Polyamory — literally “loving many” — isn’t for everyone. In western culture, at least, we are socialized to find that one person and love him or her* to the exclusion of all others for the rest of our lives. And for many, many people, that’s great. It really works.
But some people just aren’t wired that way. Some people love more than one person at a time.
If you’ve never thought about polyamory, I’m not saying you have to. I’m just saying, here are six of the best things about it, couched in definitions of what it isn’t.
6. Polyamory isn’t just about having sex with lots of people — Let me get this one out of the way first. Yes, it’s possible that polyamory might lead to you having sexual relationships with a lot of people, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Having one healthy sexual relationship is hard enough; double that, and you might lose your mind. And it increases in difficulty exponentially. Plus there’s the whole safe sex discussion — if you become fluid-bonded with one partner, how does that affect the others? Having sex with lots of people isn’t necessarily polyamory, and you don’t have to have sex with lots of people to be in a successful polyamorous relationship.
5. Polyamory isn’t just about having sex with multiple people simultaneously — There are several different types of poly relationships. In my experience, the most common is the V, in which one person has a sexual relationship with two people, and those other two people don’t have a sexual relationship with each other. It may be because the one is a man and the two are women and the women are not bisexual; it may be because the two don’t like each other; it may be because one arm of the V is a long-distance relationship. Could be anything. Point is, if you’re getting into polyamory because you want to have a threesome, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not saying threesomes can’t occur, because they absolutely can — in that case, you’re probably either in a poly triad or you’re just, y’know, having a threesome — but they’re not the norm.
4. Polyamory isn’t just about having sex — Remember what I said before about “loving many”? Well, love takes on all sorts of forms. Yes, I love my girlfriend; it’s a romantic love, and also a sexual one. Yes, I love my friends A and J; it’s not a romantic love, but that makes it no less powerful. Yes, I love my “adopted sister”**; there was never romantic love there***. But in all of these cases, there is love. Yes, the “traditional” definition of polyamory leads one to believe that it’s about having multiple romantic relationships, but that’s not the only definition there is. I don’t have sex with most of my female friends****, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them.
3. Polyamory doesn’t mean you’re always in multiple relationships — Just as with monogamous people, poly people experience the new relationship energy as they meet someone and fall in love with him or her. Just as with monogamous people, poly people go through breakups. A person in a healthy poly relationship might be in only one romantic relationship when you meet her; he might have just broken up with his girlfriend and stopped dating altogether; she might be in two relationships while exploring two more and seeing where they go; he might be dating his primary while also in a triad with another couple. Or a poly person might be single. The amount of people you’re in love with doesn’t determine how poly you are; it’s a binary setting — you are or you aren’t. And how poly you are depends solely on you, not on anyone else.
2. Polyamory isn’t easy — Or, more precisely, successful poly isn’t easy. It’s easy to do it badly, to extend negative relationship traits onto multiple partners. It’s easy to keep secrets, to give incomplete information, to hide your emotions, to stuff things down and complain to others… just like in regular relationships. Just, now you’re doing it with multiple people. Now you’re complaining about girlfriend A to girlfriend B, or saying how annoying it is that couple C won’t accept boyfriend D because boyfriend E is uncomfortable. Just like any good relationship, polyamory is about communicating openly and honestly, and doing so in a timely manner. In fact, I think a lot of people in monogamous relationships could learn from how poly people conduct themselves in healthy, successful poly relationships.
1. Polyamory isn’t something to fear — If you think you might be polyamorous, the first thing to do is not freak out. Love is almost always a positive thing, and the more love you have in your life, the better (usually). It may turn out that poly is for you; it may turn out that it isn’t. Both options are perfectly okay, as long as the one you choose is okay for you. But what can be scarier is when your partner comes to you and says “I think I might be polyamorous”. It doesn’t mean he’s cheating on you; it doesn’t mean she’s instantly going to dump you. What it means is that your partner thinks he or she has the capacity to love more than one person at a time, and wants to discuss it with you before engaging in any exploration. Which is the right thing to do. I can’t say your partner hasn’t already fallen in love with someone else, but what I can say is that if you come into the conversation willing to talk, research, and seriously consider what your partner is feeling, then — no matter what the resolution is — you’ll at least know that you approached this from a place of honesty and love. And, really, that’s what poly is all about.
The only right way to do polyamory is to do it in a way that works for everyone involved. My way might not be the best way for you. Learn all you can from resources such as Poly Weekly and the polyamory forums on adult social networking sites before you try it, and make sure everyone in the relationship is on board before you do. Otherwise, you’re engaging in non-consensual polyamory, also known as “cheating”.
Don’t cheat. Be honest. It’s better for everyone.
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*** She’s a lesbian; it would have been a major dick move on my part to even consider trying to do anything romantic or sexual with her, because she doesn’t like men in that way. And then we became what we are, and the thought never, ever entered my mind.