Couple culture dominates our modern minority world societies. I define ‘the couple’ loosely as two people who are involved in some kind of ongoing, committed relationship with one another. A central part of many people’s lives revolves around finding one partner and establishing and maintaining a relationship with them. The ideal is a lifelong coupledom with this person, someone to grow old with, though increasingly this isn’t the case. Dating culture, marriage culture, wedding culture, monogamy, the family – these all fit neatly into couple culture. Couple culture is so dominant in our lives that it even cuts across some of the prejudices of our societies. We’re getting to a point, for example, where we will accept a gay or lesbian person as long as they too live, or are willing to live, in a monogamous coupleship.
I don’t want to suggest that we should abolish the couple, or that aspiring to or maintaining a couple relationship is somehow negative or retrogressive. But let’s not forget about those whose lives don’t adhere to couple culture: ‘the single’ or ‘the more than two’ (the polyamorous). There’s the lighthearted side of the struggles of the single: It’s impossible to find cheap holiday accommodation for one person; restaurants don’t want you taking up a table for yourself that two paying people could sit at; relatives at family gatherings regard you quizzically as you confirm that yes, you are still single.
However, there’s also the less lighthearted side of it all, and I struggle to quip about any of the difficulties the polyamorous face. ‘The single’ and ‘the more than two’ are entirely devalued in our societies. These are not viewed as acceptable ways to live a life, despite the fact that many single people are happy and comfortable outside of the pairship and many polyamorous people experience an abundance of love, trust and intimacy with their partners. Those who won’t conform to couple culture, and the milestones of marriage and family that go along with it, receive fewer entitlements. Germany, for example, has favourable taxation laws for married couples. Single people have inadequate access to care when they are sick, older or struggling because care, both emotional and practical, is still viewed as something to be carried out within the family unit. I suggest that couple culture can even be dangerous. One example is when a person stays in a pairship even though it might not be the best thing for them because of the belief that there is no adequate, enjoyable life outside the couple system.
Polyamory in particular is practically invisible in our culture, and the polyamorous face innumerable difficulties in this world they are written out of. There’s an absolute lack of social acceptance for polyamorous people, and misunderstanding surrounds both them and the concept of polyamory. Polyamorous people have no recourse to any of the legal structures or rights that support the couple. They have no rights to their partners’ inheritances and no rights to share parenting of children, for example. When things go wrong and problems arise in areas like these, the polyamorous can only rely on the good will of all partners involved. In an entire system where ‘the more than two’ is particularly stigmatised, the polyamorous face long struggles to gain even the smallest amounts of acceptance from others, and often to come to accept themselves.
Coupledom and the pairship certainly offer happiness, comfort and support to some. But despite its dominance, coupleship is not the only satisfying, nourishing way to live. Those who choose a different way shouldn’t be undervalued, devalued or forgotten. In fact to me ‘the single’ and ‘the more than two’ are revolutionaries – just through being they are challenging the dominance of couple culture and asserting the possibility of something other than the norm.