LOVE, IN ITS INFINITE DIVERSITY...
|I wrote the following article during a short period a few years ago when I was cut off from the Internet (and feeling rather blue about it). I submitted it to a local queer newletter, hoping to encourage people in my area to realize polyamorous potential in themselves and their own lives. One woman told me that it cheered her up considerably, just when she was feeling very alone.||Now I look back on this writing and think that it seems very scattered, and I want to rewrite the entire thing. But, as a quick introduction to poly for people who've never heard of it, it's still not too bad. I'm adding footnotes to flesh out some points I think aren't fleshy enough. Do write to me if you have any questions.|
The word "polyamory" is not widely known, and probably isn't in any dictionary. Some people use the word "polyamory" interchangeably with "non-monogamy," though "non-monogamy" may be a slightly more general term. Polyamory means, literally, "many loves," and was coined(1) to be a more positive word, in that it is defining a thing for itself, rather than as the negative of something else. Polyamory is not one thing or situation, it is adaptable to the needs of the individuals involved. Polyamory is not better or worse than monogamy, it is a different choice.
"Poly" means many, and the "amor" of "polyamory" is from Latin, and indicates a romantic love - an emotion combining sexual and intellectual aspects. Being polyamorous is being open to the possibility of being in love with more than one person at a time. Our society has no problem recognizing that one can love multiple people in a non-physical sense, as one loves one's family members. Multiple sexual attractions are frowned upon, but recognized as something which does happen. Yet for some reason it's difficult for many people to imagine that it's possible to have the same sort of strong romantic attachment to more than one person at the same time. It's actually easier to imagine multiple purely sexual involvements, which then gain polyamorous people the lable of being "immoral." Many polyamorous people feel that anyone who wishes to define themselves as polyamorous should also take on the responsibility of communicating openly with their partner(s), no matter how committed or casual they may be. Anyone involved in such a relationship should be fully informed as to exactly what is going on. One can't rightfully say that one is in a polyamorous relationship if one is having an affair which one's partner knows nothing about. In that case, the partner who is in the dark THINKS that he or she is in a monogamous relationship. This leaves them exposed to various emotional and health risks without their knowledge or consent. Many polyamorous people consider THIS to be truly "immoral."
A wide range of possibilities can be lumped under the general heading of polyamory, and there are, as yet, no organized proclamations about anything. Polyfidelity(2) is a situation in which several partners are committed to each other as a "family." This family group may be much like a momogamous coupling in many ways. They may share resources such as money, child care and housing, and provide each other with a strong network of emotional support. The "primary/secondary" arrangement is another possibility, wiht a standard "couple" relationship of commitment, but other relationships "on the side." People may also opt to remain "single," yet still define themselves as polyamorous. Any conceivable variation can occur. The arrangements generally do include sexual agreements of some sort. However, most polyamorous people allow that one can be totally abstinent and yet define oneself as polyamorous. It is the mindset, not action, which is the deciding factor. What is important is meeting the needs of all involved to the best possible degree.
Polyamory is not "better" or "worse" than monogamy, both have their good points and drawbacks, neither is "easier." Communication is the key to making any sort of relationship work, but it's highly important with polyamory. With more people there may be more schedualing difficulties to work out, and more emotional difficulties. Just because someone falls in love with more than one person doesn't mean they won't feel jealous if one of the people they love falls in love with someone else. Sometimes they have to go through a hell of a lot of work figuring out why they feel that way and how to fight it(3), if they want to continue in a polyamorous relationship. There are different problems with raising children in a polyamorous family, unique from those of a monogamous family. There is also currently a great deal of stress involved in being a polyamorous family existing within a monogamous society. Currently, if parents want to talk to other parents about some of their kid problems, they can risk having their children taken away because someone judges the polyamorous family to be inherently immoral. However, most polyamorous people feel that they reap greater returns than they did in momogamous relationships in the stimulation of variety, in both sexual and intellectual areas, and in the greater amounts of emotional support to be gained from having more than one person love you.(4)
Some people are naturally polyamorous, and may realize that they are polyamorous after trying to be monogamous all their lives and feeling like failures. They just seem to be in love with several people simultaneously, and giving up one in order to have another is intolerable. Though they may be able to act monogamous on the outside, they are under a great deal of stress internally. They didn't fail in the system, the system failed them. On the other hand, some people are naturally monogamous, and don't like to deal with more than one person at a time. Trying to behave in a way which is not fit for your personality is never good. In the past we've had a society based on monogamy, with no room for anything else, except through illicit "affairs." People have always done non-monogamous things, some of them very destructive. With the loss of the extended family as a support system, and the basic instability of the nuclear family, polyamory deserves to be repected as a viable choice.
(1) the word "polyamory" was in fact coined by a person who still occasionally posted to alt.polyamory (USENETnews) the last I heard.back to text at (1)
(2) Polyfidelity is my own favorite brand. I'm working on a monograph, and I love to discuss the topic in e-mail, if you're interested.back to text at (2)
(3) The more recent wisdom is that jealousy is not a negative emotion, but something which can be a pointer to what you need and are not getting out of a relationship. A burst of jealousy indicates that negotiations are needed, and can lead to deeper understanding between all partners.back to text at (3)
(4) Many poly people subscribe to the motto "it takes a whole village to raise a child" - more adults around to love and support the child is considered positive.back to text at (4)