5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Polyamory
For the last several years, I’ve identified as polyamorous. This means I am in more than one romantic relationship, and all the people I date know about one another and consent to the relationship structure. But to be honest, I don't love using the word "polyamorous" publicly. People generally think that when I say, "I’m polyamorous," I’m really saying "I have loads of sex with tons of people, and I don’t believe that there should be consequences for that."
For me (and for plenty of people), polyamory has little to do with sex. It’s more an examination of the ways that we humans view relationships in general and an interest in redefining what is meant by "commitment." Here are five common myths about polyamory that I’ve heard over and over again and some facts to set the record straight:
1. Polyamory means that a couple has decided to open up their relationship.
Polyamory can mean that a couple has decided to open up their relationship, but there are so many other ways for polyamory to work. Polyamory focuses strongly on consent and communication among all parties. Lots of polyamorous relationships are triads, or quads, or other geometric configurations—meaning that three or more people are all dating one another. Another configuration might be platonic friends deciding to enter into a romantic partnership while sleeping with other people on the side. Most popular portrayals of polyamory are woefully heteronormative. Polyamory resonates especially with people for whom the standard nuclear family model doesn’t fit. Those people are not always—or even not that often—hetero couples looking for a date on the side.
2. Men are more into polyamory than women.
Actually, the polyamorous movement as we know it today owes a great deal to bisexual women in particular. The definition of the word was composed by (bisexual woman) Morning Glory Zell Ravenheart. Many of the most seminal texts on the subject were written by (bisexual woman) Deborah Anapol. Women and gender-queer people have done a lot of the organizing and institutional thinking that has transformed polyamory from a nebulous concept into a movement.
3. People who are polyamorous can't commit.
Culturally, we define commitment around whether you’re willing to have sex with just one person. For me and the people I am dating, however, commitment is about how willing you are to be honest with people in your life, whether you will show up for them even when it is not convenient, and how you treat them as you move through the world. I feel more committed to my current partners than I ever did to the people I dated monogamously because I am open with them about all the thoughts that go through my head. I am also devoted to being a listener, and I want to make sure that everyone I love feels safe, heard, and nurtured.
That means that if I want to go on a date with someone but one of my partners feels uncomfortable, I will wait to go on the date. Instead, my partner and I might have a long conversation about what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling that way. It requires a lot of talking, but that’s kind of the point. I’m deeply committed to the people I love. I will always treat them the way I want to be treated.
4. Polyamory has little or nothing to do with privilege.
We have to acknowledge that polyamory is not a sexual orientation, and it is not a lifestyle choice that everyone has equal access to. Because polyamory requires a lot of time (for all the dating but also for all the communication that comes with it), it’s not a viable option for people who work more than one job or who are singularly responsible for a large family. People with children who decide later in life to try a polyamorous structure can expect to be met with vitriol from family and friends. And people for whom certain organized religions are a central part of life—especially people of color in the United States—might not find a lot of acceptance in their communities. To choose to practice polyamory requires a great deal of class, racial, and cultural privilege.
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5. Polyamorous people don't get jealous easily.
I’ve heard that there are people out there who don’t get jealous, but I haven’t actually met any of them. I get very jealous very easily. But polyamory gives me an opportunity to talk about my feelings and to attempt to understand them better. When I talk to a partner about how I feel scared about losing them to someone else, it teaches me a lot about myself.
Ultimately, dealing with uncomfortable emotions rather than pushing them aside has helped me be a more empathetic and grateful person, and it has helped me rebuild my trust. There are good people out there who will tell you the truth and honor your feelings. Those are the people who are cut out for polyamory—not the ones who claim to never experience jealousy at all.
Interested in learning more about open relationships? Read up on how Bethany Meyers copes with jealousy in her relationship.
Sophie Lucido Johnson is a writer, illustrator, and comedian. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, the Guardian, VICE, McSweeney’s, Jezebel, mindbodygreen, and more. Her debut book, Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s), is now available wherever books are sold.