Tuesday, February 3, 2009

dynamic polygamy

I ran across a response in an interview today that gave voice to something I have been pointing out for a decade or more. In short, our marriage/divorce/marriage pattern (perhaps repeated another time or more) has created a situation where many people's lives are inextricably linked with a former husband or wife, at least until common children are adults. There is a clear relationship there even if it is not always amicable. So, is that significantly different than polygamy?

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon. This is an excert from her interview of Dalton Conley, chair of the sociology department at New York University.

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Speaking of divorce, you suggest that what the rest of us call serial monogamy, we should call "dynamic polygamy." What do you mean by that?

There is a widely observed phenomenon that highly unequal societies tend to be more polygamous than egalitarian societies. It's a fun metaphor to import here. Now we are living with a lot of remarriages and blended families, which is a form of polygamy. You can have ongoing obligations to the children you had by your first partner living in the hut across town, through child support and alimony, and the same obligations to your current family. So in terms of kinship ties, and the economic relations inherent in those kinship ties, we're no different than a kind of "pre-modern" polygamous society.
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The main difference as I see it, is that while we have these extended multiple relationships, we do so with no love and often with hostility. With very few exceptions, the divorce process creates animosity and the ongoing relationship is unfriendly. Where the exceptions to that occur, we often view the situation as strange. I have an acquaintance whose current wife often pals around with his ex-wife. He views it as a distinct advantage because the co-parenting process is much easier. Another acquaintance has an as-few-words-as-possible relationship with his ex, not soley by his choice. Which of those is more likely to foster well-adjusted children who become adults capable of having sustainable relationships? (Please note the word likely. There is no sure-fire method to raise children.)

Why does our society think polygamy (in this I mean either partner having more than one partner, so perhaps polyamory is a better term) is some horrible thing; the bane of Western Civilization? We already have it, just typically without the love.

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  1. I agree.

    All of my family, including my ex and my two daughters, suffered greatly during the last year, and are suffering now, from the year-long adversarial process, the huge financial and custody stakes, and the social stigma that results from questioning the territoriality and ownership rights of a loving relationship. Lifetime monogamy is rarely practiced in reality, and carries many hidden emotional penalties. There's got to be a better way.


  2. Much of what this post brings out relative to the subject results from 2000 years of mainstream religious doctrine and dogma specifically designed to control it's followers. Add to that out of control capitalistic greed and a flourishing litigation mindset and you have a formula for disaster.

    True Divine Spirit did not design marriage in order to rule human partnerships, human institutions did. May our cultural future hold more common sense, love and free will in managing human interraction at all levels.

    Another reason we've got to begin THINKING FOR OURSELVES in all societal aspects, rather than just blindly doing what we're told without question.


  3. Im just curious where the idea for monogamy came from. Is it a christian Idea? Why do they all have multiple wives in the bible? Im not really sure where it came from. I tried to be civil and fair during the divorce the x wanted none of it and prefered to treat me like an enemy. It is really sad that I can not trust this person one bit and it will be several more years till the children are all 18.

  4. Divorce culture seems to include a tacit acceptance of jealousy--the expectation of it, sometimes, even--and that I just don't get.

  5. In terms of being able to effectively raise children, I honestly think a polyamorous household makes good sense, or at least it does in my little corner of the universe. As a single parent courtesy of Uncle Sam, the more hands on deck to help out with my son, the better!

    Part of the reason why I say this is that I live far away from my family - 1000 miles of separation from my family in Wisconsin, and about 1500 from Otis's family in Colorado and Idaho. While it's sometimes nice having your inlaws at a distance, it's hell when you just want to get away and need someone to watch your child to give you a respite or get a hug when things are just not going good.

    Thankfully, I am very blessed with the presence of two people in my life - Otis's girlfriend, and my boyfriend.

    Otis's girlfriend and her son will be living with us while Otis is in Afghanistan. Not only will I have someone to pal around with, but we both can watch each other's children so that we both can take part-time jobs, interact with other adults actually have grown-up conversations that don't consist of "Do you want more juice? Please don't bite the cat. Take that out of your mouth."

    Otis is also glad that my boyfriend can be there for me and also provide a positive male presence in my son's life. He adores my son and they have a lot of fun together.

    While society generally looks down on polyamory as some sort of sex-swinging sort of thing, I can honestly say that my life would not be the same without the loving presence without our other partners, in both taking care of my child, and taking care of myself.


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