This time, however, I am not making the argument that people should stop saying something, although I *can* make that argument in this case too. This time, I just want to talk about something that *I* do that I wish had more representation because that lack of representation is leading to some assumptions that I think are making it harder for people to be ethical - they're struggling upstream.
In the poly community, there is an idea that is taken for granted. We see it in many forms: "No single person can be *everything* to someone"; "Sure, a good steak dinner might be your favorite meal, but you can't live on the same food for every meal - people need variety!"; "I love my partner, but I'm kinky / a dancer / into sport stamp collecting and my partner isn't so I have other people in my life who share these things with me"; "I get to explore different parts of myself with different people"; etc.
I'm not saying that these things are *necessarily*, *inherently* bad, not like how I say hierarchy is fundamentally disempowering at its core so that even if people manage to somehow find a way to engage in hierarchy "ethically", the very structure of hierarchy is unethical. But, to me, all these things are *consequences* of relationships, not causes. When they become causes, that's when people turn into need fulfillment machines. When "I like variety" becomes "I need variety, therefore I will seek out someone who is different from my existing partners to fulfill my desire for variety", that's treating people as things. But when "I like variety" comes *from* "hey, I like you, and you happen to be different from the other person I like in this way, this variety thing is kinda neat!", that's a *consequence* and the partners are not need fulfillment machines or things.
Language is an interesting thing. It turns out, that the words we use and the order in which we use them can affect how we think. There are some fascinating linguistic studies of various cultures (particularly tribal cultures) where the group doesn't have words for certain things and therefore can't even conceive of the broader concept for it, or where the order of the words affects how they perceive time itself, really complicated shit like that which I don't have sources to cite at my fingertips but it's fascinating. This is why I am so particular about the use of words and phrases like the hiearchical terminology - we may *say* that we "love" all our partners and that the ranking terms only mean things like who lives with us, but research suggests that our deep seated beliefs and actions are more affected by the words we use than we might realize even up to and including an inability to see that we can't understand a concept. This is why I'm so adamant about the "I don't believe in labels" argument. Language is probably our most powerful tool and most powerful weapon. Even our actual weapons are conceived of, built, and shared using languages.
When I hear things like the above phrases, one of the implications I hear in them is the subtext that our partners are "not enough". That's one of the biggest insecurities that poly people face - that we are not good enough, deserving enough, that our partners won't love us enough. On the one hand, there is a certain amount of freedom and security that comes with truly accepting that no single person can be "enough" for anyone so we can let go of that expectation either to put on ourselves or to impose on others and that we all, mono people included, have multiple intimate connections in our lives that fulfill different roles. But, on the other hand, there is also a certain amount of danger that we are seeking other partners because our current partner isn't "enough" which further implies that there is something *wrong* with them or the relationship, and I'm not even going to touch the issue that needs aren't usually transitive in this piece.
I know, I know, people are going to get defensive at that and rush to tell me how much not-wrong their partners are even though they say those phrases. Refer to my first two paragraphs above and save the defenses. I *know* there are plenty of people who do not use their partners as need fulfillment machines and I *know* there are plenty of people who do not see their relationships as lacking anything while they are simultaneously open to other relationships. I would like to see more of the people like me in this regard represent this perspective in the poly community so that these phrases are not just a given. People say things like "humans like variety" as if we all understand this is a big-t Truth. The language that we use is important. I have been changing my language over time to reflect exactly this problem with assumptions and flawed premises that underlie certain phrases that we use.
When asked "why are you interested in people outside of your relationship?", instead of responding things like "because I like variety" or "because no one can be someone's everything!", I see my relationships differently. I am interested in other people because people are interesting. There is absolutely nothing wrong or lacking with any of my relationships. They are the way they are because of the people in them. Yes, they are different in some respects from each other, but I am not *seeking out* people who are different in order to fill a raiding team in a role playing game (although I will sometimes joke about my extended poly network being a zombie apocalypse survival team). The relationships are different and encompass different things because the people in them are individuals and I *see* them as individuals, therefore their differences and the different aspects of myself that come out when I relate to them are reflected in the different dynamics of each relationship. Do you see what I mean? It's a *consequence*, not a motivating cause.
If, for whatever reason, I was only with one of my partners, that relationship is whole and complete all by itself. No, not all my partners are kinky. No, not all my partners are dancers. No, not all my partners are local. No, not all my partners are anything other than cismale, which is still a consequence of me being hetero (although that hasn't historically always been the case). But I didn't seek any of them out because the others weren't kinky or dancers or local or whatever. I met people and some of them turned out to be that specific kind of awesome that made me have romantic feelings for them. As a *consequence* of having the freedom to explore those feelings, I happen to have some partners who are kinky, some who are local, some who are learning how to dance, some who share my tastes in movies, some who share my taste in activism, etc., etc. As a *consquence* of having the freedom to explore those mutual feelings, I have learned different things about myself, I get to express different facets of myself, and I get to have "sexual variety", which makes my life richer and more complex than when I can only explore romantic feelings for people serially.
Yes, it happens to be true that no single person can fulfill every single role in someone's life - no one person can be parent, sibling, child, mentor, student, lover, partner, therapist, co-parent, boss, subordinate, platonic friend, Dom, sub, puppy, daddy, cousin, grocer, blah blah blah. But I don't need polyamory to solve that. Monogamous people also manage to have romantic partners while also having parents, siblings, friends, therapists, bowling teams, hiking buddies, or whatever else. Swinging is one of many options to have that sexual variety that people seem to crave. And yes, as I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes it is even appropriate to seek someone out specifically to fulfill a particular role, such as competition dance partner.
But I would like to see more poly people who are recognized for not seeing their partners as a lobster dinner to keep from being bored to death with steak every night (because, really, there aren't very many people out there who take "if I couldn't date other people, you'd bore me eventually" as a compliment). I would like to see more poly people talk about their relationships being fulfilling in their own right rather than filling holes in some other relationship. I would like to see more representation for this way of looking at people and relationships so that the rest of the community, especially the newbies, don't take those assumptions for granted, as if "I like variety" was the *reason* why everyone is poly, rather than "variety" being one happy consequence of being poly.
I am not interested in other people because my current partners are lacking something or not fulfilling some "need" or because it's "boring" to be with the same person every day for the rest of my life. I am interested in other people because people are interesting. And I wish more people talked about polyamory or answered that question like that, as if *that* were a given.