Please remember to be polite and respectful in the comments.
Hello friends! This week I’m discussing a topic that is incredibly close to my heart. This companion to my post So You Think You May Be Poly… has been requested from me multiple times for the friends and family of poly people, to explain the basics of polyamory. This is not a comprehensive guide. In fact, consider this a Part I.
First things first, what is Polyamory? If you are hearing about this for the first time, the concept of poly may be bringing up images of religious men with many wives, or crazy sex parties where couples are swapping partners. While those can be similar, polyamory is a bit more egalitarian and emotional for many. Polyamory is defined by Google as “the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time.” This is a pretty broad definition that can include many different types of relationships. The most important aspect of polyamory I find, is the fact that polyamory includes openness and honesty between partners about having an open relationship. While I firmly believe individual people can be, and are polyamorous by nature, I believe a relationship is only polyamorous when all parties are consenting to the fact that there are other parties (so no cheating here).
Within every culture there is vernacular that you may not be familiar with. I highly recommend educating yourself on the vernacular so that you can understand what your poly person is talking about.You may even impress them with your knowledge of their lifestyle, and knowing this information can help cement the idea that they are welcome and safe talking to you about their relationships. It is important to remember that some of these definitions may change depending on the region or community that is defining them! I’m using definitions from an incredible polyamory resource site called More Than Two. Here are some commonly used words:
Metamour– The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship.
Triad– A polyamorous relationship composed of three people.
Quad– A polyamorous relationship involving four people, each of whom may or may not be sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members.
Vee– A polyamorous relationship involving three people, in which one person is romantically or sexually involved with two partners who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other.
Unicorn– Almost always used of a hypothetical woman who is willing to date both members of an existing couple, agree not to have any relationships other than the ones with the couple, agree not to be sexually involved with one member of the couple unless the other member of the couple is also there, and/or agree to move in with the couple. So named because people willing to agree to such arrangements are vanishingly rare, whereas couples looking for a woman who will agree to these terms are incredibly common.
Polysaturated– Polyamorous, but not currently open to new relationships or new partners because of the number of existing partners, or because of time constraints which might make new relationships difficult.
OSO– Other Significant Other.
Swinging– The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship, most often with the understanding that the focus of those relationships is primarily sexual rather than romantic or emotionally intimate.
Polyamory-The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved.
When someone comes out to you as polyamorous, your first instinct may be to ask questions regarding their relationships. Keep in mind that while the question may seem innocent enough to you, it might be offensive. Don’t ask someone about their sexual behaviors or proclivities. If you need clarification about something you can ask, as the relationship structures within polyamory can be complex. For instance, if your friend Jane comes out as poly with her wife Allison, you may want to know if Sarah is dating Jane, Allison, or both in order to properly introduce her. Asking clarification on how a person is romantically linked to someone is acceptable, whereas asking if “you all have sex with each other?” is not. While it may be tempting to ask these sorts of questions, it is equally as insulting as if someone asked you what position you had sex with your partner in.
It is important to know that just because someone is a part of a group or culture, does not mean they want to become the educator for all your questions. You can find most answers to questions you may have online. If you cannot find an answer, or would like some clarification on a question, it is important to ask your poly person if they are comfortable with answering your questions. Chances are, if you’re close to someone who is poly, they would be happy to answer any questions you have. Regardless of how well you know the poly person in question, always respect their comfort level!
One of the things you might worry about for your loved on is that they are cheating or being cheated on. If you have experience in either of these, you may worry that your loved one will come after your partner, or will do their best to end perfectly healthy relationships. I cannot speak for everyone, because there are jerks in every community, but I assure you that the majority of poly people are perfectly respectful of relationships, so there is no need to fear that your newly poly friend might try to flirt with your partner. If you feel that your poly loved one is not respecting your boundaries, feel free to tell them! The poly community is pretty big on communication, and it’s helpful to air grievances as they happen instead of letting them stew.
The final thing I will leave you with is to be supportive. You may not agree with the relationship structure your loved one has, but if they are happy you should support their happiness. It is understandable that you may need an adjustment period to get used to the idea of them having multiple partners, and there may be some errors in how you refer to one of their partners as the dust settles. Your loved one is still the same person, they have simply opened their lives and their relationships up to more people so they can share the love they have with others.
Until Next Time!
-The Frisky Fairy