“We have no culturally approved scripts for open sexual lifestyles; we need to write our own” (The Ethical Slut, by Janet Hardy & Dossie Easton)
We live in an age where sexuality is everywhere: in sexualized ads, porn on the Internet, fashion and art – even our language has become more sexualized. But while our culture has become more open to the image of sexuality, the narratives still lag behind. Our views on relationships, love and sex are influenced by the books, movies and music we and our friends and family consume. And their stories still very often tell us the tale of the one true love between man and woman, the girl who became lovable by changing her appearance, or the guy who had to be healed in order to be capable of love. So we grow up with this stylized notion of what love is and isn’t.
In the last couple of years, the narratives have been changing, partly because there now is popular culture that displays ways of loving and living which fall out of the Hollywood cliché. I’m referring to Netflix series like Bonding and You, Me & Her. The other part of this gradual transformation is made up of movements that strive for more tolerance and acknowledgement for alternative lifestyles.
One of these lifestyles is polyamory, an umbrella term which is used for all relationships that aren’t strictly monogamous.
Being poly might mean you have one partner but you both occasionally sleep with other people, or you’re a triangle which is living together, or you and your partner both have a second relationship. The possible variations are endless.
The concept isn’t new but had been invisible for a very long time. One reason for that is the social stigma associated with loving or having sex with more than one person at a time. Another reason, which is connected to the first one, is that people who are poly often don’t advertise it and moreover tend to run in circles where their lifestyle is more accepted. That way, filter bubbles are created: of people who haven’t even heard of the term on the one side, and people for whom being poly is the norm on the other side.
But over the past few years, polyamory has been seeping into the mainstream and, as so often with new things, is quickly relegated to being a trend and linked to a loss of values in the younger generation.
Journalist Heimo Schwilk from Welt magazine has even called it a symptom of a consumer and entitlement society which knows no bounds. That may actually be true for some people – it depends on the reasons one has for being polyamorous – but that should not negate the value of the approach polyamory takes towards relationships.
Living polyamory makes you grow as a person in a lot of ways. There are, however, some things you have to be willing to do first:
- You have to take a long and honest look at what you want and what you need (more difficult than many people think).
- You need to tell your partner (even harder).
- You need to listen to what your partner tells you about his wants and needs and resist the urge to immediately shut down everything that might be uncomfortable for you.
Contrary to the common opinion, polyamory is a lot about boundaries: about knowing when to stand by them and when to push them. And communication! Something we can probably all agree on, is the importance of communication in a relationship, no matter if polyamorous or monogamous.
In a poly relationship, you have to be willing to constantly negotiate and re-negotiate your relationship(s), and that can be very exhausting.
Polyamorous people don’t always feel bright and bubbly about the kind of relationship they have chosen; they struggle and doubt just like monogamous people do.
It’s such an annoying habit of people to be like, “ha, see, I told you this is no good,” when you admit to struggling with a choice you have made.
Another thing you need to learn very quickly is that you are responsible for your own emotions. It’s not your partners’ responsibility to make you happy or whole, and jealousy is not your partners’ fault. It’s a common misconception that poly people aren’t jealous; a lot of them are. They tend to know, however, that jealousy is often a product of their own issues – insecurity, fear of abandonment, possessiveness or entitlement – and therefore aren’t as willing to give into this feeling.
Polyamory combats the notion that if your partner falls in love with or is attracted to someone else, their love or attraction is taken away from you. Often the opposite is the case: Your partner appreciates your even more for the person you are. Moreover, another partner often takes off the pressure that can come from lack of libido, an interest you can’t share with your partner, or simply a lack of time due to work, etc.
Poly helps you address issues that are often silenced in monogamous narratives: like the fact that your partner won’t be able to fulfill all your needs, or that you will be attracted to other people, or that at some point a relationship can get really boring.
Hollywood doesn’t like to tell you that!
So polyamory is a relationship style that can immensely enrich your life if you’re willing to work for it. It is also a relationship style that takes up a lot of time and energy. Whether or not it is worth it for you, is something you’ll have to find out on your own.
Educating yourself about it and talking to experienced polys helps a lot with figuring things out. The most important thing is that you’re not trying to fit into a certain mold – poly relationships are as diverse as the people living them, and poly is all about finding your own way of loving.