Polyamory from an “Outsider’s” Perspective

My second year at Western Washington University was a truly enlightening year for me. It was the year I discovered kink was more than dungeon porn; it was the year I was single and doing the whole college experimentation thing; it was the year I met my first Trans person; and it was the year I lived with someone who identified as polyamorous. My eyes were opened far wider than they had been when I came to the realization that I was bi in my hokey little hometown.

Polyamory was by far the newest concept for me as an adult. I mean, I didn’t judge this roommate on what he did in his relationships — that was his business. But for a while I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How can two adults be in a working committed relationship with each other, as well as the X amount of people they are also seeing? I could barely keep one relationship afloat at the time, let alone multiple. So I got really curious about the nuts and bolts of it; how exactly this newly-found-to-me relationship configuration can work in a real world setting. I literally could not wrap my head around it.

But I learned. I decided to research the phenomena my roommate swore was a type of subculture (which I found it is, there are many long-term working relationships that I have found in my research, showing that polyamory is a thing and it can work.) I decided that if I wanted to keep this really cool person in my life as a friend, I had to get to some sort of level ground of understanding.

For those of you having no idea what polyamory even means, let alone what it is, let me give you a handy little definition I pulled from an informative polyamory website:

polyamory, n.

poly • am • ory

The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

I know that for those who have never heard of this concept before, it’s easy to hold some misconceptions about what polyamory exactly is. Here are some myths many non-poly people, including myself, may have had at some point while initially learning about the lifestyle choice. (Disclaimer: I am not a member of a polyamorous relationship, and am by no means an authority on the subject. Nothing here is a direct quote from anyone, but is mostly pulled from my conceptions backed up by research.)

  1. ‘Mormon polygamy’ and polyamory is the same thing. This is not necessarily fact. The main difference here being that ‘Mormon polygamy’ is strictly regulated where the man is the only one able to marry or have relationships with multiple women. In polyamory, both parties are able to have multiple partners if they so choose. (Side-note: Polygamy is not condoned by the LDS Church.)
  2. Open relationships are synonymous with polyamory. It is true that open relationships are on the polyamorous spectrum, but the basic definition of polyamory as far as I can tell is more along the lines of a committed number of people, each having one or more other partners, and all involved being not only on the same page, but happy for each other to be involved in a number of relationships on varying levels.
  3. Polyamorous couples do not experience jealousy. This is completely false. Human beings experience jealousy, regardless of their choice in relationship status. However, most successful and happy polyamorous relationships are quite adept at communication, often eliminating the instinct for jealousy, because they trust their partners fully and know how to tell their partners exactly what they need.
  4. Polyamory is one big orgy. Another falsehood. Some polyamorous couples do not want to know anything about their primary partner’s other lovers, let alone have an orgy with them. Other couples won’t allow their partners to see anyone else unless they've talked about it and agreed on the person or other rules to go by. It all depends on what makes them most comfortable while catering to their needs as well as the needs of their various partners.
  5. It is impossible to cheat in a poly relationship. Another false conclusion. many poly relationships have rules or guidelines to follow when choosing other partners. Sometimes it’s as simple as “don’t ask, don’t tell”, other times it’s “never without my permission”. And yet other relationships have only simple guidelines, asking for a partner to just let them know, or talk it out before doing anything. It can be a myriad of setups to make each person more comfortable, and overall happy.

So why am I telling you all of this? Why do I feel the need to research and share my findings on a somewhat obscure relationship choice, with my somewhat meager reader-base, on a website I had never heard of before September, 2014? Well, I’m sharing all of this because I would hate for you to have a friend, child, or loved one tell you that they are poly and expect you to meet their multiple significant others, and for there not to be any accessible resources to give you the basics of what poly even is. I’d hate to have a world full of uninformed people making snap decisions about lifestyles and life choices they know nothing about. I want people to be educated, and therefore a little more understanding about things they may not know about. I want my hypothetical readers, I want you, to maybe be a little more open minded about a subject that initially sounds like an excuse to cheat.