Monday, February 01, 2010

polyamory is wrong

Twelve years ago I compiled a pamphlet of writings about non-monogamous ideas and practice. This was suppemented two years ago by my expanding someone else's fabulous little pamphlet on the same issue that came from a more practical standpoint, With Open Hands.

When an idea is new to cultural prominence, it's understandable that we have no word to describe it so define it by what's different, like non-linear mathematics or the cordless phone. But the term 'non-monogamy', commonly used in the 90s, was unsatisfactory as it defined it solely by what it isn't. It's rather like calling yourself a non-Christian.

There's a whole brace of ideas and relations that need their own words. My lovers is easy enough, but my lovers lovers, their lovers lovers, these are things we frequently have to refer to yet there's no simple short word. It's like expecting someone to say 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' all the time - it may be impeccably correct but it's hopelessly unwieldy for frequent conversational use.

There's 'metamor' for lover's lover but, like 'polyamory' for non-monogamy and all other neologisms, it excludes anyone who hasn't had it explained to them. As this is almost everyone you talk to, it kind of defeats the purpose of language.

Lovers' lovers and their lovers are like in-laws - you're connected in an ongoing way by somone you're close to, and your personal relationship with an in-law can be pretty much anything. But the term 'lover in law' sounds really weird, and of course the whole deal with non-monogamous life is that it is moving away from contractualised relations like marriage ('I love you so much that I want to make a contract about it with the state that'll make it very expensive for you to leave me').

So we're still stuck. I know someone who needs a snappy word for 'my girlfriend's wife'. It may be a while before we see one included in the Concise Oxford.

But as concept gains cultural currency so its jargon becomes commonplace. The term 'polyamory' ('many lovers') came into popular usage about ten years ago. It trips easily off the tongue and it can already be found in good detailed articles in the mainstream media.

However, that doesn't hide the fact that it, too, has its drawbacks.

T shirt: Polyamory is wrong - it's either multiamory or polyphilia, but mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!

(via A Laptop for Every Donkey)


Anonymous said...


also the word i have to type in to make ths comment appear is lessapha. a possible contender for my girlfriend's wife??

Grinnyguy said...

Brilliant, made me chuckle. I read the title with surprise, "polyamory is wrong" didn't sound like something you'd be writing..

slam said...

Ha! The headline sucked me in as well. =)

I am not sure there's that great a need for a single word for "my girlfriend's wife." Do you need a special word for your girlfriend's dad, brother, or dog? "My girlfriend's dad" seems to work okay in that context.

If you were married you get brother-in-law and father-in-law, of course, but I still don't know that those words are any more useful (or wieldy) than my-girlfriend's-brother or my-girlfriend's-father.

Frankly I love to say "my girlfriend's lover" when appropriate. It tends to make heads spin amongst the normal. I have also hear one of my lovers call my other lover "sister-wife," which is kinda cute and cult-like creepy at the same time. Would that make my girlfriend's boyfriend my brother-husband in practice? Awkward.

So I am skeptical about adding new words for these concepts on the one hand. On the other hand "pegging" is a wonderful, wonderful new word that I can't see living without. So perhaps I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

hrm, well..
we all know what "in-law" words mean, cumbersome tho they are. we also know what sister, mother, father, neighbor, friend, cousin, uncle's neighbor's cousin, 2nd cousin twice removed..

so yes, we can say girlfriend's lover, OSO, boyfriend's wife's girlfriend's sister-wife.. lol.. but when even the basic words like girlfriend/lover/... See Morepartner/etc become muddy, in situations that do not fit traditional definition (if that could even be conclusively decided on), then would it not make sense to create more refined terminology?


scarletharlot69 said...

so joined the cult of monogamy merrick :-D

Jim Bliss said...

My favourite image from that site... Yeah, that's right