Today I want to talk about Polyamory because it’s something that gets brushed over and ignored quite a lot. It is also often misunderstood and seen as identical to patriarchal polygamy, and many polyamorous individuals are shamed for it.
Let’s start with what Polyamory IS. A polyamorous individual practices, desires, or accepts having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. This is NOT the same as someone who cheats on their partner. It is also distinct from swinging which emphasizes sex with others as recreational only.
Polyamory is also not the same as having commitment issues. Polyamerous individuals are fully committed to all of their partners, or to a single partner while still holding feelings for other people.
Polyamorous individuals are legitimately in love with more than one person. To them, love is not a limited commodity - in other words, they are capable of wholeheartedly loving multiple people at once. They also go against the idea that love is “scarce” and that a person can only have “one true love.” [Source] To a polyamorous person, love is abundant and unrestricted in this way.
Polyamory is in essence on the opposite end of the spectrum from aromanticism, and while how a polyamorous individual chooses to act on their feelings is within their own control, they are no more capable of not being polyamorous emotionally than an aromantic individual is capable of forcing themselves to have romantic feelings. Romantic orientation is a real thing, no more controllable than sexual orientation.
Again, it must be stressed that romantic orientation toward multiple people and cheating do not go hand in hand. Cheating is an act of breaching the trust in a relationship. Polyamory is cheating only when it’s non-consensual or multiple relationships exist without the knowledge of one or more significant others.
Kinds of Polyamorous Relationships Include:
-Polyfidelity: multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to only specific partners in the group
-Sub-Relationships: distinctions are made between primary and secondary relationships (e.g. most open marriages)
-Triad Relationships: three people who are romantically involved
-Quad Relationships: usually a relationship between a couple and another cuple
-Polygamy: in which one person marries several spouses (who may or may not be married to, or have romantic relationships with, one another)
-Mono/Poly Relationships: where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships
-Open Relationships: where participants may have sexual liaisons with others not within their core group of partners. Note that some open relationships may be open only sexually, while exclusive emotionally, or even vice-versa
In all of these examples, note once again that informed consent is key in all polyamorous relationship forms.
Polyamorous groups have attempted to define a set of values for polyamorous relationships. These stress that fidelity is faithfulness to the promises and agreements made about a relationship (a secret sexual relationship that violates those accords would be seen as a breach of fidelity); emphasize respect, trust, and honesty for all partners; polyamorists often advocate explicitly negotiating with all involved to establish the terms of their relationships, and often emphasize that this should be an ongoing process of honest communication and respect; poly relationships often involve establishing specific boundaries, or “ground rules” (for instance, consultation about new relationships); gender equality is also a common value as many polyamorists do not believe in different relationship “rules” based on gender, a point of contrast with some forms of religious non-monogamy which are often patriarchically based; and finally, most polyamorous individuals and their partners place value on non-possessiveness, viewing excessive restrictions on other deep relationships as less than desirable, as such restrictions can be used to replace trust with a framework of ownership and control. [Source]
Like other sexual minorities and members of the LGBTQIAP community, polyamorous people face discrimination, misunderstanding, hatred, and contempt on a regular basis.
I suspect no one will reblog this because people don’t seem to give a shit about anyone besides the LG in LGBTQIAP. But these people exist and they matter and they are seriously discriminated against.
Having marriages with multiple partners is illegal in most places and polyamorous people are near-constantly called “sluts” and generally shamed for their feelings.
Having multiple consensual relationships doesn’t harm anyone. It doesn’t somehow ruin the sanctity of your monogamous relationship or marriage.
There’s also a huge historical precedent for polyamory.
In China, “traditional culture does not prohibit or explicitly encourage polygyny (one man, multiple women)” and “polyandry, the practice of one woman having multiple husbands, is traditionally considered by the majority Han as immoral,” however, “amongst other Chinese ethnicities polyandry existed and exists especially in mountainous areas.” [Source]
“North American Tribal marriage practices vary from tribe to tribe, but the majority of tribes practice some form of polygyny. All sexual practices can be found throughout the tribes, including polygny, polyandry, wife-swapping, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and monogamy, however it is rare that monogamy is the sole sexual practice found in any given tribe." [Source]
And when I studied Viking Age Scandinavia for my history thesis, I came across many instances of polyamorous relationships which were totally acceptable until the adoption of Christianity (and even persisted for some time after it, infuriating Church leaders).
If you’re interested in polyamorous relationships, Robert Heinlein’s 1961 book “Stranger in a Strange Land" is a highly influential work that depicts plural partnerships.
When I was seventeen and preparing to leave for university, my mother’s only brother saw fit to give me some advice.
“Just don’t be an idiot, kid,” he told me, “and don’t ever forget that boys and girls can never just be friends.”
I laughed and answered, “I’m not too worried. And I don’t really think all guys are like that.”
When I was eighteen and the third annual advent of the common cold was rolling through residence like a pestilent fog, a friend texted me asking if there was anything he could do to help.
I told him that if he could bring me up some vitamin water that would be great, if it wasn’t too much trouble.
That semester I learned that human skin cells replace themselves every three to five weeks. I hoped that in a month, maybe I’d stop feeling the echoes of his touch; maybe my new skin would feel cleaner.
It didn’t. But I stood by what I said. Not all guys are like that.
When I was nineteen and my roommate decided the only way to celebrate the end of midterms was to get wasted at a club, I humoured her.
Four drinks, countless leers and five hands up my skirt later, I informed her I was ready to leave.
“I get why you’re upset,” she told me on the walk home, “but you have to tolerate that sort of thing if you want to have any fun. And really, not all guys are like that.”
(Age nineteen also saw me propositioned for casual sex by no fewer than three different male friends, and while I still believe that guys and girls can indeed be just friends, I was beginning to see my uncle’s point.)
When I was twenty and a stranger that started chatting to me in my usual cafe asked if he could walk with me (since we were going the same way and all), I accepted.
Before we’d even made it three blocks he was pulling me into an alleyway and trying to put his hands up my shirt. “You were staring,” he laughed when I asked what the fuck he was doing (I wasn’t), “I’m just taking pity.”
But not all guys are like that.
I am twenty one and a few days ago a friend and I were walking down the street. A car drove by with the windows down, and a young man stuck his head out and whistled as they passed. I ignored it, carrying on with the conversation.
My friend did not. “Did you know those people?” He asked.
“Not at all,” I answered.
Later when we sat down to eat he got this thoughtful look on his face. When I asked what was wrong he said, “You know not all guys do that kind of thing, right? We’re not all like that.”
As if he were imparting some great profound truth I’d never realized before. My entire life has been turned around, because now I’ve been enlightened: not all guys are like that.
No. Not all guys are. But enough are. Enough that I am uncomfortable when a man sits next to me on the bus. Enough that I will cross to the other side of the street if I see a pack of guys coming my way. Enough that even fleeting eye contact with a male stranger makes my insides crawl with unease. Enough that I cannot feel safe alone in a room with some of my male friends, even ones I’ve known for years. Enough that when I go out past dark for chips or milk or toilet paper, I carry a knife, I wear a coat that obscures my figure, I mimic a man’s gait. Enough that three years later I keep the story of that day to myself, when the only thing that saved me from being raped was a right hook to the jaw and a threat to scream in a crowded dorm, because I know what the response will be.
I live my life with the everburning anxiety that someone is going to put their hands on me regardless of my feelings on the matter, and I’m not going to be able to stop them. I live with the knowledge that statistically one in three women have experienced a sexual assault, but even a number like that can’t be trusted when we are harassed into silence. I live with the learned instinct, the ingrained compulsion to keep my mouth shut to jeers and catcalls, to swallow my anger at lewd suggestions and crude gestures, to put up my walls against insults and threats. I live in an environment that necessitates armouring myself against it just to get through a day peacefully, and I now view that as normal. I have adapted to extreme circumstances and am told to treat it as baseline. I carry this fear close to my heart, rooted into my bones, and I do so to keep myself unharmed.
So you can tell me that not all guys are like that, and you’d even be right, but that isn’t the issue anymore. My problem is not that I’m unaware of the fact that some guys are perfectly civil, decent, kind—my problem is simply this:
In a world where this cynical overcaution is the only thing that ensures my safety, I’m no longer willing to take the risk.