I've lost it now, but someone once wrote a blog or a forum piece about the failure rate of polyamorous relationships. This is one of my pet peeves - polyamory is held up to impossible standards of "success" by monogamists, yet those standards are not applied to monogamous relationships. What I mean is, when a relationship ends, the Monogamous Mindset declares that relationship a "failure", whether it's poly or mono. But when a poly relationship "fails", it's a sign that polyamory itself is doomed to failure. Yet, when a monogamous relationship "fails", monogamy itself is not seen as inherently flawed, just that couple is seen at having failed in their relationship. I HATE this double standard, and I also hate the bunch of assumptions that underlie the idea, including that longevity is the sole measuring stick for success in a relationship.
So, someone wrote a piece somewhere on the internet asking how many of our poly relationships have to fail before we give up clinging to the idea of polyamory and just admit that it's doomed. Naturally, I had a few things to say about that:
How many monogamous relationships have you witnessed that ended? How many were great for a year or two before some form of amicable split? How many went down in flames? How many people have you witnessed that got involved with a single person EVER and remained with that person until death? Personally, I know only a few, the majority of whom are in my grandparents' generation (and even my grandparents are divorced). I also know more monogamous people who remain involved with someone who tried to hit them with their own cars than monogamous people who haven't (seriously, I can give you 3 names just off the top of my head, and more if I think about it). Should I then extrapolate that monogamy is bad because so many monogamous people try to commit vehicular manslaugher on their spouses? Or is it perhaps more likely that I know a lot of dysfunctional people and it's not necessarily monogamy's fault?
Of course I'm not saying that monogamy is always bad or a "failure", or even a death sentence. But I am saying that confirmation bias is a logical fallacy. Statistical analysis requires a large sample population to be representative of the population as a whole, and a method to remove personal bias from interpreting the results. "What I've seen" does not count as representative, nor unbaised. It especially does not count when coming from counselors whose sample population is made up exclusively of their own therapy practice. They (and you) have a skewed sample popluation because of the types of people they are likely to see - in the case of the counselors, people whose relationships are already in danger, hence the reason for a trip to a therapist. People with functioning relationships don't tend to seek counseling, don't tend to make headlines, and don't tend to get noticed by friends and neighbors without intentionally sharing the details of their relationships.
Also, because of the stigma, and in some cases, legal threat, you probably know more poly people in "successful" relationships than you're aware of because a large number of poly people are still in the proverbial closet. There have been countless people who were rendered speechless upon discovering old love letters and other evidence of lives they never knew their parents had, when going through their personal effects after death: same-sex love affairs, mistresses, swinger partners, kinky sex lives, even whole other families. My paternal grandmother was completely unaware of my existence until 30 years after my birth (and to this day, she refuses to believe I'm not a charlatan trying to scam her family out of money and not really related).
If people can keep secrets this big from their spouses, children, and parents, it's ridiculous to think that your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances aren't also keeping secrets from you, let alone the cute waitress who serves you coffee at your favorite restaurant, your hunky UPS guy, the guy sitting next to you on the bus, or your kid's soccer coach, especially if you have ever exhibited the subtle and unconscious signs that you are not accepting of the idea of polyamory and are therefore not someone who is safe to confide in. You have no idea what people are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms (or kitchens, or dungeons, or play parties) if you aren't there to witness it and you are completely unaware of what you don't know.
I'm also saying that if you hold these standards up to polyamorous relationships and suggest or imply that polyamory doesn't have the appropriate numbers to count as "successful", then you have to hold monogamous relationships up to the same standard. And, as studies have actually shown, people are NOT clamoring for the end of monogamy when shown the high "failure" rate. In fact, when we see headlines like "49% of first marriages end in divorce", the article is not usually calling for an end to monogamy, it tends to be calling for a tightening up of the standards of monogamy so that we can get that failure rate down (and even in some cases, a "redefining" of monogamy so that people can broaden what "counts" as a "successful" monogamous relationship). As for that statistic, keep in mind that it's for "first marriages" - second and third marriages have an even higher failure rate and every relationship prior to the first marriage had a 100% failure rate. Monogamy's track record for longevity is really not very good at all.
Longevity alone is not a good measuring stick for "success" in a relationship, be it polyamory or monogamy. Millions of people are stuck in loveless, even abhorrent, marriages because of pride, of religious edicts, of legal complications, of "family values", of social stigma, of emotional restrictions, and more. If those relationships last for life, should they be counted among the successes? If they were to end, would they be counted among the failures? And how would we know which relationships they are? Relationships are rarely what they appear to people on the outside.
A relationship is successful if it meets the goals set by the participants. For some, longevity may be the only or most important goal, and in that case, simply ending *would* be considered a failure. But for others, the happiness of the participants may trump that. Some may be to raise a family. Some may be for financial incentive. Some may be for companionship. Some may be a combination of goals. Personally, since you asked for personal stories, my goals tend to be about intent, rather than longevity. I intend for my relationships to emphasize communication, for the participants to actively contribute to (but not try to be responsible for) each others' happiness, to find compromises and common paths, to support each other in our endeavors including personal growth and discovery, to be compassionate, to learn from my mistakes, to grow as a person through the influences of my partners & metamours, and I intend to be ethical and considerate in my breakups should the relationship no longer be a source of happiness to all the participants.
My relationships almost never end because of polyamory. They end for the same reasons that monogamous relationships do - compatibility. They end because we eventually figured out we are not romantically compatible in some way, just like how most monogamous relationships end. They end when we want different things from our relationship, or when we have different goals, or when we have personality conflicts that just can't be overcome. So many people want to blame polyamory for the ending of a poly relationship even when the polyamory part wasn't the problem, but when a monogamous relationship ends, it's not the fault of monogamy.
A relationship can also be "successful" when it has a successful transition from one form to another, and sometimes that means transitioning from a romantic relationship to a platonic one. As a line in a movie once said, I don't tend to think of breaking up as a relationship ending, I tend to think of it as two friends getting back together.
People change over time and sometimes they just don't change in the same way or at the same rate as the people with whom they are in relationships, and sometimes the relationship cannot remain in the same state when the people have changed in certain ways. That doesn't necessarily indicate a failure of the relationship. It indicates the luxury our society has of demanding such an enormous amount of responsibility from a romantic relationship. Insisting that marriages include love is a relatively recent addition to the structure, and with the almost-equality between the genders regarding income and independence in our society, we can now have the luxury of requiring higher demands of our relationships than ever before in our history, and the luxury of ending a relationship when it doesn't meet all the demands we place on it.
The "failure" rate of relationships is not a sign of degrading family values, as some would like to think. On the contrary, it's a symptom of HIGHER family values, demanding even more from relationships than ever before and not settling for less. Relationships are no longer simply about property and alliances. Now our partners are expected to be our best friends, confidantes, lovers, and co-parents in addition to securing property for our offspring and allying our families. Because of all that monogamous relationships have to live up to, monogamy itself has a very high "failure" rate.
One of the advantages to polyamorous relationships is that they do not need to live up to this high standard of a single person being everything to someone else, much like past relationships did not need to - with family, friends, church, and lovers taking up the slack for emotional intimacy and child-rearing since the spouse was not supposed to fulfill all those roles. Poly relationships have a lot of flexibility and they can look like a lot of different things without being a "failure" or coming up short in comparison to some Happily Ever After relationship that has been pre-charted for us in fairy tales and romantic comedies. A poly relationship can look like whatever it wants to look like, and if it doesn't look like someone else's relationship, or if it ends without one of the partners dying, if the participants think it was successful, then it was and no one else has to agree or approve of it.
If I fall in love with someone who is not compatible with me as a live-in partner, I can enjoy that relationship as it is without ever having to cohabitate. Since monogamous culture has a prescribed path for relationships (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage), a loving relationship that doesn't have the goal of marriage and cohabitation might seem like a failure. But in polyamory, it doesn't have to be if we are happy with the arrangement. And if a cohabitation situation is still desired, continuing to enjoy this fulfilling but non-living-together relationship does not prohibit a cohabitation situation with someone else who might be more compatible in that role. Rather than being disappointed at the relationship for not living up to its enormous expectations, I can enjoy the experience for what it *does* provide, which is usually fulfilling in its own right if not constantly being compared to a fairy tale.
This is fundamentally different from "settling", by the way. "Settling" is "taking what you can get", it's accepting something you are not completely happy with because the alternative, which is to go without, is worse. I'm talking about liking my roasted chicken because I like roasted chicken, and not being disappointed in my chicken just because it doesn't taste like grilled salmon. Settling is more like eating a rice cake because you're hungry and don't want to go without *something* but you're on a diet and you'd really rather have a chocolate cake instead, so you munch the crispy rice as a diversion just to shut your stomach up so you won't keep thinking about chocolate cake when you know you can't have it anyway.
If my relationship does not follow the love-marriage-baby path, if we do not cohabitate, if it ends before one of us dies, but we are all happy at the time and we do not regret it when it ends, why should that be considered a failure? And if you're going to hold us to that standard and declare "success" or "failure" on other people's relationships and an entire relationship style, that standard ought to be held up to your own chosen style.
So, I ask you, when do you call monogamy a personal failure and move on? Do you just keep trying? Or redefine and create relationships of a different type?