Spreading the Love: Polyamory
by Nick Bovee | published May. 3rd, 2014
In almost every movie, from action adventures to romantic comedies, we have seen the protagonist finally find and fall in love with the perfect person: their love; their soul mate; “The One.” Although some movies have started to include relationships between a variety of people of different genders and sexual orientations, the relationship style is still the same: one person madly in love with one other person.
However, despite the lack of evidence in pop culture, people are pushing to expand the view of how romantic relationships are structured. Some individuals are contributing to this changing perception through healthy, communicative, romantic relationships that involve more than two people, commonly referred to as polyamory.
In polyamorous relationships, there can be a large spectrum of arrangements between partners and there are just as many misconceptions about how the relationships work. Some people within the poly community view polyamory as a choice; others view it as an orientation. Polyamory as defined by Merriam-Webster is, “The state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.” This definition provides a basic idea of polyamory, but excludes some of the most important caveats of the lifestyle: responsibility, open communication and ethical management of the relationships.
The omissions in this definition contributes to the misconceptions about polyamory. Polyamory is often misrepresented as a relationship style for people who cannot commit, but this is not necessarily the case. Polyamory involves a deep romantic and emotional commitment to all partners. Poly relationships aren’t about rationalizing cheating behavior nor are they relationships centered around sex. Sex is just one aspect of these relationships, which are more focused on finding multiple people you are romantically compatible with and maintaining meaningful emotional connections with each of them.
Also often confused with polyamory is swinging, which is another form of non-monogamy but which usually lacks the romantic aspects and closeness involved in polyamorous relationships. In swinging, a committed, sometimes married couple, seeks out other partners. Swinging is more focused on sex than emotional connections. Swinging couples may swap partners with other committed couples, or only look for a third member to be involved.
Polyamorous relationships can work in a number of ways too. On the small scale, relationships with three members can have a ‘pivot’ member who has two separate sexual relationships within the triangle of members. More members are of course possible, there can be multiple pivot members separately involved with others.
Some treat all within their group equally, while others consider some partnerships as primary compared to others. Within these, there are further complications to the situation with how limitations are placed on new branches of the relationship. Individuals may be encouraged to seek out new partners on their own or need group consensus. Polyfidelity is another shade of open relationships, where there are more than two partners involved but the grouping is externally closed off. Faithfulness within the group is paramount and new relations are added only if the entire group is informed and consenting.
Whether a polyamorous relationship is closed off or open to new partners, there is just as much communication, commitment and honesty involved as in other successful monogamous relationships.
Maintaining a (poly) Relationship
Managing and maintaining a healthy polyamorous relationship is in many ways very similar to maintaining a successful monogamous one. As in all relationships, openness and communication between partners is essential for trust. The main difference is the more people involved in the relationship, the more you have to communicate.
Metaphorically, polyamorists find that no one has a finite amount of love to give. Part of this is owed to an emotion polyamorists refer to as “compersion,” considered the opposite of jealousy. Compersion is described as the pleasure one feels in seeing that a partner is happy in their other romantic involvements.
The capacity to love multiple people is very alike to the way parents can love each of their children according to Franklin Veaux, creator of the website More Than Two. “People with more than one child also know that their love for each child is unique and irreplaceable.” As love for each child would be different, so is the way love works in polyamory.
However, as siblings can feel jealous of each other, jealousy between partners can arise too. People in poly relationships don’t need to spend equal amounts of time with each partner but this division of time should be discussed before jealousy arises. As in any romantic relationship, if someone feels jealous or left out, it is the problem of everyone involved. Adam Borders, writer for Modern Poly, explains, “In polyamory, jealousy is recognized not as something that might happen and is to be hidden, but rather as something that will happen and should be worked through.” The thing to remember is that jealousy is a symptom of a problem, not a problem itself. It needs dissection to reach the root cause, which can then be addressed.
It is also important that people who are polyamorous are happy in the relationship(s) they already have before they add another person to the mix. Including someone else in a relationship is not a solution to problems within a relationship; it will likely make the problems worse. It is also unfair to the new member who will be expected to act as the patch in the relationship rather than an equal partner.
But bringing someone into a relationship can be a great addition as long as everyone is consenting and as long as jealousy is reduced through clear and constant communication. There are many wonderful people in the world. In polyamorous relationships, you have the option to be with more than one.