There’s an old story about relationships. You know the one: Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl get along, Boy takes Girl out on a date, things progress and eventually Boy and Girl are getting married, planning to get a house, and raising 2.5 kids. (Slight aside: I’ve always wondered why they didn’t round that number. Makes it sound like there were some serious complications at some point.)
Everyone’s heard that story. And, for the mass majority of people, they believe that it’s the truth. But I, along with a growing population of other people, think there’s something different that we can do. That there’s a way to feel fulfilled in your relationships that doesn’t have to follow that script. On that note, let’s talk about Polyamory.
Dear Mr Promiscuous,
What’s the deal with polyamory? I keep seeing articles in the news about how millennials are opening their relationships right and left, and here I can’t find a single date to begin with. How do I get a piece of this swinger lifestyle?
Young and Lonely
Dear Y & L
To quote More Than Two: Polyamory means “having multiple loving, often committed, relationships at the same time by mutual agreement, with honesty and clarity”. There are a lot of ways to define polyamory, but this one resonates the mosts with me. While I haven’t been practicing polyamory long, only about half a year now, it’s been the most enriching experience I’ve had in my life. In fact, this blog’s existence is mostly due to the introspection that opening up my marriage caused and drove me to talk to others about sex and their feelings about it in a more open manner. It hasn’t been easy, but it HAS been rewarding, sometimes in the most surprising ways.
To answer your question: I feel like the “deal” with polyamory is that it offers something outside of the rigid expectations that society has placed upon relationships. There’s this term called “The Relationship Escalator” that is based on the story I mentioned before the question. It’s the idea that once you’re in a relationship, then you’re going constantly upwards and forwards to the inevitable conclusion. You date, you get more serious, sometimes you move in together or you stay separate until you get married, and all the way through marriage to the “end”. There’s some debate on whether or not that’s Death or Divorce depending on your views on marriage, but either way it’s a straight line from beginning to end.
While I bought into this for a long time, I’ve never been satisfied with it. It always felt… artificial. Like that love isn’t something you live, but something you just do because you’re expected to. Everyone’s relationships have to always look the same or else you must be doing this wrong. “What are you doing this for, if not to get married?” is a common question people get asked in any relationship that isn’t following the escalator up. People call into question how “serious” or “committed” the relationship could be if you’re not planning on getting married and settling down, and I feel like the increase in conversation around polyamory is part of that.
To clarify something in your question, polyamory isn’t swinging. While Polyamory focuses more in multiple relationships, some of which don’t have to be sexual at all, Swinging is about having multiple sexual partners while in a committed relationship. While neither are bad if that’s what everyone involved wants, there are different expectations that come from identifying with one over the other. Both fall under the umbrella term of Ethical Non-Monogamy, which I’d define as any relationship model that ethically and consensually extends outside of the framework of monogamy. This also covers other non-monogamous relationship models like Relationship Anarchy, where you take each relationship on it’s own and give no sway to one over the others.
This all might seem like a fairly new concept that’s only catching on with Millennials, but Ethical Non-monogamy (and polyamory specifically) is nothing new. All throughout history you can find examples of cultures that had a less-monogamous view of relationships. Older civilizations would have several examples of group marriages or religious practices that had communities of people in varying degrees of attachment to each other. Many people will point to the free-love movement as the point where non-monogamy become acceptable, but even before then there are examples. William Moulton Marston and Alfred Kinsey were both prominent figures that were involved in non-monogamy, and are both really interesting stories if you want to find out a bit more about polyamory in America.
Finally, while I can see how the idea of polyamory is appealing, it is not just about the sex and there are several pitfalls that come with it. Firstly, you have to be honest with yourself about why you want to try polyamory. Take some time and consider if you’re reasons align with the idea of multiple relationships, or if you’re looking for something more like casual sex. Be honest with yourself about your wants, needs, and motivations. If you still want to know more after that, then there are plenty of books and sites that you can use to learn more. Personally I suggest both The Ethical Slut and More Than Two for more in-depth looks at Ethical Non-monogamy as well as Polyamory in more specific terms. If podcasts are more you’re thing, then Polyamory Weekly is a good source for information on Polyamory as well as other sorts of non-monogamy. Hopefully that will help you find the kind of relationship that works best for you.
Wishing you luck in whatever love you’re searching for,