it’s okay to Commit in polyamorous relationships

…it is, I swear.

Commitment is such a strange word. Some of us are terrified of it. Some of us believe others are scared of it, or at least tell ourselves that. I keep seeing this idea that people are attracted to polyamory because they are “scared of commitment,” and yet others that proudly wear that sentiment, “I will never marry again. I will never again have a most important person in my life.” Takes all sorts to make the polyamorous world go round, no? /s

Some of us, rightly, associate that (commitment) with the worst relationships in our lives and want to avoid repeating our mistakes. Some of us have made life commitments that went horribly awry and, in cases, nearly destroyed us. Moving away from commitment, and, instead, living in the moment, seems a perfect solution.

After all, isn’t that why you ran away screaming from, oh, say, your old mono marriage? To NOT have a One Most Important Person?

Maybe you remember what your previous relationships were like. Where your One True Love got to tell you how and when to love other people. Got to assert their dominance over your other relationships (whether these were “just” your friends or playmates, or whether they were other romantic partners).

It doesn’t really matter, of course. Whatever your reason was for abandoning (or rather attempting to abandon) hierarchy. Because that’s usually what it’s about. Folk that no longer want hierarchical rules or One Twue Love. Or don’t want to deal with the all too commonly associated headaches and drama.

Haven’t you heard this same, tired story from newly opened couples trying polyamory that remain the clearly stated Primary Couple?

A couple decides they are going to be “different” than their vanilla, mono couple friends (and they won’t say it, but their words sorta hint around that thinking). But, they aren’t -quite- ready to trust their partner, despite everything they say, and so they impose all these rules and restrictions on their new relationships.

Rules that makes -them- feel better, but that have zero consideration for the new person’s feelings. Because, well, why would they care about them? Why should anyone but the “real” couple be treated like they are significant? They aren’t The significant other, after all.

And someone does get hurt, badly, and the whole thing falls apart.

Usually they pretend they aren’t like other “unicorn hunters.” But they still treat the new partners as secondary and, worse, as lesser. At best, they acknowledge that they already have their primary partner and all others will come after (but they -told- you what to expect, so, really what else do you deserve?)

I’ve experienced the latter, as a matter of fact. I was clearly told I would always, always come after the primary relationship. Therefore, I was expecte to simply go along with it. No matter how bad I felt. Because, after all, I could always leave, right? But I didn’t want to leave. Part of me, fairly naturally, resented the unfair structure. But another part of me, well…let me explain, please.

The problem isn’t the system. It’s the people.

As it turned out, I didn’t mind being “second” so much as I minded being treated as garbage. And that isn’t the same thing as acknowledging hierarchy. Too often I see “hierarchy” used as an excuse to treat someone poorly. The spouse is the “important” one; while the girlfriend/boyfriend/play partner/etc is the “disposable” one.

Humans have had hierarchical relationships for years– only they referred to the secondary partners as “friends.” But just because you were someone’s “friend” and not “spouse,” did that mean they treated you like a piece of…dirt? (Ok, maybe in your case they did, but that doesn’t mean all people treat their friends poorly, does it?)

But, unlike Thanos, that isn’t inevitable, and sometimes you– and I– desire that Commitment.

My partner and his then primary partner were undeniably hierarchical. As in they capitalized on the existing hierarchiy in their relationship to keep me (and others) secondary. But while my meta took full advantage of this to make me feel lesser than her, my partner never did. He made me feel wonderful. Because he treated me like all the lesser entangled relationships in my life: as a beautiful human being whom he enjoyed as much as his life and mine allowed. As he did with all his friends.

I found a curious fact emerged, as time passed. As I built a relationship with my master, I found myself engaging in many of the same hierarchical…elements..in our relationship. But while he found it suffocating from her, when it came to me he felt reassured. As did I, though I’d shied away from it with previous partners. Because it wasn’t the “hierarchy” itself that caused the issues.

Please, if you have a minute, listen to me. This is important.

Hierarchy is a funny thing, but it isn’t evil. Monogamy isn’t evil. In fact, I’d argue healthy monogamy and healthy polyamory are virtually indistinguishable to the casual observer. Sure, both structures/concepts have their problems. Yes, these concepts are easily manipulated to abuse a partner (in various forms of both monogamy and polyamory). But that doesn’t mean that it’s the structure that’s the problem.

Hierarchy is simply a thing that happens. Think about it. You likely prioritize certain relationships over others, no? Your spouse or girlfriend over your friends? Your children over other folks’ kids? Your family over casual acquaintances? (Please understand I am using rather cliché examples and do not necessarily hold traditionally important relationships over others. Your ‘family,’ for example, may be the least important relationship in your life, especially if you define it to mean only blood related/marriage related family. )

And if you want commitment from someone? You will probably have existing hierarchy in the relationship. It’s almost impossible not to do so. You’ll want to spend more time with the person. And, well, that probably means spending, oh, holidays together. And, well, you only have so many vacation days, so you reserve them for that one person above other people– and, crap. Now you have hierarchy.

But maybe that isn’t so bad?

What if you acknowledged that you have a primary partner (or several), but you didn’t treat your newer partners like crap? What if you made someone very, very important to you, without that meaning your other, less involved relationships are completely unimportant? You could even have only one person you have intimate, sexual relations with...and not treat everyone else that doesn’t allow you to to sleep with them as human beings with needs and wants of their own.

I don’t think all of monogamy is wrong and evil, even though I don’t think the structure as a whole is healthy. But there are certainly parts of it worth saving. And the one thing I actually don’t mind from the traditional, monogamous structure?

Commitment.

Yeah, that scary, scary word. It can be abused, certainly. But not always. Again, as I mentioned, it’s actually quite difficult to commit to someone and not have it involve some degree of hierarchy. Commitment is not the end all and be all of relationships, despite common wisdom. But you can’t really have it and not involve hierarchy. Promised Christmas with your partner? Birthdays? Vacations? Being the person to go with them to doctors’ appointments? These are all things you simply can’t do for everyone. Which means prioritizing those things for some people over others.

Heck, you can’t even commit to yourself and your own needs without it! You are, if you choose, your first primary relationship. Now, you might choose to treat yourself the same as anyone else in your life– but I’ve met those people. None that I’ve met so far are happy people. Because they feel guilty giving themselves even the slightest bit more than anyone else they meet. Which means they pretty much never take care of themselves in any significant manner.

You can have that most important person(s) in your life. Whether it is yourself or another that you place at equal (or close to equal) importance to yourself. And have others that are not as high on the ladder. That you still value and treat well during the time you are with them (and while apart, too!).

Or maybe it’s not okay, but it’s okay. You know? Like any privilege, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It simply means you’ve got to deal with it, in order not to hurt or even abuse those around you. Intentionally, or otherwise.

Don’t find the word helpful? That’s fine, too.

Why not, instead of worrying about hierarchy, talk about “commitment heavy” and “commitment light”? Some relationships are heavily commited. Others, less so. That doesn’t make one relationship better than other, but rather understands that we all have different kinds of relationships in our life.

Do you want a lot of entanglement and involvment in a relationship? A family? Well, that means you’re inevitably gonna end up with someone who is more “primary” or “committed.” Like an independent life with others who come and go into your life as pleases both of you? Probably better off with commitment light relationships that don’t involve a family, finances, mutual assets, or anything else that means you can’t easily walk away.

What makes you happy in life? What do you want?

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why it’s okay for polyamory to -sometimes- be about sex

Not only sex. But involving sex.

“Polyamory isn’t about sex! It’s about love!” A common cry from the polyamorous communities. I completely understand where they are coming from, as well. People in poly relationships are sick of being told how their relationships are just about sex; that they can only have multiple sexual relationships; that only one can be a deep, emotional relationship.

There is, believe it or not, a difference between an open relationship and a polyamorous one; one allows for multiple sexual (physically intimate beyond hugging and platonic gestures) and one allows for multiple Relationships with all the trappings and expectations one might have in any typical monogamous romantic relationship (though any particular relationship may have any number of traits associated with mono relationships).

I’ve stopped saying that. I’m more likely to respond to the question, “Isn’t polyamory about sex?” with “Well, relationships are often about sex, if that’s what you mean. And generally, even in monogamy, one doesn’t establish rules and expectatations around non romantic relationships, i.e. friends and family, the same way one does around the Relationship we associate with sex, i.e. romantic relationships. So, yeah, polyamory is about the latter form of relationship.”

There are, after all, many loving relationships in any person’s life, polyamorous or not.

The many other forms of relationships still exist. So, if we’re saying that it’s all relationships, sexual or not, well, everyone is polyamorous. Everyone has multiple loving relationships, because we love our children, our family, our friends. But we don’t say everyone is polyamorous, because we’re not talking about those kinds of love. We’re talking about Romantic Love. And even if a particular Romantic relationship isn’t sexual, it’s still societally accepted to have sex with that person, without raising any eyebrows.

I don’t like when polyamory forgets the simple fact that multiple loves are not the exclusive domain of polyamory. Please stop saying that you are polyamorous because you “just have too much love in your heart.” You can have all that love and give it friends. You don’t have to give it to romantic partners. That is just a personal preference.

Just because you are monogamous does not mean you should not cultivate multiple relationships (just look at the many, many struggling stories of single mothers and fathers who lose their childrens’ other parent– and find themselves with no village at all to help them.) They may not be Romantic relationships, but they are still valid relationships.

Just because you “only” have friends beyond your “significant” other, does not mean you shouldn’t treat respect their time in the same way you would respect your husband’s. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, monogamous people also have multiple loves.

People in polyamorous relationships also, of course, have non sexual, non romantic relationships. But—

When it comes to talking about Polyamory, we’re often referring specifically to their multiple sexual, romantic relationships.

For purposes of discussing or understanding polyamory, we’re not talking about poly folk having friendships. Because, yes, they do, but so does everyone. So I will allow that polyamory is about commitment. Relationships. Love. But, also, gasp!, sex!

I don’t want to be afraid of the fact that sex is important to me in my life and in my romantic relationships, though not a requirement. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t important, as important as any other feeling I desire that makes up the emotion I call “love.” And I don’t want to pretend that this doesn’t hold true for many other polyamorous folk.

It is, of course, also possible to be non monogamous and monoAMOROUS. In other words, they could only have deep emotional attachment, commitment and love with one person…but also have multiple sexual relationships. But that just means that, in this case, polyamory IS literally just about sex. Which is also okay.

So I might leave off the judgmental attitude that polyamory isn’t just sex for another reason. Saying that polyamory is “more” than “just” sex, implies that if you are in a lot of sexual relationships without emotion that what you have is “less.” Let’s stop with that, no?

I think acknowledging that “Polyamory IS (often) About Sex” strengthens non sexual relationships.

I love that my friendships can be deeper than they’ve ever been before– because I’m not held back in developing close relationships with others, simply because I’m dating a person (or two…or three…)

But, now, even if I returned to monogamy, I would never return to monoamory. I couldn’t stop being loving with my friends. I couldn’t do the jealous, possesive kind of monogamy that I now find toxic. The idea that having close emotional connections to other people is threatening? Nope. Never doing that again. Don’t think anyone should, either.

Now, if I were to functionally be monogamous, i.e. in one romantic/sexual relationship, I wouldn’t do what I did before. I wouldn’t feel any differently. I’d practice monogamy the same as I did polyamory, but I simply wouldn’t be, ummm, I actually don’t know. I guess I’d only be physically intimate with one person. Maybe. Or maybe I’d only have one person that was at the “partner” level for me. I still would stay emotionally close to anyone I had been earlier.

Monogamy doesn’t have to be toxic. It can look and feel as healthy and open minded (or as unhealthy and close minded, as the case may be) as polyamory, only with a lesser number of partners. But even that I say with a bit of skepticism, since perhaps their “best friend” is just as supportive and close as any spouse or primary partner. So, really, no difference at all. Except for the sex (which if it did involve sex would at least make the person non monogamous, so I’ll make the assumption here that sex is not involved).

Polyamory is about love, but why shouldn’t any relationship style be all about love?

In my worldview, anyone can be about love. I do often refer to “just” my relationships that involve sexual intimacy when I refer to my partners and my polycule/polyship.

But love? Let’s make love something that we all make a habit of doing more? Loving our friends. Loving and understanding those with different views than ourselves (while also not compromising on our basic morals; this doesn’t mean we have to be gentle and accepting of abusers, racists, narcissists, etc.)

Love is good and I think the world would be better off if we had more of it.

And that’s my crazy opinion.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

what is poly?

Sometimes referred to as polyamory, sometimes as polyam (although, frankly, if you aren’t going to call it ‘poly,’ I say you might as well make the effort to say the whole word. It’s not that difficult.). Plus, “polyam” sounds like “poly ham” to me.

Polyamory is often translated as “multiple loves.”

It’s worth clarifying here that English is not as precise as Latin. Therefore polyamory refers to “multiple romantic loves.”

Otherwise, nearly everyone would be polyamorous. I mean, most of us have many loving relationships (or desire that). Instead, this term refers to a relationship style in which one is seeking/wanting/currently in multiple romantic relationships.

Polyamory means different things to different people.

Some use it interchangeably with open relationships, non monogamy, and other terms related to non monogamous relationships.

Some people use it to only refer to committed, romantic relationships.

I think it’s safe to say that the relationship structure is a very different choice than a monogamous relationship structure. Yes, many monogamous and poly relationships could look similar. But traditional/strict monogamy is actually very different than simply only having one partner (which some refer to as “polyunsaturated at one,” which means deciding you only want one partner at that time or some indefinite period, but not limiting what your partner does, or taking away one’s own autonomy to change their mind and take on another partner at a later date).

So whatever polyamory is, it is NOT monogamy. (Although it may be synonymous with other forms of non monogamy).

It’s important to understand that “only” having one partner does not necessarily mean you are not in a polyamorous relationship.

It’s worth asking someone who “appears” to be monogamous if they are in that structure OR if they just happen to only be dating one person at the moment.

It’s also perfectly acceptable if Susan only ever has the energy to date Paul. So long as she does not restrict how she and Paul feel and relate to other people, she may well consider herself polyamorous.

For more information on what polyamory “is,” I welcome you to read further in the “On Polyamory” section.