Responsible Non-monogamy: A Brief Introduction to Polyamory

In this society, it is usually assumed that one is either single or in some form of monogamous relationship. At best, it is sometimes considered acceptable (barely) to “play the field” if one is not in a committed relationship. If one is in a committed relationship, it is with one person only, and any sexual and/or romantic involvement outside the relationship is “cheating”. Both of these situations – “playing the field” and “cheating” – are still often subject to the classic double standard of being more acceptable (or at least less unacceptable) for men than women.

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Monogamous relationships can be wonderful. Many people have honest, stable, egalitarian, and very fulfilling monogamous relationships.

But there are people – straights, lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals – who have chosen other types of relationships. These relationships come in many forms but have one thing in common. The people in these relationships have agreed to be non-monogamous – to step outside the standard two-person, sexually fidelitous and romantically fidelitous relationship.

Honesty and Communication

Honesty is as important in a poly relationship as it is in a monogamous one, perhaps more so. The most basic form this takes is honesty about one’s relationship(s). Because of the assumption in this society that relationships are monogamous, if someone is non-monogamous but does not tell his/her partners, that’s dishonesty, not responsible non-monogamy or polyamory.

Additionally, it is very important to keep lines of communication open in poly relationships. Sexuality is a very emotionally-charged issue in this society, and even those of us who feel comfortable challenging societal assumptions need to talk things out. Indeed, talking things out is more necessary if one doesn’t make assumptions, as people who decide not to follow the assumed path often need to make their own path, which takes careful consideration.

Jealousy

There are few people who don’t at least sometimes feel the bite of the green monster. Jealousy can be a sign that one is either not getting one’s needs met or is afraid of not getting one’s needs met. This should be discussed with the other person or people in the relationship. Jealousy can also be a sign of possessiveness, in which case one should examine one’s attitudes about a relationship as ownership of a person. Jealousy is neither proof of love (as some people feel) nor proof of emotional immaturity (as some other people feel). In any case, jealousy is best dealt with by recognizing it and discussing it when it happens.

Agreements

Absent the (typically assumed) monogamy agreement, people in a poly relationship generally make a specific agreement about sexual and romantic behavior outside the relationship. Working out an agreement is important in general, and especially important for people who are considering changing their monogamous relationship into some form of poly relationship.

Examples of agreements include (but are not limited to):

I will play safe, and I will come home. One of the simplest agreements and one of the strongest. It directly addresses two major worries -abandonment and sexually transmitted diseases (AIDS is only one and “play safe” means that any sex is safer sex).

Tell me about it. Members must tell each other about any outside involvement. Sometimes this notification must be before, sometimes it’s “before if possible, and after in any case”.

Don’t tell me about it. Involvement outside the relationship is accepted, but the partner(s) doesn’t (don’t) want to hear about it.

The Veto. Members must get prior and on-going approval of involvement outside a relationship.

Only together. Sexual and/or romantic involvement outside the relationship is acceptable if both (/all) people in the relationship are involved.

Sex only. Being sexual outside the relationship is ok, getting emotionally involved isn’t.

Fidelity. A fidelitous (closed) relationship is still poly if there are more than two people in the relationship.

Each of these can be an agreement on its own, or they can be combined in various ways. Note that agreements do not have to be symmetrical – for example, one person in a relationship could decide not to get sexually involved outside the relationship, but that it’s fine if the other (/another) member does. The major point here is that for polyamory to work, it should be considered, discussed, and mutually agreed upon by everybody involved.

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