Let's Talk About Polyamorous Relationships
5 min read
by Jem Zero | April 28, 2022
What do you assume when you hear the word ‘polyamorous’?
Many people would probably answer: “When a man has multiple wives.” This is actually called polygyny — it often exists within a religious dynamic, and it accounts for only a small percentage of non-monogamous family models. It’s no secret that there are plenty of misconceptions about polyamory, and not all of them have traditionally been viewed in a positive light — in reality, though, the vast majority of people in polyamorous relationships strive to be functional, healthy, and equal.
so, what is polyamory?
I’ve identified as polyamorous since I was a teenager, learning the wider possibilities for non-monogamous relationships. Some of those possibilities include:
Polyamory: Having intimate relationships with more than one person simultaneously
Open relationship: When one or both members of a couple date individually/separately
Triad: Three people in a single relationship
Metamour: A person who's in a relationship with someone you're in a relationship with
Polycule: A wider network of polyamorous connections
Queer-platonic: A non-romantic relationship that has the same level of intimacy/commitment as a romantic relationship, with or without sex
Nesting partner: Someone you cohabitate with
Relationship anarchy: Non-hierarchical attraction model
Polyamory can also be referred to as ethical non-monogamy — which is meant to stress that without the consent of all parties, having sex with multiple people when you’re in a relationship is usually just cheating. A cheater might use any number of excuses to justify their behavior, including polyamory, but it’s important to stress that polyamorous relationships are not cheating.
(Quick note: Some people shorten polyamorous to “poly,” but with respect to the Polynesian community who were using “Poly” to identify each other, it’s better to use “polyam.”)
how does polyamory work?
My queerness is inextricable from my ability to experience polyamorous love. My wife and I both have independent relationships outside our marriage. In addition to the partner my wife was dating before we met, I have a queer-platonic partner who lives with our family. Some of the terms I’ve outlined above are useful in describing this dynamic.
A high percentage of openly polyamorous people are marginalized in some way. With many queer people ostracized by their families, chosen family can be the difference between despair and survival — this compounds if you’re disabled. The nuance is even more detailed for people who are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC), especially if they are also disabled and/or queer.
Embracing a polyamorous lifestyle comes down to rejecting the idea that families should be isolated to a nuclear “mother, father, and child(ren)” dynamic. Community networks aid our survival in environments that are hostile to differences. Trying to keep yourself safe when you’re surrounded by queerphobia, ableism, and racism is easier when you have a larger support system.
Also, sometimes there’s just a lot of love to go around!
I’ve always felt like I experience enough unique love to share with multiple people. I don’t love my queer-platonic partner the same way I love my wife, and there’s room in my heart for both types of attraction. Additionally, I can be very intense. I’m disabled and neurodivergent, and my struggles can be a lot to hinge on just one person. If I expected my wife to handle every single support need I have, it would needlessly strain our relationship.
Of course, plenty of people can seek help within a platonic community, and that’s great too. No one should be shaming anyone else for their attachment style. If sharing your partner’s love with someone else doesn’t fit into your attraction model, no one should force you into non-monogamy. That isn’t ethical at all.
With polyamory, it’s important that all parties consent. Conversations about using protection during sex, how to navigate jealousy or conflicts of interest, and handling disagreements or dislike between metamours, are essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy polycule. Not all disagreements can be easily resolved, because people are, well, people! But we all should do our best to support each other while living our individual truths.
thinking about exploring polyamory?
Some red flags, whether you’re polyam or not, might be:
Your would-be monogamous partner insisting on having an open relationship you aren't comfortable with
A partner or metamour refusing to use barriers during sex with other partners or even hook-ups
Hypocrisy within a relationship — such as one person having multiple partners, then getting angry at one of those partners for also having sex/relationships outside of their dynamic
Lying about hook-ups or having protected sex, then using polyamory as an excuse
At the end of the day, being mistreated is still being mistreated. If you aren’t comfortable with a polyamorous relationship, you shouldn’t be pressured into participating in one. If you do want to explore polyamory, it’s important to remember that having multiple partners doesn’t mean you don’t get to have boundaries.
You may have heard (or said!) the wistful phrase: “I wish I could buy a castle/farm/mansion/island and populate it with all my friends.” That’s basically the dream for many polyamorous people! We’re seeking community in environments that are often isolating and restrictive. When it works for you and your family, it’s a beautiful and powerful dynamic.
Have you ever explored polyamory? Would you? Let us know in the comments!
For learning more about attachment styles — check out the book Polysecure by Jessica Fern.
For information on polyamory within Black communities — Crystal Farmer’s website, BlackandPoly.org, is a great resource.
For additional info on BIPOC non-monogamy — check out this roundup of resources.
Jem Zero (ze/zir) is a disabled transmasc writer/artist creating work about zir faulty meatsack & brainjuice. Further eccentric nonsense can be found at @jem_zero (twitter), and @jemzero (instagram).
by Jem Zero