Saturday, 30 October 2010

Aromance and polyamory

Mage has just posted something about the intersection between polyamory and aromance, which, coincidentally, is what I was gearing myself up to write.

They talk about why friendship can have the same sorts of intimacy as an emotional affair, but without the judgement. It’s like a get-out clause in conventional monogamy, the poly-style steam vent without which the whole thing would certainly blow.
(It’s also, as a side-thought, often routed in heteronormativity. “My boyfriend can go out with his guy friends because men don’t form threatening relationships with other men”, “My girlfriend can do likewise, because even when girls do form relationships, they’re sexy and controllable.” Hence the gay best friend. Hence one of the reasons many people don’t want to date bisexuals (because they know they’d have to be jealous of everyone, thus allowing them no friends). It doesn’t work when you start to consider the real gender-sexuality smoosh.)

I don’t want to be one of those non-monogamous people who then decides monogamy is terrible and should be destroyed (but I’m allowed my tactless venting period, right? Like snotty new AVENites?). However, I don’t think I’m stretching my luck when I say- It’s impossible to get all your intimacy from one person.

Monogamy is going to have to struggle with that fact. Doesn’t mean it can’t survive (as Mage calls it, ‘monoamory’), but it can’t pretend otherwise. When it comes to intimacy, humans will always be sluts.

I think polyamory and aromance have a lot to offer each other. And not in a theoretical, we can both learn things, kinda way. In a practical, “Hey, Poly, wanna hook up?” “Sure, Asexy, prepare to be cuddled harder than ever before” kinda way.

It seemed weird to me, first pondering this, that the answer to ‘I can’t have one romantic relationship’ would be ‘have several’. But there’s two very important points about polyamorous people.

Firstly, as a group, they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about relationships, figuring out why the relationship structure they saw around them didn’t work for them. They’re going to sympathise, if you can spin it right.

Secondly, they’re less keen on this idea that intimacy has to look a certain way, and all come from the same person. That means you’re more likely to get a tailor-made relationship with exactly the kind of intimacies you both want, and both of you having the freedom to look elsewhere to fulfil your remaining intimacies.

At the end of the day, a monogamous person who hopes to find the one and have a traditional relationship with them can never be more than ‘just friends’ with poor old Asexy. You can break the occasional small friendship boundary, you can commit to each other and look after each other more than normal, but they’re always going to be holding a little bundle of intimacies out ready for Mr. Right.

What you need, my dear, (he says, giving out fake advice to an imaginary person who is clearly actually himself, somewhere in the depths of the internet) is something queerer. Someone who won’t bind you up with ‘just friends’.

Another awesome plus is the visibility. If you reject the relationship binary and then hang out with people who haven’t, then you’re never going to be read as anything but friends. In the same way that asexuals aren’t assumed to be asexual, they’re just assumed to be single. Whereas if you create interesting relationships, that gives you the ability to subtly indicate to your corner of the world that stepping outside the binary is possible. And, as David Jay would say, it also gives you something to gossip about.


  1. I think this is an important post! Important, because it is stressful when people think of you as "just a friend" and then put you in that box. Even if one doesn't want romance or sex, I think many of us want something more than just "friendship," though maybe there isn't a word for it right now.

    A couple of days ago I gave a lecture about romantic friendship, but then I realized: why is it necessary to legitimate asexual relationships with romantic components? It wasn't my intention to come across that way, but I think that sometimes romance seems like a (perhaps shaky) bridge between asexuals and nonasexuals. I realize there are many reasons (might blog about it), but I wonder if it's partly because we don't have language to describe how special our platonic relationships can be.

    I also want to say: it's OK to think monogamy is terrible. Actually I prefer the word unhealthy. Monogamy is an institutionalized relationship structure which (ironically) causes a lot of relationships to fail and tends to prevent intimacy. I think it's unhealthy.

  2. Thanks. I considered commenting on your post to let you know this was here, but I thought the asexosphere was small enough that you'd probably find it. :D

    The lack of language with which to say our platonic relationships are awesome really sucks. It's Orwellian how much our language shapes what we can actually say. Our entire language is devoted to devaluing friendship.

    I think you can point out the massive flaws in monogamy (of which there are many), but I balk at actually saying it's necessarily an unhealthy and terrible thing, because there's so many people who live that way and are happy to. We can strongly point out how the system screws us over, but who are we to judge those it serves?

  3. And... I think going off the "monogamy inherently bad" tangent, there do seem to be some people for whom polyamory in terms of relationships does not work, even when they try it out and their partners are trying equally to make it work. (By that, I mean you aren't getting someone using polyamory as an excuse to sleep around when someone else doesn't want to or a similar kind of douchery.) They can't manage to stop feeling really jealous and upset at the idea of sharing that close partner, maybe. Which doesn't mean that they can't have friends.

    Which might be just down to cultural conditioning, and which might not. But until and unless the social construction to make sex a Big Deal is either severely weakened or goes away entirely, I don't think I like the idea of trying to actively kill monogamy any more than I would like the idea of actively killing heterosexuality. Analyzing the flaws in the system, yes, but since it's a system which at base really works well for some people in a way that right now, polyamory doesn't, I balk at the idea of telling those people that they're Doing It Wrong.

    But yes, I think there's really a lot of really fascinating dialogue that could be had between the polyamorous and asexual communities. I really like the idea of manipulating the language to create some better terminology to discuss this sort of thing, because right now the language of friendship is so vague and poorly defined that you get all sorts of different relationships encompassed within its banner.

    I mean, "my friend" can mean anything up to "this guy I kind of know and rather like" to "this is a person I consider part of my family, but who I'm neither related to nor sleeping with." And yeah, we definitely devalue these kinds of relationships, but part of the way in which we devalue them comes down to not having gradated words to describe the difference between different levels of platonic closeness in the same way that we have words for different levels of romantic closeness.

    And also, yes, talking about relationships! Call me a stereotypical girl, but I think you can never have too much talking about where a relationship is going or what you can expect out of one another. Friendship or otherwise.

  4. writingfromfactorx, that's a good point. Most of the poly 101 stuff starts out with and has a good deal of "Not just anyone can be poly. It takes a lot of effort, communication and emotional maturity." If we then decide monogamy isn't workable, that means that everyone has to be poly, when really, for their own good as much as their partners', they shouldn't be.

    Admittedly, a small part of me is thinking that this is because monogamy often gets people away with having relationships when they really don't have the communication or maturity to do so.

    Hmm. Gradations of friendship. Worth thinking about labels. Mental note made, commence thesaurus peruse...