The bigger picture of polyamory

I have been polyamorous for most of my adult life. It’s something I grew into gradually, through a lot of questioning and curiosity and discussion, and it’s something that feels like a significant part of me.

A friend asked me recently if polyamory is a personality trait for me, or if it’s something that’s a trait of the relationship, and could change from one relationship to another. It’s actually a question I’ve gotten often since splitting up from my primary partner a year ago.

And while my answer has always stayed the same — that for me, it’s very much a personality trait — I’ve realized recently that this answer doesn’t really paint the whole picture. It’s true that polyamory is something I feel strongly about, to my core, but it’s actually a small part of a much larger life philosophy which has slowly been showing itself to me in recent years.

I love exploring the way friendships develop. When I meet someone new, I never quite know what form that friendship will take — in the beginning, the possibilities are limitless, and that’s simultaneously an exhilarating and remarkably comforting feeling. I love watching the shape of the friendship evolve and change and discover itself.

The great majority of the time, the friendship settles into a comfortable platonic companionship. We get along well, we laugh together, we care for each other, we form happy memories. We are friends.

Sometimes, there are other layers to it. Sometimes it settles into a space that doesn’t quite have a good name. I have friends whom I cuddle quietly with. Friends whose hand I like holding. Friends whom I hold in my arms when they are sad, and whose forehead I kiss to comfort them. It is still a friendship, but if I were in a monogamous relationship with someone, this type of friendship would begin to blur the lines of what’s okay and isn’t okay.

And sometimes a platonic friendship can be short, but still feel incredibly meaningful and intimate. I was recently at an event where I met a man whose side I could hardly leave all evening, because our conversation was so fascinating. We talked about his travels and his life experiences, about my work and my thoughts, about happiness, about human connections, about acceptance and self-reflection. I had not met him before, and possibly won’t again, but we shared a beautiful evening of conversation. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t physical. It was just authentic, and beautiful for being so.

Authenticity in life is one of the most important things to me. I want to relate to people in natural, genuine ways. I want to form friendships which feel comfortable for everyone involved. I have found that when I remove expectations for what a friendship should and shouldn’t be, it slowly begins to take its natural form, and becomes something even more beautiful.

Sometimes, the form that it takes edges into the romantic. When this happens, it comes with its own joys, its own experiences, and its own difficulties. Navigating romance outside of the norm of a common constructed social narrative is tricky at best, and forces a lot of self-exploration and communication. It requires time and emotional energy. The times in my life when I have been able to provide these things and focus on multiple romantic relationships have been some of the happiest and most rewarding in my life. But truthfully, it’s rare to have the time and energy for it.

It’s not that I’m poly because I want to be in multiple relationships. It’s just that, as I go through my life and discover the friendships and connections that naturally arise, there just isn’t a place for monogamy to comfortably fit into. It’s like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit.

And I don’t mean to suggest, at all, that you can’t form beautiful and authentic friendships and relationships while monogamous. I have nothing against monogamy at all. It just doesn’t fit for me. There isn’t a natural place for it within the way I conduct my life.

The funny thing is that I don’t actually date very much. In my 7+ years of being polyamorous, I have been with fewer people than many of my monogamous friends. I have some poly friends who go on dates all the time, and they love it. I’m not really that type of person either.

I just want my friendships to blossom and grow and settle into their own natural level. When that level involves romance or physicality, we begin to call it polyamory — but it’s not really about that, and I suppose it never was.

I carry this label of “polyamorous” as a badge, as something integral to who I am as a person — and it is, in the sense that it is inextricable from me. But the focus is all wrong. It’s not about romance. It’s not about physicality. It’s not, in the end, about polyamory at all. It’s about human connection in whatever shape it may take.

I am polyamorous to my core. I don’t expect that I will ever feel differently. But to focus on the polyamory aspect of it is to actually miss the bigger picture. And somehow in all these years, in all my explanations, I think I have been missing the bigger picture.

I am hopeful that this post is the start of understanding it.