In our monogamous world, falling in love with more than one person results often not in a dream come true, but rather a nightmare. That nightmare could involve
- Lying, cheating and betrayal;
- Telling your significant other, risk losing them and breaking up your family;
- The discovery of polyamory and the risk of rejection by family and/or society (a whole different nightmare).
For a person to choose these experiences (for we do choose our experiences), there must be a good reason. And yet so many sit in judgement of those who deviate from the monogamous norm, shaming and blaming them without really understanding - or wanting to understand - why. And though I continue to believe 7 years on, that multi-partner relationships are a healthier and happier choice for me, my family and my partners, I have no problem admitting that at least one catalyst for my inclination was a painful formative experience.
Physiological Separation of the baby from the mother
A baby elephant calf named Zhuang-zhuang wept uncontrollably for five hours after he had to be separated from his mother who was trying to kill him. He had to be separated in order to save his life, and has since been adopted by one of the zoo keepers. Huffington Post
There is pity that is awakened in the darkest of human souls when they read of a baby animal rejected from its mother. It cuts to the quick in all of us, because that bond - the bond between mother and child is a primal one. For a time, we are one and the same. The separation of the self does not occur instantaneously when the umbilical cord is severed. Years pass until in the course of our growing independence, we start to experience our self as ourself. This attachment is vital for survival, because without it, we would almost certainly die.
Is your baby crying? It's commonly written that there can only be three reasons - hunger, wet nappy or tiredness. No one thinks to mention that the obvious separation and 'loss' of self, is in fact THE primary factor for why babies cry so much.
So what does our society do to ensure this doesn't happen? Well, it cultivates -
- A lack of adequate social structures which force the mother back to work and the baby into daycare at a young age
- Permanent and unnecessary separation of the child (in many cultures) from a 'morally unfit'/unmarried mother through adoption/fostering
- Cruel to be kind parenting methodologies which dictate that children will be 'better off' if they learn to sleep in their own cot from birth and/or that they should 'know' strict discipline from a young age (Gina Ford come on down).
- Maternal/paternal narcissism - then enhanced by fear, overbearing parental discipline and an oppressive system
- Outsourced surrogacy to baby farms in developing countries to satisfy the 'biological imperative' (with little regard to how the separation from the birth mother impacts the child)
Even incubation for premature babies can create a primal wound as well as simply the natural course of life (and not to mention abusive parenting). My daughter and son are 4 and 2 years old respectively; and despite constant parenting by their father (made possible by the amazing Swedish social security system) it is still me they turn to for comfort. I gave them life. For a time I was them. And without me they instinctively fear death.
Attachment Theory in Adult Romantic Relationships
There's increasing evidence to suggest that romantic relationships in adults follow the same pattern as attachment in infant caregiver relationships (Feeney & Noller, 1990). "Although the idea that early attachment experiences might have an influence on attachment style in romantic relationships is relatively uncontroversial, hypotheses about the source and degree of overlap between the two kinds of attachment orientations have been controversial." Adult attachment theory and research
In my opinion, the degree of overlap is logically a function of the extent of the separation trauma (and consequent strength of the attachment pattern). As an adoptee raised by a narcissist my attachment pattern was extremely strong. I had few boundaries and tried to please men to the extent that I lost myself. Then I rejected them before they rejected me. I destroyed many relationships before they had the chance to become serious and in the case of my marriage, I cheated to bring about a crisis in a marriage which was already on the rocks.
Like so many others who suffer this wound, it also manifested itself during my youth by my falling in love with unattainable men mimicking the only type of love I knew (absenteeism) and feeding into my low self-esteem. My first boyfriend was in love with someone else and it was with him that I had the affair that catapulted my partner and I into polyamory over 15 years later. I can readily admit that the confines of monogamy didn't suit me at all because other intimate connections - by definition - became off-limits to me (and therefore irresistible). Before I properly understood that this originated from a wound incurred during my childhood, I blamed and shamed myself. I could not 'keep it in my pants'. That shame threatened my life and my sanity.
Polyamory as a Cure?
And so we decided to open our relationship. It was only then that I was able to start to get to know my true desires and preferences without the instinctual reaction of the attachment pattern. Was I was polyamorous by nature or was I was simply not able to be monogamous (not the same thing)? Could I love several simultaneously? Yes. I was able to enjoy - in a far more relaxed fashion - intimate connections as and when they arose. But what a surprise lay in store for me! I discovered that I was not inherently promiscuous after all; I was in fact picky. In a land where intimate connections were suddenly on the table, men (even married men) saw me as available. Which meant that I had to - and wanted to - learn boundaries; because the potential for losing myself with each and every man, signaled certain destruction.
So it is in keeping with my desire for ethical, honest non-monogamy that I choose my connections carefully. Only those whose values match my own - equality, freedom and longing for truth attract me. And whilst in many cases I understand those who choose to cheat and empathize with them, I do not find them attractive, nor do I want to perpetuate their attachment pattern (if indeed that is the motivation for their behaviour - for not all cheating stems from this wound...there are many others). As for my own 'wound' it is not something to be eradicated. Indeed, it's not possible to do so for scars from our experiences shape who we are. I now live in a harmonious situation characterised by love, freedom and honesty, which suits all my partners and is healthy for my children (healthier than many so-called monogamous arrangements).
My working hypothesis was once that a lack of maternal love was a driver towards polyamory. But I have discovered that it is a lack of maternal nurture borne out in a strong attachment pattern, which may precipitate a rejection of enforced monogamy. Enforced monogamy creates a situation where a person will desire others outside of their relationship simply because they still seek to fill the hole left by the 'unattainable' maternal figure.
So how to fix it?
Become aware of this patterning. Discard the necessity for monogamy which reinforces the cycle of unattainable love, loss and abandonment. It could be temporary or permanent. But in all cases it removes the knife from the wound and allows a gentler examination of your motivations. It may also help begin the healing process of that primal wound. Finally there's no shame in being monogamous or polyamorous. But it's a terrible waste to allow the wounds of your childhood to push you into a cycle which will ultimately destroy any relationship, in either configuration.