We don’t have the language to reflect the diversity of connections we experience. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Isn’t it time we admitted we’re all a bit polyamorous?

Monogamy is rare, no matter what we might tell ourselves. We need a new currency of commitment.

Back in April, Helen Croydon’s New Statesman article entitled “Screw The Fairytale” sparked quite some heated debate from vociferous defenders of the ideal exclusive lifelong partnership. I too have faced occasionally challenging and often fascinating questions as I have toured my comedy show posing the question: Is Monogamy Dead? Yet I’ve come to realise that so many of us define fidelity along emotional rather than sexual lines, it becomes almost impossible to say with authority that anybody at all is monogamous... unless we can read minds.

I conducted an anonymous online survey as research for my show asking what behaviours would be considered infidelity. 73 out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 per cent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 per cent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable. How you would police this I don’t know.

Perhaps the only way to remain truly faithful would be to lock yourselves into a sealed box and both stay there without interacting with any other human beings. Yet this would be torture. Human connections are the lifeblood and oxygen that aid our emotional survival. Even the most fleeting kindnesses and flirtations with strangers enhance our wellbeing. These brief moments of love feed our key relationships. Three and a half years in, my girlfriend and I might not always find it easy to generate huge sexual energy in a vacuum on our own. But if we go off into the world and connect, communicate, flirt with and enjoy other people, become energised by them and then come back together, our passion can still burn strongly. Other people act as our kindling. Love breeds love. It isn’t a finite resource that we need to hide away in the attic.

I asked my ex, now good friend, if she would ever have an open relationship and she said, “no, I don’t think I could do that” then after a pause and a smile, “but what about love affair friendships?” She went on to describe an impenetrable fortress of female friendship, her own group of best mates who’d known each other since school and had supported and loved each other through almost all of their lifetimes. They sounded far more bonded to, and in love with one another, than their respective husbands. It struck me that we don’t have the language to reflect the diversity and breadth of connections we experience. Why is sex the thing we tend to define a relationship by, when in fact it can be simple casual fun without a deep emotional transaction? Why do we say “just friends” when, for some of us, a friendship goes deeper? Can we define a new currency of commitment that celebrates and values this? Instead of having multiple confusing interpretations of the same word, could we have different words? What if we viewed our relationships as a pyramid structure with our primary partner at the top and a host of lovers, friends, spiritual soul mates, colleagues and acquaintances beneath that?

This isn’t a million miles away from the central ideas of polyamory – consensual multiple loving connections, some sexual, some not, in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies. It was a new word and world to me, yet when I interviewed a few polyamorous women (meetings had to be scheduled months ahead due to their ridiculously hectic romantic and social diaries) it struck me that they weren’t behaving so differently to anyone else I knew. Yet instead of shrouding some of their most intimate connections in secrecy as many of my “monogamous” friends have to, boundaries and priorities were honestly negotiated and declared.

Perhaps holding our hands up and owning the fact that we are all indeed a bit poly would be a solution to the growing problem of serial monogamy. Fuelled by a tech revolution where new phones and gadgets replace old every year, our thirst for novelty has never been more capacious. We need the new thing now. And what’s more – we can get it now. This impatience spills over into our romantic lives via dating apps, instant messaging and social media. Finding a new lover to replace the one we’ve become a bit too familiar with becomes as simple as ordering a pizza. Among my own lesbian peer group, rapid serial monogamy is endemic and it is typical to “upgrade” your partner every few years. Just take a look at the civil partnership dissolution rates which are twice as high for female couples as they are for gay men, who more typically negotiate a sexually open relationship yet stay emotionally faithful for longer. But breaking up with such regularity is a disruptive lifestyle bearing huge costs, both financial and emotional, as one or both partners lose their home, extended family, children, friend networks and beloved pets, not to mention the relationship. I’ve been through it and witnessed all of my dearest friends go through it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone of any gender or sexuality. This unstable system is far more potentially damaging to any children involved than a setup including several happy, fulfilled adults in control of their own destinies. I’m not saying that we have to lose sight of traditional structures and units but maybe celebrate that friends can be family too. Or as the writer Armistead Maupin puts it, “logical” families instead of strictly biological ones.

So what if instead of serial relationships one after the other we had parallel ones running alongside one another? Would this improve the odds of some of our key partnerships lasting? The mathematics of probability would say “yes”. As a child I was warned against placing all of my eggs in one basket. Yet as a grown up, I’m being told to do exactly that. Yet the real conundrum here is that none of us are really doing that anyway. So why pretend that we are?

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.