Polyamory is gaining increased attention as an alternative and credible relationship arrangement. Moreover, in some circles, it is being lauded as an edified choice — the prime choice for the precocious and a wise choice for the ‘woke’. Certain aspects of polyamory are advantageous. It is more closely aligned to the natural human state, so it may reduce the tension that arises when there is a conflict between natural and normal. In this way, by overturning mistaken morals, polyamory can be seen as enlightened. However, polyamory does not diminish the dilemmas inherent in every intimate relationship. If entered into with immature intentions can be nothing more than an extravagant means of escapism.
A plethora of possibilities
When it comes to intimate relationships, there is an abundance of different arrangements to choose from. There is the ability to structure them at any point along a continuum of four dimensions:
1. Number of people
2. Extent of sexual intimacy
3. Degree of emotional commitment.
4. Degree of formalisation.
At one extreme, a person may remain single and celibate, deciding that the only sexual connection they will create will be with themselves. On the other, there could be several people who have a loving and committed sexual relationship and who have formalised their obligations to each other in some form of a legally binding contract (although, due to anti-polygamy laws, this would not be through a legal marriage). The range of routes (pardon the pun) is shown in the following diagram.
Monogamy as a moral (or mindless) choice
As is clear from this diagram, monogamy is only one very simple setting on this connection control panel. So why does it continue to be seen as the most credible choice of relationship arrangements? Certainly, the influence of Christianity has been considerable and has embedded monogamy as a major moral standard. Monogamy is seen as a foundational teaching of the Christian religion. It has become embedded in our culture, social norms, and legal system. In fact, the entire socio-economic system in Western nations is established to support monogamous relationships. Therefore, for many people, entering into monogamous relationships is a ‘no-brainer’. I mean this literally in that it is done without much thought at all. Instead, moving to monogamy is done automatically to satisfy our most primal human desires, being to:
1. Attain pleasure.
It is said that authentic relationships are the pinnacle of pleasure and the height of human achievement. Feeling like you are safe, cared for, and can trust your physical and emotional wellbeing to another is luminous and liberating. There is contentment in the sense of security that monogamy brings and strength to be found in marriage’s legal bonds. Of course, while I would argue that the sense of security and surety are delusional (you can never truly know another person, and divorce is always possible), they do ease the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of being a free agent.
2. Alleviate pressure.
Monogamy is the ‘normal’ relationship model and is viewed as the gold standard of morality. And as much as we may profess that we don’t care what other people think, deep down, our tribal brains and hearts know that being normal means survival — physically and psychologically. Isolation and loneliness are the antitheses of wellbeing, so why would we risk putting ourselves in this situation and being ostracised from the tribe? This subconscious pressure can compel people to follow the crowd and forgo questioning their values and aspirations. It is an unseen force that conceals any other choice but those endorsed by friends, family, and those they follow on social media. By subscribing to the same relationship arrangements as a society, the tension that comes with non-conformity is eradicated, making our lives more comfortable.
For others, the pressure is stealthier and can be the nagging feeling that you will never fit in and will never be complete until you are loved by someone else. But not only that, this person must show the world that they love you through a formal declaration or legal commitment. Then and only then will you become a worthy member of the tribe.
Pragmatism can also play a role in the choice of monogamy. So many aspects of our modern materialistic lives make monogamy the most practical relationship model. Our busy lives mean there is very little time to find just one person who is true partnership material, let alone two or three! And very few people have the cash to splash on courting several suitors. Concentrating on creating careers means that the time available to invest in true intimacy is scarce, sometimes insufficient to support one relationship, let alone comforting connections with a list of lovers. Time is sparse, and so the choice needs to be made to spend it securing a meaningful monogamous bond or to scatter it around several more superficial associations. Combined with the push towards pleasure and away from pain described above, monogamy becomes the most practical choice.
But monogamy is not natural!
Monogamy is not natural. Sexual exclusivity is not embedded in our physiology or neurology. Both males and females are wired to seek out several mates, and no amount of social engineering can subvert these innate human desires. While forming a pair is practical to care for children in their early years, human biology is designed to breed, meaning there is an innate physical push for both men and women to take multiple sexual partners.
It has also been proven that three separate systems in our brains guide our mating behaviours and intimate relationships . These are the systems of:
1. Sex drive. Creates the impetus to search for a sexual partner.
2. Romantic love. Draws a person in to focus on a potential sexual partner and creates the emotional conditions conducive to sex.
3. Deep attachment. Keeps people together long enough to raise a child.
These systems are not wired together, meaning they can act independently and interact in various combinations. The independence of these three neural systems indicates that our brains are wired to support non-monogamy. They allow us to compartmentalise social interactions and not require deep-seated emotional preconditions for physical pleasure and procreation. They allow us to function in socially secure partnerships while also undertaking extramarital affairs. As stated by Helen Fisher:
“our brain architecture easily accommodates infidelity.”
It is complete and utter ignorance for people to continue to believe that monogamy is the instinctive human state. It is not. Monogamy is merely a social construct founded upon Christian dogma. Far from helping us lead better lives, this misinformation is creating a multitude of maladies.
Misaligned morality — the conflict between natural and normal
In his new book ‘The Myth of Normal’ , Gabor Maté suggests one of the greatest failings in our health system is the “active ignoring — of what science has already established”. In science, it is well-accepted that monogamy is not natural. However, monogamy is normal, and as perfectly pointed out by Maté, “much of what passes for normal in our society is neither healthy nor natural.”
Much of the stress associated with modern relationships could be a cause of trying to get humans to conform to an unnatural model of monogamy. There is bound to be tension when there is a gap between what is natural and what is normal. It creates a cacophony of internal conflicts. Battles can erupt between the pursuit of personal liberty, the care for individual desires, loyalty to our partners and tradition, and fairness through fidelity. Our conscience can feel like it is in the centre of a civil war. And as long as the unnatural state of monogamy is seen as the gold standard of morality, those who fail or flounder in this relationship form will be seen as weak, broken and unworthy. When, in fact, they are just human.
Viewing monogamy as a moral choice can aggravate the duo’s physical and psychological distress. The tension created when natural and normal are disconnected can create powerful emotional responses and, if repressed, work to increase effects such as sadness, anger, depression and anxiety and potentially leading to post-traumatic stress disorder.
As Adam Phillips suggested, holding monogamy as the superior moral standard taints our twosomes in trauma.
“If trauma is untransformable experience, then any moral belief — that is simply abided by rather than personally transformed is akin to trauma.” 
Another danger in continuing to see monogamy as moral is humans’ propensity to use differences to dehumanise, disparage and destroy. With increased sexual freedom in society, there is a natural gravitation towards polyamory. The leaning towards liberty is laudable, but there is a risk that some groups use these divergences to justify demonisation and to create further division.
The pivot to polyamory
The natural Law of Rhythm tells us that the pendulum swing manifests in everything. Change is inevitable, and everything will oscillate between the opposites. We see these shifts play out in all areas of our lives, from the change of seasons, in fashion (everything old is new again), organisational design (formalised bureaucracy to distributed networks), politics (swings between left and right) and in our social norms. The formidable moral mandate of monogamy, supported by social strictures, could only hold for so long before it gave way to gravity. With increasing liberty comes the rejection of the rigours of the past and the testing of other relationship models. Hence the popularity of polyamory.
What does it mean to be enlightened?
The definition of being enlightened is to be:
“freed from ignorance and misinformation.”
We have seen that the belief that monogamy is natural is erroneous. So it can be said that those embarking on polyamory have been able to free themselves from the propaganda around partnerships. They have realised and revolted against the misinformation around monogamy as a moral choice and informed themselves about their innate and instinctive nature.
Polyamory is certainly a choice that helps people relieve some of the carnal challenges that come with the unnatural moral standard of monogamy. In polyamory, people are free to build relationships more suited to human physiology, thus reducing so many conflicts that occur when we are constrained in the conjugal system. In polyamory, far fewer restraints are placed on who we can share our love with. In theory, this allows a person to express the fullness of their feelings and be guided less by fear than by the flow of love. The liberty provided to love more than one person is not only in line with our human nature but also allows us to live up to our full potential.
Multiple sexual partners can also be a great source of pleasure. Some people may have high levels of sexual desire, which they find unable to be satisfied with just one other person. So having multiple sexual partners may fulfil their physical, emotional and spiritual needs more fully, allowing them to be the best they can be. Some gain great pleasure in satisfying others, and expressing this generosity through sex expands their entire being.
However, there is another definition of being enlightened, and that is an approach:
“based on full comprehension of the problems involved.”
And this deeper definition of enlightenment is where the pursuit of polyamory can become unstuck.
Maturity and motives are key
Polyamory, like any relationship model, is better described as a system. It has its inputs, processes and outputs. The inputs each individual brings and the rules and rituals of the relationship will determine whether the polyamorous relationships are a source of sustenance or stress. I have come to believe that a person’s level of maturity is one of the most important inputs to achieving flourishing results. This is because the level of maturity of each person brings into a polyamorous relationship will influence so many factors that contribute to relationship satisfaction, including:
- The extent to which each person feels like this arrangement is their free choice
- The definitions of love being used to support the relationships and the degree to which their love is wrapped up in pleasant emotions and notions of possession or confluent connection.
- The outcomes each seeks from sharing themselves with others, specifically, whether they are hoping purely for hedonistic happiness or aim to support each other to attain their personal potentials.
- The role that sex plays in the relationships, specifically whether it is used as a tool of power or pleasure.
- The amount of understanding, acceptance and love they each have for themselves, and therefore can give to the other.
In this way, any polygamous relationship comprised of immature individuals is bound to be fraught with fear and founded upon facades. People will feel forced to participate, be tossed around by the emotions of love, and seek a relationship to sustain their self-worth. Sex will become less about spiritual development and more about sinister self-gratification. It will become less about helping others achieve their full potential and more about protracted struggles for power. Certainly, this was the experience of my counsellor, who described her work with polyamorous relationships as some of the most distressing in her career. People had sought out polyamory as a panacea to their problems but had succeeded in creating so much more pain.
This behoves anyone in a polyamorous relationship to fully comprehend the key problem with this relationship model — it involves people.
Whether the polyamorous relationship will thrive or create more trauma is not based on the relationship model itself. The success of the relationships depends on the intention and maturity of the people involved. This is because you can only truly love someone to the level of your own insecurities.
Did the people choose polygamy to truly explore their full potential and bring love and light to others? Or have they entered this arrangement out of fear, perhaps of being alone if they don’t join in, of not being ‘cool’ if they don’t comply, or of the vulnerability inherent in partnerships?
Interestingly, the reasons behind choosing not to bind ourselves to a single sexual partner share the same basic motivations for entering a sexually exclusive relationship. And they come back to the two primal forces behind our behaviour — to move away from pain and towards pleasure. In relationships, it can also be viewed as moving away from fear and towards love.
People may choose non-monogamy to avoid pain and fear. They may find it comfortable to spread their time and affections across multiple partners, reducing the ability to know or be known deeply by another. Keeping relationships at superficial levels is a crafty protection mechanism to avoid exposing our shadows and vulnerabilities. This way, we never have to try to understand, accept and love ourselves — warts and all. And we also can avoid the effort required in doing this for others.
“In the final analysis, the flight from vulnerability is a flight from the self.” 
This arrangement also minimises the risk of abandonment and helps to manage a deep-seated fear of rejection. It is like the adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket. If one relationship were to break, at least you would have others remaining to validate your ego and prop up your sense of self-worth. This strategy may allow you to relax in each relationship, knowing that you do not depend on this one person for connection and confidence.
In this way, the important factor in choosing non-monogamy is the same for any other relationship model — the intention. The definition of love used in this book is an action aimed at reducing suffering, increasing happiness and reaching a person’s full potential. The latter is only achieved by working through fears, caring for vulnerabilities and creating a space of honesty, acceptance and compassion. If, instead, non-monogamy is used to avoid fears, neglect vulnerabilities, and prevent honesty with self and others, then I would consider it far removed from love and, instead, classify it as a selfish and sadistic choice.
Is polyamory enlightened or an act of escapism?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question. This conclusion must be drawn from deep in the hearts of anyone currently in a polygamous relationship.
Each person must investigate their own intentions and be true to themselves. Did they enter a polyamorous relationship to be true to themselves and become their best selves? Or did they choose polyamory to conform to what is cool and avoid vulnerability? The former is an act of enlightenment that can benefit entire communities. The latter is an act of cowardly escapism that will endanger all involved.
“We cannot give what we do not have: We cannot bring peace to the world if we ourselves are not peaceful. We cannot bring love to the world if we ourselves are not loving. Our true gift to ourselves and others lies not in what we have but in who we are.” ~ Marianne Williamson
My intention — conscious connections
My intention for this article is not to advocate for any one relationship arrangement. It has only been to understand why people choose certain models and to dispel the ignorance that would prevent them from making more courageous choices in the future. I humbly hope that the ideas presented in this article provide others with a pathway to peace and allow a greater love for themselves along the journey. If I could make one wish, it would be that we talk less about the form of our relationships and concentrate more on building conscious and compassionate connections.
Because regardless of our relationship arrangements, we have a common goal: to create respectful and loving relationships. Suppose we can drop the preoccupation with what our relationships look like and examine them instead through the lens of love. In that case, we can expand and connect our communities and incite a new era of inclusivity, where all belong and are supported to become their best.
 Fisher, H. (2017). Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray (Completely Revised and Updated with a New Introduction ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
 Maté, G., & Maté, D. (2022). The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture. Random House.
 Hull, A.M. (2002). Neuroimaging findings in post-traumatic stress disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry 181: 102–10.
 Phillips, A. (2022). Attention Seeking. Picador Paper.
 Maté, G., & Neufeld, G. (2019a). Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. Random House.