“We shouldn’t invalidate other people’s choices simply because they look different from our own.” -Tristan Taormino
In the past few years, a noticeable increase in the visibility of “alternative” relationship styles (such as polyamory, kink, and LGBT+) has been featured in all types of media. From 50 Shades of Grey, to Sister Wives, to the articles scattered across my Facebook titled something like “Open is the New Monogamy”, those of us who have chosen differently are definitely getting some attention. You may be thinking “Great! We are making progress!” and for the most part, I would agree. Mainstream media is just beginning to reflect the growing trend that allows people to more easily step into a life that may look different from traditional, 1950’s monogamy. As a culture, we are beginning to explore and even challenge the idea that true love only happens within specific parameters. This is a good sign and I hope we continue to progress.
On the flip side, we have a lot of work to do. Although I’m fairly young still (just shy of 30), I have seen enough relationships to understand that each one is unique. Even in a configuration that is as seemingly straightforward as monogamy, no two are the same. I don’t believe labels are entirely unnecessary, but I do think we tend to put far too many restrictions on them. Labels can be broad and encompassing and those differences should be celebrated. Frustratingly, the media still tends to look at open relationships through the monogamy lens and often use labels in a highly restrictive manner. It’s similar to when someone asks a lesbian couple, ” which one of you is the man?” Understandably, if heteronormative, monogamous relationships are all you have ever known, it is difficult for your brain to wrap itself around something that doesn’t fit inside the box. However, this narrow view can be very damaging to actual people in real relationships.
We need to stop telling people that they cannot possibly fit into a relationship style because it doesn’t look like what we ourselves are doing. I once saw someone on a polyamory Facebook page claiming that you can only call yourself polyamorous if everyone is dating each other. If you and your “main partner” are dating separately, this is not polyamory. I have also read comments from monogamous folks who believe that any type of individual independence in a monogamous relationship is unhealthy or inherently strips the couple of their monogamous title. Seriously, just stop.
When you talk with your children, family, your partner or even in your inner dialogue, keep in mind that you have options. Relationship structure should be an ongoing conversation between everyone involved. My husband and I decided to open up early in our relationship, but our needs and desires have changed over the course of our relationship. Every once and awhile we talk about where we are and if one or both of us feels the need for a change. Boundaries are not a default “set it and forget it” type of deal. They need to be discussed at the beginning and then periodically as the relationship progresses. This is important because people change, as do their expectations and needs along with them.
“Your thing isn’t my thing, but that’s okay”. With this idea in mind, I have decided to create a section of this blog titled What’s Your Flavor?. Its purpose will be to highlight the lives and relationship styles/configurations/preferences of real people. It will be an opportunity to shed some light onto individuals and give them space to speak about what has worked for them. Why? Because exposure to and education about people who live differently then ourselves is easily the most effective method for creating change and cultivating tolerance. Enjoy!
The first installment of What’s Your Flavor features a friend of mine, Itzel. Itzel, her fiancé, and I have worked to establish a local polyamory community in our Midwestern town. I am excited to bring you some insight into her world.
How do you, personally, define polyamory?
I define polyamory as loving/dating multiple people at once. I think that polyamory often gets confused with swinging, and as a grey-asexual I try to emphasize that polyamory is often just as much about emotional attachments as it is about sex.
Do you feel you’ve always been predisposed for polyamory or have you had to grow into the idea?
I’m not absolutely certain. I was definitely raised, like most people, surrounded only by monogamous relationships. When my mom started talking about polyamory to me when I was around 16 I thought it was a cool idea, and I accepted it for her and others, but I really didn’t want that for myself. As a bisexual woman who often ended up in relationships with men, I often thought I was hiding or denying a part of myself and maybe polyamory would help me be a whole person. It was this that eventually allowed me to grow into the idea that poly would be good for me.
Was their a specific moment in time or event that helped you to realize that polyamory was right for you; your “ah-ha” moment?
When my fiancé brought a girl over to hang out, and we hit it off as friends. Later they were upstairs in his bedroom and I knew they were fooling around. I was just…happy and giddy about it. I dated quite a few people before he started dating others, but it was when I saw him having fun and getting his needs met that it really clicked for me.
What does your current relationship/family structure look like?
Currently I am engaged to my long term partner, and I have a long-distance boyfriend (who I met because he was dating one of my very good friends.) My fiancé isn’t dating anyone else at the moment, but my boyfriend sees all sorts of other folks.
What would your ideal relationship/family structure look like?
If everything was up to me I would live on a little polyamorous commune with all of my partners and their partners and their partners. I want more metamours! I tend to favor emotional attachment in my relationships (and I really need it if I want to get sexual at all) so I’d like to be dating people that I’m serious enough with that they are really part of the family. I’m not at all a fan of enforced relationship hierarchies, so I’d like all of my relationships to always fall where they will naturally.
What have been your biggest struggles or challenges within your polyamorous relationships?
Communication. Every polyamorous struggle I have had has boiled down to communication. The times I have been jealous or upset were due to me being in the dark about certain issues or people. It was never malicious on the part of my partners, but I had problems because I didn’t know the whole story or because we weren’t clear on our expectations for each other.
What makes polyamory rewarding for you? What about it makes you consciously choose this relationship configuration over monogamy?
I think it makes my relationship with my fiancé (and therefore every other relationship) more stable. I know that I don’t have to depend on him for all my relationship needs, and vice versa. Additionally, as a queer woman, I don’t feel like I have to forget about or suppress my queerness in order to be with someone that I love. There is no internal struggle.
Are you “open and out” about being polyamorous? Why or why not? What have been your experiences? If have come out publicly, has it been a positive experience?
I am! I have a hard time keeping secrets about myself, and I’ve never wanted to be quiet about something that brings me so much joy. My experiences, overall, have been positive. My mother is poly, so I didn’t have a hard time coming out to or explaining my lifestyle to my family. I’ve found that being out as allowed me to help educate others about polyamory, creating more acceptance and even showing others that it is an option for them. I’ve never had any negative reactions (to my face, anyway), but I’ve had a lot of questions. I plan on being out anywhere and everywhere. I don’t ever want my partners to feel like they aren’t a big enough part of my life for me to be honest about being with them, and I don’t ever want to have to hide myself or the people I love and care about.
What do you feel is important for non-polyamorous folk to know about your relationships? What do you wish they could better understand?
A couple things.
1. It’s not just about sex! Everyone’s first reaction is always along the lines of “so you can fuck anyone you want?” Kinda? But that’s not why we do this.
2. We all get jealous! But jealousy is not a good reason to be possessive of people you love. Anyone can work through jealousy with the right resources and support.