Poly 6: Poly Finale!

 
In the past five days, I’ve introduced, defined, explored and explained polyamory. These posts have taken literally months to write. I painstakingly gathered interviews, and I hope those interviewed feel properly represented. (If not, please email me: [email protected])
Though polyamory is a very common form of consensual non-monogamy, it’s not the only one. I’ve explored others as well, but I really wanted to dive into the emotional and attachment aspects of polyamory. I hope that you take away these major ideas from this article:

  • Polyamory is not better than monogamy.
  • Polyamory is not wrong, nor is it right.
  • Polyamory is about what works for you and your partner, providing that all parties are informed and consenting.
  • Polyamory is not cheating.
  • Polyamory is right for some, not for others. That’s okay.

Of all the polyamorous folks I’ve interviewed for this (six in all), five of them are still in healthy polyamorous relationships. The one open relationship I explored is still open and healthy. That last person (for you folks keeping track at home) is happily in a monogamous relationship because they met someone who wanted that, and the transition to monogamy has not been hard for them at all.
In addition, one of my interviewees had their own words to share. Most of these words came directly from Luna, but I edited a little for clarity and succinctness. These are some words of advice for people who are polyamorous (or exploring their options), but they also help monogamous folks think about polyamory in a new context.

  • Don’t assume that you can prevent jealousy by making sure you and your partner date the same person. My ex got extremely jealous (though more often envious) of my partner and was mean to him because of it. She wanted more time with me. She claimed to want equal time but really she was demanding was more time with me than he got with me. Sometimes she wanted me all to herself. So envy and jealousy can happen even when everyone is dating each other.
  • Develop good communication and conflict resolution skills. I thought mine were good. But they did not go well with my ex’s. My ex’s initial reactions to a lot of things were lashing out and saying things she claimed she didn’t really mean, horrible things. That made conflict resolution harder for me because of how much what she said pulled me down.
  • Don’t move too fast. My ex felt we should all instantly be at the same relationship stage, even though my boyfriend and I had been dating each other for a year longer. Incorrect. Our relationships were not one and the same.
  • Don’t ignore that little voice in your head/Don’t assume every problem you encounter is related to polyamory: My relationship with my ex, and my boyfriend’s relationship with her had a lot of issues, without tying those relationships to polyamory. A lot of them looked like issues related to poly because they involved envy, jealousy, sex frequency, etc. But what it really boiled down to was incompatibility issues – her expectations and my and his abilities and willingness to meet them in our respective relationships were not in line with each other. They were all issues that, if poly were not involved, would somehow have come up anyway, because they were rooted in certain beliefs and needs and wants of hers that didn’t even have to be related to poly.

I think that wraps it up from me this week. If you would like to learn more about this subject, please visit More Than Two. They are a great resource for learning about polyamory in-depth.
I would like to thank my interviewees (who I have mostly used Harry Potter Names for in order to maintain anonymity, and to fuel weird fanfiction):

  • Epiphora (Please read her blog. It’s really funny, and a lot bigger than mine.)
  • Harry
  • Ronnie
  • Luna
  • Hermione
  • Ginny
  • Kenneth J.
  • Hannah

And I would also like to thank my loving boyfriend who dealt with me talking about polyamory for four months because of this. Honey, I’m not built for polyamory, and that’s okay because I found you to fill my needs AND my holes. (Hey-oh!)
 
This is the last part in a six-part series! Here are the rest!

Poly 5: Greatness in Numbers

  • Polyamory – the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.
  • Open Relationship – a relationship in which the partners decide that they can have sexual relations outside of the relationship. Partners have agreed that they can have sexual relations independently of each other.
  • Swingers/Swinging – A form of sexual encounter that usually involves a couple including others into the bedroom. There is usually not an emotional attachment factored into this form.

These definitions are from More than Two, which is a site designed to help folks who want to begin exploring polyamory. It’s more comprehensive than my articles, and it also comes from the perspective of someone who is polyamorous. If you are interested in learning more than I’ve laid out here, please visit!

  • Cloud – A group of folks who are socially linked through polyamorous relationship(s). Can comprise of one couple, or many. Can include casual play partners or not.

This definition is my own.
So far, I have explored how a polyamorous relationship can start, how it gets set up, logistics and how things can go wrong. I wanted to finish up the series on a happy note, so I thought my last article should be how polyamory can go well, and what that looks like.
More Opportunities for Connection
Ronnie talked about her experience with polyamory as an open door. Anyone can walk through that door and make another human connection. This is great for Ronnie, because she’s an extrovert, and having more places to connect with others is healthy. In addition, it helped her have emotional support when she needed it, because life is hard and support systems need to support you!
Ginny told me about that even though she doesn’t connect with others on an emotional level in her excursions away from Albus, she does connect physically. She often uses this freedom to have fun on a weekend, or just dance with someone new at a club. It’s exciting for her to have that freedom when Albus isn’t around.
And of course, Harry and Minerva have the largest cloud of all the folks I’ve interviewed (when defined by people connected to them and not people connected to their partners). Harry and Minerva both have secondary partners, as well as couples they play with. It’s not hard to assume that they are making some valuable emotional connections, and the physical ones probably bring new ideas and a freshness to their shared bedroom.
It’s easy to learn new things from humans that we meet every day, and that comes from connections. Within these relationships, connections are more open to development and so these folks might learn some new and unexpected things from their new partners.
More Opportunities to Explore
Again, Harry and Minerva both explore their lives in a physical way outside of their own bedroom, but there are other ways of doing this than taking up with a couple. Epiphora tells me about how opening her relationship allowed her to explore her own sexuality. When she was with her boyfriend in a monogamous relationship, she couldn’t be with folks with vulvas as well. But as she opened her relationship, she was able to find that part of her and explore it more fully.
Hermione also describes this in her relationship. The only rule is her relationship is that she’s allowed to date women and no men. Her boyfriend felt more comfortable this way, and she enjoys this because it opens her sexuality to folks she might have missed otherwise.
Compersion and Closeness
If you’re primarily monogamous, compersion is a word you probably haven’t heard before because it’s not common in a monogamous community. Loosely defined, it means “being happy at a partner’s happiness (specifically with another partner).” It stems from knowing that your partner’s needs are being met and they are having an adventure in a new way. I like to think it’s a feeling of knowing that you give your partner something. You partner, knowing your limits, asks for no more than that.
Every couple I interview mentioned being happy for their partner’s other relationships. This was a moment where they could support their partner’s choices, and show their acceptance and love. Epiphora mentioned that she felt closer to her boyfriend because of this factor: “It makes me feel like he truly wants me to be happy.” The others I interviewed also echoed this concept.
Luna described a very tough break up, which was made more complicated by her polyamorous status, but now her primary relationship is stronger than ever because they got through it together. Their relationship was tested by a third party, but they endured that and are now very happy. They could heal together, and though they will proceed more carefully, they are still happily polyamorous. Similarly, Hermione mentioned a break-up during her relationship as well, saying “It wasn’t as bad as a monogamous break-up because I had my boyfriend there to comfort me.”
Polyamory is a complicated style to be certain. I covered that in the last post, and the fact that I had to have a logistics post in this series confirms it. However, it’s not more complicated than a monogamous relationship by requirement. Things that go wrong in polyamory, often go wrong in monogamy. And in addition to this, there are more layers of support built into a polyamorous relationship.
 
This is the part five in a six-part series! Here are the rest!

Poly 3: Polyamory with Structure

  • Polyamory – the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.
  • Open Relationship – a relationship in which the partners decide that they can have sexual relations outside of the relationship. Partners have agreed that they can have sexual relations independently of each other.
  • Swingers/Swinging – A form of sexual encounter that usually involves a couple including others into the bedroom. There is usually no emotional attachment in this form.

These definitions are from More than Two, which is a site designed to help folks who want to begin exploring polyamory. It’s more comprehensive than my articles, and it also comes from the perspective of someone who is polyamorous. If you are interested in learning more than I’ve laid out here, please visit!
Today, I’m exploring the logistics of polyamory. I will cover topics such as rules/agreements and hierarchies. The people I interview, and by extension what I cover here, are just a few examples of what polyamory can look like. There are many different types of polyamory, and each relationship should cater to what the folks in that relationship need.
In addition to that caveat, there are other forms of non-monogamy such as open relationships and swinging (as found above). I don’t cover these extensively in this particular series, but I may in the future. I just have to meet more people who are in these relationships first.
Hierarchies
Within a lot of polyamorous relationships, there is a specific hierarchy built in. I use the term cloud to describe a group of people connected through polyamorous relationships. I heard this term off-hand a long time ago and I can’t remember who or when. However, with clouds being changing structures, and not an offensive term, it makes sense to me. This cloud hierarchy allows partners to manage time in a healthy way and create clear boundaries. In these types of structures, it helps keep every one the same page and often makes for a healthier relationship.
When I discuss “two people” in a polyamorous relationship, I’m usually referring to two people who see each other as the primary partners in their relationship. For example, Harry and Minerva have a base relationship, which (from my perspective) branches off from them. They are the primaries in their cloud and much of their attention will be on each other. However, both Harry and Minerva have secondary partners that they will give a significant amount of attention as well. These are the main folks in this cloud, but there are others involved. Harry and Minerva also have couples they play with irregularly. It was my impression that these couples were for casual play and did not take a significant amount of time or energy from the primary and secondary relationships.
Epiphora expressed a problem with the wording of this system, because these words “can be divisive and hurtful.” However, she operates with these ideas in her relationships due to the ease of use. As she says, “I have a partner with whom I owns a home, and a partner who lives separately.” Because of this, there is an automatic line between the two relationships she is in.
Open Relationship Hierarchies
This labeling of multiple relationships is common in a lot of polyamorous couples, but it works differently for others. Open relationships, for example are usually based less on this idea of primary versus secondary.
In the case of Ginny, who travels around the country, sometimes with and sometimes without her boyfriend, the open relationship is set up in a Primary versus All Other Relationships. Ginny and her boyfriend Albus have only each other as a stable relationship. The other people who come in are typically for casual sex, or one night stands. This lack of an emotional commitment makes their relationship less of a hierarchy with steps and more like a…dictatorship? One relationship to rule them all?
I wouldn’t want anyone to feel misrepresented, so let’s just say that their relationship is Primary as compared to Casual Partners. This is typical of Open Relationships, but I do want to emphasize that every relationship is different. In order to be healthy, it has to serve the needs of the parties involved. If it’s unhealthy for one of the other, it’s time to reevaluate or let it go.
Everything Else
In a difference to idea of hierarchy, we have Ronnie and Cornelius. These two were in a relationship that was both physical and emotional, but both agreed that it was no more (or less) important than their other relationships. Both parties were free to find other partners emotionally and physically when they chose, without consulting the other.
This worked well because there was no default primary in this relationship. Both parties lived independently, unlike Epiphora’s situation. Because everyone was on level footing, it opened opportunities for both parties to explore relationships without explaining a primary.
There is no right way to structure a relationship with more than two people involved. In fact, there’s only one wrong way: If the relationship is structured without communication, consent and openness. (I talk about these things a lot. That’s a hint that they are very important.)
Common Rules
Everyone I interviewed had one unifying opinion on rules: This is a bad word. A lot of people look to polyamory because monogamy feels closed off. The word “rule” seems to have the same effect on relationships.
Harry uses very few “rules” and in his relationship, there are “agreements” instead. His reason is beautifully worded: “When you have rules, the trust is built on the assumption that your partner will follow them. With agreements, the trust is built on the assumption that your partner will do what’s best for your relationship.”
This is a remarkable idea, in my opinion. In this way, folks in polyamorous relationships are held accountable in a way that monogamous folks don’t think of often. When something goes wrong, it begins a conversation to fix something that one or both parties may have been unaware of. I will discuss this idea in detail in another post in this series.
With this said, there is a rule that most of the folks I interviewed enforced in their relationships: safe sex. Every couple has enforced the use of barriers (such as condoms and dental dams) in their sexual encounters. It’s a bit more complicated for someone in a polyamorous relationship to be fluid-bonded to a partner because the sexual environment is larger on a regular basis. None of my interviewees discussed being fluid-bonded, though I have met polyamorous couples who are.
The other common rule that comes up is communication. Harry and Minerva update each other on their whereabouts and who they are with. Harry describes this as a courtesy more than an “agreement.” Luna talked about this, and a few other agreements that had to do with honesty and respect of boundaries. These agreements run along the lines of informing each other of new partners, informing new partners of the primary relationship, and being open with issues and feelings.
Luna wanted me point out that openness and communication is important in any intimate relationship. A monogamous couple might break up because there was a problem wasn’t resolved, and resentment grew. This concept is emphasized so much in polyamory because there are more than two people involved, so there is more room for miscommunication. I know of one polyamorous cloud (involving four people) who met once a season to talk about the relationships and how everyone felt within them. It was efficient for all folks to get the support they needed and resolve conflicts that came up in between.
In short, it seems easy to over-extend yourself in a polyamorous relationship. This can put a strain on partners, and take away energy from other matters like work or hobbies. Many polyamorous clouds use a structure to ensure that all needs are met and all partners are fulfilled within the relationships.
 
This is the part three in a six-part series! Here are the rest!

Poly 2: Polyamorous Beginnings

Polyamory, noun: The state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.
As a reminder above, I have placed the definition of polyamory. This is the first in a series of posts educating and speaking about polyamory in a modern, monogamist perspective. I have interviewed six people I know who are in various types of polyamorous relationships. I asked as many questions as they had time for (and I hope one day to make it up to these folks if I can).
It feels important to add some extra definitions to the table. It’s also important to remember that definitions in this field are changing frequently, and that it’s okay to be corrected on this, and to correct others (even myself) in these.

  • Open Relationship – a relationship in which the partners decide that they can have sexual relations outside of the relationship. Partners have agreed that they can have sexual relations independently of each other.
  • Swingers/Swinging – A form of sexual encounter that usually involves a couple including others into the bedroom. There is usually no emotional attachment in this form.

These definitions come from More than Two. They are important because they are a type of non-monogamy, but they may not necessarily be polyamory. For example, open relationships are usually open strictly in sexual ways, but don’t welcome emotional attachments outside of the primary couple. Swingers usually participate in sexual acts as a unit, instead of seeking physical contact as separate beings.
As I said above, definitions are fluid. If you think your relationship is an open relationship, but you do allow emotional attachments, that’s okay! You’re allowed to identify with whatever makes you and your partner happy and comfortable. I simply want to use these as definitions so that I can talk easily about the different types of non-monogamy out there. If you ever get confused about what I mean, please look at these.
What makes Polyamory appealing?
I could also ask “Why does polyamory work for some folks?” I have been monogamous my whole life, and I like it so much. As I stated before, polyamory scares me as an idea, because I feel unstable in my daily life. As someone who thinks about polyamory in an objective way, I wanted to know why others jump into these relationships.
One of my contacts, Harry is in a polyamorous relationship with his partner Minerva. Each of them has a “secondary partner” (more on this in the next post). They also each have a couple they see irregularly for casual fun. Harry states “I think in a way I’ve always been polyamorous.  I can’t remember deciding to be polyamorous in the same way I can’t remember ever deciding my sexual orientation” He goes on to say that his early girlfriends had a hard time understanding why he wanted to explore outside of their relationship. Harry didn’t understand why either. He felt like he was crazy for being this way. He didn’t have a word for this feeling, but when he found the polyamory community, it helped his relationships make more sense.
Another contact, Ronnie heard about polyamory from a college community, and further explored it when someone she wanted to be involved with told her he was polyamorous. Cornelius asked her if it was okay that he went to other people for emotional support and sometimes sex. Ronnie says “I personally am a very emotionally needy person. I can understand needing a close network of people around instead of pouring all your feelings onto one person.” Polyamory in this instance is closer to a coping method, and support network.
I had the pleasure of asking another sex blogger, Epiphora about her experience and she stated “Opening [the relationship with my partner] allowed me to explore my sexuality further, which has been really important to me.” In this case, sexual avenues that were previously closed are now available to her.
Polyamory can be approached and explored for many reasons, including a fulfillment that couldn’t be found with one partner. Harry brings up the idea that it’s as inherent as sexuality, so there’s no other way for him to be. There are very few wrong answers to this question, but there is on in particular that I would like to address: In no way should polyamory be associated with cheating. It cannot fix a dishonest nature, and it does not make relationships easier. We will explore this more in another article.
Polyamory and Long Distance
There is also a benefit to polyamory for relationships between people who can’t be together physically. One of my contacts, Luna pointed out that her first step into non-monogamy was due to distance between her and her boyfriend: “We were long distance because of me temporarily moving away for school and I told him if he wanted to have sex with someone since I was away for so long, I’d be ok with it.” From the rest of our interview, it appears that mindset simply followed into her current relationship with Draco.
Ginny has a boyfriend, but they both live a lifestyle that travels around the country. They typically have about 4-6 months together in the year, and those aren’t usually adjacent. The other parts of the year, they can be several states away from each other. Ginny describes these fluctuations as difficult. She describes their relationship akin the above definition of “open.” Physical contact with people outside of the relationship makes it easier for the times when Ginny and her boyfriend are in separate parts of the country, but emotional connections are a more complicated matter. (This will be also covered later.)
A relationship that allows more than one partner makes it easier for partners to be away from each other but still be fulfilled by human touch and emotional support.
Transitions into Polyamory
There are many ways that polyamory begins, as I’ve noted in the above stories. In some cases, relationships begin with polyamory in their design fundamentally. Others transition from monogamy into polyamory. This begins to raise awareness that relationship statuses are fluid. It’s acceptable for people to change, as long as they honor commitments previously made.
Epiphora describes her transition as “a slow progression” which happened over years. She was monogamous with her partner for seven years before they considered changing to Polyamory. Before their relationship changed, they had a threesome, which “went well and was fulfilling.”
Ginny and her partner are moving at a slow pace as well. Their relationship currently focuses on physical acts outside of the dyad, beginning with flirting and kissing. Their rules use to require permission from the other before interacting with anyone else. Since their beginning, the rules have relaxed somewhat, though they are still changing from day to day. Communication is the key to any long-term relationship. Polyamory isn’t an exception.
Polyamorous from the Beginning
On the other hand, there are many folks I interviewed who did not start their current relationships as monogamous. Harry, Luna, Hermione, Ronnie and Kenneth J. all entered polyamorous relationships without a monogamous period beforehand.
Luna is the one who started non-monogamy with an ex-partner and it transitioned into her current relationship with Draco. However, she states: “We were mostly interested in focusing on each other…especially in a new relationship, but both of us thought it made sense to be open to kink and sex with others. [We] agreed that if one or both of us were interested in pursuing romantic relationships with others down the line, that would be okay too. It was just a kind of ‘if/when it comes up, we’ll just keep each other posted’ situation.”
Ronnie and her partner Cornelius operated under the same agreement through their relationship. In this agreement, either person could find other emotional and physical partners without over-communicating with one another.
Kenneth J. is now in a serious polyamorous relationship, where his partner Susan made it clear from the beginning that she wanted to be polyamorous. However, he states “In her own words I’m the ‘clear outlier.’ She spends much more time with me than with [other partners].” In this case, the primary relationship developed naturally, even over partners with longer connections.
Uncertain Futures
If you recall in my first post, Hannah mentions that she’s nervous when her friends discuss changing from monogamy to polyamory. After these interviews, I’ve discovered that though it’s less common for these transitions to go well, it’s not unheard of either. Some people discuss that they want a monogamous relationship with a partner first, so they have a base of trust and affection to jump off, and in this way, they can feel emotionally stable in their new relationships as well as the first one.
Others feel that this is like throwing a curve ball to a partner. It can feel like it’s not what they signed up for. I personally think that mileage may vary, and we all have to find our own answers. I have discussed polyamory with my boyfriend, but it’s not a lifestyle either of us want to pursue. It was hard to discuss because it felt like it would hurt us emotionally to be polyamorous. Even considering it didn’t feel stable for us, so I can’t say what’s right and what isn’t.
From the outside, it’s scary to watch a relationship fall apart. If my boyfriend and I had pursued polyamory as a concept, that’s what would have happened. So I can understand Hannah’s perspective, though I feel it shouldn’t affect anyone’s decision on this matter.
 
This is the part two in a six-part series! Here are the rest!

Indigo Explores Polyamory: Introduction

Polyamory, noun: The state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.
Polyamory is a term that seems to evoke a strong reaction in a lot of society. I’ve heard of multiple people scoff at the idea, and some even get angry about it. When I was younger, I had similar reactions. Later, I educated myself and realized that my reaction was based in fear of cheating. There is a phobia in many folks that seems to be related to unfaithfulness, which is often tied Polyamory (without reason). I am not polyamorous, and my knee-jerk reaction to this concept (about four years ago) was anger. I understand now that I felt very unstable in my own sexual identity. The idea of allowing one other person into my life was scary, let alone more than one.
I’m not proud of that reaction, and at the time, that anger felt very wrong to me. I wanted to be more open-minded than I was. When that anger felt unjustified, I set out to find out as much as I could about polyamory. I began with the definition.
By all rights, Polyamory is wrong as a word. Poly is a Greek prefix meaning “many.” Amory is a Latin root meaning “love.” (Like Amore, mi amor, etc.) By all etymology rights, it should either be Latin; Multi-amory or Greek; Poly-erosy. Some could argue that Poly-philia would also work. I counter this idea with the fact that philia as a root has a lot of baggage. Between Necro- and Pedo-, I would hesitate to use it with something that is as ethical and healthy as Polyamory is. In addition, Philia has very little to do with sexual and romantic love traditionally. The origin of philia was a love of comrades and close friends, but largely in a platonic way.
However, the etymology of the word is not necessarily important to really explore polyamory in modern society. What is important is how it’s viewed. I used my family and friends to explore this a little bit. I polled the people I know and failed somewhat. I attempted to poll some folks who I shared classes with, but that didn’t work out, as students have better things to do than answer polls from other students. Asking my friends turned out almost worse.
I certainly didn’t get any sort of scientific survey going. I simply asked a few people I knew this question: “What is your [knee-jerk] reaction when I say ‘Polyamory?’”  From friends, I was met overwhelmingly with “It’s not for me, but it’s fine for other people.” Basically, my friends are too god-damned open-minded for me to do science with them.
There are two really great answers that I would like to explore further, however:

  • My friend Kenneth J. answered faster than any of the others with “Hopeful. If two people can’t fill all of each other’s needs, maybe a third can fill in the gaps.” I later found out this was because he recently entered a serious relationship that happens to be polyamorous. I immediately bombarded him with questions. Thanks, friend.
  • Another friend, Hannah, responded open-mindedly, “Natural instinct is that I find it hard to imagine how people make it work, but I got no problem with people doing what makes them happy.” This prompted a brief conversation, where she went on to say, “I am often wary when friends who are in monogamous relationships talk about [switching to Polyamorous relationships]. I’ve seen that end poorly a number of times.”

These two answers made me pause and consider Polyamory in a different light. My work on this series (pre-draft period) was to interview six separate people who are in varying types of polyamorous relationships with varying levels of experience. By doing this, I could gain insight to these types of relationships without experiencing one myself. (I’m happily monogamous with my boyfriend.) However, there is one aspect that I could explore without changing my life: How are people around polyamorous relationships affected?
This shifting view revealed just how ignorant I am about polyamory. A lot of folks who enter monogamous relationships probably don’t think about Polyamory very thoroughly, so I wanted to do that for people. I hope that this series can serve to educate folks who are monogamous on the basics (and some not so basics) of Polyamory.
In this series of articles, I hope to explore the following questions:

  • How do people get started in Polyamory?
  • Polyamory Structure and Logistics
  • Polyamory Negatives: What goes wrong?
  • Polyamory Positives: What goes right?

These articles are by no means the only source on polyamory, nor will they be the most comprehensive, and (knowing me) the best. But these articles will serve as a stepping stone for folks who want to understand polyamory as a concept and folks who want to see how it happens.
 
This is the first part in a six-part series! Here are the rest!