When we care for someone deeply, we often want to go out of our way to demonstrate our commitment to them. Whether it be in the form of special gifts, words of appreciation, or acts of service, there are many ways to show and receive love.
Caring for someone for an extended period of time generally leads to a real bond and, in many cases, genuine love. Society has defined different types of love and assigned them to different parts of life, but what happens when the emotions someone feels breaks the barriers outlined by others?
Loving two people at once—or even more than two—is a major taboo in many parts of the world, primarily because it threatens many of the systems set up to make society ‘work’.
But what does science have to say about love? How does it work, and how does it affect the way we decide to live our lives?
What is love?
Have you ever stopped to think about what love is? Many of us are tempted to answer this question with a personal definition.
For some, love is a place, a smell, a walk in the park with your hands tied; for others, it’s making sacrifices, trying new things, or even just watching a sports match that you don’t like to make your partner happy.
According to science, though, love is all about emotions and behaviors. It is a feeling that combines many other aspects of human life and emotion, such as intimacy, commitment, care, affection, and trust.
Despite its significance in day-to-day life, scientists are not entirely sure if love is actually a biological or a cultural phenomenon. The most accepted answer to this question is that while we, as humans, do perceive things according to our biological features, because of hormones, the way we express it towards someone will depend on our cultural background.
Is it possible to love two people at the same time?
In short, science seems to confirm that it is indeed possible to truly love two people at the same time, specifically in the context of romantic relationships.
Susan Winter, a relationship expert from NYC and Jess O’Reilly, podcast @SexWithDrJess host, said in an interview that loving two people at once is not so different from loving and platonically caring for different people in your life. She suggests that having romantic feelings for multiple people can feel just like caring for multiple friends, pets, or family members.
This argument really helps put things into perspective: having multiple pets doesn’t diminish your love for any of them, though you may have different dynamics with each or come to value them in different ways. The same can be true for romantic relationships.
Such a reality is something that many societies, especially western societies, do not fully understand or accept. Loving multiple people seems to conflict with the idea of loyalty to one partner, something that is deeply embedded into many cultures and believed to be the “ideal” way to live.
Still, the science does not lie. Human sexuality is very nuanced, and not everyone finds sexual, romantic, or personal satisfaction in the same way.
It is feasible to have real, strong feelings for multiple people at once, and it doesn’t inherently mean that you care less about any individual than you would if they were your sole focus (just as you might experience with friends).
In fact, for some, relationships with multiple parties are more functional and successful than traditional monogamous dynamics.
All About Polyamory
Relationships that involve more than just two individuals committed solely to each other are often referred to as “polyamorous.” Polyamory is a Greek term that means practicing and desiring intimate relationships with more than one person with the consent of all the parties involved.
The idea of polyamory largely stems from the belief that love is fluid and cannot be trapped into one box or definition. Polyamorous relationships can differ significantly from example to example: some may consist of only a few individuals or many, and the extent to which each individual is involved with each other person in the relationship can vary, too.
Polyamory is a topic that sparks a good deal of debate about what is considered ‘natural’ or beneficial for society as a whole. Surprisingly, though, monogamy is actually a new thing for humans – it’s a concept that has only really been normalized within the past 1,000 years.
Because the human mind is, to some extent, wired to seek out multiple romantic partners throughout life, it’s not absurd to consider that some people might feel more satisfied and happier with more than one person to love.
Some individuals even consider polygamy to be a part of their sexual orientation or feel genuinely unhappy in ‘traditional’ relationships.
Takeaway: Love is Flexible
The human brain is certainly capable of loving more than one person at once, whether it be in the case of friends, family, and yes, even romantic partners.
For those of us used to monogamy and a culture that promotes it, this reality can be hard to process.
After all, monogamous standards generally teach us that having feelings for an outside party diminishes one’s ability to truly love their partner. They also teach us that monogamous relationships are the best and only way to successfully function and create a stable home environment.
Polyamory or polygamy certainly aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s certainly acceptable to feel uncomfortable being with multiple people or being in a relationship with someone who is.
What can be truly harmful, though, is attempting to apply standards that work for one person to another.
Love is a complex emotion that’s hard to understand even after centuries of effort, and for some, it extends to multiple recipients. So long as all parties are consenting and happy, loving more than one person can actually be the start of a powerful and genuinely compassionate relationship.