The difference between identity and lifestyle choice can become pretty blurry when discussing polyamory. Is it something you are or is it something you do? Or perhaps a mixture of both? I’ve heard valid arguments on either side, but I’m still struggling to discover exactly how it fits into my life.
Let me be clear, I’m not trying to be picky about how people label themselves and I’m definitely not trying to invalidate someone else’s firmly held belief about how they work.
My internal dialogue when trying to hash this out became tricky. In the beginning, before I had put too much thought towards it, I really believed that for me polyamory was an identity. Like my pansexuality, it was apart of me and how I am wired. But then I began to ask myself some questions:
Could I possibly change my mind about how I want to configure my relationships?
Is this an intrinsic personality trait or is it situational?
Is this a choice for me or do I feel “wired” for non-monogamy?
These questions and other related thoughts swirled around in my head for days. I felt so bewildered and conflicted that I reached out to some other poly folks and asked for their opinions.
PHONE A FRIEND!
Itzel of McLean County Polyamory: “It’s either one, depending on who you are. For me it’s an identity, but others consciously choose to participate in relationships like this. I’ve met people from both camps. For me, I feel like I don’t think I could have relationships any way but polyamorous. I know that I wouldn’t be happy or healthy in a monogamous situation. It’s not something I can turn off or put on the back burner. That makes it an identity, to me.”
Erin Kennedy of Sex for the Rest of Us: “For the most part I think our tendencies toward monogamy or polyamory are based on social constructs, where our gender and sexual identities are more inherent. That being said, there seems to be an common denominator among successful polyamorists that differs from people who prefer sexual and emotional fidelity to one person. The difference is the capacity and desire for compersion.”
Kevin of Poly Role Models: “Something I say a lot is, ‘If you do something long enough, it stops being what you do and starts being who you are.’ When I entered ethical nonmonogamy, it was an accident. Maybe not an accident. But definitely an unplanned foray into uncharted territory. My wife (then-girlfriend) and I found our way into a FMF threesome early in our relationship. When I expected things to get awkward, they didn’t. We had opened our relationship and just decided to leave it open…at least for a while. It was assumed that we could close it up any time we wanted. It wasn’t an orientation. It was a behavior.
So, when my wife first started dating and sleeping with other men, I wasn’t scared. I’d ask for all of the details, after the first time, and if I got angry or jealous, we could close it up. I didn’t get angry or jealous…we left it open. Once we got married though, it would be time to get serious. Time to settle down. We’d close it up then. Then we got married…and we left it open. But definitely this polyamory thing would end when we moved into our first house and started our family. Those happened. Closing our relationship didn’t. But we could. That was the whole point. It wasn’t an orientation. It was a behavior.
We could close the relationship if we wanted to…I just didn’t want to. Neither did my wife. And we didn’t have anymore natural off-ramps to be wary of. We had a house and children and a settled, serious life…and polyamory. We both had people that polyamory brought to us who added value to our lives and to those of our children. Neither of us can imagine going back to monogamy. It doesn’t even make sense to us anymore… …and then I remember that thing I say a lot. This isn’t what I’m doing. This is who I am.”
I think the answer to this question is as unique as the person it is being asked of. For now, I’m going to say that non-monogamy and polyamory are apart of my identity, only because I feel that expressing myself as a polyamorous person is integral to my happiness and satisfaction. I feel that having an open relationship allows me to be my most genuine self. Only time will tell if those feelings are subject to change. Stay tuned!
*Read more from Kevin at http://polyrolemodels.tumblr.com and more from Erin at http://www.sexfortherest.com