Ever since the founding of America, monogamy has been the cultural norm for long-term relationships and marriages. As of the late 19th century, the Supreme Court enshrined that norm into law, upholding taboos against polygamous marriage and other polyamorous relationships.
Yet in recent years, as America’s opened up to a diverse array of personal relationships, our devotion to monogamy has thawed, opening a space for people to explore polyamorous relationships (if not polygamous marriages). As polyamory wiggles its way into mainstream consciousness, capitalizing on the social conversations and shifts of the legalization of gay marriage nationwide, we now have to consider whether we can embrace it as a society at large.
Here, Leonie Linssen, a Dutch polyamorist activist and practitioner, explains how she came to embrace relationships with multiple partners, and why she thinks society should as well.
When I was 17 I feel in love with three people. [But] I felt the pressure from society, from my parents who raised me like: You get a man. You get married. You get children. You get happily ever after. I couldn’t stand that pressure. So… I never dared to do anything [with those feelings].
I think I blocked everything [for a long time]. I knew I fell in love with a lot of people. My boyfriend and I, we could talk about it. But we agreed that we wouldn’t do anything about it. Then that relationship broke down when I was 30. Later I got married to a guy from Turkey. It was supposed to be monogamous, so there was no discussion in that relationship.
Then when that relationship ended, I met my previous [partner]. He was bisexual. He said: I cheated on my wife and that cost me my marriage. I don’t want to cheat. But I want to make love with men as well. If you can’t stand that, then we won’t do anything. But if you’re open to it, we can have a relationship. [That was] funny, because I’d always talked to people about my bisexual feelings, but never did anything, and he did a lot of things but never talked to anybody about it. I said: You [teach] me how to do it and [I’ll teach] you how to talk about it.
[By 2005], I’d had a relationship with a woman for two years [alongside] the relationship with my boyfriend and… the first polyamory form [emerged] in Holland. [That’s when] the word [“polyamory”] came [into my life]. We met a couple at [a] bisexual gathering. They told us that they had another girlfriend [together]. It was like: Ah! Is that possible? I knew that was for me.
Love is the only energy that doesn’t follow the rules.
I think [I would have found a way to polyamory without these encounters, though]. I think some things are meant to be in life. You get chances, and if you don’t take them, you get another chance until you learn your lesson. With me it’s just obvious that I love many people at the same time. I just know it’s who I am and I can’t live differently and I don’t want to.
If you follow love, the form of a relationship will follow. You might find somebody… that takes all of your attention and energy and you feel really happy with that. So I don’t say all people should become polyamorous. Love is… the only energy that doesn’t follow the rules.
There’s a taboo around polyamory. [But] I think that within 20, 25 years, society will look very different and we’ll be openly accepted. And there will always be people who are against [polyamory], of course… [But] if you look in Dutch society (and I think America is the same) they have these investigations that say that 25 percent of the people who are monogamous [will] at least once in their life cheat on their partner. So there are a lot of people who know what it is to feel attracted to multiple people. That can be [sexual] only. But it can also be because people fall in love—because you have different qualities and interests and [one partner] cannot [share] all of that with me. [And I think we need to and will start embracing that reality openly.]
For me, the most important thing is to live who I am. That gives [me] so much freedom… so much energy to do what [I] need to do in the world. If you don’t live who you are, then a lot of energy is blocked and cannot blossom. I think the world becomes better if we all blossom.