Friday, 20 March 2009
Let's talk about polyamory: What it is, what it isn't and why I practice it.
Polyamory very literally means "many loves" as poly = many and amore = love. It is the desire, practice or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It can reference to the status of a relationship ("I am in an open, polyamorous relationship") or be used as a description of a lifestyle or philosophy ("I practice polyamory"; "I have a reasoned argument behind why I can't or don't want to practice monogamy"). Polyamory is also sometimes described as "consensual, ethical, or responsible non-monogamy." I call it any or all of this, depending on my mood. Or sometimes just "poly" (cuz it's easy). Vocab: Poly relationship, poly person, poly philosophy, etc.
Because people can't agree on what "intimate relationship" means, the term can be used in terribly broad ways by some people (like me), referring to just about any sexual or romantic relationships that are not exclusive. It's an umbrella term, basically; it gives you a vague idea about how a person approaches relationships, but because it covers many modes and models of relationships, more explanation is needed. And this is why I like it. I like it because there is fluidity in its definition: many colors, many layers, many shades. I can't throw the word out and not use details to describe the way I practice it; it's something that demands honesty and communication. It is a philosophy, and the relationships that form out of this philosophy are just as varied as the word itself. There are a lot of poly people, but not all poly people share the same reasoning for why they're poly. It makes for interesting, fun, new and exciting relationships.
Poly people are polygamists (or polygamists are poly people). False. Polyamory differs from polygamy in major ways. Polygamy generally refers to specific structures of relationships and generally doesn't have the "free will" air that polyamory does. Polyamory is a personal outlook grounded in such concepts as choice, trust, reciprocated freedom and compersion (taking pleasure that one's partner is experiencing pleasure, even if the source of their pleasure is not you). This outlook varies greatly from the religious and cultural traditions of polygamy, which are generally very... patriarchal.
Poly people are just really horny and want a lot of sex. False. Not all poly people define their relationships by whether or not people are sleeping together. A polyamorous relationship isn't about sex; it's about building intimate (generally romantic) relationships with more than one person at a time. Some people involve sex in their relationships and others don't. With polyamory, we're talking about more than one romantic relationship, not just more than one sex partner. The social dynamic can be very complex and goes way beyond who's having sex with whom.
Poly people just can't commit or are commitment-phobic. That doesn't even make sense. You're telling me someone who can't commit to one person will be able to make a lasting commitment to two? That sounds a little backwards; correct me if I'm wrong. Poly people are poly because they think it's a little unrealistic to have one person who meets all their needs. But that doesn't mean that some of them don't want to be primarily with one person, that they don't want to work hard in that relationship, or that they're all just "free floaters." Many poly people have high standards, and many poly relationships have strictly defined "rules." An example of a "rule" is that Person A permits Person B to have outside lovers under the condition that the outside lover is approved of beforehand and that both Person A and the outside lover understand the nature of the relationships between Person A and Person B and Person B and the outside lover. I'll be honest, that example sounds more complicated than it really is. But yeah. That seems like commitment to me. And a lot of it.
If you love someone, you shouldn't want anyone else. This is nice, in theory, but it doesn't always play out that way. I'd venture to say most if not all of you reading this have loved more than one person in your life, or are understanding that there is more than one person out there you could potentially spend the rest of your life with; most of you just have a "who gets there first, wins" mentality. Because the majority of people operate on the assumption that they have to give their "whole heart" to a person (and in having more than one lover, you can't do this) they also assume that if you love multiple people your love is divided between the people and you don't love anyone "fully".
This is based on the "starvation model" of love - that is, the idea that you have a finite amount of love and if you give your love to one person there is none left to give to anyone/everyone else. Essentially, this model demands that when you fall in love with another person, you have to "pay" for it by withdrawing your love from all other people. And people do this. (In my opinion, they're missing out.) Love is not the same thing as money. With money, yeah, you only have a limited amount to spend, and when you give a lot of it to one person you naturally have less to give to another. But love is an entirely different character and behaves in wonderfully unpredictable ways, often replenishing itself. When you love more than one person, you soon realize that they more love you give away, the more live you have to give. Sure, you can give your whole heart to one person. But you can also give your whole heart to multiple people.
It's not possible to love more than one person at a time. The people who believe this generally feel that, if you're in a position where you're in a relationship with one person and find yourself falling for someone else this "proves" you don't love the person you're with. After all, we're all put on this earth to love only one other person, our one true soul mate in a world of six billion people... the single person who is right for us, and who by some astounding coincidence happens to go to the same school as us, work in the same place as us, or attend the same church as us (or write on the same blog as us?). I hope you can see why I find this line of thinking ridiculous.Look for Part II on Sunday - Why and How I'm Poly.
This is the "scarcity model" of love - the notion that love is rare, that we only have one true love, and that once we've met that person, the part of our brains which take notice of other people shuts off. I don't think this is true. I think we can love many people. It's just important to be upfront about it. If you're in a poly relationship, it's important these philosophies are understood and that the "rules" are clear and everyone abides by them. Successful poly relationships require trust and security from all involved. If you can't abide by the relationship's rules, you can't except for the relationship(s) to work.