The English language has a single word for it: love. My ancestors have a single model for it: monogamy. And despite the poetic notion that we marry for love, marriage has historically been inextricably woven into a cloth designed to be worn by owners – of money, land, and women.
In elementary school, I was once told that a boy in my home town was the illegitimate child of a famous music celebrity. Thus, I was taught that a child conceived beyond the strict confines of a state-sanctioned monogamous marriage was not legal. Not valid. Not wanted. Shameful. We’d whisper the story of this dark truth amongst ourselves in school hallways, despite not understanding why we used hushed tones. We whispered because our parents whispered.
Fortunately, humanity has not always lived with such narrow values. As many of us are seeking “new” possibilities, others are coming forth to share world views of love that give great hope.
The Awansa Ta’pish nation, for example, has 72 words for love. They have 14 love relationships, the a’ukota pash’ele. The ‘illegitimate’ child I mentioned , if born into such a nation, might have been raised in an extended loving family. The parents would have been fully honoured for their loving companionship. Mom would have never been called a ‘single mother’ since many cared together for children, according to scholar Kim Tallbear.
I believe that polyamory isn’t a ‘new paradigm’ per se, but rather a ‘remembering’. And this path of remembrance is hard work. Each lesson dismantled, each shaming unlearned, slowly, at times very painfully. The damage has been caused by centuries of harmful practices and thus is epigenetically imprinted in us – in essence, we are born broken. The healing of love and the return to erotic innocence thus goes beyond individuals: we are healing ourselves, and also our ancestors. Tallbear adds that ethical non-monogamy is not just about self-actualization and healing oppression, but that it has implications in the “broader context of community, of extended relations and of our obligations to the Earth”.
This is no small task. The Awansa elders spend considerable time and energy teaching the 14 love relationships, because reportedly only by experiencing them can one become a “complete human being”. Courageous communities around the globe are committing to this deep healing work in the realms of love, eros and spirituality. Film-maker and Tamera love school apprentice, John Wolfstone, explains we need deep study “because we’ve been wrongly trained and traumatically ripped from community for six millennia”. There is a deeply misguided world view, he argues, “that we are separate from everything else”, a belief that has led us to compete for resources and live in fear.
As this ‘remembrance’ takes place, we are slowly discovering how to connect in deeply with our extended communities. We are embracing the many ways we can share love, and developing a language to fully honour the diverse ways in which love is experienced.
In English, there is only one word for ‘love’. Perhaps one day we will see, the only thing there is really one of, is us. We. Are. One.