always get really jealous in relationships with people of the same gender as me”. The idea that you might choose not to date people with whom you routinely become destructively jealous is a completely reasonable one, but I don’t think that making that decision makes a bisexual** person heterosexual, and by the same token, I don’t think that making that decision is what separates naturally poly people from naturally monogamous people.
Part of this thought process stemmed from thinking about a post that Natalie Reed made a while back, in which she related an anecdote about a conversation she had with Matt Dillahunty:
Matt was describing his days in the Navy, back when he was still a conservative Christian, and told the story of how he once had to fire a guy who was a good sailor and good at his job because of DADT. He then talked a bit about how his views on homosexuality have evolved over time. Matt said that a long time ago he used to find two men kissing to be disgusting, and he had a reaction of revulsion to it. But while attending the recent wedding of two friends of his, gay men, his reaction when they kissed was one of happiness for them. No revulsion, just dawww.
That’s all well and good, but what jumped out at me was how Matt then stated that this leads him to believe that he’s become “more gay”, relative to the Kinsey scale, over time…it wasn’t the spectruming itself that got to me so much as the description of his revulsion with homosexuality as being a condition of straightness…the opposite of attraction is not disgust. The opposite of attraction is boredom.
I’m leaving out a lot of really interesting discussion about gender and orientation theory that goes on in the post for the sake of brevity; read the full post for the full experience. For now, the point that I want to make is that the distinction Natalie Reed makes here is similar to the one that hit me in the brain the other day: that in the same way that the opposite of being homosexual isn’t being disgusted by homosexuality, the opposite of being “naturally” poly isn’t having jealousy issues with poly. The opposite of being “naturally” poly is being uninterested in poly. It’s being bored by the idea of poly in the first place. Jealousy is a practical consideration, not a preferential consideration.
This may be a purely semantic point to make. As I said before, the fact that I make this distinction doesn’t mean that I think it’s a bad idea to decide to be monogamous because you have jealousy in poly relationships. I think that can be a perfectly rational, valid, good decision to make. I just don’t think that it’s exactly the same thing as being naturally monogamous. The point may be purely academic, but it’s helping me think about things up here in my brain, so I’m writing it out.
* The phrase “naturally monogamous” is here being used in a style roughly analogous to “heterosexual”, where “monogamous” would be more analogous to “in practice only dating people of the opposite gender”.
** Using binary terms for the sake of the simplicity of the analogy. Not sure how to keep this readable and also acknowledge the full breadth of genders and sexual orientations. Any terminology or phrasing advice on this is welcome.