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Some notes on polyamoury

Written by Sherwin, published on July 29, 2010

One summer night in Grand Centre, I was watching a movie with a group of my friends. My parents were always so generous and so welcoming about having friends over, and it was a space where we could spread out, help ourselves to snacks, and speak, almost, freely. And my parents often hung out too. But not in an awkward way. Well sometimes it was awkward. But mostly it was just them being in the house and them being totally okay with us being in the house too. They would eventually go to bed so they could work the next day, and we would try, mostly unsuccessfully, to laugh and argue and generally carry on in a quieter tone. Sometimes, I would find out later, that a group of my friends had been over and having fun without me. My parents had that kind of relationship with my friends. That’s huge for kids and young adults to have a space like that.

Anyway, the movie we watched that late summer night was an exploration of the possibility, and ultimate tragedy, of love between three people. Discussion, and argument, was a regular part of our social scene, and after the movie we entered into a rather energetic exchange about the possibility of many loves. We were teenagers and we were boys and girls. We were mostly all buddies. But there were sometimes crushes. My nemesis was there. Yes, I had a high school nemesis.

The group quickly fractured into for and against groupings. The for group consisted of me and one of my very best friends.

He and I developed, on the fly, the following collaborative strategy. We very quickly worked to broaden the notion of love. This occurred to our opponents as a bit of a cheap manouevre since the movie was obviously about the deep kind of romantic love that eventually led to life commitment and marriage. But we held that we had to be talking about the kind of love that is widely the topic of love songs and if we had to admit that the topic of love was limited to the notion of marriage that their argument would be rather circular since they seemed to be trying to presuppose their conclusion in the very meanings of their terms.1 And while we defended our broad use of the concept of love, we still also maintained that it was possible for three people to be deeply, life partnerly, romanticly in love.

We then moved on to broaden the number of people involved. We argued for the possibility of three or more people being in love. Which is to say that it’s possible for more than two people to be in love. See our general method was to stake out as large a territory as possible so that the odds were stacked in our favour.

It struck my buddy and I as funny that our aggressors would find our basic position as so implausible. All we needed, to be right, was a single example. We were merely arguing for the possibility! And a contingent claim needs only one instantiation to be true! Some would even argue, that a contingent claim needs only one instantiation, in all possible worlds sufficiently similar to ours, to be true! Just imagine the infinite possible worlds that are reasonably similar in which there are more than two people in love! To argue against such odds was surely dogma, nay, madness!

It also struck my buddy and I as fascinating that our aggressors did not argue that it was wrong. There were no overt moral claims being made. The only tacit moral assumption that was made was that you shouldn’t do stuff that doesn’t work. That’s a pretty minimal claim and one that we were pretty sympathetic with. Imagine that, a room full of boys and girls arguing stridently and, I might add, quite articulately, and not a single person tried to argue that humans ought not to love outside of coupling. Our opponents argument was instead structure this way:

1. humans shouldn’t do stuff that doesn’t work

2. love between three people (ie more than two people) was impossible

3. therefore humans shouldn’t try to

Now sometimes this sort of tactic is used to cover up implicit moral considerations. Sometimes people don’t like to see themselves as having such powerful moral ideas so they just parse them in terms of what works and what doesn’t work. But, on reflection, I don’t think my friends had those powerful ethical claims swirling in their heads. I think they really were just concerned with what works. If I were to try to psychologize their errors in logic, I would suggest that they were instead making the common logical fallacy of a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, or as I would call this kind of hasty generalization in this particular instance, it’s-true-for-me-therefore-it’s-true-for-everyone.

We didn’t know the term, “polyamoury” then 2. But it’s interesting for me to think back to that discussion now, because I’m still, in the very least case, committed to the possibility that someone can make it work.

  1. It’s circular because the standard cultural meaning of marriage is between two people.
  2. Polyamoury literally means many (or multiple) loves. This word is often spelled without a “u”: polyamory. I’m not yet sure how I want to spell this word, but for now I like the “u” in the same way that I prefer “colour” to “color”
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Archived comments

  1. uncle George says:

    For the religious few out there ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’
    and for the poly in polyamour with the broadened meaning of love……….we should try to love everyone without necessarily forgiving the evil acts that some commit….heavens!!! we might even have to love George Bush and Saddam.

  2. Jodi Boucher says:

    Hi Sherwin. I just saw that you joined facebook. It prompted me to google you and so I find myself on your blog. Not only am I on your blog but reading about high school.

    Who was your nemisis in high school? Hmmm…I had no idea.

    Anyway…be my friend on facebook and I can keep up with you virtually and have an excuse to take you out for a coffee if I am visiting Victoria.

    Jodi (Engler) Boucher

  3. re.sister.with.love says:

    hey… first facebook friends, and now this! First time I am coming over to your blog. Love your post.

    And I am here to say that of, course, people make it work. But I am sure you knew that already.

    I, too, expanded my notion of love, lust and relationships beyond between just two people when I was very young (theoretically). When I first was old enough to imagine or wonder about living as an adult, my romantic fantasies involved NOT being married, sex with lots of people and being beloved by all! (okay, I was a narcissistic pre-teen).

    It was fantastic to finally read books that depicted polyamorous families and community living!

    I agree with you that most people find intimate relationships with just one person so difficult, that they cannot imagine expanding that, and generalize from that place of fear.