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!