This is my obligatory post about polyamory basics. This is a rudimentary primer for those of you are aren’t familiar with polyamory. To be honest, this topic has been written on to death and in much more eloquent words than I have at my disposal. But if you’re at my blog and don’t feel like Googling the term– this is for you.
What is polyamory?
Polyamory is the philosophy, orientation, or practice containing the idea that you can have more than one sexual and/or romantic partner. It is a particular subset of ethical non-monogamy. A poly person’s other partners may or may not be involved with one another, and may or may not co-habit together or choose to start/blend families.
What polyamory isn’t…
- Cheating – Cheating is a matter of dishonestly breaking the negotiated boundaries of a relationship agreement. If two or more people agree that sex or cuddling is a permitted activity, then it is not cheating to partake. As I said, poly is a brand of ethical non-mongamy. Contained in this idea is that practitioners are dedicated to open communication and fair negotiation in their conduct within their relationships. Polyamorous people can cheat, lie and steal just like anyone else. But cheating is not a part of what polyamory is.
- Swinging – There is definitely overlap between the poly and swinging communities and some polyamorous people are also swingers. But swinging is a distinct subset of ethical non-monogamy, which mostly focuses on no-strings-attached sex without romantic involvement.
- Kink/BDSM/fetish– Again there is definitely overlap between the communities and some poly people are also kinksters and leathermen. But not all poly people enjoy kinky sex. Not all kinksters are non-monogamous.
- Bisexuality– Once again, polyamorous people can be bisexual, but one does not imply the other. Poly people may be of any gender and sexual orientation. Many bisexual people are monogamous.
Why be polyamorous?
I’m not saying you should be polyamorous. It’s not for everyone. But I think many people grow up believing the notion that monogamy is the only game in town. Personally, I think that default setting is crap. Many other people and myself have discovered that polyamory or some other form of non-monogamy are relationship styles which suit us. Some people may even be oriented toward polyamory. If you’ve had simultaneous crushes, have gotten restless about perfectly good relationships, prefer sexual variety, simply don’t like the confines of one-person-forever scenario, or it just sounds interesting… poly might be an option for you. Like everything, it has its advantages and disadvantages.
What about jealousy?
Contrary to some common beliefs, most poly people indeed feel jealous from time to time. It happens. However most of us view it as any other negative emotion, to be coped with like any other negative emotion. Jealousy does not need to be a relationship ender. It’s not exactly specific to polyamory either.
This will likely grow over time, but here are some terms you might see in the context of polyamory talk. Edit: I’ve added some terms. Some of my definitions may reveal some personal biases on my part, and if so, I apologize. I’ve tried to remain as neutral as possible while still cluing you into some of the implications of these terms within my experience of the polyamorous community.
Compersion – The feeling of happiness caused by another person’s happiness. Many poly people see this feeling as the opposite of jealousy and as a desirable goal.
Hierarchy – “Ranking” or assigning priority levels to various relationships, often using language such as “primary partner” or “secondary partner.” This concept is controversial within the poly community. It may represent a specific relationship style/structure.
Metamour – The other partners of your partners with whom you may or may not have your own friendship or relationship
New Relationship Energy (NRE) – The overwhelming feeling of excitement when you start a new relationship with someone. It’s usually a good feeling, but can be addictive and can lead to changes in behavior which may be an issues for your other partners.
One Penis Policy (OPP) – An agreement (usually between a hetero couple) that a female member of the relationship may only engage in same-sex relationships, while a male may have relationships with the opposite-sex. Often this is seen as a common pitfall for polyamorous relationships due to the uneven/unfair and sexist nature of the arrangement. One vagina policies (OVP) may also occur, but seem to be less prevalent.
Polycule / constellation / network – The collection of people who are connected to you through romantic or sexual partners. Sometimes these relationship maps can get quite complicated if you date other people with multiple partners.
Polyfidelity – People who date or have sexual or romantic relationships only within a defined group of people.
Relationship Escalator – A term posited by Amy Gahran in her book Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life. The term refers to the societal expectations of a “successful” relationship: monogamy, marriage, cohabitation, children, shared burial plots, etc.
Solopolyamory – A polyamorous structure wherein a person may pursue relationships of various “seriousness”, but tend to prefer living alone and avoiding other aspects of the relationship escalator.
Triad/Quad – A set of three/four people who are all in relationships with each other and as a group.
Unicorn Hunter – Often hetero couples who desire or attempt to date a single person (often a bi-sexual woman) as a couple. The term generally has negative connotations within the poly community due to a perceived inequity for the third party, and a potentially predatory attitude on the part of the couple. However, this desire is prevalent among couples who are new to opening up.
Veto Power – The agreement between people in a relationship (usually a couple) that a partner has the power to prevent their partner from having a relationship with another specific person. This concept is controversial within the poly community.
I’m sure there are many things I didn’t cover. If you have any other burning basic questions about polyamory I am happy to answer them. Just leave a note!