Reader P. C. writes:

I am realizing that I have always had an interest in polyamory. There are several things I am unclear on however. For instance, what is the difference between polyamory and just dating more than one person? What are some things to be leery of? How do you know you can hack it in a poly lifestyle? What is the best way to get over the jealousy? And any other advice you may have regarding the subject.

Dear P.C.:

I’m probably going to get a lot of flak from a lot of different people on all sides of the polyamory discussion by responding to your questions, but I’ll do my best.


Is polyamory right for you? Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First off, I want to say I don’t advocate any one lifestyle for anyone. I can’t say that polyamory is right for anyone, nor can I say that monogamy is right for anyone. Don’t take my advice as the end-all be-all of your romantic endeavors. I also can’t say that any one course for someone’s life will make them more happy or less happy. All relationships are work, whether they are polyamorous, monogamous, asexual, or something else entirely. Don’t think that by changing from one to the other you’re going to feel suddenly fulfilled or that all your relationships will be smooth from then on.

At the same time, you have to be true to yourself. Monogamy is considered the standard in our society (although few people appear to actually subscribe to it), and polyamory may sound like a lot of fun, or even a more honest way to live. But it may not be the lifestyle you fit into. Furthermore, you may be interested in polyamory not because you are polyamorous, but because you’ve had relationship issues that you’re just not interested in addressing for whatever reason. My number one advice in all this is listen to yourself.

Okay, now I’ll dive into answering your questions.

1. What is the difference between polyamory and just dating more than one person?

I would say the biggest difference is that while “dating more than one person”, the person still tends to have the goal of ending up with one person in the end; this is not the goal of polyamory. There may be other differences; for instance, polyamorous people tend to have one “home base” kind of lover (a person they live with or the person they’re “in love with”) that they report back to, and the other people that they are seeing fall on a different hierarchical level. If you’re just dating more than one person, you probably won’t tell the folks you’re dating about the other people you’re seeing.

There are different ways to be polyamorous, too. It’s an honest to goodness lifestyle, and it takes a lot of work, just as being monogamous does. Also, polyamory is not “a phase” you go through until you meet “the one”. Keep that in mind.

2. What are some things to be leery of in polyamory?

As I’ve mentioned above, avoid thinking that polyamory is a great respite from all that hard work of trying to be monogamous. Polyamory can be even harder than being monogamous, and not just because you’re less likely to find large groups of people or counselors ready to support your lifestyle and get you through the rough spots. There’s jealousy to deal with; there are preconceived notions and reactions you’ve got buried in your mind that you probably don’t even know are there; there’s the ability to find partners who are actually polyamorous as well… the list goes on.

I’d also say be careful of being taken advantage of, especially if you are a woman. As girls, we’re often pressured to participate in sexual ideologies we don’t necessarily buy into — like, that we’re all bisexual, or that we should be interested in pursuing sex as much as the guys we know are, or that we should want to get married and have babies eventually. Some of those may be true for you; some may not. Is there some pressure in your mind to participate in a polyamorous lifestyle that is not coming from your own belief that you may be polyamorous? Think about it and make sure.

3. How do you know you can hack it in a poly lifestyle?

I don’t really know how to answer this one. Let me put it to you this way: how do you know you can hack a monogamous lifestyle? You don’t know until you try. Also, polyamory doesn’t have the same defined edges as monogamy: in monogamy, if you’ve slept with more than one person [while in a committed relationship], you’ve failed. There isn’t a singular rule in polyamory, perhaps other than “be true to yourself”. And it’s pretty hard to decide when or if you’ve broken that rule.

Each polyamorous person (or couple, or group) sets his/her/its/their own rules. These rules can change.

I say if you’ve really thought about it, and FELT about it (love does not involve just your rational mind; your feelings are important here, too), and you have decided you may be polyamorous, the only thing to do is try it out.

Ask yourself this: Is my end goal to be with one single other person as a couple eventually? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably not really polyamorous.

4. What is the best way to get over jealousy?

The problem with jealousy and other feelings is that they’re feelings, and you’re probably always going to FEEL them. The issue isn’t that we have these feelings; the issue is what we do with them. My best advice for getting through jealousy is to sit with it, address it, and talk about it with the person(s) who is (are) making you feel jealous. I think the time span for this can be very long, and the “sit with it” and “address it” periods may take several hours or days. Write about it; sing about it; access the feeling in a way other than through your rational mind. Then talk about it with the person or people involved and see what comes out.

5. Any other advice?

I’ve recommended a lot of books in the past, most notably The Ethical Slut, for learning about polyamory and ways to deal with the big issues that arise if you decide to adopt the polyamorous lifestyle. You should get reading, get investigating, and get a group of people you can trust to talk to about this. Polyamory is a pretty big lifestyle change for most people, and not something you just kind of flit into.

Also, remember that you are allowed to go through phases in your life. You may not be interested in committing to one person right now, and that may not mean that you’re polyamorous — it may just mean you’re tired of relationships. Let yourself grow and change as you must. And if you try being polyamorous for a while and discover it’s not right, then stop.

My final note is that I don’t believe there’s any single type of sexuality or love or lifestyle that can define the different emotions and relationships we all go through in our lives. It may be easier to put labels on things, but in reality, your sexual style is your own, and calling it “monogamy” or “polyamory” doesn’t make it any less (or more) so.


1 Response to “polyamory”

  1. 1 Aristoi
    March 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I will be polyamorous with the girl in your stock photo!

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