What is polyamory?

Polyamory means being in multiple relationships at once, to the full knowledge of each partner. A polyamorous person could be described as someone in love with more than one person simultaneously, and who feels capable of maintaining and growing multiple relationships at the same time. It’s sometimes conflated as being an excuse for cheating, but there’s a key distinction: The latter involves entering into another relationship without one’s partner knowing or consenting.

How do people define themselves as “polyamorous”?

1. They struggle with commitment
Many people who subscribe to polyamory say they feel “trapped” by monogamy, like they’re being robbed of their chances to explore a variety of relationship dynamics. This can lead to them resenting their partners—and cheating.

2. They love more than one person at the same time

People who describe themselves as polyamorous believe it’s possible to truly love more than one person at once. They don’t feel a polyamorous relationship means each of their partners necessarily has to receive “less love” than if they were monogamous, or that polyamory diminishes the sanctity of each relationship.

This is why polyamory is distinguishable from purely physical non-monogamy, whereby people seek multiple partners only for sexual variety. Polyamory is about more than sex (in fact most proponents say it’s not about sex): It’s grounded in the belief that some people can develop emotional intimacy with multiple partners at once.

People who subscribe to polyamory also tend to believe that any one person simply can’t fulfill all their needs. It’s not just about being attracted to or even in love with multiple people—it’s more fundamentally about the fact they see their emotional (and sometimes physical) needs as being too expansive or diverse to be met by just one individual, no matter how amazing they are.

3. They’re open to the idea of their partner seeing other people
It’s one thing saying you’re open to dating other people—but quite another to realize that works both ways. People who say they’re interested in polyamory must accept that the person they’re in a relationship with may also start seeing other people. That might feel like a betrayal, even if it isn’t according to the terms you yourself would like to live the relationship by.

Jealousy naturally arises in polyamorous relationships, like it can in any other, so communication is key. Through effective communication, jealousy can be broken down specifically into what the person’s actual worries are. Often it transpires that jealousy stems from our own insecurities rather than our partner’s real or supposed indiscretions—although of course sometimes those do actually turn out to be concrete causes for concern.

Should I try polyamory?

A healthy and successful polyamorous relationship depends on emotional availability, clear boundaries, and clear and honest communication. But given the fact it will almost certainly push your buttons the first time you try it, it’s definitely worth first working on your own personal issues before committing to a polyamorous relationship.

Whatever your background or relationship history, polyamory isn’t easy, and it can be emotionally taxing fielding questions from people who don’t understand your setup. But if it makes you and your partners happy and everyone consents and feels like their feelings are genuinely heard and heeded, there’s no reason you shouldn’t endeavor to follow a lifestyle that feels true to you!

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