Polyamory

I’ve blogged before about polyamory. It’s something that a lot of people don’t understand, so for the Ultimate Blog Challenge I thought it was worth bringing up again.

Polyamory, at the most basic, means having the capacity for more than one romantic relationship at a time. Someone who’s polyamorous is able to love more than one person. That’s essentially it.

It gets more complicated than that, of course. People don’t necessarily understand the difference between polyamory and cheating. The biggest difference is that in polyamory, everyone who’s involved knows about and has given their agreement to what’s going on. No one’s doing anything behind anyone’s back, unless that’s part of the agreement. (Some people who are polyamorous go by the idea of “don’t ask don’t tell,” where it’s mutually understood that they’re seeing other people but they don’t talk about it or share any information about their other partners.)

In polyamory, each relationship is its own separate entity, but the relationships can affect and impact each other. Some people practice what’s often called “kitchen table poly,” where everyone involved is friends with each other, even if they aren’t romantically involved with each other. The idea is that everyone involved would be comfortable sitting around the kitchen table for a meal together.

Polyamory takes a huge amount of communication to make sure everyone’s on the same page about agreements, schedules, and so on. Although a common misconception is that people who are polyamorous just don’t want to commit to anyone, the truth is that polyamory in some ways takes more commitment than monogamy. You aren’t choosing not to commit to anyone; you’re committing to multiple people.

There are pluses and minuses to polyamory, and this blog post isn’t going to be long enough to explore all of them. But there are a lot of books and other resources available if you’re interested in finding out more.

Impact

NOTE: I have previously posted this on this blog.

In my previous life chapter, prior to moving to Massachusetts, I worked in special education. Teaching (including substituting and working as a teacher’s aide) was my career for the better part of sixteen years, with a year or so detour as I tried to find my footing.

Many of us have a teacher who stands out in our memories as someone who had a profound impact on us. I have more than one: my kindergarten teacher, who realized I loved writing stories and allowed me to do so as part of my reading instruction; the tenth grade English teacher who further encouraged my writing; my college advisor, who recognized my awkwardness with others and tried to help me correct it.

I never thought I was one of those impactful teachers, though. I just did my job, enjoyed my students, and did the best I could to help them get where they needed to go.

One of the memories that stands out most strongly for me was when I left my longest-term position, as special education teacher at a very small rural school in Maine. Some of my students made great gains while I worked with them, and I celebrated those while never really giving myself credit. As far as I was concerned, the kids were the ones who got there. I just helped a little.

(Sometimes we minimize ourselves far too much. It’s definitely one of my flaws…)

Because the school was so small, I was the only special education teacher there, and I had the same students throughout, with some changes as some went on to high school and others entered kindergarten or moved into the district. I became close to some of the students and their families, though “close” is a relative term because professionalism.

But on my last day there, the mother of one boy with whom I’d worked from my first day came to me in tears, put her arms around me, and said, “You have made a difference.”

Those are words we all should remember, whenever we look back at the people we’ve encountered in our lives. No matter what our role was with each other, no matter how much time has passed, we all make a difference in the lives of those with whom we become involved. And we all need to recognize how powerful that difference can be.

Family Conflict

I feel very sad when I see people who are living happy lives and in happy relationships encounter opposition and even hatred from their family. Unfortunately, it seems to happen a lot.

Obviously different people have different beliefs. They’ve been brought up in certain religions and/or cultures that have strong, ingrained outlooks on things like marriage, same-sex relationships, sexual orientations, genders, and so on. For some people, overcoming those beliefs is difficult. This might be because they don’t understand other points of view. It might also be because they just plain don’t want to overcome those beliefs.

When beliefs interfere with family, though, something is wrong. And it probably isn’t the person who’s happy in a same-sex relationship, or a polyamorous one. It probably isn’t the person who’s just come out as transgender. The “something wrong” is that rigid beliefs are causing family members to turn against one of their own.

I’ve always taught my kids that the one thing I want for them more than anything else is that they be happy and safe. If that means they’re gay, or trans, or polyamorous, or whatever, that’s fine with me. Even if I don’t understand how they’re identifying themselves, I can see whether they’re happy and confident, and that’s what matters most to me. I don’t have to understand. I can just love and trust them, and let them be happy.

I know too many people whose families don’t think that way, and sometimes I just want to gather them all up and tell them I’ll be their family. It’s okay to believe what you believe. It’s okay to believe what you’ve been taught. But I can’t see how it could ever be okay to completely turn against your child, or parent, or sibling, or whoever, because their happiness means they aren’t living by your beliefs.

Polyamory

I know a number of people who are polyamorous, and who have encountered varying degrees of understanding and acceptance. Polyamory and other alternative relationship styles are more common than people realize.

Some people confuse polyamory with the polygamy they’ve heard about in the news. While polygamy can be a form of polyamory, it isn’t the only one—and cults that enforce polygamy have little to nothing to do with polyamory.

Polyamory, put most simply, is having, or having the capacity for, more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship. In general, people include romantic love as a requirement, since the “amory” part of polyamory means love. But as a broader term, polya, as some people call it, can also include sexual relationships that don’t involve romantic love.

There are many different forms of polyamory, and trying to explain them all would take a month or more worth of blog posts. Even then, I would probably miss something. Looking online, you can find a number of resources about polyamory if you’re curious.

There is no “one right way” to do polyamory. Relationship configurations and agreements differ from one person or grouping to another, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Jealousy is a thing for some polyamorous people, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that either, as long as the jealous person owns their emotions and controls their own actions and responses instead of trying to control their partner(s).

I’ve seen debate about whether polyamory is an orientation or a lifestyle choice. Personally I would say it’s both or either. Feeling as if you’re “hard-wired” for polyamory still requires a choice about whether to have polyamorous relationships. For people who consider polya their romantic orientation, *being* polya isn’t a choice, but *doing* polya is.

For other people, it’s entirely a choice. It sounds like the way they would like to conduct their romantic life, so they do it. They don’t necessarily feel like they’re wired that way, they simply like the idea.

That said, polyamory definitely isn’t for everyone. But it is a valid way to live and love.