Is it possible to love more than one person at a time? And before you start sending me porn links, let me clarify that I’m not talking about sex. I mean really caring for and being in a deeply-committed relationship with a person… while simultaneously doing the same thing with someone else, all with everyone’s knowledge and consent. A lot of people think it’s possible. It’s called polyamory, and it’s getting more and more popular around the world. I wanted to learn more about it so I reached out to a group of people in long-term polyamorous relationships. This is what they told me:
It’s Almost Like A Whole Other Orientation (And It Might Be Hereditary?)
All of the poly people I spoke to said that they could never go back to monogamous relationships, and not just because it’d mean splitting the rent two ways instead of three or four. It’s almost like their brains are no longer capable of finding happiness with just one person, so monogamy just wouldn’t work for them even if they tried. Does this mean that polyamory is hardwired in our brains like sexual orientation? Science says: “Eeeeeeeeeeeeh… maybe? No? Look, it’s hard to say.” Let’s look at Brad’s case as an example:
“I graduated from college and started dating the woman who is now my wife. When we first met, she was getting out of a 5-year relationship that had been unsatisfying in a lot of ways. ‘I’ve come to accept that I’m not very good at monogamy,’ she told me early on. ‘For as long as you and I are together, you can kiss whoever you want, you can have sex with whoever you want, you can get attached to whoever you want, and I won’t get upset as long as you are upfront, honest, and safe about it. And I promise you I will be upfront, honest, and safe.’”
”[My parents] never indoctrinated me with the idea that monogamy was the only way (but they didn’t preach against it) so I was willing to take a chance.”
Over time, Brad and his wife got to the point where she had a steady boyfriend, he had a steady girlfriend, and everyone was happy. But how does that figure into polyamory being genetic? It came up when Brad and his wife decided to tell his parents about their polyamory. This is how that conversation went:
“’Have you told your father any of this?’ [my mom] asked.
‘Not yet,’ I replied.
‘You should,’ she said. ‘The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, you know. Your father and I have had that same kind of relationship for… 40 years, now.’ So that was how I found out.”
Yup, it turns out Brad’s parents were poly as well, and without knowing it, their son followed exactly in their footsteps. Almost as if polyamory was genetic/hereditary. There’s really no research on it available right now, but anecdotal evidence sure seems to point that way, and according to this guy I know, anecdotal evidence is totally valid.
Yes, There ARE Such Things As Cheating And Jealousy In Poly Relationships
Freedom might be the greatest challenge you can bestow on a person. When you are free to do what you please, it places a lot of responsibility on you to protect not just yourself but also the people around you. That’s really the backbone of polyamory. You are free to pursue any romantic and sexual relationship you want, but it needs to be fully disclosed to all your partners. Yes, they were cool with you going on a date with your coworker the last 99 times, but it doesn’t mean you can keep it a secret the 100th time. Polyamory does not operate on a loyalty card system. You don’t get a freebie after a certain number of partners.
And if you act as if you do, that’s cheating. It’s all pretty straightforward. “Jealousy,” though is a slightly more complicated topic. Gunilla explains it:
“I used to be very, very jealous. I think for me it stemmed from some kind of feeling of ‘not good enough’, because while I immediately grasped the concept of being able to love my husband, yet also love this other guy (and this other guy… etc), I somehow subconsciously did not believe that to be true for my husband.”
”As in, I thought if he loved someone else, he’d stop loving me (because obviously this other person has to somehow be better than I am) … It took years and me meeting one of my current boyfriends to get me to look at this more critically of myself; like it was work I had to do. Fast forward through a whole big pile of lots of all the things [TM], through work and revelations, I can honestly say that I rarely get jealous anymore, and if I do, I’m willing to own it and look at what’s really going on. If someone has a date somewhere else, I make sure to be busy that night myself (fairly standard precaution to avoid feeling left out or overlooked.)”
It can get even more complicated when your partner wants to start a relationship with your friend. When you become metamours (people involved in the same poly relationship), it’s an opportunity to get closer but you also have to set more boundaries and that can feel like ruining a perfectly good friendship. Kate went through that very thing.
“I got jealous once when my partner wanted to go on a date with someone I was really excited to be friends with. I realized my jealousy was more about protecting that friendship though. I was afraid of losing connection or the possibility for a strong friendship with her if she became my metamour … You’re more sensitive about what you say about your shared partner. I wanted a friendship where I could just be unfiltered about all my partnerships and I was afraid of potentially losing that. We all talked about it and it ended up being fine but it was an interesting instance where jealousy popped up.”
For Many People, Polyamory Starts With Infidelity
Good things can often come from bad things. If those two trucks carrying peanut butter and chocolate had never collided in that awful highway accident, we’d never have gotten Reese’s. Also: cheating and polyamory. From my interviews, I realized that while cheating does not “create” polyamorous feelings, it might force people to think about the issue of non-monogamy, and discover that they are surprisingly OK with it in the process. My source Juliette explains:
“When my first marriage ended due to my cheating (I was 28 then), I told Roland (with whom I had cheated on my husband) that I clearly had a ‘cheating problem’. He was the one to suggest that maybe there was another way, maybe we could be open with each other about our interest in other people. He believed you could love more than one person at a time. We didn’t know anything about polyamory and when I first learned of it, I thought that wasn’t me.”
”It took several years together to figure out that what we wanted actually WAS polyamory.”
Kate had similar experiences: “I think I’ve been polyamorous since I first started being sexual/romantic. I started dating one guy in 8th grade but was still crushing on my best friend and neighbor. I never even considered stopping hanging out with my neighbor because I now had a boyfriend and I let that relationship progress. I started to fool around with both of them and explore my sexuality with two different people.”
”I finally did come clean to my boyfriend after he cheated on me and of course we were both very hurt. But we realized that what hurt was the lying, the not knowing this whole other part of each other’s lives.”
It still took Kate a couple of years to raise the topic of an open relationship which eventually evolved into polyamory. Although she and others like her started their journeys in not the best of places, they all eventually ended up in relationships where everyone involved is happy. And in case of poly couples, that’s a hell lot of happy people.
Traveling Abroad Can Be Difficult For Poly Families
Juliette actually lives in the Netherlands with her husband and his girlfriend, who have a daughter: Maya. Juliette sees her as her own daughter but has no legal rights to her. On the one hand, that’s not a problem because her poly family never lets her feel like Maya isn’t hers. On the other hand…
“I have absolutely no legal right to Maya, and that will not change until more than 2 legal guardians are permitted for a child.”
”I am concerned that with Trump’s push to add possibly untrained staff at the border, that we would be detained for suspected child trafficking because our last names are different and they won’t make the effort to make an international call to Laurel or Roland, or will say that is not possible.”
”We would also need a permission form for me to provide medical care for Maya on my own, and the US forms require parents who live in the US, and the Dutch forms would likely be unintelligible or unacceptable to US officials, particularly in this current political climate. I just find it to be too many hurdles to overcome. In Europe I am not required to have the form; it is enough that I have the notarized permission form from Laurel and Roland to travel with her alone.”
Fortunately, after a while, Juliette was able to travel with Laurel to the US and introduce Maya to her family. “My dad and his wife met Maya for the first time, which was really heartwarming. They got along great. We also stayed with my mom, who has met Maya before, and my sister April. Lovely trip and the family feels much more complete.”
Juliette was lucky, but travel still remains a problem for many international poly families. It’s something we may want to address in the future as our definition of family changes. Given how smooth that whole process has been up until now, the problem will most likely solve itself when we invent teleportation.