“The truth is, many people do not consciously choose monogamy; society chooses it for them, and it becomes the default.” Tristan Taormino
When you think of polyamory or even non-traditional relationships, in the back of your mind you can’t help but remember the story your aunt told you about the summer she spent at a commune in the seventies. While hippie culture seems to have cemented the concept of polyamory in popular culture, the truth is that more and more people are choosing to find love through this understanding. From an outsider perspective it all seems awfully complicated. The first couple of articles I came across mentioned the need for good logistics, Google Calendars, and weekly schedules. It sounded very structured and organized. Wasn’t this supposed to mean more freedom?
In order to get a better idea of what polyamory means for the people who choose to explore their relationships within this arrangement, I got in touch with sex therapist and psychologist Isec Alvear Estrada. What I discovered from our conversation was that polyamory can teach something to all of us, even those of us who consider ourselves serial monogamists with commitment issues.
First, we had to start with the definition of polyamory, which many still confused with non-monogamy or having an open relationship.
“Polyamory is, at its core, about love. Polyamorists have relationships with other people on an emotional level. It comes from the intention to connect in a deeper way. Of course, there can also be room for sexual encounters. But unlike a non-monogamous person, who is not exclusive in their emotional, erotic, or sexual relationships, polyamorists are trying to find a real connection.”
According to Isec, the main understanding in polyamory is that all parties be completely aware of each other. Total transparency is vital for this to work. It’s not infidelity because it’s all out in the open and everyone is on the same page.
“We’ve been taught to believe that there is this one person who we’ll be able to connect with on every level and, because of this, we need to find and settle down just with them. But polyamorists believe that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to find that ultimate partner, that one person who has everything we desire in a relationship, or that we’ll be able to be that ultimate partner to someone, for that matter.”
Despite the general idea that polyamorists are daydreamers caught in the idea of free love, it does feel like they’re more realistic than the rest of us when it comes to love and relationships. They’ve come to terms with the fact that the myth of there being one person created just for us is a little weird and highly improbable.
“When I’m working with couples in therapy, most of them monogamous, most of their problems are rooted in manipulation, control issues, possessiveness, and the belief that their partner belongs to them in some way. And it’s not like polyamorists don’t feel jealousy. Of course they do. The difference lies in how the manage these feelings. The core of the relationship is based on this agreement of all parties being able to be involved with others. If someone gets jealous, they need to work on it and talk to their partner about it. But they can’t forbid them to see someone else. Their partner is not an object or a possession. They’re a person capable of making their own choices and decisions.”
There’s no perfect relationship. Even polyamorists face obstacles and problems despite their agreements and arrangements. What changes is the way they deal with what comes along. It was during this conversation that I asked Isec what love lessons we could all learn from polyamory, whether or not we choose to go that route.
“It’s that willingness to be vulnerable and open with another person. I find polyamory quite beautiful because it’s being able to tell the person that you love about those feelings you might be having for someone else. You can have this conversation and share those moments with your partner without having to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid about it.”
“It’s about coming clean and saying, ‘Hey, this bothered me, but let’s find a way to work on it.’ When you voice your issues, you can find solutions together.”
“It’s being happy for the one I love, even when it’s because they’re fulfilled with this other relationship. It’s knowing they had a good time and saying, ‘I’m happy that you’re happy because I love you.’ Can you imagine this happening with traditional couples? And I’m talking about one party being okay with the other hanging out with their friends and family without them.”
“Loving someone means allowing them to be free. It’s about each person knowing they can make their own choices, without having to ask their partner for permission or approval.”
“Monogamy doesn’t always allow both parties to come to an agreement on certain decisions and choices. Instead of ending the conversation with, ‘If I can’t go, neither can you,’ there can be a mutual understanding of what each person can do about it.”
“It’s about being confident with your partner enjoying being with other people, knowing that it does not diminish your love or the connection you have. Their desire to be with other people doesn’t make you irrelevant. On the contrary, it’s a beautiful thing to know that your partner can be with other people, be happy with them, and still want to be with you as well. It’s about being confident in your relationship and who you are, instead of worrying that they might love you less if they’re with another person.”
Honestly, this sounds way more mature than most of my experiences or notions about relationships. Which is why I think that perhaps polyamory definitely isn’t for everyone. You need to be very confident in who you are and stay grounded in the fact that relationships might not last. Feelings change, and perhaps the person you love won’t always be able to fulfill you entirely or vice versa. Yet knowing that you and your partner are honest and willing to support each other no matter what, that’s incredibly comforting and reassuring.
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Images by Guen Fiore