Friday, August 12, 2011

Polyamory: The Basics

What is polyamory? Some of you may have heard of it, some of you may have not. Most of you are probably familiar with the concept but don't quite know the word to describe it. So let's start with the formal definition:

Polyamory literally means "many loves", from the Greek word "poly" (many) and the Latin word "amore" (love). So, a polyamorous relationship is theoretically a romantic (and perhaps sexual) relationship in which there are more than two parties involved and all parties know of each other and consent to this kind of relationship. It is based on romantic love, where sexual activity may or may not be included. It is based on complete and utter honesty and freely flowing communication, and is, in essence, just like any other relationship, except more people are involved.

To dispel confusion that may have risen from this definition, I'm going to do a little Q&A section now, to answer some frequently asked questions (and comments) that many may have.

Is there a difference between polygamy and polyamory?
Yes. Polygamy is also polyamory, but it also has the label of marriage slung over it. So, those who are in a polygamous relationship are also in a polyamorous one, the only difference being that you're married to one (or more) of your partners.

So polyamory is basically cheating except your partner lets you.
Absolutely not. Cheating is not an absolute list of actions or behaviours that your partner may do. What may be cheating to you may not be cheating to me. For example, some people might consider flirting with others while in a relationship to be cheating, but I personally don't count that as such. Every single relationship is different and the rules change with each single relationship you have. You have to make them with your partner(s) and everyone needs to know beforehand and consent. Rules change, of course, so communication and honesty in any relationship, especially in a poly one is key. If your partner lets you 'cheat', that's not called cheating, by the way. Absolutely everyone needs to know what's going on. If your "mistress" does not know you have a wife but your wife knows you have a mistress, that's called dishonesty, and usually, by everyone's standards, dishonesty is cheating.

What's the difference between an open relationship and a polyamorous one?
Usually, an open relationship is one in which a couple decides to stay with each other and also have usually, only sexual relationships with others, leaving the romantic and emotional components to them two. In a poly relationship, the couple agrees that falling in love with someone else while still being in love with each other is an okay situation.

If you truly love someone, you don't want or need anyone else, so going to someone else for sex or love is wrong and it means you don't really love who you're with anymore.
I really love this statement because this is one of the most important obstacles you need to get through to understand polyamory. There are several models of love out there, but I'm going to discuss the two that the statement above points to. The first is the "starvation model", which says that once you love someone, in order to love someone else, you have to retract the love you have from the first person and place it to the second person. It's basically saying that love is an object or like money, because once you give this object or the money to someone, you have less (or none) to give to everyone else.

And this is just not true. Love is not money, love is not an object. Think of it this way. Do you only have one single friend that you love, or do you have more than one that you love differently, but still truly love? Do you only love one of your children with all of your heart, and leave your other one without affection, because you cannot possibly love both at the same time? How about your family? You may say "Well, romantic love is different than friendship love or family love or child love." And you're right, it is. But it is still love, and only because you love someone definitely does not mean you cannot love someone else, obviously. People rarely only stay with one person their entire lives, they usually have multiple partners. What's the difference between serial monogamy and polyamory other than a timeline? There can come a time where two (or more) people will come into your life and you love them both and you will think you have to choose.

Why choose? If you love both of them, but differently, but still both, why must you choose, unless the two don't consent to that type of relationship?

The second model is the "scarcity model" which says that once we fall in love with another person, the switch is turned off and we just physically cannot feel any other type of romantic emotion for anyone else until our emotions for the first person disintegrate. And that's just not true. Our emotions don't work as switches, they are more like a spectrum.

Well, you're just being selfish, because you're not choosing and you want them all and you just can't have your cake and eat it too.
How is giving your love and allowing your partner to love other people selfish? If anything, it is the least selfish kind of relationship. Why can't you have your cake and eat it too? I never understood this concept. Why not? Who's stopping you, other than perhaps the one who you're loving not understand or not accepting that type of relationship.

So how do you make this all work? It sounds really complicated.
It is. And it takes a lot of work, just as any other kind of relationship does. But it gets easier if you go by the tenets of complete and utter honesty with everyone involved, brutal and open communication even if it hurts, and knowing that feelings change, rules change, people change, and that is okay. You also need to manage your time a bit better, because instead of hanging out with one person, you might be hanging out with more.

Polyamory is for those who can't commit.
Actually, if you're in a relationship with more than one person, that's twice the commitment. Commitment is not based on the rule of one, it is based on the rule of promising that you will be honest, caring, loving, that you will try to be a good partner, and uphold a relationship for as long as it lasts with that person, to act upon their needs and desires, to listen to them, and to basically be a good partner. You can have more than one commitment, and that doesn't make each one less valuable or valid.

So which one is the right kind of relationship, polyamory or monogamy?
It depends on what's right for you. This isn't one of those 1+1 = 2 kinds of situations. There is no right kind of relationship. You answer for yourself, and you do what feels right for you. If you are poly and you are forcing yourself to be monogamous, you'll only hurt you and your partner. If you're monogamous and cannot for the life of you be poly, than don't. Don't do anything you don't want to. This isn't something you should force yourself to do. Relationships are to help you grow and love and carry on,  not to cage you and force you to submit to something you don't feel comfortable with. Every single person's needs and desires are different and that is okay. Everyone will need a different kind of relationship and that. is. perfectly. fine.

If my partner wants to be in a relationship with someone else, does that mean I'm not adequate enough for them? Am I not special anymore?
If they want to dump you, that means you're not adequate for them. If they still want to be with you, that means you are. But you have to understand that you cannot and will not be everything that they want. Nobody is perfect and that is alright. If they are into some kinky thing that you really can't stand, and they go to someone else, why does that pain you? With more partners, they can teach you something you may really like, or you may learn something and use it in the bedroom or beyond and it might really change your relationship positively. You get to interact with new people and possibly make friends (and even lovers). This does not mean that you are not special to them. You are. Each love is different, and even if they love someone else, they will still love you the same way they did when they didn't love that other person. The things you did with them, you will still do. Those precious moments are still valuable.

Don't you ever get jealous?
Yes! I love this question! Jealousy is one of those things that is the most frightful feelings that will potentially ruin your relationship if you don't fix it. Of course, people get jealous all the time. Some people may not, and to those, I bow down to you and envy you immensely. Jealousy is a very green monster, but she is not to be cherished and she is not to be ran away from. Contrary to popular belief, being jealous is not a positive thing. It is a very, very bad thing. It means that you are insecure in some form or another and there is an underlying problem that you must take care of. Jealousy itself is only a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

So how do you get rid of it? Well, it depends on why you're jealous. If you're feeling insecure that they don't love you, communication may help. Introspection and mending your personal insecurities, whether they be physical or emotional will help. Communication will help. Removing yourself from the situation emotionally and logically dissecting the problem will give you a new perspective and make you see what you need to work on. Communication will also help. Have you noticed how many times I've said communication? That's because you need to do it. You need to talk to your partner(s) and tell them what you're feeling. Don't be afraid, don't be ashamed of this. The more you keep it in, the more it will fester and the more it will consume you completely. Being completely honest and communicating with your partner(s) will make the process of healing quicker.

Do not expect this problem to disappear within a day. This requires long, hard work, several months or years, or maybe even a lifetime to conquer. But it is possible. Trust me.

Monogamous relationships are more stable than poly ones.
Poly people are only now coming out. For decades, at least in the United States, the poly kind of relationship has been looked down upon. Not enough data has really been provided for this, at least not from what I've seen. Either way, I think each relationship is different and the type of relationship is not the problem, it's the people in it. Neither monogamy nor polyamory "fail" or "succeed", only the people in it do.

What if I don't want to have sex or love my partner's partner?
You don't have to. That's called a menage a trois (French) which is basically a triangle. Each person has sex or romantic relationships with the other two. But you have to be civil to a point, and it does help if you're friends with your partner's partner.

How about STD's? Children?
The STD game is not any different in poly relationships than it is when you're in a monogamous one or even single. Check and tell. After every time. Easy peasy. With children, it's a bit more difficult, but the thing is, that if your partners are good people, the more "parents" and people there are in the child or children's life/lives, the more love and affection and attention they will get (don't spoil them), and that will only be better for them as they grow up. It is up to you to choose partners who will not abuse your children or you.

I'm interested in this kind of relationship, but I don't think or know if my partner is. How do I approach them about this?
Gently. You suggest to them this relationship, you tell them about it, and you reassure them that you still love them. You should probably be strong in your current relationship before you bring more people into it though. Contrary to popular belief, if your current relationship is shit, bringing more emotions, feelings, and people into it, will not make it any better, it will probably fall to pieces.

So I have the people, what do I do?
You need to see that everyone is on the same page, that everyone wants more or less everything that everyone else does, and if they don't, that a compromise can be set. Everyone needs to be happy in this relationship. You are doing this relationship because you want to, not because you have to. If you're doing this just to please your partner, don't do it. You and everyone else will regret it later.

The above should do it for the simple basics of polyamory. Know that if you are poly, you are not alone. There is a world of loving around you. If you're monogamous and would never be able to do this, that's okay. If you want to try, do so, but do so carefully and attentively. Don't lie, be honest, be open, etc. You have the hearts of more than just one person in your hand so tread carefully.

And last, I would like to put some links up that helped me a lot when I first began this journey: this is very similar to what I just wrote above., and are all ways to deal with your jealousy. Check out the rest of the site because it is very helpful and has articles on how to date a couple, poly do's and dont's, ways to communicate, myths, mistakes, how to deal with polyamory if 
you're a monogamous person, etc.
Also, the book Opening Up: Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino is absolutely fantastic and you should definitely read it, even if you already are jogging down the non-monogamy road. 

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