What does it mean to be polyamorous?

This is part two of a series about my general thoughts on the non-monogamy. Read part one, “What does it actually mean to be non-monogamous?”

polyamoryI want to talk about polyamory in three ways. What it means to identify as poly, my personal ethics regarding polyamory, and personal moments that I’ve had as a result.

Identifying as Poly 

I’ve gone back and forth with whether I consider myself polyamorous. It’s done now. I think I’m poly for life. But when David and I first started exploring being open, I found that maintaining multiple romantic relationships took away from my alone time, my ability to be there for my platonic friends, my hobbies, and my ability to volunteer and give back to the community. Poly people joke (or are serious) about it feeling like a part-time job!

Sometimes maintaining multiple relationships felt selfish, or simply draining. At times, after a bad breakup, I retreated from anything that seemed to require commitment. I’d take a break from dating; I’d sleep with friends I didn’t have romantic feelings for.

When non-monogamous people shy away from identifying as poly, it often boils down to not wanting certain forms of commitment they identify with the label. In a Facebook conversation, one of my partners who does not identify as polyamorous explained, “The thought of two family gatherings to go to. Two schedules to balance. My lover saying, “I’m your girlfriend” doesn’t add to my security. Safety is an illusion anyway. Poly people cheat. They lie. They break agreements. It just feels like more agreements to deal with.”

But when he tells me he’s not going anywhere and that he loves me, I believe him. For him, not identifying as poly means being true to himself and to the people in his life rather than giving in to some societal expectation of relationships.

On the other hand, people who identify as polyamorous often do so because they WANT commitment. Being poly is a way of claiming a desire for multiple stable relationships. Sure, poly people swing or have fuck buddies or one night stands. But they also identify some need in themselves for things that last and mature.

I felt comfortable with the label once I revamped what it meant for me to be romantically committed to someone else. I no longer committed to dates every week with anyone. And I realized expectations of time, energy, and commitment are simply matters of compatibility.

When I moved to Chicago, I continued multiple relationships long distance. I found out just how powerfully meaningful things can be with those I only see every six to eight weeks! Meaningful relationships are adaptable.

Personal Poly Ethics

For me, identifying as polyamorous has become an ethical decision. Though I’m not saying that people like my partner who choose not to identify as such are any less ethical.

When I spoke about Christian sexual ethics for CatalystCon, I used some ideas I found in Margaret Farley’s book Just Love. For instance:

  • treating people as ends and not as means by “respecting their capacities and needs for relationship.”
  • “If our concerns are for the wholeness of the human person—for a way of living that is conducive to the integration of all of life’s important aspects, and for the fulfillment of sexual desire in the highest form of friendship . . . the norm must be a committed love.”

I strive to have relationships that meet these ethical standards. Identifying as polyamorous, the roots of which mean multiple loves, is a commitment to being loving. And this love can take many forms.

For example, I can be committed to someone I might see once a year. There’s a few people in my life I consider occasional lovers. When we’re in the same city, we spend time together. And I’ve felt tenderness from these individuals that feeds my soul. It’s like love sustenance. I think part of why it feeds me is because it’s unexpected. They’re people out of the ordinary flow of my life, so I don’t take them for granted! I need these unexpected reminders that I’m worthy of love and affection.

I am committed to caring about my occasional lovers to the best of my ability, which doesn’t mean that the relationship needs to be more than it is. When we are near each other, I am committed to getting to know them: what they desire and how I can best serve them. When we are far away, and they need a friend, I will do my best to make time for them. I hope to add something loving to their lives over the coming years. This sounds so much like simple friendship that I believe the only difference in being poly is that I choose to love and serve multiple people in a romantic or sexual way as well as through other means of friendship.

My ethics concerning polyamory extend to how my personal relationships impact society. Since this is way bigger than one post, I’d like to direct you to this amazing Black Girl Dangerous article, 9 Strategies for Non-Oppressive Polyamory. I have thoughts on this for another post.

In general, I strive to treat everyone with whom I am involved with equal respect and autonomy. I keep in mind that dating isn’t radical, but what we can create together can be. I feed and am fed by individuals who want to create a better society, and in doing so, the impact of our relationships extend beyond the two of us.

Poly Moments

I talk so much abstractly about relationships, I want to show examples of my polyamory lived out. What’s hard, and what’s beautiful? When I think about moments that exemplify polyamory, these come to mind:

  • Sitting at Theo and Isha’s kitchen table, a married couple I’ve dated for a long time, and feeling so at home with the two of them.
  • When my bank account has been negative for over a week, I cry to J who makes me feel heard, and then I complain to D who tells me to suck it up and not let this define me. My vulnerability with multiple people has different results; they offer different kinds of love and support.
  • After a certain break up, I have the opportunity to participate in an orgy with my ex and his new girlfriend. There’s healing in being a part of their continued lives together. Creating such an intimate memory cements our future together, even as their relationship develops without me.
  • I later attempt to stay with the two of them, and hear them having sex in their bedroom. It is devastating to hear what feels the sound of being replaced. I learn the limits of what I’m comfortable with, but we all continue to be friends.
  • I attempt to date a wonderful man who has recently opened up his relationship. His partner has found a lover, and he puts up a profile on OKCupid. After a couple of dates, he calls to let me know his partner is having more issues with being open than they expected, so they are closing the relationship. He’s extremely apologetic. I don’t feel led on, but I’m more hesitant to date people who are new to being open.
  • I go to play parties with friends I am not involved with. I see them experience pleasure. I see them vulnerable. I see their orgasm faces, and they see mine. I feel so blessed that we can experience this kind of intimacy. This could happen if we were all monogamous, but being non-monogamous has opened doors for all of us that has led us here together.

These are moments in my polyamorous life.

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3 thoughts on “What does it mean to be polyamorous?

  1. While i respect how you identify, we must reflect on the fact that your current experiences are those of a “single person”. i, too, identify as poly. My Sir and i have been together for over 9 years. We are in a permanent committed poly relationship. He is married. She and i are considered sisters to one another. We, too, shall have a commitment ceremony in 2018. Poly means a lot of things to a lot of people. To us, to be poly isn’t just part of who we are, it’s a part of our life. Between my sister and i we have 4 children and one on the way. To be poly isn’t just part of who you are, it’s how you live. You see we don’t have fuck buddies. We are in a committed relationship with each other. When you are poly, there is responsibility behind it. When we add a new person to the relationship, we all have a say. We are a family that wants permanence in our relationships. Enjoy your youth and your relationships. When you settle down your views of the poly life might change. But then when you identify as poly, there is such a broad definition (as in everyone as their own definition). Good luck!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I believe the heart of polyamory is being able to love each other in a way that feels authentic and honest to each relationship, and it sounds like you’ve found the way that feels authentic to you.

      I wanted to clarify one thing: I learned to identify as polyamorous when I was living with my ex. The foundation of me exploring polyamory was within that relationship. Yes my CURRENT experiences are of a “single” person (it’s so odd to say single when I have people who love and support me and are committed to me, but it still feels true), but much of my life as a poly person has been with David.

      At thirty-five, I’m enjoying a NEW youth. 🙂

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      1. With poly, it means something different to each person. For us we don’t engage in relationships that aren’t meant to be brought into the family. For us it’s not an open relationship, but a relationship that is honest to us

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