The normalization of polyamory

I have been covering the push for the normalization of polyamory for several years now, as human interest stories on formalized cheating came into vogue. In California during 2017, a ‘throuple’ of men first successfully petitioned a judge to put all three of them on the birth certificate of a little girl named Piper before authoring a book titled Three Dads and a Baby. Several U.S. cities, including Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have approved family benefits for polyamorous clusters over the past few years. These stories seemed to fizzle swiftly.

Over the past several months, however, the media campaign to normalize polyamory has ramped up in earnest on both sides of the Atlantic. In a recent column titled “Still searching for The One when polyamory is more fun?” The Guardian reported that “Polyamorous relationships are having a moment” and that while “only” 10% of Brits report being willing to consider a polyamorous relationship, anybody who has used a dating app will tell you that “folks searching for not The One but The Several seem to be everywhere.”

Last month, the Daily Mail published a similar piece titled “We have been polyamorous for 20 years—here’s how we make things work.” It was a profile of Texas couple Andrea and Brandon Peters, who described happily cheating on each other for two decades and the various rules (most of which were broken) for doing so. Andrea even dropped this gem: “I don’t experience jealousy often. When I do, I try to figure out what is maybe causing it for me.” The cause could be anything, apparently, except for the fact that her husband is sleeping with someone else.

The Brussels Times, too, is interested in polyamory, asking: “Polyamory: The more, the merrier?” Their conclusion is unsurprising: “This isn’t simply a greater acceptance of divorce as a frequent (if unfortunate) outcome of marriage, but engaging with numerous partners is now conscionable where not long ago it would be taboo … secretive affairs remain deplorable, yet Belgians are increasingly open to polyamory.” The report adds that “with the push for gender equality leading to questions about traditional gender roles, the notion that monogamous partnerships should be the cornerstone of civic living has been superseded.”

Many elite American publications have put polyamory front and centre recently, as well. The New York Times published a review of Molly Roden Winter’s “open marriage” memoir titled “How a Polyamorous Mom Had ‘a Big Sexual Adventure’ and Found Herself” (the short version: she found herself in bed with other people). The review is a defence of Winter’s decision to put her personal sexual desires over the needs of her family, especially her children. The New Yorker published an essay titled “How Did Polyamory Become So Popular?” on Christmas Day. Time Magazine published an essay titled “Polyamory isn’t just for liberals,” which begins this way:

Polyamory seems to have burst upon the American mainstream over the past two decades. The deluge of podcasts, TV shows, books, and magazine articles detailing polycules, metamores, throuples, threesomes, and moresomes testifies to the growing number of Americans willing to jettison monogamy.

The most forthright contribution to normalizing polyamory comes from New York Magazine, which dedicated its entire last issue to instructing its readers on how to go about things. Titled “Polyamory: A practical guide for the curious couple,” and featuring a cover photo of four cats clutching each other, the issue includes subjects such as “How do I broach this with my partner?”; “Does my wife want to hear about my night?”; “Should we sleep with them on the first date?”; “Am I being nice enough to my boyfriend’s girlfriend?”; and, “Should we tell our kids?” This is not Cosmo—this is New York Magazine, and their opening paragraph is a real barnburner:

“If you live in New York, it’s very possible you’ve recently found yourself chatting with a co-worker, or listening to the table next to you at a restaurant, and heard some variation of ‘They just opened up, and they’re so much happier.’ Or ‘My partner’s partner truly sucks.’ Ethical non-monogamy isn’t new (The Ethical Slut, the polyamorous bible, came out in 1997), and it isn’t exactly mainstream, but it isn’t so fringe either (or reserved for those who live in the Bay Area). A curious person might be tempted to download Feeld or let their partner know over salmon they’re ready to let in a third. But though people don’t talk about it in hushed tones anymore—Riverdale just ended with Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica in a quad, after all—it isn’t such a simple thing to do well.”


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