By Leslie Turnbull
irst things first: Maintaining intimate emotional and physical relationships with multiple partners is not for everyone.
American cultural norms steer us toward monogamy — a faithful, one-on-one, forsaking-all-others, 'til-death-do-us-part definition of love and intimacy that usually involves marriage. For a lot of us, this works. For others, it doesn't. Hardly a news cycle goes by without the revelation that some celebrity or another has been caught with his (or her) pants down. But cheating isn't reserved for the rich and famous. There's not a community in the country that hasn't experienced the scandal of extracurricular romance between otherwise ordinary people.
All this begs the question: Is there a functional alternative for those who are not by nature monogamous? One that doesn't involve secrets, dissemblance, and emotional betrayal?
Anywhere from one million to two million Americans are choosing polyamory, a word best defined by its Greek roots meaning "many" and "love." Polyamorists openly love more than one person. The estimated 500,000-plus polyamorous (or "poly") relationships in this country vary in configuration as widely as the people who comprise them, from heterosexual married people who simply date others, to larger, more complex relationship structures that often involve shared living space and raising families. What all truly polyamorous arrangements have in common — and what makes them distinct from secretive infidelity or "cheating" — is a defining characteristic of the practice: transparency. Polyamorists believe that their relationships can thrive only in an environment of complete honesty.
In that spirit, a number of polyamorists agreed to share with me the following pieces of wisdom and advice for those who might be considering "going poly," or those of you who are just curious about the practice.
Polyamorists are just like the rest of us.
Put aside notions of fringe-living religious zealots and commune dwellers: Most poly people are otherwise ordinary Americans who raise families, pay mortgages, and go about their daily routines just like everybody else. If anything, poly people tend to skew a little more intellectual — or "dorky," as one thirty-something biologist describes his poly circle of friends. Perhaps this is because most polyamorists have come to their decision to open their relationships by doing a lot of research.
Interested in doing a little research of your own? Novices and academics alike find Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá to be an accessible, engaging take on human sexuality and behavior that might just open your eyes, if not your marriage.
Polyamory is not just about sex.
"My husband wants me to set up a threesome with my PTA co-chair" is the stuff of mediocre pornography, not polyamory. While polyamorists must by definition be comfortable with less conventional sexuality — and many are aligned with the Sex Positive movement — most bristle at the implication that their desire for multiple relationships is rooted solely in lust.
Unlike the swinging or spouse-swapping so luridly portrayed in popular media, polyamorous relationships are based as much on emotional intimacy and love as they are on the physical. With many polyamorous arrangements lasting years and even decades, all participants eventually develop a deeper personal connection with one another that may or may not have anything to do with who sleeps with whom and when. ...