Polyamory Challenges Traditional Relationship Paradigms

And that’s one of the best things about it

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There are an awful lot of misconceptions about what polyamory is really about. Heck, I used to have a bunch of them myself before my husband James and I decided to open up our relationship about 7 years ago. While everyone should obviously undertake the relationships that work for them, there is a chance that if more people really understood this relationship style, at least some of them might find that it’s something that suits their needs.

The divorce rate has hovered around 50% for decades and the rate of infidelity for both men and women is somewhere between 20% and 50%, depending on who you ask. Clearly, monogamous marriage and dating as it’s often practiced aren’t meeting many people’s needs.

This doesn’t mean that most people would be happier going poly, but it does mean that most people could probably improve their relationship by taking a page out of that playbook.

Besides the common belief that polyamory is primarily about sex, and is an inability to commit, there are more than a few people, mostly men, who fear that polyamory is just a sanctioned way for women to cheat and gain control of the relationship. They don’t understand the ways that ethical non-monogamy, of which polyamory is just one flavor, could potentially enhance the relationship they’ve already got or at least teach them a thing or two about co-creating a real partnership in a monogamous pairing.

Monogamous marriage is about more than sex, although for most people, that is an important aspect of the relationship. Sexual boredom or incompatibility can cause serious issues in otherwise committed and happy relationships even if it doesn’t always end them. So, just as sex is important in monogamous marriage, it’s still not the only thing that keeps people together or interested in each other.

The same goes for polyamory, which refers to a type of ethical (open and honest) non-monogamy based around intimate connections with more than one person. Just like monogamy, this usually has sex as an important aspect, but not necessarily in all cases, and it’s not the only thing that matters. Companionship and love or some other sort of intimacy are also important factors, just as they are in monogamous relationships.

As for commitment, I’d posit that polyamory is actually the opposite of a fear of commitment and in fact is the ability to commit to more than one person at a time, on a variety of levels. Not every committed relationship has to look exactly the same and have all the same components in order to be a true commitment.

In many cases, each intimate relationship serves a slightly different function or has components that are individual to that relationship only. Most polyamorous people don’t live with more than one partner, and some don’t live with any of their partners. Plus, there are no inherent relationships rules for any of these intimate connections. They have to be crafted by the people who are involved with each other. This is a good thing, but it does take work.

Love is not a pie or a scarce commodity, and so giving love to one person does not diminish the ability to give love to someone else. We’ve artificially constructed it so that romantic love and exclusivity go hand in hand. And while that’s certainly OK to do if you so choose, it is a social construct. Most people love more than one parent, more than one child, and more than one friend and it probably never occurred to them that this would be difficult to do — because it isn’t really when you decouple from the possessiveness that often comes with exclusivity.

The men who fear polyamory because they think that it sets up a power imbalance between men and women aren’t being honest about what they are truly worried about.

Because polyamory actually can correct an imbalance that already exists. In the US more than 50% of people still view the man as the head of the household and women still overwhelmingly take their husband’s last name, which sets up a relationship hierarchy rather than a true partnership. Partners may well expect to essentially own each other and men, in particular, have a lot of cultural narratives about the guys who can’t control their woman.

Men who are unable to wrap their brains around a heterosexual relationship where both partners have agreed to openly and honestly engage in intimate relationships with other people are afraid that if they don’t win, they will lose. They believe they must either control their partner or she will not only cuckold him but leave him while she goes running all over town with men who have more to offer.

In reality, poly men and women have a pretty equal chance of finding other partners because the women want to be with guys who are a part of the same relationship paradigm. Poly women want to date poly men because they have the same general expectations and ethos. These men are less likely to be jealous and controlling, and more likely to treat the women in their lives as true partners. Results may vary depending on the humans involved, but if you are looking at the relationship style itself, polyamorous people want to be with others who are like them, which means both women and men have access to other partners.

Polyamory encourages people to communicate at a high level, to be vulnerable with your partner(s) about not only your wants and needs but what you fear. It encourages people to not just rely on an external relationship structure, but instead to co-create one with the people with whom you are involved. This requires a high level of engagement with your partner(s) and an extraordinary level of ongoing communication. This is the primary way to have a lot to offer — by continually doing this work on yourself and your relationship(s).

Polyamory doesn’t lead to just a few guys with harems of women. It doesn’t lead to a lot of lonely men sitting home crying in their beer while their mates take advantage of them and run around town with other men. It doesn’t lead to a lot of indiscriminate sex with people you don’t really care about all that much, and it’s certainly not related to a lack of commitment.

Even those who want to stay in monogamous pairings could learn a lot about actively co-creating a relationship the way that poly people do. This takes place through ongoing open and transparent communication about what you want for both yourself and for the relationship. It means being vulnerable but also growing closer and more deeply in love due to that level of open engagement. It means being responsible for your own emotions and not expecting your partner to manage them for you.

Polyamory is only as good as the people who engage in it, and it’s not something that appeals to everyone. Still, it is a viable relationship paradigm that has a lot to offer, particularly when you look past the misconceptions about it and engage with the real thing.

© Copyright Elle Beau 2021
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.

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Elle Beau ❇︎

Elle Beau ❇︎

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau