As more people around the world explore polyamory — being in multiple consensual, intimate relationships — as an alternative to monogamy, a Northern Vermont University-Johnson professor has conducted related, seminal research on a Paris Facebook group.
Anthropology professor Janet Bennion presented her findings at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris this month.
Bennion, a prominent scholar in polygamy among Mormon fundamentalist groups, researched the Paris polyamory community using social network theory, a way to study relationships by examining how people, groups and organizations interact within their network. The theory has been associated with disciplines as varied as economics and botany, but “It hasn’t been applied to love,” Bennion says. “We should figure out the patterns. Maybe it could help people find the right person.”
Though polyamory is a tradition among some cultures, there’s new interest, too. Paris, Berlin and Burlington, Vermont, among other cities, have active polyamorous communities.
“I’ve seen people on Facebook all over thinking about it, so it is a trend,” Bennion says. “Some women are looking for alternatives to a patriarchal marriage. Women especially have poured their lives into a man, making sure he’s happy, as well as taking care of the children, the laundry, the cooking…Maybe you can have a different model that makes you happy.”
Bennion’s Paris research assessed the strengths and weaknesses of people’s bonds. Among her findings is that romantic intimacy isn’t always the main incentive for pursuing polyamory. “A lot of these ties between people are because they need childcare or help with living expenses because it’s so expensive in Paris,” she says. “The practical things that come up then lead to sexual relationships.”
Her research also found personality similarities among people in the Facebook group. “There’s a lot of overlap with people who are socially awkward but highly intelligent.
They’re already used to thinking outside the box and being unconventional,” she says.
Another finding reveals a familiar aspect of intimate relationships. “European polyamory is very much troubled by jealousy. It seems to be a human universal. Relationships don’t have longevity…because there’s jealously,” Bennion says. “This is a common theme throughout all these polyamory networks, and monogamy is riddled with it, too. Cultural norms say you’re only supposed to love one person…Some people are suggesting we need to change the way we think about relationships.”
Bennion is the author of “Polygamy in Primetime” and other books. For more information, visit NorthernVermont.edu/JanetBennion.