Thursday, January 7, 2010

Polyamory: love's new frontier?

The Boston Globe has a long article up about whether acceptance for the polyamorous will become the latest new social battle. I read it with interest, since my undergrad friends and I have had a few long, fascinating discussions on this question. Yes, I have some odd undergrad friends. Though part of it is that polyamory is a great debate topic because it's something on which liberals actually disagree with each other. Debating gay marriage, on the other hand, is no fun. The few Republicans in our circle are all sort of libertarian-ish, and we wind up stuck on devil's advocate making arguments like "I don't actually think this, but I'm the only one here who actually reads National Review, so let me tell you what an actual social conservative would say if one was here. Also, um, Edmund Burke!"

Before anyone wonders, I've never had any interest in polyamory myself. Not because I've any deep-seated moral aversion to it, but because I've never been in a happy relationship where I've thought, "You know, I'd really like to involve some extra people. How do I do that?" But maybe others work differently. Love as thou wilt and all?

Still, polyamory is logistically different in ways in which monogamy is not. As my friend A. once observed, "Like, it's hard enough for just two people to coordinate grad school and career plans. If you're polyamorous, that could mean that, like, throwing three or four extra people into the mix."

There was a small but vibrant, if disproportionately nerdy, poly community at my college. I told Pnin about this once, and he seemed confused by my assertion that the hyper-nerdy people had much more baroque personal lives than everyone else. But to wit, from this same polyamory article:

Information technology, academia, and biotech are well represented among the professions, but, though the group is somewhat skewed toward the sciences, plenty of Poly Boston people work in the humanities or the service industry, according to Sekora. The most obvious common feature beyond their lifestyle may be a love of intellectual ferment...

Both Alan and Michelle identified as non-monogamous when they met and hit it off 15 years ago at a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, whose stories often feature nontraditional marriages, are frequently credited with the striking overlap of poly people and science-fiction fans. But there seems to be no causal relationship between discovering these ideas in books and putting them into practice. More likely the Internet, a longtime hangout for sci-fi fans and poly people, is the common denominator.

1 comment:

  1. "I told Pnin about this once, and he seemed confused by my assertion that the hyper-nerdy people had much more baroque personal lives than everyone else."

    Absolutely true - and to a very significant level - in my experience.

    However, one possible confounding factor is that over the past few decades people who are both hypernerdy *and* have baroque personal lives have had a significant advantage over those who were not hypernerdy but still baroque in that it was much easier for them to find each other and discuss said baroqueness through the Interwebs.

    Also, as you point out, science fiction and fantasy are one of the few areas of contemporary literature where you can sneak in baroqueness and claim it's because that's how things are in your future/fantasy world, not how it is in actual reality. This even though for every baroque (I like that word) lifestyle you can find in a fictional work you can find real-life practitioners, except of course for the ones which require tech we don't have yet.

    Anyway, the point being that hypernerds are more likely to be exposed to baroqueness while voraciously exploring their preferred branches of literature. They may not have any more predilection than anyone else as such, but exposure plus the willingness to ignore social convention that characterizes those of above average intelligence equals more exploration and expression.