As much as I loathe Wikipedia, I want to start with their definition, because it indicates the complexity.
polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.
Both Greek and Latin roots? No wonder people have such difficulty understanding. Most people define polyamory by what it is not, an inefficient way to convey meaning, but polyamorists tend to over explain, part of trying relentlessly to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like Merriam Webster’s definition better
: the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time
I had decided the best way to reduce stress was to stop expecting fidelity, no one could ever blame me for causing them seizures again. I certainly did not expect what I found. When I met Samantha I knew she had other men in her life. There was nothing to hide. A month later I fell, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury as well as several other injuries. Samantha took a month off work to care for me, showing more devotion and care than most of my monogamous partners had ever shown. She has encouraged me to go out with other women, and I have, I just don’t have the desire for multiple partners. I’ve had drinks with one of her suitors, he invited us to come over for New Years Eve last year.
Most explanations of polyamory are centered on what polyamory is not. Part of that is because there are so many ways to be poly. There is no one right way, but there are several wrong ways. As I said earlier, poly people tend to over explain, often creating new terms so rapidly it is difficult to keep up. Sometimes they try so hard to be all-inclusive they can’t be followed, which is why Sam and I created a group for mature poly people. I think we’ve kicked four people out of the group, three for inappropriate advances, another for trying to tell everyone the right way to be poly, implying they were wrong. Our defining blurb includes “My poly may not be your poly, but part of the exercise is accepting that however we choose to live, we are all still poly. No shaming or denouncing the formats we have chosen. We all have opinions, display the level of respect with which you wish to be treated.” Our group presently has over three hundred members, several whom have told me our group is the only place they feel comfortable being themselves.
The universal rules of polyamory are centered in honesty. You do not get involved in a new relationship without talking with your partners about it. My relationship naturally carried that to “No secrets.” Polyamory is not to be confused with “Swinging,” or meaningless one night stands; sexuality is rarely confused with intimacy; having multiple partners does not mean having them simultaneously. One of the most common, and least appreciated, aspects of polyamory are “Unicorn Hunters,” people looking to add a third partner (usually female) to an existing relationship, for any number of reasons. People are not objects you take from a shelf to use until you tire of them, they are not a spice with which you can spice up your marriage. There are plenty of multi-partner households, but actively looking to “add a person” is unseemly.
Some polyamorous relationships are asexual, simply warm romantic relationships. The focus is on communication, not sexual activity (can I say that enough?). Of course, if you want to produce a television show about polyamory, sex still sells. It just doesn’t tell the story. Or it tells the wrong story. There are enough false stories about polyamory that we become a bit defensive, but the fact is, there are many ways to be polyamorous, so we don’t have a comprehensive argument. One difficulty is dating, the phrase “I’m in an open relationship” has been used by adulterers so many times that OKCupid, a large dating web site, has an accommodation for people who are polyamorous. You can link your profile to your partners profiles, there is no question that your partner(s) knows what is going on. Cheating is just as distasteful to poly folk as mono folk, because polyamory is about loving, not conquering.
I have been surprised by the people who show up at poly events, but then, I’m there. Polyamorous people come from every walk of life, every income bracket, and every political leaning. You may be surprised I am poly. It is a part of my life, not all of it.