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What’s it like to be in a polyamorous relationship?

on Tuesday, 11 July 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Around the world, a growing community is seeking happiness in polyamorous relationships. As they jettison the expectations of monogamy, even substituting jealousy with positivity, Lounge explores the poly meaning of love

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by Partho Chakrabartty

A small but growing community, in India and around the world, is challenging a foundational construct of society: that a monogamous marriage is the only way to have a fulfilling long-term relationship. Their experiences, which loosely fall under the umbrella term “polyamory”, have a lot to teach us about honesty, jealousy, acceptance, and love itself.

 

A 30 May Mint report on the extramarital online dating service Gleeden said that the website already had over 100,000 subscribers in India (up to 180,000 at the time of going to press). The numbers indicate the existence of, at the very least, a willingness by married Indian men and women to explore extramarital dating. But polyamory is different—it involves having more than one intimate relationship with the knowledge and consent of all those involved. This makes polyamory a form of ethical non-monogamy, as opposed to infidelity.

 

Infidelity is the more common way of responding to the strictures of monogamy. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, getting accurate numbers for the rate of infidelity in India is hard. Consider the 2014 survey conducted by Canadian online extramarital dating service Ashley Madison. According to reports in the media, of the 75,321 respondents from 10 Indian cities, 76% of the women and 61% of the men didn’t consider infidelity a sin. In contrast, a survey conducted in 2013-14 by the US-based research organization Pew Research Center, with 2,464 respondents, reported 27% of Indians as saying that extramarital affairs are either “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue”. The numbers for consensually non-monogamous individuals are even harder to estimate, but may be as high as 10-12 million people in the US alone, according to a 2014 Atlantic article.

 

The numbers are hard to estimate in part because of the stigma around polyamory. Society, when it is not being hostile or outright abusive, tends to dismiss polyamorous or poly people as either sex-crazed or frivolous and incapable of commitment. On the contrary, I found poly individuals like Rishika Anchalia and Aparna Dauria, who agreed to be interviewed for this piece, to be engaging more seriously and thoughtfully with relationships than some of those who unquestioningly follow the norm.

 

What polyamory asks is, “Why does non-monogamy have to involve lies and deceit?” The main idea is that relationships need not follow templates. Consenting adults—two or more—can write their own rules. It is this focus on what love is, rather than what it is supposed to be, that pierces the veil of myths and conditioning surrounding this queen of all emotions.

 

 

When Vidya (who asked that only her first name be used), an entrepreneur from Bengaluru, first acted on an attraction she felt towards a person other than her partner of five years, she was thrown into a maelstrom of confusion and guilt. As she struggled to make sense of what she was feeling, her primary relationship with her partner became strained.

 

Seven years later, Vidya, now in her mid-30s, successful, intelligent and well-read, brings to our conversation the independence of mind that I have frequently encountered in the poly community. Many friends advised her to forget all about it and move on, without telling her partner. This did not sit well with her. “Did my cheating mean I was no longer in love with my partner? Absolutely not, I still adored him. But still, if I believed in honesty and faithfulness, what was I doing? And then I realized that sharing love and sex with someone else didn’t feel wrong. The lying and deceit did.”

 

She discussed the episode with her partner, but he was not ready to open up the relationship. Vidya might have chosen to deny the part of herself that connected intimately with other people, and stayed with her partner. But if dishonesty towards her partner was reprehensible for Vidya, dishonesty towards herself was even more so. They parted amicably, and she has identified as poly ever since.

 

Honesty is important to the poly community, which means individuals cheating on their spouses are not welcome. Even relationships that have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule—where people agree to date others, but want to be kept in the dark—are frowned upon. The idea is that a barrier to communication implies an issue in the existing relationship that cannot be resolved by getting into another one.

 

It is this attention to ethics that complicates the assumption that polyamorous people are simply promiscuous. While the poly community is sex-positive—that is, it regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable—and does not look down upon casual sexual relationships, promiscuity implies being less discerning in one’s choice of partner. The poly emphasis on honesty and communication often makes this community more discerning, not less. ...

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