What's polyamory, then?
Many thanks to alt.polyamory
Polyamory means "loving more than one".
This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide
range of poly arrangements out there.
But isn't that "cheating"?
Oh, you wanted a longer answer. Okay. According to the OED,
cheating means "fraud, deceit, swindling." There's a nice quote
from 1532: "The first...ground of Chetinge is...a studdy to seme
to be, and not to be in deede." In other words, cheating is to
convey through deliberate action the impression that one is of a
particular nature while one is, in fact, something quite
different. What this boils down to with polyamory is that
polyamorous people do not tell partners, lovers, or prospective
members of those groups that they are monogamous when in fact
they are not -- nor do they allow these people to assume they are
monogamous, regardless of how convenient or personally
advantageous such assumptions might be. The words "honest",
"negotiate", "communication" and "being out" occur frequently in
discussions of how polyamory usually works.
As Stef puts it:
"I think the key in defining polyamory is *openness*, that is,
having multiple relationships with the knowledge and consent of
your partner(s) rather than by deceit. (How much openness, how
many details are shared, of course varies widely.) A great many
people have secret affairs while they're in a supposedly
monogamous relationship. I think those people might have the
potential to be polyamorous, but I do not think they are
practicing polyamory. Another key in defining polyamory, IMO, is
that it need not involve sex (although it often does)."
Generally speaking, if someone openly practices "more than one
love" and calls themself polyamorous, they probably are; if they
practice "more than one love" and call themself monogamous, do
not adjust your television: the problem is *not* in your
Primaries, secondaries, vees and triads:
polyjargon and polygeometry
Since there are lots of different ways to organize (or not
organize, if one is blessed by the Goddess of Chaos, or has a
taste for happy anarchy, or is a principled egalitarian)
relationships, it follows that there are ways of describing these
various arrangements. This polyjargon has evolved in the
newsgroup over time, and the words are merely descriptives. No
approval or disapproval of any particular arrangement is to be
expressed or implied.
Primary - word often used in a hierarchal multi-person
relationship to denote the person with whom one is most strongly
bonded. In some cases this bond or commitment takes the form of
legal marriage. As bigamy is not legal, the option of having two
(or more) legally wedded primaries simultaneously is not
currently practicable, though non-legal ceremonies may certainly
be performed. In some cases "primary" refers to the lover with
the most seniority.
Secondary - follows from primary, in a hierarchal relationship,
denotes a person with whom one is involved without the emotional,
legal, or economic complexities and commitments of primary
Yes, some people talk about tertiaries and so on. Some people
also don't like the terms primaries and secondaries or the
concepts behind the terms, preferring to have "a circle of
equals" as one poly person called it. Stef contributed the term
"Non-hierarchical Polyamory" for this kind of arrangement.
Triads - three people involved in some way. Often used in a
fairly committed sense, in some cases involving ceremonies of
commitment, but also used simply to mean "three people who are
connected". Example: "Jodine, Mischa and Mickey are a FMM triad
living in Excelsior."
Vee - Three people, where the structure puts one person at the
bottom, or "hinge" of the vee, also called the pivot point. In a
vee, the arm partners are not as commonly close to each other as
each is to the pivot.
Triangle (or equilateral triangle) - relationship where three
people are each involved with both of the others. Sometimes also
called a triad.
Line Marriage - term from the works of Robert A. Heinlein,
science fiction writer, meaning a marriage that from time to time
adds younger members, eventually establishing an equilibrium
population (spouses dying off at the same rate as new ones are
added). This is a different form of familial immortality than
the traditional one of successive generations of children.
(Definition courtesy of M. Schafer, and yes, there are people who
are in situations like this who use the term to describe their
Polyfidelity: Relationship involving more than two people who
have made a commitment to keep the sexual activity within the
group and not have outside partners. (Rumor has it that this
term was coined by the group Kerista.)
Quads, pentacles, sextets and more: There are polyfolk who exist
in multiple arrangements with more than three members. Geometry
can get complicated, and creative nomenclature abounds. As in
every other aspect of polyamory, the precise bonds of intimacy
vary from group to group and from member to member within groups.
What about jealousy?
Some people seem to have no jealousy; it's as if they didn't get
that piece installed at the factory. Others, including some
long-term polyamorists, feel jealousy, which they regard as a
signal that something needs investigation and care, much as they
would regard depression or pain. Jealousy is neither a proof of
love (and this is where polyamory differs from possessive or
insecure monogamy) nor a moral failing (and this is where
polyamory differs from emotionally manipulating one's partner(s)
into relationships for which they are not ready).
Are there rules for being polyamorous?
Nobody has a trademark on How It's Done, if that's what you mean.
The best anyone can do is tell how it works for them, and as with
most other things, YMMV. (That means "Your Mileage May Vary.")
Some people have "rules of thumb".
Joe and Kat:
"Your needs come first.
We'll talk about everything.
What they said."
"Since a certain 'learning experience' I have felt strongly
that I should never allow my relationship with a new person
to be a tool used to avoid dealing with a 'broken' other
relationship. In fact, one of the things I am most careful
about is 'emotional spillover'; I have a policy of not
spending intense time with otherloves when there is something
out of balance with one love. Naturally this tends to speed
up the opening of negotiations about the difficulty. ;-) I
think it's unfair to my loves to use the time I spend with
them as a palliative when there's trouble elsewhere; it keeps
me from doing the work I need to do, the work I agreed to do
when I took on the reality of the relationship."
If you want rules of thumb, you get to make them up yourself. No
warranty expressed or implied, and keep checking the instrument
panel throughout your flight.
How do you decide who sleeps where when?
This is the most often asked question in panel discussions of
polyamory, making some polyfolk wonder why sex is more
interesting than the emotional and other intimacies of
polyamorous life. The answer is that the people involved decide,
and they decide *how* they decide, too. Some people have
conferences and divide up the week, some people all pile happily
into one big bed, and for all I know some people spin a big wheel
with blinking lights on it each evening....and some people can
love one another, have no sex, and choose to live in separate
homes if that is most comfortable for them. The answer usually
evolves out of discussion, empathy and practice, which makes it a
lot like good lovemaking.
As jack says:
"The thing to remember is that the sexuality of a relationship is
not the most important aspect of it. The best thing I can do for
either of my partners is meet them at the door with a buttered
biscuit and a smile."
Why do some posts talk about Hot Bi Babes?
It's a newsgroup joke referring to the occasional post from
someone, almost always identifying himself as a straight male,
who is seeking "hot" (i.e. sexually arousing) bisexual female
partners to save him from the monotonies of the back rack at his
local video rental shop. The term Hot Bi Babe is almost always
used sarcastically, occasionally by those of us who really are
hot bi babes, to lampoon those who regard our sexual preferences
as a spectator sport. (Our crankiness has more to do with the
frequency and ineptitude of clueless approaches than it does with
the acceptability of fantasies or anything like that.)
(and where can I get some?)
Posting personal ads to alt.flame is usually a good strategy;
alt.dev.null is another good bet. Best of luck, and keep those
cards and letters.
Are all polyfolk bisexual?
No. There are many polyamorous people who are also bisexual,
and many who are monosexual (i.e. relating only to one gender as
potential or actual sexual/romantic partners; straight or
gay/lesbian). There are also lots of folks who don't do sexual
preference/orientation labels at all. One doesn't always know
until one asks, as with so many other things. Avoiding
assumptions is usually worth the exercise.
Do polyamorous relationships last?
Some do, some don't, just like any other kind of relationships.
Some folks on the newsgroup have been together for many years;
some own houses and have children together. Being polyamorous is
no guarantee that relationships will be easier, though there can
be advantages to shared joys and shared sorrows, as the old
How can I tell if I am polyamorous?
I'm not sure; only you will know, and according to the philosophy
of some folks, people aren't polyamorous, although behavior can
be. Some people find that approach useful, and others prefer to
think of "polyamorous people".
Some polyfolk tend to recognize themselves in the descriptions,
and can only be restrained with difficulty from jumping up and
down and screeching, "See! See! I *knew* it wasn't just me!
Hooray!" If you aren't sure you're poly, the best practice is
probably to act kindly and responsibly, and to communicate
clearly to the best of your ability as you learn; come to think
of it, that's the best practice for polyfolk, too, so you'll be
one of the crowd anyhow. Besides, being polyamorous is not
inherently "better" than being monogamous, so there's no need to
feel like you have to pledge allegiance or anything like that
just to hang out and look at the questions.
Another thing to consider is that the word "polyamorous" is, like
all labels, just a tool. What you do and how you treat the
people you love is probably more important to them, in the long
run, than whether you fit a particular descriptive term, so don't
sweat it, okay? And take good care of each other.
An alternate point of view:
"There aren't polyamorous and monogamous people; there are
polyamorous and monogamous relationships. The same person may
at various times be happy in both monogamous and polyamorous
relationships at various times in his/her life. What is right
depends on you and your feelings, and the feelings of those
you are involved in relationships with. You may at some times
be involved in a relationship that is monogamous, and that
may be the right thing for the people in that relationship;
at other times, you may be in a relationship which works
better as part of a polyamorous network of relationships. In
any case, the important thing is probably to act kindly and
responsibly, and to communicate clearly with intimate
partners and potential partners about these issues. Don't
deny your feelings or the feelings of those that you care
about. Get in touch with how you and those you care about
really feel, rather than how society wants you to feel, or
how you think it would be logical to feel, or how you've been
told polyamorous people (or monogamous people) should
feel. Then behave in ways which are honest, and which make
you, and the people you care about, and the people they care
about, happy and fulfilled. If this results in you having
more than one intimate relationship at the same time, or
being involved in a relationship with more than two people,
those who are big on categorizing and labeling people will
label you a 'poly person'."
What about living together and commitment and marriage and all that?
Good question. Ask it; there are many, many approaches among people.
From co-housing to communal living to group marriage to things-
undreamed, there are a multitude of ways. Design a new one and
see how it works. Unlearn assumptions about an old arrangement.
Ask questions, and practice empathy.
Most of all, polyamory seems to be about building new
configurations of relationships rather than trading people in and
out like baseball cards. As amanda r. clark says:
"Poly is being open to the opportunity if it comes along, not
refusing commitments because something better might come
loping down the path."
What will the children think?
As Martin Schafer says:
"If you don't think you are doing anything wrong, and can
honestly explain that, they'll probably think it's pretty
neat. For some of us having more people involved in child
rearing is a big practical benefit of our lifestyle. The
details of how this works is a fertile topic for discussion,
both here and among the individuals involved."
How does a person start (or continue) a poly relationship?
First, there are no rules. Nobody owns the copyright on
polyamory. You get to build your own to fit you and your
One thing that comes up in every conversation about polyamory is
communication. If there is any basic building block, this is
probably it. If you can talk about your hopes, you're on the way
to realizing them.
If you're in a relationship already, and have not talked about
how you feel and what you want, and you're asking the question
"How do I start doing this poly stuff?", you may have some qualms
about talking to your partner. What you do will have to be
determined by your own ethics and your own situation; chances are
that if you ask on the newsgroup, many polyfolk will suggest you
talk it over with your partner, and they may point out that even
if you two do not decide to live polyamorously, you may very well
increase the intimacy level in your monogamous dyad by having the
On the other hand, it may all go blooey, and this is why people
hesitate. On the third hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
On the fourth hand, it might be useful to increase the intimacy
level in the existing relationship and address any outstanding
difficult issues there *before* having this particular
discussion. Four more hands and you've got a nice statue of Kwan
Yin there, and seeing as how she's the Goddess of Mercy, she
might come in handy at a time like this.
Joe Avins feels that it's not a good idea to try to force a
relationship into an attractive model; he favors the "relax, be
open, and see what happens" approach, and quotes Pete Seeger:
"Take it easy, but take it."
If you're already in more than one relationship and haven't
disclosed this yet, you will find people on the newsgroup who
have experienced similar things - from all three sides - and are
willing to discuss their perceptions and the actions they took.
How do I explain this to people?
David Rostcheck says:
"You don't have to explain yourself at all, or answer to
anyone. You're happy. Your feelings require no
justification. It's a mistake to try to reconcile what you
feel with a social classification, because the classification
may not really suit you. You start with your feelings,
understand them and be comfortable with them. You, your
feeling, and the people you care about are the important
things. You're getting in this unnatural, inverted position
of trying to explain yourself. You don't have to explain
yourself to the world. You just are, and your relationship
just is. If other people want to understand it, then you try
to explain to them in basic terms what you feel, and that
"Here's how I'd deal with some specific questions:
":Are you seeing my daughter or this other girl?
I'm seeing them both.
":So you're cheating on her?
No. They both know; we're all friends and we're happy that
":Well, which do you love?
I love them both.
":Which do you love more?
I don't understand the question. They're different
people. How do you measure?
":Why don't you commit to one of them?
Why can't I commit to both of them?
"See? You don't have to bend over backwards to express
yourself in their terms. They may have to learn your terms to
understand you. You're not the one who doesn't understand;
they have to put in the work to comprehend you. Remember, the
bunch of you have something that comes naturally and feels
right for you; whether or not other people get it is a
secondary issue. As long as you do what you want you'll be
"Does that help any?"
Is there a secret poly handshake?
Not that I know of. ;-) There are several proposed symbols, of
which the most common seems to be the parrot. As parrot pins and
other ornaments are relatively easy to find, this symbol seems
likely to catch on over the others. It also has the advantage of
being humorous, which is a needed quality in such a staid,
conservative group as alt.poly. (Joke, folks! Set irony filters