Out of the blue, my best friend gave me a call. “I have something to tell you,” she said in a breathless, excited tone. “I’m polyamorous.”
Now, before that, she had always been in long term monogamous relationships. I’d jokingly said she was ‘addicted to love’, only able to be single for a few weeks before finding herself back in an exclusive relationship with yet another person.
I wanted to be supportive, but being completely honest, I was wary of polyamory. Like many others, I viewed it as ‘ethical cheating’, or something that normal people didn’t do. I didn’t come to this understanding on my own; it was a representation hammered in the media. Dr Phil, reality TV and articles about men with three wives and seventeen children cemented the idea to the point where it would make me scrunch my nose or roll my eyes. In the past, when I’d met poly people, I’d thought, “Of course you’re polyamorous. You’re a fruitcake.” This video by Chris Fleming sums it up perfectly. But my best friend is intelligent, beautiful and driven – definitely grounded in reality. So I asked her to tell me about it and she did.
Polyamory, also known as ethical non-monogamy, is the practice of having more than one romantic and/or sexual partner. Generally, polyamorous relationships have one primary partner, but not all. Some may have two significant partners; some may have several casual relationships. They may live with their partners or only see each-other once a fortnight. Some may identify as polyamorous and not be seeing anyone at all. However, the main thing that unites polyamorous individuals is their desire to create their own boundaries, foster new relationship dynamics and be open to developing connections outside of one, monogamous relationship. Of course, like any other relationship, all parties in a polyamorous relationship must be aware and consenting.
Generally, when we think of polyamory, we think of people who want to freely have sex with anyone that crosses their way. The reality is more to do with love. Many polyamorous people are happy to share their love because they have a lot of love to share. I have another polyamorous friend who is definitely like that. At parties and clubs, she’s warm, charming and flirty, and although sex is one facet of it, it isn’t all about the sex. She loves ‘love’ in all its facets: flirting, dating and affection. She thrives when she can build connections with others and thoroughly explore those relationships in all their dimensions. She has three partners, open to adding more, and she’s happy beyond belief.
The way in which these two women found their way to polyamory was very similar. They both left long-term relationships where they didn’t feel as though all their needs were being met. Even though their ex-partners were good people, something was missing, and this brought intense feelings of shame and guilt. They couldn’t understand why the model of monogamy wasn’t working for them, when things made sense on paper. “Why can’t I be happy with this one incredible person?” was a question I’d discussed many times with them both.
Almost immediately after ending their relationships, they met new people who were either already in open relationships or willing to try. Both women very quickly realised that not only did they have the capacity to be involved with multiple people at once, but it brought them true joy. For the first time in their lives, they didn’t feel trapped in a relationship, nor were they relying on one person to fulfil all of their needs. They could enjoy exploring connections as they pleased, following positive, creative pathways that enriched their lives. They weren’t subscribing to any dominant lifestyle: they were meeting people and seeing them for who they were. They were asking themselves: how can I have a meaningful relationship with this specific person, and what would that actually entail for us? In monogamy, we’re encouraged to follow a sequential cookie-cutter approach: meeting, dating, exclusivity, arguments about exes – no, just me? – and so forth, but polyamory doesn’t require one to subscribe to those guidelines.
It’s worth noting that both cases I’ve brought up are new to polyamory. They’ve had minor hiccups along the way, but nothing major so far. As with any committed relationship, there’s been discussions of jealousy, boundaries and expectations, but what stands out is the comfort and openness they both have with their partners: something we could all stand to work on. If there’s an issue, it’s discussed in the open with no judgement. If one partner is feeling neglected, a conclusion is reached on how to resolve that, in a calm loving way. Above all, honesty prevails.
These are all lessons we could gain from polyamory. An openness to vulnerability, an understanding that there is more than one person in the world that could make us happy, and most of all, overcoming fear and building courage to discuss our needs with our partners. Although they say birds of a feather flock together, I’ve always been a monogamous person, clean-cut, no frills, happy in a committed relationship where I only see one person, yet there’s a lot I admire about polyamory. If you haven’t explored polyamory but have experienced a connection to the above principles, I recommend taking the time to do further research. ‘The Ethical Slut’ by Dossie Eaton and Janet Hardy is a good place to start, as is the podcast ‘Making Polyamory Work’ by Libby Sinback.
Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous, we can all learn something from polyamory – and if you don’t, at least you’d have let go of judgement and broadened your horizons.
written by Daniela Koulikov