Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy. It literally means “many loves”. It’s a lifestyle in which I and my partners agree we are all free to fall in love with multiple people.
I’m going to start with the assumption everyone reading this understands monogamy, being the standard default relationship in western culture. So default, in fact, that a lot of people never even consider there being alternatives.
Let’s start with non-monogamy as a whole.
The world of non-monogamy encompasses a large swath of different permutations. The most common ones in modern media are, usually, cheating, swinging, and unicorn hunting (a straight couple looking for a woman to join them).
Non-monogamy is not ideologically better than monogamy. It is not a world in which it’s impossible to hurt someone. In fact, it can be easier to do so. This is why you will often find people talking about ethical non-monogamy. This means that everyone involved is aware of and agrees to the rules or agreements that govern the situation.
This is why ethical non-monogamy isn’t cheating. Cheating implies someone is breaking a rule. If you change those rules so that you are fine with your partner having sex with other people, then sleeping with other people can’t be considered cheating.
But there are so many more different ways to live non-monogamy. From non-exclusive dating, to sexual commerce, to relationship anarchy; it’s far more varied and interesting than people sometimes realise.
Franklin Veaux* created a Venn diagram of non-monogamy, which is a very useful way to visualise all the differences.
Polyamorous people are open to loving more than one person.
This can involve a sexual element, or not. A lot of people come into non-monogamy from a sexual point of view, but decide they have no wish to have more than one romantic partner. But some of us are open to this happening.
As you might guess, once the traditional two-person pairing model goes out the window there are all sorts on configurations for polyamory. You can have “thruples”, where three people date each other. You can have “Vees”, where one person dates two people who have no romantic or sexual connection. And then, depending on everyone’s situation, people in those groups might date other people as well. So one part of a Vee might be part of a completely different thruple, while another member of that thruple dates other people outside the group.
For example, I am part of a Vee; I am married to Frankie and in a second relationship with Aine, and while the two of them are friends, they are not in a relationship themselves.
These groupings are called “Polycules”; a group of people who may not have a personal connection but are connected through this interlinking net of relationships. It’s 6-Degrees of Separation, but much more intimate. This is one of the reasons the Polyamory community is very open and friendly; it’s very possible you’ll be connected in some way.
The important thing about Polyamory is everyone involved is aware and everyone is comfortable. If I, for example, met someone new and was looking to potentially date them I would check in with my two partners first. While they don’t have a veto on my relationships, I would always take their feelings into consideration before doing anything new.
Misconceptions about Non-Monogamy
There are a lot of misconceptions about non-monogamy. This is because it’s almost always portrayed in the media as a sex thing or a way to fix a broken relationship.
There are a lot more films and TV shows about non-monogamy now. However, most them will follow – to at least some degree – the following plot: A couple will be in a loving relationship that’s gone stale. They want some excitement, so they decide to invite a girl to join them to “spice things up”. Then they will follow the ups and downs of learning to deal with the many problems of having a gorgeous, sexually adventurous, younger woman (in most cases) willing to sleep with both parts of the couple. There will be jealousy, confusion, excitement, and sexual titillation for the audience.
This then usually ends in one of two ways: The relationship will survive, imbued with life by the sexual excitement, or it will fall apart as the desire for non-monogamy was a sign the relationship was broken.
I’ve never seen a portrayal of non-monogamy as something someone – either single or a couple – sits down and makes a conscious effort to live. Not because they need excitement. Not because they need to jumpstart a failing marriage. But because the lifestyle makes sense to them.
There are many ways into non-monogamy. Don’t believe the only one is through desperation.
There is far more to non-monogamy and polyamory than what little I’ve put down here. I’m not an expert, and even I could take each of the sentences above and expand it to a full chapter. If you’re interested, I’ll try to link to a few good online resources on my website.
*There are issues with Franklin Veaux and his work, which I will address on Thursday’s post.