How do you live happily ever after when there's a love triangle? Let's look at this fictional scenario: Mary, an electrician, and Bob, an administrative assistant, are happily married, and they have been for five years. They met in their high school ninth grade math class, where they sat at the same desk.
Bob began courting Mary two weeks after they met. By 10th grade, they had been going steady for six months. They got engaged at the end of junior year, and they were married right after their high school graduation. They are widely-known as a great couple, and they get along with each other really well.
One day, John was hired at Mary's electric company. John was handsome, outgoing, thoughtful and caring. He was exactly Mary's type.
Coincidentally, she was asked to train him. As a result, they spent a lot of time together, told each other about their lives and became really close. Mary was really attracted to John and wanted to have a romantic relationship with him, and he was happy to do so.
How does this story continue? Let's imagine the first scenario, where Mary and Bob are a traditional couple and representative of the American mainstream. Mary really struggles with what to do.
On the one hand, Bob is a great husband, and she loves him. On the other hand, she's head over heels for John, and she wants to have a romantic relationship with him.
Finally, she gives in to her passion. She cheats on Bob, sleeps with John and feels terrible about it. But, she can't stop herself from going forward with John.
Eventually, Bob finds out. He's very hurt and outraged, and he asks for a divorce. There is pain and suffering all around.
But does it have to be this way? Let's imagine the second scenario. Mary and Bob are part of the growing movement, especially widespread among young people like themselves, called polyamory. Polyamory, often abbreviated as “poly,” is the practice of having more than one romantic relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
Mary goes to Bob and tells him in an open and straightforward fashion about her attraction to John. Bob is glad to accept Mary's desire to have a romantic relationship with John, and Mary and Bob discuss how to most effectively integrate her new relationship with their current one.
Isn't the outcome of second scenario better than the first? Instead of pain and suffering, there is trust, openness and communication. Indeed, mutual transparency, honesty and consent are key elements of poly relationships.
Polyamory is increasingly gaining prominence in the mainstream media, and poly meetups and major gatherings have been growing by leaps and bounds around the country. Moreover, research on poly relationships shows that people with consensual, non-monogamous relationships are just as happy — especially with their sex lives — as those who are in traditional monogamous relationships. They also communicate very openly.
A major 15-year ethnographic research project showed the richness and diversity of poly families, within which individuals form relationships with a wide variety of partners and enjoy emotional and sexual freedom.
At the same time, research indicates that poly relationships continue to face stigma among the public. If our purpose is to enable all people to live optimally happy, healthy, fulfilling and flourishing lives, then should we not encourage an openness toward poly relationships as one among many relationship styles?
Being open to new ways of thinking about romantic relationships is part of a broader intentional strategy by re-examining traditional social patterns. This term refers to habits of thought and feelings in our minds that we absorbed uncritically from the social environment around us, as opposed to conclusions we arrived at by our own intentional reasoning.
So, if we were creating the best ways to think about romantic relationships from scratch, would it not make a lot of sense to orient ourselves toward decreasing stress and suffering, and instead increasing transparency and openness? Thinking probability wise, openness and acceptance of poly relationships as one among many mainstream relationship styles is going to be the most likely outcome of this reasoning process.
Re-evaluating our patterns of thought and feeling enables us to see reality more clearly, make more effective decisions and achieve our goals, thus helping us gain agency in romantic relationships and other life areas.
What are your thoughts about optimal romantic relationships? How do cached patterns of thinking and feeling impact your approach to relationships? What steps can you take to think about romantic relationships more effectively, and to encourage others to do so as well?