The impossibility of polyamory?

Busy few days. I’ve been juggling preparing to return to Oxford, reviewing papers for the forthcoming Graduate Philosophy Conference, setting up the infrastructure for an ethical eating outreach campaign next term, researching concerns about the bio-availability of micronutrients in fortified food for Giving What We Can (more soon), and trying to plough on with the reading for my second essay on Hume and the paradox of tragedy! On that last note, though, this quote from a paper by Margaret Paton struck me as a touch nuts:

When Hume states that love is unable to subsist in its full force without the painful passion of jealousy and conversely that too much jealousy will extinguish love, he is not describing a pattern of behaviour but is rather making conceptual points. A certain degree of jealousy is appropriate in the context of romantic love. If a young man were wholly indifferent about his girl-friend’s friendships with other young men, we should hesitate to say that he was in love.

I acknowledge that polyamorous people are statistically rare, and so the phenomenon is unusual. But there’s a much stronger claim being made here: that it’s impossible, premised on a conceptual contradiction and misunderstanding of the meaning of love. And that seems very bold. There will, after all, be polyamorous people who claim not that they learn to tolerate jealousy, but that it ceases to be felt at all. Some people do truly deny that love entails exclusivity, and indeed, that part of loving someone is to manage to be glad for one’s partner if they find further people that fulfil them. If that’s true, then jealousy isn’t love’s bedfellow. It would be love’s enemy.


2 thoughts on “The impossibility of polyamory?

  1. Oops. I forgot to proof my previous before I sent it. Here’s what I’d intended:
    You seem to have conflated “polyamory” with “promiscuity.” Most polyamorous people require fidelity from their partners as much as monogamous people do, and we can certainly experience jealousy when polyamory isn’t “done right.” Poly people simply have more than one partner. In a truly honest, open relationship the dynamic is somewhat similar to when your second child is born. That doesn’t require you to split your love in two or to only love one as if love existed in finite quantity. If you want to get more up to speed on poly, may I suggest “Opening Up?” For a scientific perspective, “Sex at Dawn” can be thought provoking. Btw, polyamory isn’t really statistically rare anymore (although it’s often kept quiet), and it’s one of the fastest growing social trends partly because of monogamy’s high failure rate.

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