I used to be one of those people who couldn’t comprehend how it would be possible to be in a non-monogamous relationship.
I’ve always held pretty liberal views on relationships, but I remember making certain assumptions (internally) about what an open relationship might be like.
In the past year or so I have learned a lot about it by spending time in the community. I am by no means an expert on polyamory, nor do I mean to tout it as some sort of lofty ideal that is somehow “better” than monogamy.
My aim is to bring more awareness and invite conversation about the nature of this lifestyle.
I believe that part of the reason it is easy to make certain assumptions about these kinds of relationships is because there are many different relationship structures that fall under the general heading of non-monogamy (or polyamory).
I also have noticed poly-related articles and shows popping up in mainstream media more frequently: it’s certainly a hot topic. Despite the fact that it is becoming more mainstream and acceptable, mainstream media likes to dramatize certain elements and downplay others, potentially giving the rest of the world false impressions of what polyamory is.
So, to clear some things up:
Polyamory (non-monogamy) is not…
I have found that this community tends to be sex- and body-positive and generally very accepting of different lifestyles.
But it’s important to remember that the term polyamorous refers to a relationship structure, and not directly to sexual activities, preferences or identity.
It’s important not to assume that if someone says that they are poly, it does not mean that they are automatically sexually available.
The same as polygamy.
It’s not a “cult,” type of thing, nor is it related to any form of religion. It also does not always consist of a “poly-family” structure, where a bunch of people live in a house together. (Note: polygyny is when a man has more than one wife and polyandry is when a woman has more than one husband).
A way to prevent divorce or breakups.
A key element of ethical non-monogamy is that it (ideally) eliminates cheating. But this doesn’t mean that going from mono to poly will somehow “save” a given relationship, nor does it mean that crappy things don’t happen in poly relationships.
Polyamorous relationships have the same complications as monogamous relationships: heartbreak, rejection, conflict, uncertainty. At the start of the day, they all require emotional openness and vulnerability to work.
And at the end of the day, no one should stay in any relationship if they are unhappy.
About eliminating jealousy.
Poly people still get jealous! The difference is that there is (often) more impetus to really confront and discuss jealousy in poly situations, so that such feelings are less likely to escalate to a place where it is problematic. In this, it can encourage a practice of self- and other-awareness. It means that whatever feelings are behind the jealousy (insecurity, possessiveness, inferiority) are examined, and that there is a focus on knowing the difference between attachment and love.
About avoiding commitment.
I don’t think this needs an explanation, I just really don’t like it when people equate non-monogamy with less commitment. I don’t see how the two are related at all, since a commitment between two people is a commitment between two people when and how they decide that they want it.
About having less intimacy or less love.
In the capacity to communicate that one has to have/develop in these kinds of relationships, I have found that there is actually more intimacy—by this I mean real connections which may not have anything at all to do with sex. And many polyamorists would agree that there is actually a capacity for more love, not less.
Put simply: when one spends time with in a community where there is extra incentive to be open, loving, accepting and compassionate—well, this can be contagious!
Polyamory is more about…
Freedom of choice.
The fact that we know we have a choice to be with others—whether or not we do this—can be empowering in itself. It places the focus on authenticity and mindfulness in relationships, meaning that we can design relationships around our own preferences and needs rather than forming them based on other people’s preconceived notions and expectations.
This includes one person’s ability to fully honour their partner’s choices, letting them be free and have space, whether this is to be with another or not.
There are varying types, styles, degrees and structures of polyamory. There are open relationships, “monogomish” relationships and people who refer to themselves as “poly singleish.” Polyamory is a conceptual term that refers to a spectrum of relationship types rather than one concrete structure, and one can choose the structure that works best for them in their lives at a given time (including monogamy).
Learning to love (yourself).
All relationships are about learning and growth. When there is an explicit need to discuss everything out in the open, one’s capacity to love (themselves), practice compassion and engage in ongoing personal growth comes to the forefront pretty quickly.
Presence and authenticity.
Real love is about authentic choice. It’s about feeling fully empowered in yourself, and in the knowledge that you are free to choose to be with the person next to you at that moment, whether you have other partners at a given time or not.
This is a topic that is always rife for discussion, and I’d love to hear your comments below.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman