Whenever anyone asks me to describe polyamory, I struggle to find a suitable website to direct them to. Explaining my beliefs and how I like to manage my relationship models is something I sometimes find hard to put into words without a little contemplation. So here it is.
The word itself is a mash up of Greek and Latin and translates loosely as ‘many loves.’
This is the real difference here between other forms of ethical non monogamy and polyamory. The love.
I want meaningful connections and relationships but with more than one person at a time. Not at exactly the same time as in we all bounce about on the same bed, but at the same point in my life. They may not all be at the same stage; I’m not going to rush into a brand-new relationship with open arms and expect super feelings immediately. That path usually leads to explosion, addictive-sex, and burn out. There’s no rush, things can build at a natural pace, but for me they need to be working towards the general goal of togetherness.
Not every connection will turn into something long term, and even if it does it might end up as a much-cherished friendship rather than a sexual relationship.
If I’m having sex with you, I like to be able to refer to you as my partner. Not ‘I don’t know’ or ‘someone I see occasionally’ or ‘play-partner’.
Not all polyamorous people will need this but sometimes those who don’t will usually refer to themselves as being in an ‘open relationship’ or being ‘ethically non-monogamous’
Many polyamorous relationships work in tandem for many years. Sometimes everyone moves in together. I think this is adorable and valid but it’s not for me. A bit like playing football, I can see other people really get something out of it, sometimes I’ll even watch them, but I’d rather not.
My polyamory needs emotional attachment. I’m very independent but I need regular input. I don’t date people who ignore messages for days or treat me as an option rather than a priority.
I also prefer not to be hidden. It can be hard coming out as polyamorous to friends and family, but you don’t have to censor my existence from your life. Add me on social media, take photos of us doing exciting stuff. You don’t have to publicly call me your girlfriend, but you can’t hide me like a dirty secret.
(Equally, you’ll be very unlikely to see me doing a lot of couple-y posts. That’s not my style. I don’t need to tell the world how my sex life is going.)
Potential partners have told me they want to date me, as a polyamorous woman, because they don’t have time for a full-time relationship.
Being polyamorous isn’t easier, it takes effort. If you’re going to be dating more than one partner you need to make emotional space for them. Dating polyamorously means juggling diaries like a pro and communicating with brave honesty not just with your partners but also with their partners (called your metamours).
You’re looking at more emotional labour, not less.
And just like a part time job, whilst you’re putting in less face to face hours, you’re working harder to keep all the balls in the air and carrying the mental load of a full-time relationship.
I prefer kitchen table polyamory; this means all my partners are aware of each other and have open communication. I have open communication with their partners too.
For many people, kitchen table means friendship. For me it means at least acquaintances.
I make a solid commitment to friends. A friend is someone I’m choosing to have in my life after the thing which originally brought us together stops.
I don’t need to be best buddies with someone just because they’re a meta. If your friendship with me is only expected to last as long as the sex you’re having with my partner you don’t get to call yourself my friend.
But let’s be friendly.
Open communication and trust are paramount.
If a meta is prepared to commit to me hanging around in their life, separately to their time with my partner, I’m welcoming that with open arms. But I don’t necessarily need it.
My polyamory falls towards a natural hierarchy.
It’s not something I actively aim for, but I’ve been with my husband since I was a teenager. We’re talking over half my life. This can’t be replicated instantly; I’m incredibly attached to him and always will be. That doesn’t mean my love for someone new won’t be strong and powerful too, but it’s unlikely to meet the levels of love I have for a man I’ve shared my entire life with. That’s ok.
Similarly, I don’t expect to replicate the love any brand-new partner feels for their existing partner. My relationship with them is individual and unique.
Whilst I naturally strive for equality, my circumstances mean I cannot promise this to new relationships. It would be misleading and unethical to do so.
I do have expectations of all my partners, however. Whether you call them boundaries or rules makes little difference.
Every relationship is different and changes and adapts as emotions and people grow. My boundaries with one partner might be completely different to those with another. I like to use the phrase “equity not equality” which means giving people what they need rather than what someone else has.
I expect my partners to understand their actions do have an affect on me (and everyone else in their lives). You don’t need a rulebook to stop and think “what will doing this mean to this person?” I shy away from long lists of do’s and don’ts because not having something on the no list doesn’t make it right. I don’t need to be told you might have some concerns if I started dating your boss, or your dad.
The one boundary which is the same for everyone, however they enter my life, is getting to know my children. The conversation would be the same whether I was monogamous or polyamorous. You can meet them but in the same way as they’d meet any of my other friends. Some people come round a lot, some might not.
If you want to make a connection to my children, you need to approach them as separate entities to me. We aren’t a package deal.
They get to choose whether they want to know you or not and if you aren’t ready to be a part of their lives whether we split up, you need to leave them be. Respect them as individuals not as part of the “becoming involved in my life” process. The same goes for my husband.
My presence in your life needs to be dependant on me, not someone else.
I’m all for partners having the opportunity to meet me before I become a part of your life. I’m even not all that worried about being interviewed and vetted by them (although totally respect most people aren’t down with this for obvious reasons!)
But if you have a veto system you need to use it at the start, not when I’m emotionally invested. I won’t be a part of a partnership where my meta can decide to ‘close’ their relationship later.
I’m also not into people who are polyamorous until someone monogamous comes along. If potential partners aren’t committed to identifying as polyamorous, I at least expect them not to be continually dating monogamous people with the anticipation they might leave me if someone asks them to.
What about jealousy?
It will happen.
Jealousy is a valid and normal emotion. You don’t turn it off because, “hey, I’m polyamorous now”.
Like all relationships, you work through it together and make sure everyone feels as though they’re getting what they need. Sometimes I’ll be irrational, sometimes you will. The key is communication and openness.
Often the most damaging elements of controlling behaviour are eliminated in polyamory because not only is it ok to be in love with other people, you’re also allowed to be friends with them and go out at night on your own too!
Polyamory is sounding a bit less easy now, hey?
But the additional emotional labour and mental load it brings is completely worth it. Relationships can be more stable and more intense than monogamous ones. The freedom to express myself sexually and romantically with people I’m attracted to whilst keeping the stability of strong existing partnerships is such a welcome addition to my life.
The extra layer of love, trust and togetherness which comes not just from my partners but also from metas and ex-partners is something I would never want to be without.
With the right people I feel less replacement anxiety and less jealousy because I know I’m in their life because they choose me.