Polyamory is a relationship style that involves an openness to being involved with more than one person at the same time rather than accepting social norms that dictate monogamy as the only acceptable form of love. The word “polyamory” means “loving more than one”. I have been learning a lot about this interesting relationship style and I write here my own thoughts about what it is and how it is practised.
It has been defined as a non-possessive, honest, responsible ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. This love may be sexual, emotional, platonic, romantic, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved. It is is not about cheating, or dishonesty, it is responsible non-monogamy which pre-supposes that all people involved consent to this arrangement, and are honest about their feelings.
In that sense it is different from an open relationship in that it is not defined by sex. In an open relationship is open in the sense of being permitted to have sex with people outside the relationship, without forming new relationships with those people.
Polyamory on the other hand is not defined by sex, but rather by amorous involvement. In fact, it is possible to be asexual or non-sexual and polyamorous.
Of course, as with any non-mainstream relationship style, new words need to be invented to reflect concepts which may or may not be relevant in monogamous or monoamorous relationships. Many of these words have been placed in bold throughout this article.
In many models, a primary partner is a person or persons with whom you share the bulk of your life, and secondary partners are those with whom you may have romantic or sexual friendships and who may or may not also be secondary partners to your primary.
The members of a polyamorous ‘family’ are collectively known as a polycule. If there are 3 people in the polycule, it is often known as a throuple. If all 3 members of the throuple are romantically involved with each other, it is a triad or delta and if one person has two lovers who are not romantically involved with each other, it is a vee. The partner of your partner is called your metamour. The term oso (standing for “other significant other”) often is used to mean metamour or secondary partner and probably because of this ambiguity, I have not heard it as much as the other two.
Open polyamory is to closed polyamory as an open relationship is to a closed relationship. With open polyamory, you can engage in a particular casual sexual encounter as long as you are honest about that with any sexual partners (especially someone who has become your primary partner)… but the difference is emotional exclusivity is not required.
Many people have misconceptions about polyamory:
Polyamory is not an open relationship as although it is sexually non-exclusive, it permits the people involved to engage in romantic relationships outside the couple.
It isn’t polygamy as it doesn’t necessarily involve marriage and it doesn’t have the religious connotations of a man marrying multiple women and exercising authority over them.
It isn’t a harem as you don’t all live together in a commune and have a leader.
It isn’t an orgy because it isn’t defined by sex, and relationships continue for longer than a sexual tryst.
I identify mostly with the “solo poly” and “relationship anarchy” styles of poly (which is often misunderstood because of the connotations of “anarchist” and the associations with being rule-less). My personal model emphasises free agency and autonomy. I don’t like my relationships to be exclusively couple-centric and I value my freedom to choose my own relationships without seeking permission from others. I also believe in the flexibility in form of relationships take so there is not necessarily a clear distinction between “partner” and “non-partner” in my view unless that distinction is explicitly made. In fact, the 4 categories (sexual, emotional, platonic, romantic) are a fluid continuum for me. Therefore, I’m not “looking for” anything (as the common internet dating question suggests), I prefer if someone fits naturally into the role they wish to play in my life.
This doesn’t mean that I am opposed to having financial commitments with a partner with whom I become close naturally, but that I will not make a rule from the outset saying that this person is to play, and will always play a particular role in my life.
- Veaux, F. and Rickert, E. (2014) More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press
- Easton, D. and Hardy, J.W. (2009) The Ethical Slut: A Roadmap for Relationship Pioneers
- Taormino, T. (2008) Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press
- Bennett, Jessica. “Only You. And You. And You”,Newsweek, July 29, 2009.
- Cook, Elaine. “Commitment in Polyamory”, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 8, December 12, 2005.
- Davidson, Joy. “Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting”, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 5, April 16, 2002. Also delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002.
- Emens, Elizabeth F. “Monogamy’s Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence”, New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 29, p. 277, 2004. Analyzes social and legal perspectives on polyamory.
- Hirako, Elise. “Historietas de Alice” (http://www.ashistorietasdealice.wordpress.com) A booklet with illustrations and stories that are themed in Alice and Anita being forms of love. July 2012
- Labriola, Kathy (2010). Love in Abundance: A Counselor’s Advice on Open Relationships. Greenery Press.
- McCullough, Derek; Hall, David S. “Polyamory – What it is and what it isn’t”, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, February 27, 2003. Reviews some of the core beliefs, perspectives, practicalities, and references in polyamory.
- Newitz, Annalee. “Love Unlimited: The Polyamorists”, New Scientist, July 7, 2006.
- Penny, Laurie. “Being polyamorous shows there’s no ‘traditional’ way to live”. The Guardian. Tuesday August 20, 2013.
- Strassberg, Maura I. “The Challenge Of Post-Modern Polygamy: Considering Polyamory”. Research analyzing monogamy, polygamy, polyfidelity and polyparenting and considers how polyfidelitous marriage might fit into Western culture within a Hegelian framework.
- Stewart, Kate. 2013. The Open Relationship Handbook IBSN 9781483501512
- Weitzman, Geri. “Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous”, Journal of Bisexuality, Volume 6, Issue 1/2, pp. 137–64.