You + Me...+ Someone Else? : How Polyamory Is Redefining Love In The Modern Age
Ah, love! It’s in the air, it lifts you up where you belong, it’s all that I can give to you…
A lot has been said about love before. About its healing qualities, empowering feeling, and the way it changes your perspective about life in general: love is rose-colored glasses. Love is waking up to someone else next to you. Love is dinner and a bottle of wine, always wine, and starting a movie at 11 PM on a random Wednesday night.
But what happens when we turn everything we know about love on its head? What happens when our idea of love doesn’t necessarily fit with someone else’s? What happens when love goes from being a bond between two people to...including one or two or several more than that? To some, it might make things messy. Meanwhile, to others, stepping outside of monogamy is the only way to get through the mess of modern dating and relationships. Finally, there are those who see it as the most profound and “whole” way to love another person.
Polyamory is defined as “the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved.” In other words, and to put it very simply, it’s the act of having more than one steady, heartfelt relationship at a time.
“But, isn’t that cheating?”
Well...no. People who enter a polyamorous relationship are well-aware that their partner is also dating someone else at the same time. These types of relationships are always consensual. This means that everyone involved understands the arrangement and accepts it willingly and happily.
However, it’s important to point out that polyamory shouldn’t be confused with polygamy. Polygamy is the practice of a single person marrying multiple spouses; meanwhile, polyamory doesn’t involve an individual marrying multiple other people. So, no: polyamory isn’t like that man you’ve seen on TV with the five wives.
Assuming that polyamory and polgamy are the same thing is essentially where the bigger issues and the discrimination starts. So join me to wipe the slate clean and rid these hurtful notions from your mind. I’ll wait.
Wiped? Good! Let’s carry on.
“Right. So it’s just a sex thing.”
That’s also a myth. To most people who practice polyamory, sex isn’t necessarily all they’re after. Some people are just after a deeper, more meaningful connection. Others just want a relationship that’s completely “platonic” in the physical sense, but still profoundly romantic.
The notion that people in a polyamorous relationship are simply in it for the sex is also a hurtful stereotype. Polyamory doesn’t mean constant orgies and sex-crazed individuals who can’t keep their clothes on for a single second. Because, let’s be honest, no one’s got time for that. Between working a full-time job, taking care of pets, ongoing friendships, and everything in between...polyamorous couples also feel tired by the end of the day.
In line with this, according to Dedeker Winston, quite a few people in the polyamorous community even identify as “asexual”. Through polyamory, however, they’ve found a way to maintain a strong relationship with their partner without having to worry about the other person’s sexual needs. At the end of the day, those can be met somewhere else.
As humans, we expect so much from our partners. Sometimes too much, if I’m honest. Our partners have to be everything for us: therapist, cheerleader, confidante, sex toy, chef, entertainer...the list goes on. But with polyamory, this attention is multiplied. People have the chance to seek out a different partner whenever the moment comes. Much like you’d go to a friend for advice, your father for a recipe, or your aunt for help planning a surprise, you can choose to call a partner who you know will meet your needs at that precise moment.
It’s a sort of win-win situation where all needs are being met through a mutual understanding that sex/no sex doesn’t define the quality of the relationship.
“Don’t people in polyamorous relationships get jealous?”
The thought of sharing a partner with other people sounds scary and can bring forward a lot of questions: what if they fall harder for someone else? What if they randomly decide this isn’t for them and leave me high and dry? Are they just afraid of committing to me because I’m not enough?
It’s human nature to feel a little insecure. It’s human nature to be jealous (we’re all a little jealous, let’s be honest). This doesn’t mean that polyamorous people are above all these human qualities. On the contrary: they’re actually hyper-aware of them; they’ve just gotten better at dealing with them. Through conversation, openness, and curiosity, people in a polyamorous relationship are able to tackle these relationship roadblocks without resorting to shame or despair.
However, with such a large outpouring of love, there’s always another side to the coin: a large outpouring of heartbreak. Polyamory isn’t easy just because there are other partners you can turn to, and it hurts just as much - if not more - than a monogamous relationship when it ends. However, there are also so many new ways of feeling like you’re receiving everything you need...sometimes tenfold.
But this doesn’t mean that polyamorous relationships are any more or less complex than monogamous ones. The only reason it seems that way is because they haven’t been embraced as yet another “societal norm” that dictates what is, what isn’t, and what could be. And, although total BS, these so-called “rules” are one of the main reasons monogamous relationships look so simple, even when we know they aren’t: they’re what we see every day and are used to.
There’s still so much we don’t know about polyamory that some people feel overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with multiple, meaningful relationships at the same time. They feel like they lack the tools to handle the situation, even though it’s probably just as easy as managing a relationship between two people. It’s all about perspective.
Normalizing polyamorous relationships in the same way we’ve normalized monogamy is the only way to move past these roadblocks.
“But…” you might ask, “What are the rules? Are there guidelines of when you can see another person? Are there special dates you can sleep with one partner and not the other? Monogamous relationships have a pretty clear set of standards: don’t cheat, don’t lie, communicate. But what happens with polyamorous relationships? What are the rules?!”
Well, they’re the same ones present in any relationship. And they’re also whatever you and your partners settle on before committing to a serious partnership. Much like every monogamous relationship is different, every polyamorous relationship also works according to self-created paradigms by each of the people who participate in it.
So, while some polyamorous couples with allot “sex(iled)” days on the calendar and understand that means their partner is meeting someone else, others might have dates together, and others might enjoy a mix of both. All this to say: there are rules and there are no rules, it all depends, and there is no answer.
Because, let’s face the reality of things: there is no one-size-fits-all approach to love.
As modern humans, it’s time we learn to understand that love - that all-encompassing feeling - can take on many, many forms. For some, it might come in a single package. For others, it might come from many different directions. For some, it might be with someone of the opposite sex. For others, it might be with someone of the same sex. And for others...their partner’s (or partners’) sex might not even be a factor.
In a way, it’s similar to what happens with couples that have multiple children. Parents are allowed - and expected - to love all their children in equal measure. Why not apply that same sentiment to polyamory? The vision that romantic love in humans should be confined to a single soul is archaic and hurtful: when we have so much love to give, why shouldn’t we simply let it flow?
Much like life isn’t black and white, love and relationships are similar to the light that reflects off a prism when we hold it up to the sun: different hues that seamlessly blend together and change with every slight movement of the wrist.
Because love is more than a definition we might find in a pop song or in some outdated dictionary: it’s what we make of it, and what it makes of us.