Over the past sixty years, the marriage rate among Europeans has declined by 60%, while the divorce rate has more than doubled. Liberals typically applaud these figures as indicative of Western citizens' increasing personal freedom and ability to make key lifestyle choices; conservatives, meanwhile, tend to denounce them as symptomatic of Western society's broader cultural decline.
Some, however, interpret this data altogether differently: namely, as suggesting that the traditional conception of romantic love as existing between just two people is fatally flawed. Indeed, according to UCLouvain researcher Pierre-Yves Wauthier, so-called polyamorists — or individuals who engage in sexual relationships simultaneously with multiple partners — are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in Belgium and, indeed, much of the Western world.
"We are talking about [polyamory] more and more in society," Wauthier explained to La Dernière Heure (DH). "The number of people interested in polyamory is increasing year by year."
He added: "The notion of 'the couple' is becoming increasingly ephemeral. The increase in the number of divorces and the low number of marriages are phenomena that indicate that people are asking questions about the couple and about what makes the relationship last. In fact, this question of whether we can have several relationships has always been present."
Wauthier's remarks were echoed by Didier, a sixty-year-old yoga teacher who has been in a polyamorous relationship for the past twenty years.
"There is a big cultural change in sight," Didier told DH. "The monogamous couple is losing speed. In fact, we can say that it almost no longer exists. People who live with the same person all their lives have become very rare. In fact, almost all of us are polyamorous, but sequentially: we meet someone, then we break up, then we get back into a relationship and so on."
He added: "For me, it's obvious, monogamy doesn't work. The proof: 50% of marriages end in divorce. Not to mention infidelity: a lot of people cheat on their partner secretly because of this implicit agreement according to which maintaining relationships outside a single couple is forbidden. With polyamory, there is no such hypocrisy."
DH's report also featured an interview with Stephanie, who recently became a polyamorist after breaking up with her long-term partner.
- No honeymoon period: Marriages in Belgium at 150-year low
- Divorce rate spikes as Brussels emerges from coronavirus lockdown
"When I separated from my spouse of 17 years, it was obvious to me that I no longer wanted to return to monogamy," she recounted. "In June 2020, I met a young polyamorous man with whom I formed a relationship and that was the trigger, I realised that this was what I also wanted."
She added: "Since that moment, I feel much more fulfilled on a sentimental level. If I like a person, I can still meet other people without it being infidelity. It's a liberation. There is no longer this sword of Damocles hanging over my head and forcing me to make painful choices between several people I love."
Stephanie further noted that that people drawn to — or simply tempted to experiment with — polyamory should not be afraid to inform their friends and family.
"I told everyone about it and I received no negative reaction, only benevolent curiosity," she said. "My 8-year-old daughter is also aware of this and there is no problem with it."