It all started when I was living in a ten-person environmental sustainability-themed share house in suburban North Carolina. We composted, we used gray water, we cooked house dinners from dumpster- and co-op-sourced vegan food products.
But we also threw raging parties, bantered about taboo social issues at any hour of the day, and experimented in our lifestyles and in our relationships.
And one way this came to fruition was when nearly everyone in my house decided to pick up a dog-eared copy of The Ethical Slut and introduce polyamory into their lives.
The book is an ode to non-monogamous living–the notion that people of any gender can engage with multiple sexual and/or romantic partners in a practical, consensual, and honest way. The practice of polyamory is nothing new. The Ethical Slut was published in ’97, and the concept was coined before then, but the popularity of the lifestyle has fluctuated ever since.
Now it appears to be on the rise again in certain fringe communities who are aware of the plights of monogamy as a social construct and want to combat that.
Some proponents argue that monogamy is not the natural human state. Others vouch for polyamory as a healthy way to grow in their relationships. Some just like meeting and engaging with lots of different people without boundaries. Intentions vary, as do ways that people approach the concept.
When I was first exposed to polyamory, I was one of the few in my social circle who wasn’t sold. It sounded nice in theory, but I thought it would be too hard, too unrealistic. Jealousy was bound to take hold; feelings would get hurt.
But the more that I was exposed to the concept, the more it grew on me. I suggested it to past partners but none bit. They didn’t want to share their affection with anyone else; they didn’t have a desire to “stray.”
Polyamory, however, is not just a ruse to sleep around or garner attention or even jump on the next new, exciting thing that lands in your path. Many think this way, and the media encourages similar preconceived ideas. “Poly is equatable to swinging–everyone just hooks up with everyone,” according to some who know little of the lifestyle.
I knew this wasn’t entirely true, but didn’t know quite how false and damaging that idea was until I dove head first into the land of polyamory a few months ago. I don’t know what changed in me, but something had clicked and next thing I knew, a friend and I were identifying with this term and embracing the open dating scene.
In the poly community, there is a common term called “compersion.” This is essentially the opposite of jealousy–where, instead of envying your partners’ other partners, you take joy in their happiness. I won’t lie–this has been a struggle for me to embrace, but I’m working on it. I like the concept; I like what it entails.
When I embrace compersion, I feel less need to compare myself to others. I don’t fear that my partner(s) will fall in love with someone else and leave me, or come to see that I am lesser than the other people in their lives.
Polyamory has reminded me that each person brings something unique to the table. You can’t compare relationships because each plays a different role in your life.
Would you limit the amount of platonic relationships you have, capping it off at a certain number? Would you believe that you can’t have multiple close friends for fear that someone would get jealous or that one would take priority above the rest?
Maybe you have thought these things–whether it be with regards to friendships or relationships (or both). It’s important to accept that fears and doubts and concerns are normal while also learning how to overcome them.
Exploring polyamory by no means insinuates that I no longer feel jealousy–although it has definitely taught me to deal with it in a constructive way. I’ve also learned the value of independence in all of my affairs. If I’m engaging in multiple intimate relationships, I’m not putting all of my dependency in one person. I’m not expecting them to fulfill all of my needs, emotionally, sexually, or otherwise.
Being poly requires a certain level of trust–all relationships do, of course, but it is of a different nature. I trust that communication will be had, feelings will be validated, concerns will be discussed, and mental/physical health will be prioritized.
I don’t know if I will live a polyamorous life forever, but it’s working for me for now. Obviously different dynamics (family, career, desires of my partner, etc.) may change my stance on the matter. I know it’s not for everyone and that there are lots of skeptics out there, but I would recommend getting to know the concept (even if you don’t choose to engage yourself).
You might just take something away that may even benefit your monogamous relationship in a way you didn’t expect. Perhaps you become inspired to develop a life independent of your partner, open up to them about your insecurities or desires in your relationship, minimize possessiveness, and encourage compersion in all aspects of your life.
I love the polyamorous scene in my city because I get to voice my doubts about the lifestyle and get support from those who have been doing this much longer than I. I love getting to know different people, having different types of relationships with each, not holding myself back from what could be because of prior commitment to another person.
Some judge, some don’t understand, some just don’t have enough information. But if any of this speaks to you, it might be time to grab your own worn copy of The Ethical Slut and venture into the world of non-monogamous living.
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Photo: Unsplash, Robert Ashworth via Flickr