It’s hard to write about polyamory, because it can mean so many different things. Polyamory, or ‘poly,’ is often used as an umbrella term for any varied styles of non-monogamy. It has generally come to mean involvements with multiple individuals that go beyond the purely sexual. There are many different styles to it – egalitarian poly, autonomous, hierarchical polyamory and also open relationships (to name a few) – but all of them share the same idea that exclusivity with one person is not necessary for a healthy relationship or involvement to develop.
There are many ways in which this philosophy is beneficial and here are just five of them.
1. Expecting one person to fulfil all of your needs and to never change or grow is unfair
Writings on polyamory usually describe the following scenario: if you’ve got a friend you really like to play basketball with and a friend who absolutely loves quirky German cinema, why force one of them to do both? The same goes with relationships – whether you’ve differing needs in sex, in hobbies or in emotional support. You can share these with different people. This does not mean that each person is any less to you. It wouldn’t if you had several best friends; so what’s the difference? Putting this much pressure of expectation upon someone is not going to be liberating. I’d even go as far as claiming that this is where most relationship problems arise. That’s not to say that all polyamorous people are perfect but by not insisting on exclusivity certain presumptions simply have to change and the possibilities this opens up can benefit any kind of relationship.
2. Ending a relationship you were enjoying because of society’s expectations is ridiculous
Most people are forced into this stifling web of repression because of how they are told marriages or relationships “should work”. Hollywood cinema further reinforces ideals of what counts as a “successful” relationship – a happily ever after that is hugely unrealistic. The idea that if you love someone enough you’ll never look at another with lust again is preposterous. And what’s the difference between a thought and an action? ‘I love you so much that I will repress myself for you’?! Lusting after another does not end their love for you, but lying about it does fracture your trust in each other. In the poly world, a new kind of fidelity emerges – the idea that emotional commitment and faithfulness transcends exclusivity.
3. If you fall in love with more than one person, you are not a freak, and you might not have to choose
It’s probably happened to a lot of us. I like Mike but I also like Steve, Annie is great but Delila is wonderful too. And in most stories, films, TV drama (and so on) eventually a character has to choose. And only one of these can be “real love”. What if they’re both real love? What if you were allowed to have and pursue and connect with all of these complex combinations of feelings you experience as you go through life? What if you’re in a long term relationship with Katie and Steve, but you’re currently sleeping with your best friend Daniel, and one night clubbing you also go home with your friend you used to work with, because it just felt right? If everyone communicates, and works through this together, this kind of life is indeed possible.
4. Compersion is awesome, and jealousy is one of the most destructive relationship problems -polyamorous or not
Compersion, the opposite of jealously, is the warm-fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone you’re in love with or have feelings for happy and enjoying themselves with another person. All logical arguments aside, its an intensely beautiful feeling – because when you love someone it makes you happy to see them being loved. Jealousy is a difficult feeling to overcome, but it is so rewarding to do so. Ownership and control, closely associated with jealousy, insist on keeping someone and boxing them up in some way. Life simply isn’t the stable secure existence you’re trying to mould it into. People will move, people will travel, people will have epiphanies… we are transforming all of the time. It’s great to adore people just for that very reason. And isn’t the idea of owning someone a projection of materialist ideals anyway?
5. Being open, communicative, and allowing yourself and others to be individuals in whom they identify as, whom they desire, and how they navigate this desire, is IMPORTANT.
Just like we accept that gender is an often fluid and equivocal concept, and sexuality is not in polarised form; we should accept that relationships could be just as varied and complex.
Jose E. Munoz writes that ‘Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present’. But why stop at gender or spectrums of sexuality? Why not apply this to our ideas about relationships?
Like Munoz says, if queerness is going beyond, it is not just looking towards the future – it is pushing this futurity and contributing momentum to it. Only recently have transgender people began to gain the terminology, pronouns and general language needed to express themselves. Polyamory is also at a similar stage, dancing playfully on the peripheries, questioning assumptions, and finding joy and authenticity along the paths that many dare not wander.
Why you should accept polyamory? Why you might just like to try it, or at least genuinely consider it as an alternative sexuality? Because it asks questions, because it demands an expression we’ve only just the language for. Because the debates it engenders are the debates we need to have, and only then may we progress – only then may we learn.
Katt Parkins studies English at the University of Cambridge.