Polyamory gets a bad rap. The idea is taboo, and with most taboo ideas, myths and misunderstandings are allowed to flourish. The biggest misconception is that people who are polyamorous- often referred to as just “poly”- are swingers. So lets set the record straight, swinging and polyarmory are two different lifestyles. Swinging refers to non monogamous couples who have sex with multiple partners, often engage in sex spontaneously at parties, and usually have a social network of other swingers. Polyamory on the other hand, is a couple that may open up their relationship. Thus each person may have a deep, meaningful relationship with multiple people that may or may not include sex. But couples who attempt polyamorous relationships are not always successful.
I sat down with a local man recently. He was in a closed relationship -effectively a conventional relationship- with his girlfriend for almost five years. He met another girl, and although he was attracted to her, didn’t pursue it. At this point his girlfriend suggested opening up their relationship so he could be with her too. “I was certainly hesitant at first.” he said. The couple had several poly friends but had never really considered it seriously. However, they both admitted that their relationship had been suffering the last year- they were growing apart- and perhaps a change like this could help. So they opened up. He began to date the new girl, and his girlfriend in turn started to date another man. “At first, it was just really awkward.” he remarked. Although they had a network of friends to help them through the transition, it was a very difficult process. They both started seeing their separate partners more often, had a few big fights, and eventually the beginning couple fell apart. “I think it’s really hard to begin with a closed relationship and then open up, it’s better to go into a new relationship with the understanding that this is how it’s going to be.” But there is another couple that says they were able to do it.
I sat down with another local, this time a woman. She and her husband have been married for 3 years, and have successfully polyamorous for a year and a half. Unlike the first couple, they came to the conclusion mutually. They both knew of her bisexuality when they married, and decided together that they would open the relationship so she could further explore her sexuality. They started out with a mutual girlfriend, but this did not turn out well, “this particular woman we were dating was not good for us .” she said. But instead of ruining their marriage, the couple went back to the drawing board. “We talked about how we both were feeling and why we thought it didn’t work. Communication is extremely important in poly relationships.”
Polyamorous relationships thrive on trust and communication. Many couples insist on STD testing for all individuals, out of respect for everyone involved. Something that’s interesting to note is that poly people are not free of jealousy. Both people spoke about jealousy coming up, the difference is how they dealt with it. In the case of the married woman, she struggled the first time she left her husband and his new girlfriend alone together, “When I left, I could feel this huge knot in the pit of my stomach.” she said. But instead of the jealousy being a marriage-ending issue, she explains that she found ways to deal with it, “There are a lot of online communities for poly people to find support, they were tremendously helpful to me.” She also recommends educating yourselves as much as possible before entering a polyamorous relationship. For the right people, polyamory can open up their relationship to wonderful possibilities and new experiences. But it takes a lot of honesty, communication and education or the whole thing can blow up in your faces. So tread lightly on those you love.
By Magdalen O’Reilly