There was a discussion on a recent social trend called "polyamour" on Radio canada.Apparently it refers to a group of individuals who live in a kind of open relationship. They claim that there are no issues of jealousy or possessiveness and they are able to live in perfect harmony. It seemed a little bizarre and somewhat civilisationally backward to me but another friend said he could perfectly understand the relationships as monogamy is not a natural tendency for humans.He went on further to say that it required very evolved minds to be in such relationships. I thought about it and understood his point of view but I am still not convinced that it could work all that well given the natural tendency of humans to be jealous - particularly when it is a person one is in love with.

I have always found it difficult to understand how women in olden times put up with bigamy when it was legal. It was usually done for reasons of procreation- if the first wife was not able to produce a child within 5 years of marriage or if there was no male child, the man married again. Both wives enjoyed equal status among the family and the children.Of course there were cases when one was preferred over the and there was plotting and scheming which would have made a great television serial. Financial constraints of being able to maintain two wives acted as a deterrent for many. But royalty had no such constraints and almost every king had many wives which was also a matter of strategy - the kingdom of the in-laws would naturally be allies to the king in case of war. In the Mahabharatha, Krishna sent Arjuna on this allies acquisition binge in anticipation of the war with the result arjuna maried a new princess almost every year.And many of the princesses saw their husband only for one year in their whole life - what a destiny for a princess! or did they mind at all? In a sense polyamour was perhaps invented in India - remember panchali marrying the 5 pandavas who each had other wives?

Perhaps women in those times accepted this as natural for a man for specific reasons as above and so trained themselves not to be possessive or jealous of the other women. Concepts such as fidelity were not made much of and that is precisely why Rama's loyalty to one wife in the Ramayana stands out as a major virtue. I guess if we were to ask women of today fidelity would probably rank as their top expectation from their spouse.

Then why polyamour? Perhaps this is happening in countries where marriage is not being viewed as the most ideal form of relationship between a man and a woman. They do not want to be bound by law or contract but by their emotions and understanding. I guess polyamour is just the next step in this ongoing tendency to break free from the conditions that a traditional married relationship imposes on the couple.

I still think all this will only complicate things. With two people, they say, there are three relationships psychologically. Imagine what would happen with so many people in relationship. But I know who would be happy. Film directors who specialise in love triangles - now they can experiment with other geometric shapes.
And imagine the number of songs possible in such a story- I think there may be a revival of the old musical format!
20 Responses
  1. great post..particularly about the "shapes" of relationships!

    I am deponti on LJ, I don't use my blogger id except to post comments!

    now to type the nonsense letters it is gcjdelzw...

  2. Preethi Says:

    Hehe.. Movie producers will have a ball..
    But on a serious note, as you say, even Ithink that its a bit civilizationally backward to think that way. Open relationships might not be the way to a happy life, coz if there is some emotional entanglement, then who is to take care of it??
    Moreover, I personally feel that it doesnt require high pshychological evolvement to stay in one relationship all ur life, its just the matter of sincerity, loyalty and commitment...

  3. Sakshi Says:

    With my lil bit of biological knowledge, I can honestly say that monogamy is socially instilled in human males. SO it is very normal for males to have polygamous relations. FOr the female, since she is left with the burden of rearing the child, she would prefer a mate that can provide for her and the offspring. SO maryying a prince or being an amour of a rich man makes sense biologically. I don't think it is weird or not normal (as I explained above), its just Different strokes for different folks.

  4. Hip Grandma Says:

    'Film directors who specialise in love triangles - now they can experiment with other geometric shapes'
    i think this is the only group that is going to benefit by such an arrangement.accountability is the very foundation of the institution we call marriage.i may have a less evolved mind that refuses to acknowledge the merits of such community living but i never denied that i'm well past 50!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting post, this. I'm getting a little confused with what polyandry means after reading this post.

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  7. Mahadevan Says:

    Marriage as a Social Institution is the finding of the evolved human beings and not the primitive ones. Society without the Insitution of Marriage would be like the Roads of Mumbai or Bangalore without traffic signals or policemen - nobody would reach their destination without a scratch except the dare devil ones. I therefore fully agree with you that polyamour is, to borrow a phrase from you, 'civilistionally backward'.

    I also wonder like you asto why Ram should be singled out for praise, for having practised monogamy, a perfectly normal and natural discipline. Perhaps, in those days, monogamy being rare, they wanted everybody to emulate Ram's example and hence he was singled out for admiration.

    In the earlier periods and perhaps even today, subjugation of women seemed to be the sign of male prowess and as the Rulers believed that they had Divine Rights over women, they maintained large harems.

    In the polyamour situation, there would not be equity and amity and in the absence of neither, there would certainly be jealousy.

    I believe in Platonic Love, not polyamour, which seems to be rather unnatural, if not altogether repugnant.

  8. passerby55 Says:


    Reminded me of one film LAL PathaR!

    The character played by HEma portrays jealousy and possesiveness and a woman's pain of not being able to bear a child. She believes a woman can gain respect only by getting the marriage certificate.

    My son's teacher told me these days girls are doing much better than the boys....the major reason is males are less jealous of their peers than females...

    Jealousy is one quality of the female which has helped her to climb the ladder of success.

  9. Here are some interesting borrowed thoughts on evolution and behavior that's relevant here:
    "...One constant problem in evolutionary psychology is the so-called 'naturalistic fallacy' - the idea that what is is exactly what ought to be. For example, if nature gave men a tendency to rape in certain circumstances, this wouldn't make rape moral - nor would it make it inevitable. Tendencies provoke feelings and desires - not automatic actions.

    'These are statistical generalizations, ' says Helena Cronin, co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics. 'Not all women are X, not all men are Y. We're talking about dispositions and potentials -- not there's a gene inside that you will robotlike perform its will.'

    'Some animals do behave in a robotic fashion.' she says. 'Some wasps have six steps to build a nest, and if I interfere with one of them, they will do the whole routine again; it's utterly inflexible. But it's an excellent design for wasps, which is why they are still here.

    'For humans, what natural selection did was build very large brains with a lot of potentialities and dispositions. We are very sensitive to the environment - far from being rigid, we're the opposite. If I find myself in this position, I do this, in that position I do another thing. There is no particular reason why genes should be more deterministic than environmental factors.'"
    --- Helena Cronin, as quoted in Maia Szalavitz "Eve Psych", Darwin@LSE.

    Just about sums up my own thoughts on the topic of polyamour!

  10. Visithra Says:

    lol the last line tickled me ;p hehe

    i always wonder how those women agreed to polygamy - never could figure

  11. Usha Says:

    Molarbear: Thank you. Love your posts. Hope other readers of this follow the link to yours from my sidebar.(That is deepa , folks)

    SG:I really am not an expert on relationships and the psychological complications involved. My take on it is purely that one man in your life is one too many and I shy from complications.

    Sakshi: Woman is monogamic because of Kids? so it is ok if women refuse to have kids and had polygamous relations? Interesting!!

    HipGmom:Dont worry, the vast middle class and the morality it imposes on society will make sure that polyamour is denied Visa to india.

    Ravi: Thanks, interesting indeed.

    Mahadevan: Polyamour is definitely not "unnatural" - perhaps unsuitable as a workable arrangement unless all parties involved are very highly evolved or couldn't care less what their partner did!

    passerby: There are hordes of Tamil films on the "other woman" sentiment. yes, usually it is the female who suffers more out of a feeling of "insufficiency" and "insecurity" and sometimes jealousy too. Men are not jealous? what about "othello"?
    That is an interesting point about women rising up corporate ladders because of jealousy - sounds like an Ekta Kapoor serial to me!

    the Rational Fool:Thanks for adding Value as always.Very interesting points.

    Visithra: Future generations may be saying "I cant believe people believed in marriage in those centuries." It is all a response to the environment of the day and time. See The Rational Fool's comment above.

  12. Mahadevan Says:

    At one place, referring to polyamour, you had mentioned, rightly so,"civilisationally backward " and while responding to my comments you write "perhaps unsuitable as a workable arrangement unless all parties involved are very highly evolved". Don't you find a slight contradiction, a logical inconsistency? Polyamour certainly takes us towards the primitive man and this runs contrary to evolution. I merely tried to find out whether it can be intellectually sustained and it unarguably falls flat.

  13. Usha Says:

    Mahadevan: I said my initial reaction was that it was "civilisationally backward" but after a friend pointed out that it meant not possessing, not being jealous and just accepting the natural order of things , I saw the point about it needing a high degree of evolution.
    on another note, I was also trying to tell you that it was probably not all that un "natural". Civilisation is after all about trying to curb a lot of what is "natural" to us , don't you think?

  14. Mahadevan Says:

    Agree. Thanks for the clarification.

  15. Very, very interesting post, Usha.

    I am still guffawing thinking about a hindi movie with a Love Pentagon.

  16. Usha Says:

    Vaish: I am more worried about love circle - where we wouldnt even know when the movie ended and restarted agin!!!lol

  17. me thinks such a story will have a great poteintial for a movie with vintage feel to it..

  18. Wild Reeds Says:

    I guess as long as the relationships are loving and the individuals nourish each other, pourquoi pas?

  19. Usha Says:

    Doozie: Ah yes, and it might be quite nice for a change.

    WR: Je suis d'accord. Mais je ne suis pas sûr si tout le monde a la capabilité de se débrouiller tel type de relations encore - comme j'avait deja dit, peut être, on a besoin de beaucoup de maturité pour prendre part à ce type de relations et rester sans conflit.
    J'ai lu un livre "yagnaseni" écrit par Pratibha sengupta qui parle d'agonie de Draupati. Elle est forcé d'être fidèle à chaque mari quand elle vit avec lui mais en realité, elle n'aime qu'Arjun! lisez-le si possible et nous discuterons!

  20. Sakshi Says:

    Yes if you take out the need for security out of the equation, women behave similar to men in power.
    I think that in today's day and age where we can separate the consequences from the fun part, women do choose amours for no reason other than a lil' bit of sex. Perfectly normal. Are we more emotional - yes. But how much of it is brainwashed into us since we were wee infants and how much of it is natural instinct?
    I don't know.