As a child Franklin Vieux recalls hearing his school teacher read a story about a princess who had a tantalising dilemma. Two male suitors had been wooing her and she had to choose between them. Franklin wondered why she could not choose both.
This early insight was revealing. Franklin has to this day never stuck to one relationship at a time. “I have never been in a monogamous relationship in my life. When I was in high school I took two dates to my senior prom. I lost my virginity as a threesome.”
Today he lives with his long-term girlfriend in a home he shares with her other boyfriend. Occasionally his partner’s teenage daughter also stays over. He is also in four other long-distance relationships, people he sees with varying degrees of frequency.
Franklin and his girlfriends are what’s called polyamorous or “poly” as the community tends to call it. Being poly simply means you can be in more than one relationship, with the full support and trust of however many partners they choose to have.
Polyamory does not feature in any census tick box but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is on the rise. Some are even calling for it to be recognised by law following the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK and the US. All this raises of the question of whether the future of love may be very different from our current conceptions of romance.
But love has always been the same, right? A man falls for a woman, they get married, pop out a few children and stay together in a harmonious and monogamous relationship for life.
Sorry romantics. This wasn’t, and still isn’t, always the picture of love. Polygamy – where more than one spouse is allowed –was the norm for many of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Monogamy started flourishing when our ancestors began to settle down. A preference for it then appears to have arisen, among many other reasons, for economic purposes.
It took several decades for published research to appear into this way of life. “It called into question people’s core values,” says Terri Conley from the University of Michigan, who initially struggled to get her research published due what she felt was a pervasive bias in favour of monogamy. Her research is revealing – there are some clear benefits to polyamory.
To start with, in a 2014 review paper Conley found that polyamorous people tend to maintain more friendships as they keep a wider social network. They are also less likely to cut off contact after a break-up.
Monogamous couples on the other hand, often withdraw from their friends in the first, loved-up stages of their relationship.
Conley also found that individuals in poly relationships are better at communicating and that jealousy is often lower. In new research, not yet published, she even discovered that overall relationship satisfaction can be higher in poly relationships, though another earlier 2015 review found that satisfaction was similar among monogamous and “consensual non-monogamous” relationships.
Nor do they seem more likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases. Indeed, an anonymous online study revealed that openly non-monogamous people are more likely to practice safe sex than cheating individuals in seemingly monogamous relationships.
Read the full article "Polyamorous relationships may be the future of love" at BBC.