People...I have two partners. This seems to confuse and outrage many people. We call ourselves the Unholy Trinity, or occasionally the Triforce. To everyone else though, this arrangement is typically referred to as a Polyamorous Relationship (or a poly triad).
If you know your dead languages at all, and I hope you do, you’ll quickly realize that Polyamory literally means ‘multiple loves’. People in polyamorous relationships have more than one partner with whom they're in love.
I know. It sounds crazy, right?
Imagine caring about more than one person.
It’d be like having more than one parent that you loved. Ridiculous.
Or like if your parents had another child in addition to you and they had to love it…at the same time and the same amount as they loved you. Fucking weird, right?
Or if you had a friend and then you met another person and you also wanted to be friends with that second person. Two friends, who are we kidding?
Most people’s lives are full of relationships. Most people have families that consist of more than one other person that they love. Most people have more than one friend that they really care about. And yet none of this is considered strange. No one asks these people if one friend gets jealous of the other friend. I’m betting no one’s ever asked you if you have to spend separate time with your brother and your sister so neither one feels jealous. No one asks because a) that would be incredibly rude and b) because it’s so glaringly obvious that that’s not an issue.
When I tell people I have two partners I am subject to a range of responses. If I’m lucky I’ll get a raised eyebrow and a smile and a declaration of “That sounds awesome.” Why yes, kind stranger, it is. If I’m less lucky, I’ll get a raised eyebrow and a look that would normally indicate that something has died rather viscerally nearby. Most common though is when people try to be polite and give a kind of “Oh…I could never do that.” Believe it or not, no one’s asking you to. No, seriously. We’re not a cult, we’re not recruiting; I’m not telling you this because we’re looking for a fourth. I’m telling you because I’m happy.
When I had my first boyfriend I couldn’t wait to tell people about him. He was smart, he was funny, he had these adorable dimples that I wanted to do shots out of, and most importantly I loved him. When I had my first long-term girlfriend I wanted everyone to meet her. She looked like an anime character, knew more about video-games than almost anyone I’d ever met and she could sing better than anyone that didn’t own their own backing vocalists, and most importantly I loved her. Both of these on their own were fine things to tell friends and family about. But when I put the two of them together…well suddenly that was weird. Suddenly everyone felt the need to tell me to be careful. Did I know what I was doing? Yes I did. I was (and still am) doing two people at the same time and it’s fucking awesome.
Before being polyamorous, my partner and I were in an open relationship. An open relationship is like ‘polyamory lite’; all the sex, none of the emotional entanglement. Rather than falling in love with people, you just have sex with the people you’re attracted to outside of your relationship. Open relationships mean acknowledging that it’s okay to be attracted to someone other than your partner and that sleeping with someone else doesn’t mean you love your partner any less. Open relationships are becoming a lot more common, to the point that even well known celebrities are open about their openness, like legendary duo Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer for a start. Larry King, just to give you the mental image you never wanted. Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith are open and, spectacularly so is the total BAMF Shirley MacLaine!
Polyamory is different to an open relationship in that the people involved form emotional ties. With an open relationship, one or both partners will go out and engage in sexual acts with other people, but will not do so with the intent of forming a romantic bond. Polyamory is about the romantic and emotional bonds as much as it is about the sex. Poly is about acknowledging that you may not be able to get everything you need in life from one person and that it’s okay to look to different partners to meet different needs.
There’s different kinds of polyamory, involving different numbers of partners in different configurations. For instance, sometimes only one of the parties is polyamorous, which means that one partner will have multiple relationships, while the other partner will remain monogamous. There is also closed polyamory, where there are upwards of three people in a relationship, but no one is seeing anyone outside of that relationship.
While the legalisation and recognition of gay marriage may resolve some inequality that gay people face, no one in the polyamory scene is holding their breath for the same recognition…cos, y’know, bigamy is apparently a thing. And therein lies another of the frustrating elements of explaining polyamory. A lot of people assume that it’s a religious thing. This irritates me both as an atheist and as an advocate for representation in media. The exposure most people have to the concept of polyamory is actually polygamy, wherein one man has multiple wives (polygyny) or one woman has multiple husbands (polyandry). Polygamy is the one that you know from watching Big Love and is all about the marriage element. It’s normally a religious or cultural institution and is rarely a lifestyle choice in the way that polyamory is. But in all honesty, it’s hard to blame people for jumping to this conclusion when Big Love is probably the closest we have to a mainstream representation of polyamory. It’s really difficult and kind of disheartening to have to explain any situation to someone and find that you have literally no pop culture references to call upon.
When I told someone that I was in a poly relationship recently they looked disgusted and did the usual ‘I could never do that’ and then followed it with ‘Imagine coming home from work and finding the other two fucking!’ I have to ask, does this kind of thing happen to you often? Do you regularly come home from work and find your partner jerking off in the lounge room or watching porn while they stroke themselves as you make dinner? No, you don’t because that would make you uncomfortable. And if they ever did do it you’d probably ask them not to do it again because it made you uncomfortable. People in poly relationships aren’t some weird kind of sex monsters (except Dave…everyone thinks Dave is weird). We communicate our relationship expectations the same way you do and we work on the relationship within that capacity. Every relationship requires work and effort; it requires all parties to communicate their wants and needs. Polyamory is no different. We are constantly working on ways to make our relationship even better and more supportive, because we love each other and naturally want our partners to be happy.
So what should you do if someone tells you they’re in a poly relationship? Be happy for them. Ask how their partners are or how they met and how long they’ve been together. Ask the same things you would ask of a "normal" couple. Because if someone is telling you they’re poly, they’re telling you because they think you seem cool enough to be happy for them. Because there may not be many people in their lives they get to share their happiness openly with. So when they do, don’t disappoint them by saying ‘I could never share my partner!’ Because what you’re implying when you say that is that their love must be less significant. They must not care as much for their partners if they’re willing to share them. And remember, no one is asking you to try poly! I mean it’d be nice if you gave open relationships a try, but hey it’s up to you.
That is all.
You may go now.