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.
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!