What Is A Poly Relationship?
What words spring to your mind when you hear “polyamory”?
Regardless of what your impression on polyamory is, one thing we can all agree is that: it is very different from any modern dating relationships. And there’s certainly taboo around the topic.
But as we as a society become more open about expressing our gender identities and sexual orientations, non-monogamous relationship structures seem to fall short of the mainstream media’s attention.
I had a chance to talk with someone who is currently in a two-year polyamorous relationship. Our conversation has given me a new outlook on the ethics around it, from a philosophical and a business standpoint – yup, you heard me right.
When asked how he defines polyamory, John* replied, “the counter of monogamy that’s really up to your needs, wants, and desires.”
He loosely defined it as having more than one partner on both emotional and sexual level, though he said it’d be much easier if we talk about what’s not a polyamory.
It’s not an open relationship. People (I included) usually confuse the two but they’re not the same at all. “Open relationship is when you have one partner but you’re open in a sexual way whereas in a poly relationship, you’re emotionally and sexually open.”
It’s not a sexual orientation or relationship status. “It’s a relationship structure with no implication on your orientation or how many partners you have.”
The truth is, there is no single definition of polyamory, which pretty much sums up how a polyamorous relationship works.
“The beauty of it is, it’s not imposed by anybody – but crafted by you and your partners, and finding what works best for everybody.”
How It All Began
“We started out as monogamous,” John*, living in NY, said of his relationship with his girlfriend in Taiwan. “2019 was the year I was really focused with work with less time dedicated to her.” This added onto the list of frustrations of being in a long-distance relationship.
One night when she went out at a club, she met another woman who was hitting on her. “She texted me and was like, ‘what do you think if I go for it?’ and I was like ‘sure’ and that’s the start of everything,” he said.
What Poly Offers That Modern Dating Doesn’t
Poly often seems to be portrayed in a bad light. From my conversation with John, I learned that being polyamorous is way more than having multiple partners, it’s about unlearning what the society has taught you.
“Society distinguishes love and ownership like I love somebody so I’ve got to own that person, he said, “like you wouldn’t pull a beautiful flower you see from the ground and put it in a vase for it to die five days later. What is the logic behind this?”
“If you really love that person, you nurture them.”
And this, to John, is where modern dating falls short.
In a modern relationship, “your dedication to work usually goes against your ability to build a sustainable relationship which is kind of stupid,” he said, “because you want the relationship to bring out the best in you but because of monogamy, not alone but definitely plays a big part of it, it becomes an either or situation.”
That leaves the questions: “They sacrifice who they are, but does that equal love?”
What poly offers, he said, is “a structure that’s open-ended, like a counter of monogamy that’s really up to your needs,” as opposed to a rigid, formulated relationship structure with pressure and expectation that most modern relationships are about.
Keys to Having a Healthy Poly Relationship
For a poly relationship to work, John said, honesty, transparency, and a lot of uncomfortable dialogues are at the core.
“You’ve got to be super honest with yourself in terms of insecurities and boundaries because these two are the major limiting factors to anybody having honest communications,” he said.
“My girlfriend has been very judgment-free and she would ask me things that made me uncomfortable, but then I thought why? Because society makes me feel that way.”
To him, poly has forced John to reflect on his values that were unknowingly imposed by the society. Doing so allows him to be more open about and communicate his needs and desire with his partners.
“I’ve liked the personal exploration journey I’ve been on since being in a poly because you get challenged everyday by human characters like jealousy, insufficient feeling, or fear of losing that makes us want to own and hold on to things.”
Jealousy, he said, comes from our fear of loss. And that again has to do with the way society teaches us to love.
“You really tackle these things head on. I prefer to face these things rather than running away from them or being protected by something called a marriage contract,” he said. To John, modern dating is just that.
“Struggle and discomfort are all part of life, that’s what makes us human,”
Run It like a Business
When I asked him what his relationship dynamic is and how he maintains it, John replied, “We talk on a daily basis and review our roles on a quarterly basis.”
I jokingly said that he sounded like he’s running a business, to which he said is “super fair and accurate.” He went on comparing a relationship with a partnership agreement.
“Not every partnership pays 50-50, and starting a relationship is basically the same thing: all business contracts are customisable but when you’re married, that’s when the government comes in and say this is the way you should do it.”
And so, he and his partners came up with a set of principles that works just that.
“We formulate our own set of principles and expectations, like how do we or when should we communicate so that we’re reassured emotionally when, say, we go see somebody else and not think ‘I might get replaced’.”
Besides personal boundaries, they also have rules and limitations for both of themselves like “we’re not allowed to have unprotected sex.”
Should You Try Poly?
Before you think that poly is all rainbows and butterflies, poly has some of the same struggles as other modern relationships.
“My girlfriends and I had this long transition from this ownership mindset to becoming happy for each other when we’re doing things we like.”
It took them a long time to get into their current status. “There are so many nights when we were both crying on the phone, feeling like it’s the end of the world, the end of our relationship.”
When asked who’d benefit from a poly relationship, John said there’s not one type of person that’d benefit the most. “It’s something where you can think outside of the box to fit your needs and make you a better person,” he said, “I’d say for people who travel a lot or who don’t see things in black and white, either-or terms.”
On a final note, the biggest takeaway from our exchange that’s applicable to almost anyone regardless of what your relationship is:
“People change over time, we’re not stagnant being, what works for you now doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that forever.”
Names have been changed*