Polyamorous Percolations (PP), or poly in the news, keeps me updated with news related to poly.
I’m about to read ‘Sex at dawn: the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality’, a new book on the evolutionary aspects of sex and relationships and how humans today have been shaped by the circumstances and behaviour of our ancestors.
The book argues that our ancestors evolved in polyamorous mate-sharing tribes through hundreds of thousands of years and that our modern sexuality has been strongly shaped by this. The blogger of PP has a good question: if this thesis is correct, how come we have some hard wiring for jealousy (I think this is a fair statement, even poly people very often have issues with jealousy and most people experience it whether they work on it or not).
Gays and lesbians also have jealousy. This leads us to some clues: jealousy has nothing to do with having sex, and everything to do with scarcity. Now this is not a terribly appealing idea for polyamorists who, like myself, tend to believe in abundance. But, we aren’t talking about abundance of love and sex, of which polyamorists tend to have plenty (and the serially monogamous are also not in short supply) but rather scarcity of resources. Resources generally are not a problem today: in the West we have lots of wealth and food and opportunity. However, prehistorical humans didn’t. What’s more, there is another type of scarcity: time and attention. And as much as polyamorists are wonderful in sharing lots and living in total abundance, it is well known amongst them too that time and energy, unlike love, are not infinite. We all have 24 hours in a day and a limited amount of attention and caregiving.
And now we come back to prehistoric humans where scarcity of all resources, time, care, attention, but also food, shelter and protection, were in short supply or at least exposed to the vagaries of wild fluctuation. Sometimes there’s food and protection, but other times they are in short supply and children as well as adults need a relatively steady stream of all of them if they are to survive, prosper and continue to produce offspring. Back in evolutionary times our ancestors had it pretty rough.
It seem to me that PP purports that our mostly hardwired jealousy can be attributed to the scarcity of resources our ancestors had to put up with, and not because of a short supply of sperm or partners.
“Jesse Bering, a blogger for Scientific American, challenged Sex at Dawn co-author Christopher Ryan about this last month in a much-quoted essay on why jealousy and heartbreak exist. He challenged the “polyamory chic” that Sex at Dawn and its like are creating, and argued that the powerful human traits of jealousy and heartbreak torpedo Ryan’s thesis.
Last week he and Ryan met in person [..] Ryan posted his rebuttal on his Psychology Today blogsite. In short: jealousy as we know it is not really about sex. Symptoms of mate-jealousy in modern society, where available mates tend to be scarce, are remarkably like childrens’ fear of abandonment where there is a scarcity of invested parents.” (PP)
Returning to the question of same-sex jealousy Ryan launches into something useful: “…Loss is loss, regardless of sexual orientation. We all fear rejection and abandonment. It’s a harsh and lonely world out there, and we’re a tender, vulnerable species. So it’s not surprising that gay men cherish their deepest connections and fear losing them just as much as anyone else does. It’s not really about sex at all, at the deepest levels. It’s about intimacy and love [when these are scarce – PP ed.]. We just find this fear often expressed in the sexual arena because that’s where we’ve relegated so much of our intimacy in our fractured, conflicted world.”
And that’s where polyamorists come back into the picture. Polys too have jealousy and some scarcity issues but unlike monogamous people polys tackle the underlying issues head-on. Polys work on their jealousy, work on sharing resources well and working towards full consent where all parties have their needs met as much as possible. Polys recognise that we are vulnerable and promote communicating our vulnerability with our partners which opens up jealousy and any other personal and inter-personal problem to dialogue and potential multiparty solving including the grouping of resources such as empathy, care and support.
Today we (in the West) really do have all the resources we could want (short of teleporting, curing cancer and time travel etc): we generally have no shortage of food, shelter and medical care, we have heaps of fantastic information at our fingertips, we have polyamorous communities in which you can choose to live in harmony with yourself, others and your evolutionary heritage according to humanist, and honest open-source principles, we have technology to facilitate our complex communication and we have knowledge of our evolutionary past, knowledge of the pitfalls of both polyamory and monogamy (and every other hue such as swinging).
What else do we need to make the best decisions for our relationship structure, our lifestyle, patterns of interaction and sexuality? We’ve got it all… and so we have diminishing excuse for being arseholes, behaving badly towards each other or avoiding complex discussions on how to make our lives happy together. Regardless how many are in a web of relationships. But then again… there’s the complexity of human nature and our imperfections. Without these though, we’d have nothing to talk about…