Commitment

Defining The "C" Word

As mentioned in the Misconceptions section, poly people have plenty of commitment, but the kind of commitment they have isn't based on the same notions about commitment that mono people commonly have. So which set of ideas makes the most sense? To answer this question we need a reasonably objective idea of what the word "commitment" means.

Commitment is defined in most dictionaries as an obligation, dedication, contract, or some such synonym, and romantic commitment is where these factors are mapped in some way onto romantic relationships. Mono and poly people both do this, but there are some important differences.

The Poly Perspective

Commitment from a poly perspective is about relationship standards centered on honesty, communication, responsibility, fairness, and the well being of those in the relationship. Poly people also strive to reduce behavior that is generally seen as negative such as jealousy, possessiveness, manipulation, deceit, and control because they diminish the respect for their partner and harm the relationship.

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The Mono Perspective

Commitment from a mono perspective typically involves an agreement of some type that spells out various responsibilities, duties, rights, and obligations of partners in a romantically exclusive relationship. This often includes legally binding documents such as a marriage certificate or common-law agreement. Consequently jealousy is sometimes seen as positive because it reinforces one's perceived right to exclusivity.

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Identifying The Problems 

The first problem with the mono concept of romantic commitment is that emotional love and physical attraction aren't conditions that can be made real by obligation, dedication, or contract. We either love someone or we don't, and we're either attracted to someone or we're not.

The next problem is that in the broadest sense, the best evidence doesn't support the belief that humans are naturally monogamous. Consider the following:

A team of evolutionary anthropologists led by Joe Henrich showed that long-lasting monogamous marriages were not the norm outside Western countries until very recently. - Psychology Today
According to evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss of the University of Texas at Austin, humans are in general innately inclined toward nonmonogamy.
- Scientific American
By nature it seems that humans are naturally polygamous. Although polyandry, a marriage of one woman to many men, is rare, polygyny, the marriage of one man to many women, is widely practiced in human societies. Humans, in fact, possess certain characteristics typical of non- monogamous species. - Huffington Post
The biological reality is that we weren’t “made for monogamy,” despite the preferences of straight-laced (and often hypocritical) preachers ... - Psychology Today

The quotes above are only a few among many search results, yet proponents of monogamy tend to reject the evidence, favoring their own bias instead. Virtually every example advocating monogamy I've run across strongly suggests that it's proponents are strongly influenced by beliefs rooted in socialization and social conditioning rather than more objective research.

Just think of how much easier it is to change your clothes than to change your mind. This is especially true when it comes to the nature of human nature, an arena in which scientific findings often confront a reluctance to entertain ideas that differ from what we have been taught, involving matters both of self-image and wishful thinking, not to mention – as in our case – some of the most basic prior teachings of ethics, morality and religious doctrine. But the truth has a habit of emerging. - Psychology Today

But do we really need academics to tell us what is already obvious? All one really needs to do is look around at the state of relationships in the world today to see that multiple romantic interests during a lifetime is the norm for both men and women, and that jealousy is more of a problem than a solution.

Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat ‑ real or imagined ‑ to a valued relationship or to its quality. A nationwide survey of marriage counselors indicates that jealousy is a problem in one third of all couples coming for marital therapy. - Psychology Today

But it doesn't end there. Commitment is also often assumed to be something that applies unconditionally to the people in romantic relationships. In actual fact, that is seldom the case.

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It's Not Unconditional

How many times have we heard people ask the question, "Is he ( or she ) committed to you?" or "Does he love you unconditionally?" The fact is that commitment in romantic relationships is seldom unconditional or anything to with a commitment to the people themselves. To realize this truth just dig out your list of deal breakers.

Most people are perfectly happy to stay in a relationship until some condition based on some set of beliefs or principles is broken. For example how many relationships have ended over dishonesty, abuse, addictions, standards of living, or criminal behavior?

In truth, these sorts of deal breakers make it clear that it's not the people we are committed to, but our standards for staying in a relationship, which includes a combination of personal feelings and beliefs about the behavior and conditions we're willing to tolerate in a relationship.

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Conclusions

The tempting conclusion is that polyamory is on more solid ground than monogamy. However it's not quite that simple. In reality poly people can also be biased and jealous, and mono people tend to advocate many of the same positive concepts as poly people. They just haven't reflected on the subject enough to identify the compromises.

Poly people also have their own unique set of challenges, plus those associated with fitting into a predominantly mono culture. Being poly isn't all lollipops and rainbows. See the Reasons For Caution section for more on this.

So an argument can be made that although polyamory may have a conceptual advantage, the practical benefits of cultural conformity can outweigh the problems. Therefore the type of commitment that makes the most sense depends on the situation each individual faces.

Personally, a poly lifestyle is more advantageous for me because I prefer what is most natural and sensible based on the best evidence and critical thinking. This allows me to be as true to myself as possible. That in-turn allows me to be true to those I'm involved with, and that's more important to me than conforming to social conditioning.