Another international celebration was upon us, and I took to Twitter to connect with the amazing and always inspiring polyamory community. What emerged was a seemingly perpetual truth: even at the close of 2021, we experience the stigmatization of anything that bleeds through the box of heterotypical monogamy. I find myself continually baffled by the notion that we are all meant for one type of relationship, sexuality, person. To think how I feel today is how I will feel forever, is a bit arrogant, no? So, both in spite of the close-mindedness this community still faces, and in celebration of those who remain true to their unconventional ways, Happy Polyamory Day. Here’s to the not-so-new wave of love!
What is the Difference Between Ethical Non-Monogamy, Polyamory, and Open Relationships?
Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term that includes polyamory and open relationships, as well as other practices that bend or go beyond the constraints of monogamy.
To be more specific, polyamory is the practice of having multiple intimate relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved. In the simplest terms, polyamory is the practice of loving more than one person and offering space for partners to do the same (should they wish). Polyamory focuses on having wholesome, intimate relationships with more than one person at a given time.
Unlike polyamory, the term “open relationships” refers to monogamish relationships whereby one or both partners desire and pursue sexual, typically non-emotional experiences or connections outside each other. Open relationships tend to have a primary couple, whereas polyamorous relationships may not.
Regardless of the broad definition of ethical non-monogamy (or any relationship structure), the main message should be this:
What love looks like for each individual and relationship is determined by the unique perspectives and agreements that have been communicated and understood within those specific dynamics.
A wonderful resource for polyamorous people is The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Eaton. This has been a renowned book since its debut in 1997 for both polyam folks and people seeking a fresh and enlightened perspective on human sexuality and relationships. Personally, I find it to be one of the most valuable reads on the subject. It discusses themes that are applicable to any type of relationship, such as communication, jealousy, integrity, and self-awareness. It helped me deconstruct messages I’ve received about love, and move closer to my authentic self. An absolute must-read!
How Common is Polyamory?
According to Psychology Today, “an estimated 21 percent of people in the U.S. have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point, a number that researchers say holds steady across categories of age, race, socioeconomic group, educational level, and political affiliation. At any given time, it is estimated that about four or five percent of the population is actively involved in such a relationship, but experts believe that number is growing. Men and LGBT+ individuals are more likely than women or heterosexuals to report having had a polyamorous relationships. One study suggests that a third of gay men have had polyamorous relationships.”
Additionally, more celebrities are coming forward saying they prefer polyamory over more traditional relationship structures. Take Willow Smith’s unabashed outing of her polyamorous ways in April on Red Table Talk:
“With polyamory, I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you and not just stepping into monogamy because that’s what everyone around you says is the right thing to do.”
As an advocate for representation in the media, it’s always inspiring when public figures express themselves in this way. Conversations like this offer alternatives to lifestyles some may find restricting. It helps normalize the various forms of love and relationships.
Navigating Jealousy in Polyam Relationships
There are stigmas surrounding ethical non-monogamy and the level of happiness people experience. For example, “in the culture at large, many people cannot imagine that consensual nonmonogamy can make people happy: The very idea of a committed partner sleeping with someone else is an immediate deal breaker. Research, however, finds that people in polyamorous relationships are in fact, often quite happy with their arrangements: They report the same levels of relationship satisfaction as married partners, as well as high sexual satisfaction. Studies also suggest that such people have better communication skills, higher levels of trust, and lower tendencies toward jealousy than married individuals.” – Psychology Today
Jealousy, in essence, is the fear of being replaced or displaced by someone or something. Jealousy is an interesting emotion because it is both naturally occurring and reinforced through socialization. For example, if you grew up being told that men and women cannot be friends because there is sexual tension between them, you may then experience jealousy should your partner have a close friend of the opposite sex. How then do polyamorous people navigate these messages and jealousy?
There are many ways, but one is quite powerful: compersion!
Compersion is a term coined by the polyamory community. It has been defined as a type of gratitude for the joy of others, even when their joy has nothing to do with you, so in other words, the opposite of jealousy.
I believe we can learn from our polyam friends and all benefit from compersion. Not unlike a regular gratitude practice, developing the skill of compersion can reduce feelings of envy, anger, and increase those of empathy and connection.
The Challenges of Polyamory
My dear polyam friend, Annie, has been with two of her partners for over five years. The love and warmth they share is inspiring, as is her honesty about the highs and lows of their dynamic. As with all relationship structures, polyamory comes with its obstacles. Her advice, regardless of your relationship style, is relatable and applicable.
Annie confided that her primary challenge was learning to juggle the needs of multiple partners and feeling “enough” for more than one person at a time. “Knowing yourself is important. Working on my self-esteem has been a major part of my journey. Accepting that I can love and be loved has only benefitted my relationships.” It is a universal truth that the more connected we are with ourselves, the deeper we can connect with others on a healthy plain.
This brings us to the second greatest challenge of Annie’s: jealousy. “The more accepting I am of myself, the easier it is for me to feel compersion for my partners. Learning to be happy for those I love versus possessive, or territorial, has been a rewarding process. I enjoy being someone my partners can share their experiences with, and to show up for them in that way meant I had to release a lot of the preconceived ideas I had about commitment and sharing.”
Practicing compersion helped Annie navigate her jealousy, allowing her partners to comfortably communicate with her. As a result, the anxiety and assumptions associated with her jealousy were talked through and discredited.
Lastly, Annie shared that despite the challenges she faces, accepting that she is polyam at heart has brought a feeling of peace:
“I know it isn’t always easy, and it isn’t for everyone,” she recognized, “but the pain of being stuck in monogamous relationships when it didn’t feel right for me, makes overcoming these challenges easy. I have become a better, more whole version of myself because I decided to honor what makes me happiest. We all just need to find what makes us happy and stay on that path.”
If we continue to honor our truths over the unsolicited stories we’ve been handed, the closer we’ll be to finding peace. That, above all else, is the goal.
Polyam or Not, Join the Conversation
Special thanks to Annie and all who participated in the November 23rd Twitter Party!
Even if the party is over, we are celebrating with you all year long. Head over to Twitter and checkout #PolyamQueans2021 to see what you missed and offer some wisdom on your polyamory practices. And of course, check out these resources for more polyam-positivity:
- The Best Polyamory Resources. Where to look for information… | by Rachael Hope | Polyamory Today | Medium
- The Polyamorists Next Door | Psychology Today
Until next time,
Fuck well, friends!