Polyamory, or polyam, is the practice of having intimate, consensual relationships with multiple people at a time. This practice is often conflated with cheating, or brushed off as something for people who want to avoid real intimacy, which could not be further from the truth! In fact, polyamory requires arguably an even greater sense of intimacy to build trust and connection.
We are socialized to see monogamy as the natural goal of romance, so much so that we tend to speak about relationships with the automatic assumption of a monogamous (and often heterosexual) structure. There is a clear timeline thrust upon us of finding “the one” or your “soulmate,” dating with the goal of marriage, children, and having all of your emotional and physical needs met by a singular person until death do us part.
The pressure to fulfill all of your partners needs, or have your needs completely fulfilled by one partner, leaves a lot of people feeling unsatisfied from relationship to relationship and unsure why, or feeling like they are failing at providing enough for their partner. Polyamory helps alleviate these pressures by understanding that each individual is whole and complete on their own, and that partners are there to attend to certain, and varying, needs.
Being polyamorous does not mean that you love your partner(s) less – do we limit our familial relationships and friendships in that way? No. So why do we need to confine romantic love? Polyam folks are capable of loving multiple partners, and building deep, trusting connections with others on a person-to-person basis. It offers the opportunity to let each relationship develop naturally and uniquely, rather than trying to force people into certain boxes with certain expectations. Love is not finite – accepting and giving more love generates greater capacities for love.
Not every polyamorous relationship looks the same, either. Constellations, or polycules, are ways to refer to the full collective of members involved in the polyamorous relationship, even including those who are monogamists dating one of the members of a polyamorous relationship – these are known as poly-mono relationships. Solo-polyamorists are those who enjoy multiple partners but consider themselves independent of any couples. Egalitarian polyamorists consider all partners of equal importance, while others will often determine primary or secondary partners. The assumption that all polyam relationships stem from an original couple opening up their relationship, or “couple-plus,” isn’t always accurate and can reinforce monogamist ideals in a world that is trying to exist outside of hierarchical relationship structures.
Polyam isn’t just a kinky community of people who want to have threesomes all the time (but hey, there’s absolutely zero shame in that!) – asexuals and demisexuals often consider themselves polyam. People who don’t enjoy sex have relationship needs, too.
Like sexuality, we all have romantic orientations as well, whether they be homoromantic (romantic with one partner), biromantic, panromantic, or aromantic (not experiencing romantic attraction). With the great variance in each individuals’ orientations, finding a monogamous partner who aligns and fulfills all of our unique needs is unlikely without sacrificing our needs. Polyamory opens that door for love without sacrifice.
Unfortunately, because of compulsory monogamy, polyamory is not free from discrimination or hate. Those who haven’t opened their mind to the possibility of consensual non-monogamy might paint a polyam person as a cheater, as untrustworthy, or sexually deviant. Polyamory has no legal protection either, and can be used against those who practice it in court during divorce proceedings or child custody arrangements.
With greater awareness and understanding of the beautiful world of loving in abundance, we can make the world a safer place for the polyam community to thrive!
Written by intern Olivia Poulin.