We live a world of scarcity, a starvation economy where there’s never enough for ME, and I have to fight everyone else for what I need and want. I once heard Brene Brown talk about Lynne Twist’s quote: the first thing we do in the morning before our feet even hit the floor is think I didn’t get enough sleep, and the last thing we think before our head hits the pillow at night is I didn’t get enough done, and everything in between those two moments is a litany of scarcity. I refuse to buy into that, and I certainly refuse to bring scarcity into my romantic relationships. I choose a life of abundance.”
If you’ve read even one book about open relationships, you’ve heard this argument before: the starvation economy theory does not apply to intimacy. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, hang in there. The starvation economy theory, at least as it’s used in this context, is the idea that when you love or are intimate with many people in your life, you love each of those people less than you would love just one person. It’s the idea that love and intimacy are commodities that you can spend, implying that you have a finite amount and will eventually run out. If you spend more on one person, that means you spend less on another. Polyamorists like to say that this concept is an illogical attack against nonmonogamy because any parent who has 10 kids will of course deny they love each child any less than a parent with only 3 kids. Anyone with 5 close friends will say they love and cherish their close friends just as much as the person with only 2 close friends. In most social situations, we don’t think of love or intimacy as commodities at all, and I’m sure the polyamorists have a fair point here. We can love many people at once without any detriment to the others, but come on – do we really think our capacity for love is infinite?
First of all, we have to clarify what we mean by love and intimacy. When we say love, do we just mean the feeling of love, or do we mean the expression of love? The expression of love is certainly a commodity. Think about the 5 love languages, quality time and touch being two of them. Certainly those are commodities – the more time we spend with one person, the less time we have to spend with another, and often the more we touch one person (especially sexually…), the less we are able to (or want to) touch another, at least to an extent. So, until we find ways to surpass this dimension of limited space and time, our expression of love is clearly limited, finite, and quantifiable. As for the feeling of love, I can’t think of a time I ever felt like I loved too many people, and the number of people I love has seen a lot of variance.
To be fair though, even though I could feel the feeling of love, or even the feeling of being in love, towards many people without loving the others less, there are other things that come along with the feeling of being in love that actually are commoditized. Work with me on this. When you’re in love with someone, you’re supposed to think of them when something funny happens in your day. You spill coffee on your white blouse or the partner at work you’re talking to pronounces the word recalcitrant with a hard “c” like recalkitrant. Assuming you’re dating and falling in love with people who care about how your day goes and share the same sense of humor with you, what do you do? Send 4 text messages? Just write one and copy and paste it? Since being polyamorous with my current partner, I haven’t fallen in love with anyone new, and I’ve already caught myself having to retell stories over and over to the people I’m dating or talking to. When you’re in love with someone, you’re supposed to be aware of their absence in your life and let them know their presence is missed. How many people can you really miss at the same time? How many people can you really message “Hey babe – just thinking of you and wish I were with you right now” and mean it? Are these relationship expectations just things that the media has told us? Well, they are things the media tells us, but having been in love before, I think that often they are unavoidably real reactions to falling in love with someone. Falling in love affects you constantly, and that’s half the fun. You cannot tell me that you could really be falling in love with two people at the same time while also maintaining your relationship with your primary partner. I mean, do you not have a day job? That shit is all consuming. So then, does the standard of open relationships that contain a primary partner just start to mean a rotating second partner? One comes in, another goes out? Or does it mean that I might fall in love with someone new outside of my primary partner, get through the honeymoon phase with that person, integrate them into my life in a more “normal” and less consuming way, and then move on to fall in love with someone else? Maybe this sounds heartless or fulfills the rumor that I’m a man-eater, but I really don’t see it that way, and I’d venture to say the guys I’ve been with don’t see it that way either.
I really enjoy falling in love, but I also really enjoy having deep relationships with people and getting past the honeymoon phase to where someone can really know you and love you for who you are. I also like experiencing that with different people, because the person I am is different in each lover’s eyes. Seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes is one of the most powerful parts about falling in love. I’m not an infatuation junkie or a love addict (I’m not entirely sure that’s a thing, but if it is, I’m not one). I don’t just search for that next high. In life, I can truly say that I am completely content alone, but my life is enhanced as I add others. I search for people with whom I very much hope to have long term connections. These connections can manifest themselves in all different kinds of ways, and I love that unknown. Of course, most people never make it past the initial dating phase, and if they make it to the falling in love phase, they don’t usually stick around for the long haul of being integrated as a permanent or semi-permanent fixture in my life, so I don’t really foresee having a problem of running out of love…or time, or kisses, or feelings for any of my partners. If, one day, I am lucky enough to fall in love ten times outside of my primary partner, and if even two of those people stick around to become secondary partners for me, those would be some insanely successful results, and even then, I don’t think I’d be close to my max capacity for love or expression of love.
So, as for the starvation economy of intimacy, I don’t know the answer. I think we can all agree that we don’t each have a finite amount of love that gets doled out, person by person, the last person suffering the most or receiving the least. That being said, we are spiritual beings living within the limits of a physical world, and, because we are not God, the expression of our love has limits. What are those limits? I don’t really need to know because, in my experience, I don’t think I’ll come even close to reaching them, and if I do, I’ll not only fall on my knees thanking my lucky stars for the endless rush of blessings into my life, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.