I was in a meetup recently and the speaker was discussing relationships. At one point in his presentation he suddenly said “Who knows, polyamory might make sense for you.”
Initially there was an odd silence and then someone asked “What is polyamory?” The speaker looked over at me and asked me to define it.
I wasn’t really prepared and so gave a pretty lame answer. I just said “It means you have multiple lovers.”
Shock seemed to flow through the audience. This was clearly a bizarre concept to many of the people present.
I understand that.
Until I started studying relationship options and seeking to learn how relationships actually work and the different ways they can be configured, the whole thought of polyamory was foreign to me too.
And of course now that I’m a bit clearer on things I find the definition I provided at that meeting less precise than I like to be. In fact I don’t really like it at all.
So I want to give you a better definition and then I want to challenge your thinking about this concept because I know it is likely new to you too.
Here is my definition of polyamory:
Polyamory is openness to romantic love with anyone.
The first thing to note about this definition is that it makes use of my definition of romantic love.
I introduced romantic love as my central relationship concept when I first began this blog. Everything discussed here and in the Discussions pivots around this concept.
So to fully understand my definition of polyamory you’ll need to understand my definiton of romantic love. I encourage you to take a moment to read that post.
If you’re paying attention you’ll notice some significant differences between the original definition of polyamory I gave to that meetup group, and the definition I’ve given here.
The first definition used the word have. You have multiple lovers. That sounds like polyamory is about getting, as if the point is you get to have lots of lovers instead of having to limit yourself to one.
This is a common misconception when you’re new to the concept.It sounds like if you are in a relationship with someone who is polyamorous, you’re not enough. They want more than just you.
So you can feel insecure and threatened by the idea your lover wants to be with others romantically.
Doesn’t your lover really love you fully? If they do, how can they want to be with anyone else? Especially with a number of other people?
And of course you may be right in your concern. Not everyone is truly polyamorous in the sense I’m defining it.
Because most guys are naturally sexually addicted they can claim to be polyamorous when all they’re really doing is using the term to dress up their desire to be promiscuous.
Promiscuity is the desire to have sex with lots of people, often indiscriminately.
That is a possible relationship option and I will be talking about it in future blog posts. But it is not polyamory.
Polyamory is not about getting. Not about having. Its goal is not to have as many “lovers” as you can get. When someone’s emphasis is on getting it is not on love.
The second difference between the two definitions I gave is the first definition used the term multiple.
This suggests the point is about numbers, the multiplication of lovers. As if someone who is polyamorous is never satisfied. They always want one more. They cannot get enough lovers to fill their desire so they keep adding them.
Again you can feel like what this means is you’ll never satisfy your lover. They will never be completely happy with you. They will always be looking for greener grass.
But polyamory is not about being restlessly discontent in your existing relationships. It is not about endlessly seeking more.
It is not about numbers at all.
In fairness though it is hard not to think this way when the name polyamory includes the prefix poly which means many. The word literally means many loves.
And it is frequently contrasted with monogamy whose prefix is mono, meaning one. One partner.
This creates a lot of confusion because polyamory often gets defined solely as the opposite of monogamy, which it isn’t. It is not the opposite of monogamy, it is simply one alternative to monogamy.
But so is promiscuity. And so is celibacy.
The fact is there are lots of relationship options and monogamy and polyamory are just two of them. They are not opposites, they are alternatives to each other and to many other relationship options.
Alright enough about what polyamory is not. Let’s talk about what it is.
The first thing to note in my refined definition is the word openness.
This is the whole point. Polyamory is an openness to love.
Since I think openness is the whole point, you might be wondering why I don’t just use the term open relationship instead of polyamory. That is a term that sometimes is used.
Unfortunately it isn’t much better because when people think of open relationships they’re usually not thinking of open in the sense I mean it. Open relationship sounds like your relationship is open to having other people in it.
So once again the emphasis is on having, numbers, and the idea of multiple people.
But openness to numbers isn’t the point here at all. The point is openness to love.
It is openness to experiencing mutually shared enjoyment. Openness to connecting on a deep level.
This is what is key. If you are polyamorous you are open to giving and receiving love.
The second thing to note in my refined definition is you have this openness to experiencing love with anyone.
What on earth do I mean by that?
Am I saying if you’re polyamorous you will love everyone and have romantic relationships with everyone you meet?
Of course not. Nobody could do that.
Each of us has limited time, logistical, and emotional resources. And the fact is we don’t experience romantic love with everyone.
The definition does not say everyone, it says anyone.
It simply means that you don’t close the door to the possibility of love. You keep the door open.
Clearly there is a contrast with monogamy here because monogamy suggests that once you come to love one person, you close the door to anyone else.
That’s why marriage is often called wedlock. You’re locked in to that one person and they are locked into you.
You can’t experience love with anyone else.
Or at least you shouldn’t.
If you do, this must mean you’ve ceased to love the first person. Because you can’t love more than one person.
Polyamory responds to this claim simply by asking “Why not?” Why can’t you love more than one person? Why shouldn’t you? Why should you ever close your heart to love?
While this might seem like an odd question at first, it doesn’t look so odd when you think about the other types of love in your life.
Think about your children. Do you have any problem loving all your children equally? Do you feel a need to choose between them or close your heart to loving any of them?
If you don’t have children you likely have friendships.
Do you love all your friends equally? Do you have to choose between your friends because you can really only have one friend? Does starting a new friendship impact your love for your existing friends?
Of course parental love and friendship love are different kinds of love from romantic love.
But is there anything different about romantic love that makes it impossible for you to love more than one person this way too?
Or prevents your lover from enjoying a similar kind of romantic love with someone else without this meaning they love you any less?
Why should romantic love be possessive in a way none of our other loves are?
What I’m really talking about here is romantic friendships. When you experience romantic love for someone you are open to exploring this together when the feeling is mutual.
You don’t become romantically inclined toward every person you meet of course, and sometimes there are reasons why such love cannot be pursued even when you feel it.
But you remain open to that possibility and frequently find yourself experiencing such feelings for the men or women in your life you value and care about.
There are a lot of beautiful people in this world and they are all unique in their own way.
Your love for one person doesn’t change your love for another.
Love is limitless.
Each love that enters our lives adds to our lives.
And we add to theirs.
We understand this with our children. We understand this with our friendships. Why do we think romantic love must be different?
Many people don’t find it is.
Maybe you’ve never thought about things this way before because you felt you weren’t supposed to experience romantic feelings for more than one person.
But when you reflect on your life, it’s pretty well like I’ve described.
You’ve enjoyed each of the men or women in your life for the experiences you’ve had with them. You long to have even more rich experiences with each of them in the future.
What level those experiences reach is up to both of you of course.
Sometimes you meet a person and you don’t feel a physical desire for them. The connection is more intellectual.
Other times you develop a heart connection that could easily flow into a deep physical communion of souls as well.
My recommendation is that you don’t try to force anything. Just hold yourself open to the possibilities and express your desire for what you would enjoy with each person.
If they don’t feel the same way thank them and tell them if their feelings ever change to let you know. Then continue with your relationship on the level you’re both comfortable with.
You’ll find by doing so your life is enriched in every way.
There are so many beautiful people you can experience and love. You have so much love to offer. Why not share it with anyone who wants to share it with you?
So what do you think? Are you sure you’re not polyamorous?