Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “If you can love multiple children then you can love multiple partners.” Or something along those lines. This is often an analogy used to explain to monogamous people how it is possible to love more than one person. In a lot of ways this is correct, and in some ways it isn’t. People make the point that romantic love isn’t the same as familial love, etc. It isn’t a perfect analogy – but then again, no analogy is… that’s what an analogy does, it compares 2 similar things, things that have a lot in common with each other, not two identical entities. So maybe it isn’t perfect or “correct” in that way, but it is pretty damn close to being perfect in every other way. The main purpose, of course, being to prove that it is in fact possible to love more than one person at the same time.
Loving More Than One
My One And Only: The Idea of Ownership and Union
Let’s start with that. People typically react with a shocked “But how can you love more than one person at a time? If you have feelings for someone else doesn’t that mean you don’t really love the person you’re with?” I’ll answer this in 2 parts. 1st off – the heteronormative monogamous ideal is a construct within our society that is rooted in the act of claiming women as property. Parents would literally sell their children to men, through marriage, in order to guarantee wealth or land or food or whatever else for their family. The idea of “you are mine” wasn’t a romantic notion, it was one of possession. To this day, it still is. A lot of monogamous relationships are filled with toxic possessive tendencies, but we go blindly through this world unable to see them because we’ve been taught these actions and thoughts are normal. Let me be very clear – it is never okay to think of someone as your property. You do not OWN your partner. They are free to do as they please and be their own person. You can’t make decisions for them or change who they are. You don’t get to decide how they spend their time or who they hang out with.
Loving someone means you care about their happiness, and you like them as an individual. When you see someone as an individual and want them to be happy, you aren’t constantly trying to police what they do or how they do it or where they go, etc. It doesn’t matter how YOU feel about other people, or how YOU feel about different activities or places, etc. Your emotions are your own responsibility and your own to deal with. A good partner will care about your emotions, but they will not bend to your will because of your emotions. Being kind and respectful and thoughtful – just generally mindful of others – doesn’t mean you stop being who you are or doing what you love simply because it makes someone else feel a little bit uncomfortable. The person who feels uncomfortable needs to work through those feelings. Point blank period. Sometimes your partner may help you work through them, but it is NOT their responsibility to do so.
Another point to make about possession is when people become so meshed that they think of each other as one unit. A “we” instead of two “I’s.” This is sometimes referred to as part of the normal entanglement that goes along with riding the relationship escalator. However, this is also an unhealthy state within a relationship. This codependency isn’t a deeper form of love, but instead a psychological mind fuck. You’ve become so comfortable within your bubble of existence with this one person that you’ve become part of them and they’ve become part of you, and you’ve become one unit, and you no longer are an individual being anymore. It is extremely important to address this! Even if it isn’t causing problems within your relationship, it needs to be talked about, because it is extremely unhealthy. A healthy relationship consists of two individuals who are whole within themselves, and who come together to contribute to a shared relationship. It is NOT two halves coming together to make one whole (that is the relationship between them). This is why it’s important to take time to maintain your own self-care and figure yourself out so that you can go into relationships as a healthy whole individual.
The Many Forms of Loving More
Diversity is a Healthy Diet
2ndly, to address loving more than one person at a time, let’s just think about life in general. We are creatures who love MANY things at one time. Loving tacos AND pasta AND mangos AND tequila doesn’t make my love for any of these items lesser. My love for each food and drink that I enjoy is separate and unique. If I was feeling really hot I might prefer a sip of cool water or ice cold lemonade. No one would be asking me why I didn’t choose to drink hot chocolate or tea, instead. Different foods and drinks quench me in different ways, and at different times. I love different things about them. I love how I can add avocado to basically anything and it adds the perfect cooling, creamy sensation in my mouth. I love how raspberries have a sweet tang to them. I love how dark chocolate has this creamy, bitter deliciousness. I love how lasagna is comforting as hell when I’m feeling a little lonely. And I also love how tequila makes me feel confident and wild and giggly. Every mood I’m in calls for something different.
And yet, that’s okay. Nobody insists if I love one food, or one drink, that I have to have it all day, everyday, for every meal and every snack. Because that would be incredibly ridiculous and boring and annoyingly nauseating and it would also be extremely unhealthy. I mean, obviously tequila all day would make me sick. But even something like avocado, if that was ALL I ever ate? My body would freak out! Your body needs a diverse array of foods, all colors, in order to be healthy. Too much of anything is bad for you. Everything in moderation – which is easy to do when you mix in a ton of different things. Just like food, we need to keep a mixture of different individuals in our lives. No one person can be everything for us. That’s just a fact. And TRYING to make someone be everything for us is incredibly disappointing for us, and WAY too much pressure for them. It’s unfair to put that on anybody! It’s unhealthy! Even if you choose to date monogamously, assuming that your partner will be everything you could ever need is so incredibly unrealistic and ridiculous.
The More The Merrier: All The Other People In Your Life
You still need loving friends and supportive family and whoever else. A therapist. A doctor. People at the grocery store to stalk your food, people working at farms to grow your food, etc. LOL, I love food! But seriously, you need lots of different people in your life. You can choose who those people are, because your needs and wants are your own, but the fact is that you NEED more than 1 person to fulfill you. We are social creatures, after all. And you can love each and every one of them. You can love your mom, and your dad, and your aunt, and uncle, and have 10 or 20 best friends, and love all of them. You can do that! And that isn’t weird, because of course you love your friends and your family (biological, adopted, chosen, or otherwise)…no one finds that weird. To love so many people.
One Child, Two Child, Red Child, Blue Child
So, let’s go back to the topic of loving multiple children. If you have one child and you love it with your whole heart, then you have another… does this suddenly mean you can’t love that child too? Do you have to split your love between them? You can now only love each one with half your heart? 50% for each? The more children you have the less love they each receive? Of course not! That’s ridiculous! You can love each child you have with your whole heart! Your love grows bigger and bigger to include more and more children. Do you love them identically? For the same reasons? Are they identical people? NO! You love each child fully, for different reasons, because they each have their own beautiful individual identities. In the same way, you can love more than one romantic or sexual partner. Or partner in any other sense (as some relationships don’t involve romance or sex, but they are still valid). No matter what kind of a relationship you form with someone, it does not stop you from having the ability to love any other person in your life. Having a child doesn’t mean you stop loving your mom. Finding a new partner doesn’t mean you have no love for your best friend. Etc. Love is unlimited.
Here’s the catch. Not EVERYTHING is unlimited. The love you feel can expand and expand endlessly. It can be shared with as many people as you can possibly imagine. HOWEVER, your time and your energy (and other such things) are finite resources. Unfortunately. But, you know what? This is okay, too. Remember how even when you have more than one child you still love them fully? You also make sure to spend time with each one, too, don’t you? Sometimes maybe all together, sometimes maybe separately. Nonetheless, you get time with each one. There are times when things don’t work out well and you need to re-evaluate your time (or money) and figure out a better way to go about dealing with scheduling, but you keep moving forward and you continue to love your children. Same with other family and friends. Sometimes you have lots of time for people, sometimes you don’t. Some weeks maybe you see them everyday, sometimes maybe you go weeks without seeing them at all, but your love for them is still there – through everything – and you pick up where you left off the last time you saw them.
Partnerships are the same. Everybody has different wants and needs. Sometimes it can be hard to collaborate on scheduling when one person has more need for time and attention than another, especially if you’re trying to keep things “fair” (or “even”) between them all. But fair doesn’t mean equal. Equity is your goal. Making sure everyone gets what they need, not that they all get what they want. Making sure you get enough time for self-care comes first, and then everything on top of that is up to you. How much time do you want to devote to other people? To each person? Sometimes you might enjoy spending more time with one partner than another. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the other partner as much, but they’re just a different person. This happens for me when I have partners who are super extroverted or have excessive attention needs. I can only go so long before I exhaust my energy stores and have to be on my own again to recharge. So it can be easier to spend lots of time with partners who are willing to just kind of hang around with me and be mellow. It’s OKAY for each relationship to be different. It’s kind of expected. It’s also okay if they are all similar. But you shouldn’t try to make them all identical. The differences are what make the relationship unique and special. Like the individuality of each person you meet, there will be a unique setup within each relationship you engage in (romantic, sexual, familial, platonic, career, or otherwise). Technically, you are in a relationship with every person you ever meet … even if it’s just an acquaintance you meet once and never see again. It is up to you to determine to what degree you get involved in each of these relationships, and to decide (with the other person) what these relationships/connections entail.
So… is it possible to love more than one person? Of course it is! Just like it’s possible to love more than one child or one family member or one friend or one food, or literally anything else. Is it different loving more than one person you’re romantically or sexually or otherwise partnered with? Yes, but only because society isn’t used to it and we’re constantly being pushed to “pair off.” Remember, different doesn’t mean bad. It just means different. And different can be amazing! Our differences create beautiful diversity. Although the struggles of limited time and energy and other resources, like money, may be frustrating or seem like a hurdle sometimes, it doesn’t impede our ability to love more than one person – it simply means we have to get creative in the way we setup our dynamics, and try to be flexible with our wants without compromising our needs (while remembering that our needs are our own responsibility and we can get bits and pieces from many different places and people, not just one). Lesson here? Don’t limit yourself, but also don’t overextend yourself. Give endlessly the love you are capable of spreading. Give sparingly the time and energy you are willing to share. Love is love is love is love is love, and love is infinite.
P.S. I can even love my friend’s children or my partner’s other children, and none of that stops me from loving my own children.