Friday, December 2, 2011

Polyamory and Occupy Wall Street

Time Out: New York recently published an article about non-traditional relationships at Occupy Wall Street. I initially read the article because I wanted to know what it said about polyamory -- but, while the poly group seems to be having a lot of fun (as is often the case!), I was more impressed by the insights of Catherine and Sebastian, the monogamous couple that was interviewed.

Catherine quotes Kurt Vonnegut: "When you fight with your spouse, what each of you is actually saying is, 'You're not enough people!'" She hopes that the future of relationships includes a more communal style of living. “Nuclear families can be so isolating,” she says. Sebastian points out that even if you believe in nuclear families, that model isn't looking sustainable.

According to marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, couples demand too much from their spouse. "We expect more of our partner than ever before," she says. "Deeper love, deeper friendship, more emotional and practical support. But we expect less of other people, friends or family who could help support our relationship."

Living with other couples can provide the nonsexual benefits of polyamory—you can have a support system while remaining monogamous, and passionately so.

"Monogamy and nonmonogamy are about sex, and marriage is about much more than sex," says Sebastian. "Monogamy is a desire in your heart. It is not a law. Laws don't work in relationships. Relationships are living things that evolve." Sebastian says marriage changed his heart, and living in Zuccotti provided another epiphany. “We should fight against a society that makes it impossible for you to live financially, unless both partners are working six days a week," he says. "We don’t want to disappear into communes so this can keep going on. This is the time to fight back."

The reason reading this made me so happy is that I've often thought there are a lot of things about polyamory that could benefit other types of relationships. Unlike other kinds of nonmonogamy (which are great, and I say this without judgment), polyamory is not just about sex -- it's also a philosophy that emotions are messy, that love can't be contained, that possessiveness and jealousy are destructive, that no person can or should be everything to another person. All of these ideas can be transplanted to monogamous relationships as well, and Catherine and Sebastian are living proof that these ideas are gaining a following, even in more traditional relationships.

I'm very happy to see these issues being discussed in the Occupy movement. One of the strengths of that movement is the fact that it refuses to be about just one thing, and so it becomes a space where everything can be discussed. This drives more traditional political activists crazy because they can't think of anything past 2012. They aren't wrong: we do need to be very concerned about 2012. But I've always believed that social change is a gradual change, and it doesn't keep time with two- and four-year election cycles. Election cycle change is cyclical (Democrats voted in, Republicans voted in, Democrats voted in, etc.), but social change happens at the root of an entire generation's belief system.

Occupy is the second kind of movement. Its members are posing questions that the entire country is now trying to answer. Does democracy go hand in hand with capitalism? What is the responsibility of a nation to its citizens? What is a fair distribution of wealth? What kind of country do we want to be? The Occupy movement is asking the questions. Our whole society is trying to answer them now -- you should have heard the discussion at Thanksgiving dinner at my house! As for figuring out how to cash in on Occupy for political gain, that's up to the Democratic Party. I wish them the best of luck, but it's their problem. Hopefully they'll figure out how to align themselves with the changes of outlook that are going on, not just among the Occupiers but among the rest of America.

I am extremely encouraged to see that Occupiers are asking questions about polyamory, and poly-related ideas. These questions aren't the main thrust of the movement, but they are connected to the question of what kind of a country we want to be. The extraordinary success of the LGBTQ rights movement in the last forty years is proof that attitudes can change very quickly -- and ideas that infringe on our ability to be ourselves and love whomever we choose are discarded quickly in a country built on freedom. We have a long way to go before we shed all our sex-negative attitudes, but we're on the right track.

Via Poly in the Media

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