|Image courtesy of Pete|
The simple answer is no. We poly folk often use the analogy of loving many children. Of course you can love more than one person at a time, and our society knows this well because people don't give up their firstborn for adoption when their second child comes along. This analogy pretty much holds true.
The more complicated answer is that love is big and I feel lots of it for both my boyfriends. Each day, my needs from each vary.
I'll give you an example. The past couple of weeks, my poly family has been enduring a truly harrowing emotional experience, affecting all of us to different degrees. It's been difficult for me, but not as difficult as it's been for others. I've been very lucky to have lots of support and give lots of support during this time.
For much of this time, Ryder has been out of town. Rusty and I have had lots of dates, and I've leaned on him for my emotional needs many, many times.
So now my Rustyometer is full. My Ryderometer is sorely lacking. I love Rusty and am so truly grateful to have had him near me, so I could cry, hug, laugh, and have all those other emotional releases. But I haven't been able to do that with Ryder, and the ache in my chest for him is so real it's physically painful. I need him right now, in ways I don't need Rusty right now.
Today, my need for time with Ryder is greater than my need for Rusty. This doesn't mean I love Ryder more. It just means I've met my needs where Rusty is concerned.
Interestingly, this is the opposite of our typical situation. Ryder and I usually get more time together because our dates often fall on weekends. Without maneuvering around work schedules, we end up spending much more time together than Rusty and I spend on our weekday dates.
I expect, although I don't know, that other people in poly relationships have similar experiences. Your meters for each partner may not be the same size. Mine are roughly equal, but I can easily imagine having a partner that you both get what you need from each other with far less time together. Thus, you might need more time with one than another to keep your meters adequately filled.
This isn't the same as loving one person more than another. Once upon a time, my Mothermeter was incredibly large. I needed lots of time with Mom in order to be okay. As I've gotten older, that meter has shrunk, and it takes much less time together to fill it up. Does that mean my love for my mother has diminished? Hardly. If anything, I love Mom now more than ever. Every new experience we have, every insight into her effect on my psyche, makes me more joyful to have her as my mom. My needs have shrunk, not my love.
With Rusty and Ryder, my meters right now are enormous. I can hardly keep them full, and only a constant discussion of schedules and who has what date nights keeps things manageable. Someday, perhaps, our meters will shrink, and then maybe there will be more room in our lives for other people. This will not indicate a reduction in our love for each other, any more than my having two meters indicates I'm lacking a single, larger one for just one of them. It will just mean our needs are met more easily.
Or, perhaps not. Perhaps I will always have enormous meters for each of them that stand to fall perilously low if we miss a couple of dates or tragedy befalls our family. This, we will manage. Because they will also have other people in their lives, so as much time as I spend with someone who isn't each of them, they have that much time to spend with someone who isn't me.
Probably worth noting: I am always happier when my absent lovers are with someone awesome than when they are alone (unless, of course, they are having scheduled Alone Time, which we all need). If I can't be with them, I certainly hope they can be with someone who makes them happy. Their happiness is my happiness.
I do feel that my needs from each of my boyfriends are as great as my needs from any monogamous partner I had in the past. While it takes twice as much effort to keep the meters full, the result is twice as much love. This was the thing that most surprised me when I began dating them: I didn't have two half-relationships, I had two complete relationships. Twice the dates. Twice the attention. Twice the love. Twice the sex. No, actually, maybe ten times the sex. My family really enjoys sex.
But you get the idea. Multiple relationships don't spread the love of one across many souls, they load up love until you are overflowing with it, until you're so drenched in it you can hardly breathe. And it's wonderful.