Monogamy is still very much the norm in today’s societies, but different types of romantic relationships are gaining ground. For this Spotlight feature, we have spoken to some polyamorous people and asked: What is fact and what is fiction about polyamorous relationships?
In most societies around the world, people dream of finding “the one” and forming a committed relationship with that one person — for life.
Movies and books are filled with “happily ever after” stories involving soulmates that were simply “made for each other.”
Yet, over the past few decades, more and more people have been speaking out, saying that monogamy is not for them.
According to recent studies, approximately 4–5% of all adults in the United States have consensual non-monogamous relationships.
One form of non-monogamous practice that has been attracting attention in the media is polyamory. But what is polyamory, really, and how does it differ from other non-monogamous practices?
Is it a dream come true, a way of “having your cake and eating it, too,” as the saying goes? Or, is being in a polyamorous relationship really not that different from being in any other kind of relationship?
For this Spotlight feature, we have spoken to four polyamorous people, asking them about polyamory facts and misconceptions and about how this lifestyle works for them.
THE HARDEST QUESTION
When speaking to polyamorous people about how they would define polyamory, the same reaction came up over and over again.
“It’s probably the hardest [question] to answer,” one interviewee, said. Another, exclaimed, “quite a hard question, to be honest!”
The difficulty comes from the fact that polyamorous relationships can take various forms. They can be hierarchical, with one partner being the “primary” partner, or nonhierarchical, in which all partners have equal standing.
Moreover, a person could be in separate relationships with different partners or in a relationship in which all or several partners are also romantically engaged with each other.
Yet, there is usually a common theme, when it comes to defining the notion of polyamory.
Indeed, the word “polyamory” comes from the Greek root “poly,” meaning “many,” and the Latin root “amor,” meaning “love.” Quite literally, it means “many loves” — being romantically involved with multiple people at the same time.
Despite noting how hard it was to define polyamory, this was actually what all the polyamorous people said: Polyamory is about spreading the love.
“It’s a lifestyle where, essentially, I am not confined to the things that everyone else is confined [to] in relationships. The way that I see it […] is that you have multiple loving relationships with multiple people at the same time,”.
“For me, it’s about doing stuff that I think a lot of people want to do anyway, but it’s a kind of honest and ethical way of doing so,”. At the moment, she said, she happens to only have one partner. But the framework of a polyamorous relationship would allow her to also become involved with other people:
“Even though I do only have the one partner at the moment, I could have others, and that wouldn’t be a sign that there’s anything wrong with me. It would just be an opportunity to increase the amount of love and pleasure that you get in life.”
Non-monogamy dates all the way back to B.C.E. times, but it’s been reincarnated in different ways over the centuries. And while stereotypes (or purposeful misnomers) may cast this kind of partnership in a definitely unequal, sexist light, it hasn’t always existed as an inherently unequal power balance—especially not today. Here’s how non-monogamy has evolved over time.
WHEN MONOGAMY BECAME THE NORM
The reasons people may choose non-monogamy are varied, though many say that’s a form of intimacy that supports personal growth and communication. Others say that poly relationships can prove especially beneficial in how they foster gender equality. Like any relationship, what’s most important is the ability to communicate your needs and boundaries—whether you’re interested in opening things up or not.