Polyamory requires multitasking. Serial monogamy doesn’t. And multitasking is a kind of circus act of the brain.
I have an idea with a couple of data points to support it. Here’s the data:
Desdemona has a dear, close friend named Maggie; Like Anne and “Sally” and so many other close friends, they spend hours and hours together. Before hooking up with Maggie, though, Desdemona spent most of her free time with Susan. Their interests were poles apart so they spent their time differently.
We have previously suggested that one can have sex without love and, more important, one can have love without sex.
Desdemona and Maggie might fit our definition of lovers. Likewise Desdemona and Susan, except the latter pair seems to have become passe.
Fred and Gwen and Bonnie and Carol are our polyamorous friends from Part 2 and Part 3. Fred passed along something interesting. When he spends time in the library with Bonnie neither Gwen nor Carol cross his mind at all. Fred has tremendous concentration and he focuses entirely on Bonnie when she is with him. At the motel with Carol, Fred is absolutely unlikely to ponder a logical plan for resolving the nation’s economic problems.
But wait! There’s more!
I’ve watched Fred move his focus from one lover to the next. He pulls away slightly from Gwen even before leaving their house so he can better concentrate on his coming partner.
I often describe multitasking as that familiar circus act of keeping plates spinning in the air. I’ll bet you expected me to say “juggling,” didn’t you?
Wikipedia tells us that plate spinning is a “manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls and other flat objects on poles, without them falling off. [It] relies on the gyroscopic effect, in the same way a top stays upright while spinning. Spinning plates are sometimes gimmicked, to help keep the plates on the poles.” David Spathaky holds the world record for spinning 108 plates simultaneously in 1996.
Like the juggler, the plate spinner plies his art by touching just one plate. (See, that way I didn’t have to say he holds just one of his balls in his hand at a time.)
We also know that “multitasking” is actually serial (mono)tasking with fast enough switching that Task #1 keeps on rotating on its own while one spins up Task #2 … and so on.
Desdemona serially switched from Suze to Magster. She keeps her BFFs in series. Fred task switches between Gwenny and Bonnie and Caroleena. He (almost) keeps his BFFs in parallel.
One way or another, people switch focus.
“When I’m home, I’m home,” Jon Stewart told NPR’s Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air, about how he separates the parts of his life. “I can’t not be at work but the real challenge is when I’m at work, I’m at work. I’m locked in, I’m ready to go, and I’m focused. When I’m home, I’m locked in, I’m ready to go, and I’m focused on home.”
One way or another, people switch focus but some people maintain a mental map of their frame of reference for each ongoing task.
“I serially task switch when it comes to Things That Must Get Done,” Nancy said, “but Dick has had a taste of me doing the micro-switching I am capable of when I texted my daughter, played Solitaire and carried on a reasonably in depth conversation with him.”
I’m not very good at true multi-tasking. I can carry on a conversation while I carry a load of lumber to the barn. I can listen to a polyamory podcast while driving across a bridge. But I cannot use the same brain center — communications in this case — to manage conversations with two or three people at once. I can, however, switch from one conversation about boat design to another about network integration almost seamlessly because I remember the context from one to the next.
Here’s the big idea: Since our monogamouses serially monogatask but the polyamouses appear to multitask, perhaps having poly tendencies has more to do with the way we manage time (and hold on to our memories) than the way we reach for love.
For those who absolutely need to know, Dez and Maggs go to a movie every Tuesday, play poker on Saturdays, and take a long weekend or whole week road trip about once each month. On the other hand, Susan swims twice a week at the Y so Dezzy swam twice a week. They played bridge with a couple of different bridge clubs, sometimes on Tuesdays or Saturdays. And, since Suze doesn’t like sleeping in an empty house, the girls had “sleepovers” once or twice a week when her husband traveled on business.