What polyamory means to me
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 tend towards consensual non-monogamy rather than pure polyamory since not all my sexual connections will become partners. But the key word for me is connections.
My relationship model allows me to have more than one meaningful, loving relationship at a time. That’s where the polyamory comes in. I don’t mean exactly the same time as in group sex (although that can be fun too), I mean at the same point in my life.
This is consensual, as in all my romantic partners know about each other and consent to me (and usually also them) having more than one romantic relationship at a time.
This doesn’t mean my relationships are always completely equal. In life it’s hard to find true emotional equality without forcing it. Every person plays an important role in my life but I strive for equity (everyone getting what they need) rather than equality (everyone getting the same).
Connections take time to build and when it comes to love, there’s no rush.
What I do always ask for however are strings. The no strings approach has never worked for me. Whether those strings are deep friendship and mutual affection or romantic love doesn’t matter to me. But I don’t have any intimacy with anyone who I haven’t started building rapport and trust with.
It took me awhile to realise this, but I can’t “date” everyone. I can’t be in a relationship with all the expectations that brings with too many people at once. That’s ok. I can still be sexual with friends who I don’t see often or who live the other side of the country.
The key is communication
“Going with the flow” rarely works out well because most people create a version of the relationship in their mind. Consciously or unconsciously they’ve drawn a map and are following it. But when you don’t communicate effectively it’s likely the members of that relationship have constructed and are following different maps.
Communicate openly. Communicate honestly. And most of all communicate regularly. Emotions change, as do expectations. Being on the same page is so important. If you aren’t ready or able to let me know where your expectations lie, you aren’t a suitable sexual partner for me.
Friendship is not second best
I’ve met some of my most favourite people by not-quite-dating-them.
But I don’t do casual sex or play partners or anything else which dehumanises me and gives me only one role.
Ignoring my personality is like just playing with the packaging of a really cool toy. Don’t do it.
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.
This is a really cute thought, but very far from the truth. Being polyamorous is not the easy option. It takes effort. Dating more than one partner involves making emotional space for them. It involves regular checking in, juggling diaries like a pro, and open and honest communication.
If you can’t handle a “proper” relationship, you certainly aren’t ready for a polyamorous one.
Think of it like a part time job. Sure you’re putting in less face to face hours and seeing other people but that means you’re working harder to keep all the balls in the air and carrying the mental load of a solo relationship.
I tend towards ‘garden party’ polyamory
This is the ground between kitchen table polyamory (where everyone is able to be friends and sit round the breakfast table together) and paralell polyamory (where you know about each other but lead separate lives.)
My time is important to me. I want to save it for the people I love. I’m not automatically going to spend a lot of time getting to know someone simply because they’re dating my parter. However, I want to be able to spend time with my metas (partners or partners) without it being weird.
We can go to garden parties together and chat, but we maybe don’t need to become best buddies.
I love new friends, but friends are a commitment and I don’t connect to just anyone.
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.