My thoughts on polyamory and open relationships
You may be familiar with the term polygamy, which refers to a married man or woman having more than one spouse at a time: a practice that is illegal in many cultures and frowned upon in most others. Polyamory is a modern adaptation of this, which simply refers to someone having more than one loving or sexual relationship at a time.
Modern-day polyamorous relationships, or “open relationships”, have a somewhat negative reputation in modern society and I think this is largely because they are misunderstood.
I thought I would share some of my own insights into polyamorous relationships and explain how, whether you approve of the underlying principles or not, they can help enrich how you approach your own relationships and the attitudes and mindsets surrounding them…
True monogamy doesn’t exist anymore:
Obviously you will find examples of people who stay with their childhood sweetheart or their first romantic partner for life, but this is a rare occurrence in this day and age. Most people who claim to be monogamists are actually what we call “serial monogamists”.
A serial monogamist will have many romantic partners or lovers throughout their lifetime but they will always be asynchronous, as in they will wait for one relationship to end before moving on to the next one.
This is the most common way to approach relationships and the way modern society teaches us to behave towards them. It can be argued that marriage was originally created to artificially impose this standard. Unfortunately, human behaviour doesn’t always mirror the mass ideal, which is why infidelity and divorce still occurs so frequently.
You don’t have to be either a polyamorist or a monogamist:
Relationships are dynamic and our desires and attraction are extremely changeable as we develop throughout our lives. It is for this reason that polyamory and monogamy can be used in conjunction with each other, depending on what our relationship desires are at the time. It can be argued that everyone possesses an inherent agreement for both mindsets; we just tend to force one way of living due to learnt behaviour and cultural standards.
Assuming you do ultimately want to be in a happy and fulfilling relationship with one special person who surpasses everything you are looking for in a relationship, how do you think the best way to find that person is?
You could stumble from relationship to relationship hoping that eventually you happen upon someone who meets at least some of your standards, or you can skew the odds in your favour of finding that special person by not restricting yourself to a specific method of dating.
Polyamory and exclusivity:
In my experience, polyamory works best when it is viewed as a means to an end. Polyamory is a difficult setup and mindset to sustain in the long run – and this has been proven to me by every so-called polyamorist I have ever met or analysed – but it is actually a great way to shortcut the process of finding that special person.
Every successful monogamous relationship I have been in has come about because that person has actively made me stop WANTING to be with anyone else, not because the relationship is convenient or there was a lack of abundance in my dating life at the time.
Similarly, all my previous relationships ended because we were starting to lose that desire for exclusivity. Although there are many reasons for a relationship’s demise, every single one can be linked to this theory: the desire for someone else is due to one’s emotional or physical needs and desires not being completely fulfilled!
There is no reason to lead someone to believe they are exclusive if they are not, or if they are not yet. This means that when you are in an exclusive relationship with someone, it is far more sincere.
Is polyamory cheating?
People often think that polyamory and indeed open relationships are like cheating on your partner because of their unconventional setup. It is actually the complete opposite of cheating! Polyamory is about being completely honest and respectful about your intentions and desires as soon as they emerge. The alternative is to either suppress any other desires you may have, or worse, act on them secretly and cheat on your partner. Which do you think is better?
As I wrote about in the article Cheating on a partner does not matter, cheating in a relationship is only an issue because it goes against the assumed values of the relationship. If everyone is at least open to the idea of polyamory as a principle, whether currently in an exclusive relationship or not, no one will ever feel the need to cheat. Feelings and desires for other people can be acknowledged and discussed long before anything actually happens as a consequence.
Being open-minded towards polyamory:
I am personally in a monogamous relationship at the moment, but that is certainly not out of principle or obligation and wholly because it is what Heidi and I both want at this moment in time. We both love each other and work on making the relationship fulfilling as well as being void of any insecurities or negativity. I can only speak for myself but due to that, I haven’t even had an inkling of desire for anyone else over the past few years.
It is however fathomable that at some point in the future as we change and develop, these desires may change for one or both of us, at which point because we are both aware of the anatomy of both polyamorous and monogamous relationships, we will be able to discuss and adapt as soon as anything arises.
Learning to make relationships lasting and continually happy and fulfilling will in theory nullify the need for this mindset, but it is still useful to understand so as to avoid the typical way that a relationship ends: shrouded in negativity and contempt! 🙂
This is a great post, I stumbled across your story while looking for some random stuff. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be sure to come back.
Thanks a lot! 🙂
I like your thinking and you’re right that most people are set in their ways. Have you met anyone who is exclusively polymorous? I have a feeling they’d be pretty weird or troubled people?
My firsthand experience with genuine polyamorists is fairly limited but from what I have analysed from the polyamorists I have spoken to is that they usually fall into three categories:
• Those that are not completely fulfilled (be it emotionally or physically) in their current relationship.
• Those that are enjoying experiencing and learning from different relationships until they find the one person they want to settle down with.
• Those that are in conflict between society’s views of monogamy and internal desires to have several romantic or sexual partners.
Depending on which category the polyamorist falls under will determine both how consciously aware they are as people and how affected they are by their relationship choices. Both “weird” and “troubled” are subjective observations but due to the unconventional nature of what polyamorists believe regarding relationships, they might come across that way to the general public.
Thanks for commenting, 🙂
Good, interesting post, but I’d be interested to know your reasoning for stating that “polyamory is not a sustainable setup or mindset in the long run”.
That particular hypothesis is largely based on my own observations of how humans naturally develop and evolve in romantic relationships through a variety of different setups and philosophies.
Due to the dynamic nature of polyamory and how ‘state based’ human emotions are, there invariably comes a point where one person in the relationship wants more or less than what they are currently getting with regards to exclusivity and intimacy.
I wrote about how this imbalance manifests in the article ‘Managing the most powerful emotion in the world – The love equilibrium’. Basically, the more people involved in a relationship and as time progresses, the harder it is to balance everyone’s feelings and commitment.
This mirrors my own past experiences with polyamorous-style relationships. As I mentioned in the above article, if one person completely fulfils all emotional and physical needs and desires then by definition a polyamorous relationship is abstract.
Being able to accurately, consistently and mutually measure those levels of desire is actually a tricky thing to do, so in theory it is possible that multiple partners would be able to maintain a similar rate of personal growth, or at least give the illusion that they are… I’ve never seen this happen successfully for an indefinite period of time though!
Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to checking out your website later. 🙂
On the flipside, perhaps as time progresses, some people get better at balancing feelings and commitment. Surely it depends on the individual people involved?
It also depends on whether or not one person does completely fulfil all your needs and desires; I find it hard to believe that that could ever be the case – that is one of the reasons I have chosen polyamorous relationships in the past*, in fact.
People don’t make sweeping statements that “monogamy can’t last forever”, so why do they do it about polyamory? Given the right people and the right conditions, it is possible.
* not that I wouldn’t go back to polyamory, but that I’ve experienced both (serial) monogamy and polyamory and found that I can do both with ease, though again, it would depend on the persons involved and their personalities, wants, needs, etc.
Whilst I agree that all this depends on the individual people involved, most people aren’t in control of how much they love someone. Love (and I use the term only to distinguish between casual and serious relationships) along with attraction, either asymptotes towards complete fulfilment or it fluctuates as the relationship progresses. That is why it is far harder (although not impossible) to maintain a balance with more variables.
As I stated in the article, polyamorous relationships are actually a result of someone who has high standards when it comes to relationships yet who is still proactive in their approach towards them.
It definitely is possible to have one person to fulfil all your relationship needs and desires but once again, the critical point is maintaining that as both people grow and develop. That growth period (which is unavoidable) is what is important here. Most modern monogamous relationships are not a good representation of this (hence why divorce rates are so high) but that is only because most people don’t actually impose those high standards on themselves.
People generally don’t make negative assumptions about monogamy because people like to believe in the fairytale romance and the social status that comes with it.
At the end of the day, people will continue to be in relationships that are beneficial to them at any given moment and that hopefully enrich their lives (relationships are no longer simply about replicating) and this can be monogamous, polyamorous or any other lifestyle choice.
Perhaps it was imprudent to imply that polyamorous relationships cannot last forever… What I really meant was that polyamorous relationships are normally a path rather than a goal, and they take a trying amount of management, commitment and awareness to make them last… but then so do traditional relationships! 🙂
Thanks for the interesting discussion Katie, 🙂
When I first heard about polyamorous relationships, I was horrified at the thought of being in a relationship with more than one person. But from reading your article and doing some of my own research, I believe it could work in some cases. I don’t think I would be happy being in that kind of relationship myself, but I can see how it would appeal for some people. I do agree with you though, that I don’t think it could work in the long term.
A very interesting read, thanks Sam,
Every lifestyle choice has a reason and those reasons are usually circumstantial rather than meticulously planned. It’s fair enough that you don’t see yourself fitting into that particular lifestyle choice but it’s great that you seem to understand and empathise with the people that do.
Thanks for reading and commenting, 🙂
You bring up some interesting points Sam. I think when you first date a person, and there is no pressure to commit, then it’s more reasonable to date others and be polyamory. The negative backlash of this is when the couple has been in a committed, monogamous relationship and one of the people want an open relationship. I think it’s a slap in the face to the person who was on the receiving end. Yes, that also plays into the Love Equilibrium post you had mentioned in your past post.
You are right about serial monogamy. In one of your earlier comments you said “most people aren’t in control of how much they love someone”. I think that true love exists when the love between two people is so powerful, it can’t be controlled. I think love is always changing but if it’s meant to last between serial monagamists, they’ll adjust to the changes. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
I agree with you that the early dating stages are the best time to remain open-minded, realistic and not suddenly dismiss all other dating contacts by rushing into a committed relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of this natural dating progression gets lost these days as people are in such a rush to secure their relationship status… and update it on Facebook! 🙂
As you mention, at the other end of the spectrum is deciding to become polyamorous once having been in a monogamous relationship for a while. I’ve heard people in this situation claim things such as, “I just have too much love to limit to one person” but this almost always turns out to be an internal excuse to water down a relationship that isn’t fulfilling enough!
As I mentioned in a previous comment, successful monogamous relationships are out there for everyone (and I’d hasten to say that this is the ultimate goal for most people) but it’s about being honest and rigorous with who you can actually have that successful relationship with.
Whilst the situation you mentioned does seem like a “slap in the face”, it is at least attempting to solve the issue that the relationship as it stands is not mutually fulfilling. Feedback is always important in relationships and people go about it in different ways, often by making intuitive decisions like the one above. As you say, that is what is called “adjusting to the changes”.
Thanks a lot for commenting, 🙂
It is better to acknowledge something that is practiced anyway!
I agree! Actively blanking out or ignoring something that we don’t necessarily agree with only restricts our acceptance of other people and limits personal growth.
Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!
Thumbs up, and keep it going!
Thanks Christian; I appreciate your comments and I’m glad you enjoy the website. 🙂
Sam, your points are excellent! Great post/article! I on the other-hand know that open/polyamorous lifestyles do indeed work for the long haul, and most certainly enrich your own wholeness as well as your partner’s. The trick is being with someone who compliments, encourages, articulates equally as well as you do about your emotional, physical & spiritual needs, AND FINALLY is patient and forgiving of our human imperfections. Tall order perhaps, but completely achievable by anyone who pursues wholeness diligently and challenges themselves to improve. Thanks again for your insightful points! Namaste. 🙂
Hi there; welcome to the website! 🙂
You’ve summed up perfectly the sort of attitude that is vital for a polyamorous or open relationship to flourish.
In actual fact, the article I posted last week about knowing if you are with the perfect partner echoes a lot of those sentiments. I agree that a healthy and fulfilling relationship should always be with someone who is open-minded and accepting of your desires and this is even more important in an atypical relationship setup such as polyamory.
Great comment; thanks a lot for posting. 🙂
I see you’ve not had some comments for a few months on this – but it certainly deserves a post.
I completely agree with the Prof on this; I’ve been with my partner for some 6 years. For the past 5 of those we have been 1 on 1. Last year this came up in coversation; we were in a stable and trusting enough place to let our thoughts and desires out into the open to see what the other thought. Surprisingly my partner felt the same as me and was comfortable with exploring the idea. We have strict guidelines, we know each others partners well. I have found myself happier then ever, more trusting, more open and far more honest then I ever thought I would be. My relationships have grown stronger, more balanced, bonded and above all – we are even more respectful of each other.
The only issue I have with this lifestyle is not being able to tell people. My other partner would love to show me off, but sadly cannot due to the fear of being judged. I only hope as time goes on, more and more will be accepting of polyamory.
Great article – will be reading more!
Thanks for sharing your story. I find it inspiring that after so long together you could mutually modify the relationship so seamlessly. It would be wonderful if more couples could be as open-minded and communicative as you guys are, rather than letting issues with their relationships build up and eventually cause real damage.
It sounds like a great setup you have and I agree that having somewhat strict guidelines and continued communication is imperative in making it all work. It is great to hear how it has positively affected your relationships with regards to respect, trust and honesty. I would be interested to know if you see this as a lasting setup, or if you are simply taking it as it comes?
Whilst it might be too much for some people to accept your lifestyle choice at first, perhaps there are ways in which you can plant the seeds and help them understand polyamory more accurately. I guess that would at least make a start in helping society become more accepting of it. 🙂
Thanks for commenting and reigniting the discussion,
Thanks for your very interesting article. It is inspiring to read something which does challenge the accepted norm -something which people try to fit in with on the whole – with varying success rates. I am currently in a relationship (only about six months old) and thinking back I know that I jumped from dating this guy into a relationship with him (once we had slept together) – mainly because I thought this was the only option and it is what has always happened in the past. I do feel that we don’t satisfy all of each other’s needs, although I definitely want to keep seeing him. I have been thinking recently about ending the relationship but this makes me feel quite sad. I feel that he too has doubts about our relationship and we are both trying hard to make things right. I am now musing on the idea of whether we could have a polyamorous relationship – it will take a lot of thought and sensitivity – because it could be seen as a “slap in the face” as Elena says. It is something that I will need to think about. I do feel that the best option would have been to continue dating other people at the start – and I am not sure that it is possible to turn the clocks back.
Thanks anyway Sam – and keep up the good work!
Although hindsight does provide useful lessons, it’s impossible to say if your relationship would have taken a different path had it not started so routinely. The important thing is how you feel now and what you decide to do as a result.
The most important thing if you decide to discuss these topics with your boyfriend is to make sure it is a balanced discussion with equal input from each of you. It helps to discover your partner’s true feelings and thoughts in matters like this just as much as it does to reveal your own.
You might even find that the mere act of discussing polyamory and other alternate solutions actually invigorates the relationship without any drastic measures. It can certainly help to really get to the root of which aspects of the relationship are great and which aspects are perhaps not as fulfilling as they could be.
It sounds like you’ve got a smart way of thinking about things. Although you may not be able to “turn the clock back” to before you developed deeper feelings for each other, with good communication and brutal honesty within yourself, it is definitely possible to amicably modify or adapt the relationship and still like or love each other just as deeply.
Thanks a lot for commenting; I appreciate your input. 🙂
You have very interesting opinions! I think it is wonderful to be able to honestly tell your desires in a relationship. When it comes to polyamory: what happens when only one of the 2 people in the relationship are open to this? The reason why people don’t like telling their partner about their sexual/emotional feelings towards other people is because it might end the relationship… especially if it becomes some kind of ultimatum. A situation like this can lead either way to one person being unhappy in the relationship. What would your advice be to a couple that is open and honest to each other and where one person wants polyamory whereas the other person wishes to stay monogamous?
I believe that people should be honest, although respectful of others, regarding their true desires; the most fulfilling relationships are between two people with a mutual understanding of each other’s desires. If one person wants a polyamorous relationship and the other person wants a monogamous relationship, the first question to ask is “why?” It is important that the topic can be rationally discussed without prejudgement so that each person fully understands the other person’s perspective.
There is likely to be unforeseen factors from both sides. For example, a desire for polyamory without prior experience can often be more about the fantasy than the actual reality of such relationships. It might also be about fulfilling desires that could actually be fulfilled within a monogamous relationship.
As the above article discusses, no one needs to be strictly categorised as following a certain type of relationship. Exploring different lifestyle choices, even hypothetically, helps you understand why someone would choose one different to your own.
The perfect relationship does exist, but most people restrict their pathway and have a resolute affinity to monogamy due to social conditioning. Polyamory is not about having a part of your relationship taken away; it is about sharing what you have with other people too. It does not necessarily mean your partner loves or desires you any less, which is something that I think a lot of people misunderstand.
The best relationships require standards, integrity, honesty and trust from everyone involved. All anyone can really do is offer their true self and either adapt or amicably leave if their partner does not want the same things. If two people have conflicting desires on a fundamental aspect of the relationship without compromise, such as commitment levels, then by definition they are not the perfect partners for each other.
Thanks for the interesting discussion,