If you are polyamorous, you’re no doubt familiar with the argument that polyamory “cheapens” love and/or sex. That is, if you love multiple people, your love is somehow less valuable than if you only loved one person. From an economic perspective, this makes a certain sort of sense. It’s basic economics that the lower the supply of any given product, the higher the value. In order to increase the value of a product, sellers sometimes try to artificially create scarcity. This is most famously done with diamonds, and it is also the justification for many intellectual property rights, such as patent and copyright. Think about it: if anyone could make an iPhone, supply would dramatically increase, and the price would plummet. The government grants a patent (i.e. a temporary monopoly) in order to allow the creator to control the supply, thereby driving up the price, and allowing the creator to recoup its R&D cost.
Under this theory, if your love* is reserved for a single person, your love becomes an extremely scarce resource, and thus its value increases. By making a monogamous commitment, you are pledging to restrict your love only for a single person, thereby making your love more valuable. The person receiving your love in this transaction receives a much more valuable resource than zie had before, and will be understandably upset if you break your promise in the future. From this perspective it makes perfect sense that married men are more attractive than unmarried men – as demand increases, so does value.
Dave Chappelle understands this, in the context of sex:
Relevant quote starts at 49:37
If pussy was a stock, it would be plummeting right now because you flooded the market with it, you’re giving it away too easy. I’m just being truthful. I’m just talking. It would plummet. You’d be watching the news, “today, pussy plummeted again on the nasdaq.” …This is the practical application of what I’m talkin’ about.
Polyamory is a threat to this transactional view. If, as we keep insisting, loving or having sex with more than one person at a time does nothing to cheapen the value of love or sex, then the above analysis must be wrong.
The main reason why the economic model doesn’t work for me is that my love is not a commodity**. To me, love is a self-replicating resource. Love is something that a person can give and give, and never run out. I’m delighted that polyamorous community has chosen, as its symbol, the infinity heart. To me, the infinity heart encapsulates the polyamorous challenge to the economic model. Our*** view is that polyamory cannot decrease the value of love, because love is infinite.
The other way the economic model fails is that love’s value is not determined by the market. Love (at least in my experience) cannot be bought or sold, and thus the market value of any individual’s love is irrelevant. The economic analysis is only useful in determining the market value of a product, not its intrinsic value or it’s value to any individual. The value of a person’s love, to me, bears no relation to its value to others.
Granted, it’s certainly an ego boost to receive the favor of someone highly discriminating, but I attempt to resist this impulse, as it relies on the economic model. I view it as similar to resisting jealousy. It’s a way to attempt to align my emotions with my rational understanding of the world and with my view of what the ideal person would feel.
I don’t see any other justification for how poly could “cheapen” love and/or sex. Do you?
*thoughout this post, the word “love” is used to refer to romantic love.
** sex sometimes is a commodity, and I have no problem with that. Sex work is a big industry. I’ve never participated in it myself, but I certainly haven’t ruled it out, especially if I visit Amsterdam again. However, sex is not usually a commodity for me, so the analysis of love mostly applies to sex as well.
*** this is my view and the view of many poly people that I know, though not all, and it is not meant to speak for everyone in the poly community. Many poly people still place artificial limits on the love they are allowed to feel, or reserve other things only for the primary relationship to keep it “special.”