November 3, 2016

Polyamory or Polya**holery: Which do you Practice?

simpleinsomnia/ Flickr

Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships where individuals may have more than one partner, with the knowledge and consent of all partners. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.


Polyamory (poly for short) has become so much more mainstream today than ever before.

With the legalization of gay marriage, the path has been paved for poly couples. It is no longer a dirty little secret.

Thousands of couples around the world have amazing, fulfilling and successful poly relationships. And generally speaking, they do it because they live the above definition each and every day. Each partner in the relationship gives consent in some form or another and they all believe that communication is the key to being healthy and happy in this relationship, which is actually no different than any other relationship.

Everything that I have ever seen with regards to poly relationships tells me that the folks who are truly in those relationships hold themselves and their partners to a moral standard on an ethical high ground that we should all strive to achieve—not just in our personal lives, but in our public lives as well.

That said, there is another phenomenon that I’ve witnessed several times now. Not only does it destroy happy homes and shatter otherwise happy lives, it leaves the word “polyamory” as a bad taste in many people’s mouths.

Given that there isn’t currently a word in the English dictionary that would accurately describe this “relationship” that is falsely labeled as polyamory, I have decided to call it “polyassholery.” This is where one partner, in pursuit of his or her own happiness, winds up being an asshole many times over. In these situations, that partner in the relationship falls in love with another person while remaining in love with their current significant other. Now, the root of polyamory does, in fact, mean “many loves,” and if that’s where the definition ended, it would be fine. But it’s not. The definition goes on to mention ethics and consent. And way too many of us forget that.

It is entirely possible for one person in a relationship to change or morph into polyamorous self identification, while the other person does not. People change, they grow up, they grow apart, and that is okay.

If you want to be poly, more power to you. Sit down with your current spouse, explain your point of view. Listen to their points of view. Buy (and read) books on the topic. Attend seminars together. Then discuss your points of view again. If you cannot set some guidelines or otherwise find some common ground, make a clean break from your current partner on the grounds that your relationship views no longer align. And then go be poly.

That is how you truly love someone. Mutual agreement, trust and respect. Unfortunately more often than not, what I have seen is that the non-poly-partner is bullied and/or manipulated into accepting the poly label. They are manipulated into giving up time with their significant other and told things like “just think of how fun it would be if you had your own partner too.”

Maybe, a previously jealous person starts saying things like “Hey, this frees you up to go find someone too!” When the non-poly-partner begins to push back against it and say “hey, this isn’t what I signed up for,” they are humiliated, sometimes in public. Throw in some public posts about your new “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” and some really cute snuggly pictures with that other significant other, and there goes the ethical side of things. And the simple fact is that if you don’t have your spouse’s informed consent to be in this polyamorous relationship, not only are you a cheater—but you’re also kind of a prick.

This situation is further perpetuated by the fact that the partner who is being manipulated is then systematically isolated from friends and family. The reasoning behind it seems justified at the time. “Please don’t tell people our business, it is no one’s business but ours.” Maybe they even repeat that, because the fact is that under normal circumstances, this kind of reason for privacy and respect is 100 percent valid. But in this situation it is used as an isolation tactic.

On one hand, the poly partner does not want to seem like a bad guy. On the other, he/she does not want the non-poly-partner’s friends and family to advocate for him/her to stand up for themselves. It is much easier for any human being to stand up and say “I won’t take this anymore” when we have a support system that will grab our hand and hold us up, while we stand on our own two feet.

Maybe they are even worried that the non-poly partner will be encouraged by that support system to leave the poly partner. The simple fact here is that when someone opts to be public about their relationship, they lose all rights to making a privacy request. Most people who are truly in love are loud and proud and public about it. They sing it from the rooftops. If you are all those things and still saying “Please don’t talk to anyone about the poly thing”, maybe it is time to stop and re-examine exactly what it is that you are ashamed of.

Cheating has been happening since sexual intercourse was invented. That grass is always greener way over there. Today, everything has five different names. A new generation comes in and says “Lets change the name of ‘big pile of crap’ into something that sounds happier, like…rosebuds!” The fact is, it is still a big pile of crap.

If you are in a committed relationship and are engaging in a physical or romantic relationship that your partner has not consented or otherwise agreed to, it is cheating. You are a cheater. Sing it as loudly and proudly as you do your declarations of love. Do the world a favor: don’t completely destroy public perception of a type of relationship that can actually be quite beautiful when done correctly and with consent, just because you want to avoid a label that is actually quite accurate.

If you are in a poly relationship and you are getting mad right now—stop. Examine why.

If it because you absolutely hate it when someone takes this wonderful thing that you have with your partners and cheapens it? Hell yeah, stand up! Be mad with me. I am not poly and never will be. It is hard enough to keep myself happy and worry about the happiness of one other person, let alone worry about that of a whole herd. But I respect the beauty of any relationship, and in this case it is too often being mislabeled. And I am outraged on your behalf.

If it is due to the fact that you just came to the sudden realization that you’re not actually polyamorous? That you are, in fact, a polyasshole? It isn’t too late for you. Follow these simple steps:

1. Learn what ethical polyamory is and isn’t. Educate yourself. Start here.
2. Apologize to the non-poly partner whom you have wronged.
3. Go work off some of your karmic debt. Feed the homeless. Adopt a rescue.
4. Apologize again.

Still mad? Want to stand in your self righteous indignation? Go for it. You’re entitled. But for the love of love everywhere, stop calling cheating anything except cheating. Stop hiding behind a label that isn’t yours.

Don’t cheapen a beautiful thing with your cowardice.



Author: Julie Livingston

Image: simpleinsomnia/ Flickr

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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