The Queer Questionnaire #2: What Really Is Polyamory?

Polyamory refers to the idea that you can love multiple people at the same time. The polyamory umbrella covers all people (and relationships) that are 1) ethical, 2) non-monogamous, and 3) consensual. 

Welcome to another edition of The Queer Questionnaire––we’ve got the answers to all your questions about queer stuff, feminism, mental health issues, polyamory and much more! This week we tackle a very relevant question about polyamory––what is it really?

Q: I recently came across the term “polyamory” but I’m not sure if I am polyamorous. Is there a difference between a serial monogamist and a polyamorous person? Can I be polyamorous until I’m ready to commit to the right person?

A: This is an interesting question, mostly because the general understanding of polyamory is limited and fraught with misconceptions. So today I’m going to tell you a bit more about polyamory, debunk some common myths, and explain how it differs from monogamy.

Polyamory refers to the idea that you can love multiple people at the same time. The polyamory umbrella covers all people (and relationships) that are 1) ethical, 2) non-monogamous, and 3) consensual. It is a concept rooted in the ideas that 1) no one person can (or should) meet all your needs, 2) love is not a limited resource and it is not a zero-sum game, and that 3) you can’t have “ownership” over your partners and control their behavior.

Polyamory is both an individual identity (i.e., a person can be polyamorous regardless of how many relationships they are in at any given period of time), and a lifestyle (i.e., being in multiple relationships and practicing ethical, non-monogamy).

No two polyamorous relationships look the same––some people have primary partners and secondary ones (aka, hierarchical polyamory).  Some people don’t believe in primary partners and see themselves as their own primary partner (aka, solo polyamory, or solo poly). There are people who believe in open relationships where they are in one “committed” or long term relationship and also casually engage in sex or dates with other people. Then there are the triads, quads and other polyamorous set-ups where multiple people date each other. Lastly, there are people who are relationship anarchists who challenge the way we define relationships and redefine what being a partner means. Just because you have multiple casual partners at the same time doesn’t mean that you are necessarily polyamorous. But basically, as long as you believe that you can love multiple people at the same time, and do so ethically, you might be practicing polyamory!

Common Myths Busted:

1. “Polyamorous people are easy.”
Just because someone identifies as polyamorous doesn’t mean that they are open to dating new people. They might be in a closed relationship with multiple people. (Aka, poly-fidelity.)

2. “Polyamorous people have multiple partners so they are not serious about their partners.”

The word “partner” is contextual. To one polyamorous person it could mean anyone they have sex with; to another, it might mean someone they have made a lifetime commitment to. There is no one definition of partner, just like there is no one definition of what being in a committed relationship entails.

3. “Polyamory is a great excuse to have more casual sex.”

Polyamory isn’t about sex. Sure, it is a sex-positive movement and all about the personal freedom to explore multiple relationships (both sexual and platonic), but there is more to polyamory than just having sex with multiple people.

4. “Polyamorous people don’t get jealous.”
Polyamorous people get jealous. In fact, jealousy is a common and accepted emotion in polyamory––and polyamory helps provide a framework to examine that jealousy and work on it with your partner by identifying what’s missing in your relationship, or what insecurities trigger your jealousy.

5. “Polyamorous people don’t believe in commitment.”

You could be a monogamous person and have lots of casual sex and not be interested in committed relationships. This isn’t an exclusively polyamorous trait. In fact, many polyamorous people do get married, involved in long term relationships, have children, and live with (multiple) partners.

Now, going back to your question––serial monogamists, by definition, are not polyamorous. Monogamy is defined by sexual and emotional exclusivity between two people––i.e., it is an expectation from both parties involved. Polyamory on the other hand refers to the sexual and emotional freedom of all individuals involved in the relationship.

Serial monogamists prefer to “be serious” about one person at a time and polyamorous people believe in being serious (or casual) about multiple people in their lives. The idea that you can only be serious about one person is the limitation that defines monogamy.

So, if you’re waiting for “the one” and believe that when you find them, you will not want to be with anyone else, you are probably not polyamorous. However, you might want to explore the idea of ethical non-monogamy and see if the concept resonates with you. There are links to resources below––happy exploring!

Websites:
Radical Poly––while this blog is not active anymore, it has well-written posts about polyamory and relationship anarchy that are always applicable.
Polyskeptic––this blog takes a more critical look at polyamory and how to do it ethically.
The Polyamorous Misanthrope––this is a wonderful blog and Facebook page with resources and conversations about polyamory.
Solopoly––here are some more resources on being solo poly.
More Than Two––this website has a longer list of resources and a very informative blog.

Comics:
Kimchi Cuddles––this is a semi-fictional comic about the daily lives of polyamorous people.

TV Shows/Movies:
You Me Her––this show deals with a married couple who accidentally stumble upon a woman they both want to date.
She’s Gotta Have It––this show follows Nola Darling as she deals with balancing her needs with the needs of her 3 partners.

The following movies and shows don’t focus heavily or entirely on polyamory but showcase polyamory as part of their plot lines:
Shameless
Transparent
Steven Universe
Jules & Jim
Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires)
House of Cards

Books:
More Than Two by Franklin Veaux
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan

About the author

Jess

Jess is a genderqueer, polyamorous pansexual. They write about mental health, polyamory, gender & sexuality, and people in general. When not furiously typing away at their laptop, they can be found at hidden food spots around Mumbai.
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