JJ Vincent would like people to know what polyamory is, but more importantly, what it isn’t.
Not all poly relationships are the same. Not all poly people are the same. That’s no different that traditional couples. And that’s what surprises most people. We’re as similar and as different as anyone else. But some common threads seem to run through most poly folk. Here’s a primer. YMMV.
1. Polyamory is not: A license to cheat. Stepping out on your Significant Other when they don’t know about it, or when the other person doesn’t know you have someone, and typically lying about it to everyone involved is not polyamory. It’s being dishonest at best, dangerous at worst.
2.Polyamory is: Learning how to share. You’re inviting another person, or two, or three, into a relationship. Maybe only one person is involved with the other person(s). Maybe you’re all involved with each other. Whatever the structure, you are going to be sharing space, time, and emotions. Someone is going to need you to bring them chicken soup when you just want to blast aliens with someone else. I advise personal zones and shared calendars. Not everything has to be shared. You can have sweet little secrets and special “things” just between certain people. But generally, you’re going to have to remember what your kindergarten teacher told you. Share. Play nice. Talk it out.
3. Polyamory is not: Lots of free and easy sex. Are the relationships sexual? Most likely. Not necessarily between all parties, but someone is doing it. But this is not orgy central. Just like any other relationship, there are days where you can’t keep your hands off each other, and weeks where you could care less. It does not make you someone who “bagged three women” or is “doing both those guys”. If you go poly, hoping for an endless trail of no-strings-attached hookups, you are not going poly. You are going cruising.
4. Polyamory is: Having open-but-structured options for your needs. Maybe Partner 1 is not interest in X, and Partner 2 really wants it. Partner 3 may be a blessing for them both, to satisfy one’s needs when the other in unable, unwilling, or unavailable. But structure also means boundaries, and the willingness to negotiate and renegotiate them. The issues may be around sex, time, or vacations, living space, or who is eating dinner where. But take anything you experience as a couple, and add another person or three. Communication. Did I say that loud enough? Communication.
5. Polyamory is not: Going along with it to please your mate. This is a recipe for disaster, for your self-esteem, your sense of self, your relationship. This is begging you to question your worth to the other person, particularly if they are “serial-dating” other people and trying to restrict your ability to do so, which is all too common. So are mismatched expectations. Don’t just go along for the ride. It will end in a wreck.
6. Polyamory is not: Cajoling your mate to go along with it to please you. If you are both genuinely interested in exploring other people or adding a person to your relationship, you should both take a very long look at why, what you expect for yourself and the other person, and consider these two questions: What would you do if you came home and found your SO in bed, in a situation you had approved? What if you wanted to surprise your SO with a romantic dinner and you found out they had made a spur-of-the-moment plan to go to a movie with the approved other? If the thought of either of these things leaves you angry, jealous, disappointed, crushed, guess what? These are the least of the things you’re going to have to address in a poly relationship.
7. Polyamory is: A wonderful way to get to know yourself and your mate better. Did you ever know that you could repair a broken doorknob on your own? Take care of the dog after she ate 1/2 a watermelon? Did you know that your SO liked to play laser tag just like you, but you never brought it up because they said they hated walking around in the dark? Knowing that your SO is away from you but that their needs are being met is amazingly freeing…and scary as heck. You’re on your own. Do it yourself or find another resource. And the laser tag? You’ve always seen it as a dark room with all these big foam blocks. The other talks about how cool the glowing black lights are, and your SO is suddenly psyched to go. Perspective. This is a light-hearted example, yes. But an other can bring a whole new perspective to even the littlest things.
8. Polyamory is not: Getting someone else(s) to shoulder your burdens. It is not collecting a harem, getting people to do for you so you don’t have to for yourself, or becoming that for someone else. The best poly relationships involve sharing the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the ugly. If you want to add someone for one very specific reason, this must be very clear, right up front. Obfuscation will be sniffed out pretty quickly…remember, there are extra people watching.
9. Polyamory is not: For the weak. It is something most people don’t understand and many people judge. Even when you are in the early, “This is the best thing ever!” high, if you shout it from the rooftops, most people aren’t going to share your enthusiasm. You’ll definitely get curiosity. You might get some, “Me, too!” But get ready for a lot of judgement, a lot on intrusive questions, distaste, hostility, rejection, and if you have children, even more of the above.
10. Polyamory is, with all parties full committed, with communication, nurturing, and a willingness to learn and grow together, a beautiful, awesome, crazy, maddening, frustrating, exciting, thrilling, heart-wrenching, soul-growing thing. This doesn’t mean that everyone will always get along. My guy-partner’s now-deceased platonic-dear-hubby and I were friendly, at best. But I fully supported J’s commitment to him. J and my ex-girlfriend Elizabeth were friends, but with no physical relationship. While she and I were together, she was with X & Y, who I had no physical relationship with, but J & I were emotionally close to them. Now that J and I have a girl partner after a long period of just the two of us, we are a trio, working on this. Together.
photo courtesy of the author
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