Am I a Freak for Wanting This? Part III
“Am I a Freak for Wanting This?”
A Three-Part Series
By Kate Loree, LMFT, ATR, MBA
Part Three: Polyamory
Amelia feels a warm sensation throughout her body as she thinks about last night. She was wrapped in Scott’s strong arms, enveloped in his perfect, nude body. She closes her eyes and thinks about his divine scent. She sighs.
The next day, she was back home with Matthew, her husband and soulmate of twelve wonderful years. She and her husband had both had hot dates with their lovers the night before and their golden rule was to always share their hot experiences the following day. Matthew adored hearing about Amelia’s lustful endeavors with Scott. He really liked Scott, and considered him a friend. However, in the past Amelia found Mathew’s exploits much more difficult to listen to despite their openness. But for some unknown reason, this time seemed different. Matthew had just finished telling her about his date with Valerie, a beautiful, blonde chef he knew from work. He couldn’t contain is massive grin as he explained that Valerie had cooked him an amazing four-course dinner and had given him a full-body massage afterwards. Now Amelia was no slouch in the kitchen, but she knew how much Matthew loved to eat! She smiled at her husband lovingly, feeling his joy. She was surprise by her own happiness at this moment and knew she had turned a corner. After they concluded their talk, Matthew gave her a deep hug and kiss and went to play with their kids who had been goofing off in the backyard.
Left with her thoughts, Amelia contemplated her reaction to Matthew’s enthusiastic account. She realized that something has changed. Not too long ago, such a story would have made her feel jealous and competitive, something she’s been working on since they decided to have an open marriage. But now she felt differently. Instead, jealousy had been replaced by joy and amusement. She laughed quietly to herself, realizing that her reaction to Matthew’s story was similar to how she felt when her cat, George, got a good scratch behind his ears. She smiled as she imagined the fluffy feline loudly purring and rolling onto his back with blissful submission as Matthew probably did after his post dinner massage.
Out of curiosity, Amelia decided to do a search on her computer to find out if there’s a term for what she’s feeling. With a few mouse clicks she found an article by Anita Wagner (a spokesperson and educator in the field of polyamory) that defines a word that encapsulates her experience. She read to herself, “Compersion: A feeling of joy when your primary partner (or anyone you love) shares loving feelings or activities with someone else. Sometimes considered the opposite or flip side of jealousy.” “Is this truly possible?” she said aloud and then thought to herself, “Yes, I trust Matthew completely. I have no fear and I enjoy watching and hearing about his happiness. Wow, I’ve come a long, long way.”
With further exploration, she finds Anita Wagner’s website, practicalpolyamory.com. On the home page she reads Anita’s viewpoint on polyamory, which states, “To me, polyamory is the ability and desire to openly, honestly, and romantically love more than one person at a time. Many people find that polyamory offers a more authentic way of expressing who they are and the love they have to share.” Amelia stares at the definition and thinks, “And I thought we were just swingers that played separately. It sounds like there is a whole way of life that we weren’t fully aware of. This sounds exciting!”
Of all the alternative sexual cultures, polyamory is often the most threatening and misunderstood by society. From a sociological level, polyamory challenges many of our cultural norms and beliefs: the nuclear family, monogamy, romantic love, child rearing and religion. In the first two parts of my three part series, “Am I a Freak for Wanting This,” we explored BDSM and swinging, which are shocking enough to those who have not experimented beyond sexual norms. However, with this third and final part to the series, we delve into polyamory, a lifestyle that has been known to baffle and befuddle even the most seasoned explorers of alternative sexual practices.
If you tell a “swing” couple that you are in an open relationship, you might be met with a look of confusion and judgment. This reaction is partially due to the rarity of “playing separately” within swinging. This initial awkward moment is usually followed by questions, such as, “Aren’t you afraid that your partner will fall in love with the other person?” However, many polyamorists might say that love and real connection is the whole point. Polyamorists feel it’s completely possible to have many loves and that it doesn’t need to be a threat to their core relationship. In fact, most would say that it could benefit all involved.
So if you are currently asking yourself, “Am I completely screwed up for liking the idea of having more than one love?”, the answer is “No, you are not screwed up.” In fact, Christopher Ryan’s 2010 book, Sex at Dawn, provides a multitude of strong scientific arguments that purport it’s actually monogamy that is unnatural to humans. One of Ryan’s points is that pre-agricultural men and women had many sexual partners at any given time and that monogamy is actually a relatively new phenomenon when we look at human history. Although polyamory does not always include sex, this new research, leads one to understand that having multiple loves could easily be an outgrowth of swinger, kink or sexually free communities. So I reiterate, “NO, you are not a freak for wanting this.” Actually, it’s quite natural.
So What Is Polyamory Anyway?
Does the word polyamory conjure up a mental image of an old, religious man with a long beard surrounded by several underage wives? If so, then we have a lot of educating to do! But have no fear, it will all be clear soon enough. Let’s start off by delineating some of the differences between POLYGAMY and POLYAMORY. First, polygamy technically and legally means “many marriages” while polyamory means “many loves.” Second, polygyny (the prevalent form of polygamy) often stems from male-dominated, religious beliefs, while polyamory more often comes from egalitarian, spiritual philosophies that cultivate male/female equality. They are very, VERY different. Polyamory advocates have put a lot of work into delineating the two concepts for our court systems and media sources. Believe me, my friends, when I say that it’s been a frustrating, uphill battle.
Let’s try and define these two practices even further.
There are many definitions of polygamy. So let’s just focus on the legal definition to reduce confusion. The legal definition just refers to marital partners.
POLYGAMY: According to West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, polygamy is “the offense of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.” In a nutshell, it means being married to more than one person. There are actually two forms of polygamy. The first, Polygyny, is the state (or practice) of having more than one WIFE at a time. This practice can be found in some splinter sects of Mormonism. Then there’s Polyandry, the state (or practice) of having more than one HUSBAND at one time. According to Discovery.com, this form of polygamy is more rare than polygyny, but is practiced by such cultures as the Nyinba people of Nepal.
POLYAMORY: Poly is Greek, meaning “many” or “several.” Amor is Latin, meaning “love.” Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Polyamory doesn’t always include the legal practice of marriage.
It is common for people to get polygamy and polyamory confused. First off, the words are almost spelled alike and nearly sound the same! But polygamy is a legal term while polyamory is a philosophical idea that embodies love, equality, and abundance that might (or might not) exist in a polygamous relationship. For instance, even if a polyamorist relationship looks like polygyny, such as with a male/female/female triad, each person’s wants and needs are considered. This egalitarian cornerstone to polyamory often is not found in the prevalent form of polygamy (called polygyny) due to religious beliefs that insist that the man is the leader of the household and the women are subjugated under HIS law. This practice describes the religious and patriarchal dynamics seen on the HBO series Big Love.
Typically, in true polyamorous relationships, if one member wants to take another lover, he or she could express the desire and openly discuss it with the group. They could all weigh the consequences and talk about how it would affect the other members of the relationship. Respect and communication are two of the most important polyamory cornerstones and it is only through these basic principles that anyone has a chance to feel truly loved.
Who are Polyamorists?
When you think of polyamorists, do you imagine stoned, “free love” hippies sprawled across a field of flowers, adorned in psychedelic colors? If so, let’s quickly knock down another stereotype that dehumanizes polyamorists. In Meg Barker and Darren Langdridge’s 2010 book, Understanding Non-Monogamies, Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D relays her research findings from a longitudinal study (1996–2003) of polyamorous families in two regions of the United States. In her contributing chapter, “Strategies in Polyamorous Parenting”, Sheff’s states that her research infers that mainstream poly communities are overwhelmingly white, college educated, middle or upper-middle class with professional jobs. There ages ranged from mid-thirties to late ﬁfties. That’s not to say there isn’t a fair amount of “groovy” people among its ranks, but poly people cannot be defined in such a limited fashion. In fact, most are smart, culturally “hip” and have a strong sense of self.
Common Forms of Polyamory
As you investigate polyamory for yourself, begin to think about what configurations might work best for you. With boundless love comes a multitude of possibilities. Here are some of the most common forms of polyamory.
The Triad: Three-way relationships that may be fairly symmetric, with all three pairs being fairly equally involved. The triad often consists of a primary couple in a committed relationship with a third party individual. For example, a married couple, Bridgette and Kyle, are both in a relationship with Denise.
The V: This formation usually consists of an individual with two primaries, but the two primaries are not involved with each other. For instance, Athena is married to Joel and has a boyfriend, Johnny. Johnny and Joel are not involved.
The W: The center peak of the W represents a person who is romantically linked to two partners (the W’s two bottom points) who in turn have their own outside partners (the W’s outside top peaks). For example, Grant is married to Juliette, but also has a girlfriend, Amber. Juliette and Amber are not involved romantically, but each has their own relationships apart from Grant.
Quad: Two couples are in a relationship together. For instance, Jack and Daisy are married. Becky and John have been living together for seven years. The four of them date each other. The foursome may be exclusive or open. It’s not unheard of for two couples to (spiritually) marry each other.
The Polyfidelity Group: This version involves a group of people who consider all members as primary and exclusive partners. All members are in relationship with one another and do not date outside of the group.
Mono/Poly Relationship: Sometimes validating needs and wants doesn’t lead to both partners playing by the same rules. In a mono/poly relationship, one partner has other physical and/or emotional relationships, while the other remains monogamous.
Poly Swingers: Usually couples, whose relationship evolves into polyamory by way of swinging. They continue to “swing”, but become polyamorous within it, seeking relationships with people who share their same ideals. NOTE: Please ask poly swingers to define what the term means to them. Most poly swing couples still adhere to the prime rule of swinging, which is to honor and preserve the primary relationship. However, there are those who identify as swingers who operate more like polyamorists and vice versa. Contradictions exist! The distinctions can be especially confusing with poly swingers. Therefore, it is important to ask potential lovers what their boundaries, rules, wants and desires are before proceeding into a serious relationship.
Poly-daters: Singles who refrain from looking for Mr./Ms. Right, but instead search for Mr./Ms. Primary could be called poly-daters. Some aren’t even interested in a primary and would rather be open to many loves without the complication of a hierarchy.
Does Polyamory Equal Promiscuity?
So you might be asking, “Doesn’t all of this love get out of control? Surely this is a recipe for disaster!” The idea that polyamorists are sex addicts (or even promiscuous) is a stereotype and a myth. As with all relationship lifestyles, such as monogamy, swing, kink, etc., sanctioned or non-sanctioned promiscuity can exist, but this is not the focus of polymory. Ideally, love is at its heart. In fact, not all polyamorous relationships even include sex! And yes, things can get out of control, but that’s why only very strong couples or individuals who know their own boundaries should explore being polyamorous. It is not a path that should be chosen lightly just to spice up a dull relationship. Honesty and respect (not cheating) are key elements and this goes for all partners involved. Promiscuity should not be assumed.
Are Polyamorists Commitment Phobic?
Before answering, let’s look at the idea of loyalty and commitment through the lens of polyamory. Ask yourself, “Can a person be committed and loyal to one love if that person is also committed and loyal to another?” If your gut reaction is no, then take some time to think of a parent’s love for more than one child. The parent is expected to be committed and loyal to all of his or her children. Polyamorists simply apply this same logic to their romantic relationships. If anything, it could be argued that polyamorists are more “in love” with commitment than monogamous people are, at least in the sense that they are committed to many partners. Polyamory is about abundance and the belief that we shouldn’t deprive ourselves in this life, but rather revel in love and affection from all directions!
Polyamory for the Newbie
If you are considering exploring polyamory, then there are a few concepts and dynamics to be aware of. The first is a concept called “New Relationship Energy” (NRE) and it’s something we should all be aware of, poly or not! Remember, the first time you fell hard for someone? Do you remember your first big crush? Perhaps you stared out the window for long hours dreaming of kissing the object of your desire. You, my friend, were experiencing NRE. NRE is a drug, plain and simple. It’s wonderful and blissful, yet potentially destructive and devastating. The website youramazingbrain.org explains that, when you are newly attracted to someone, chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin flood throughout your body like a tsunami, completely taking control of all your thoughts and actions (if allowed). Supercharged with these neurotransmitters, one might have sex every waking moment with their new partner, then (thanks to serotonin) think about them constantly when apart. At this point, the unaware polyamory newbie might think, “My God, this is the person for me! The passion! The perfection! I’ve been wasting all these years with my spouse! This is what love is supposed to feel like!” If this poor, misguided soul takes action based on these drug-induced feelings, then emotional damage with their primary relationship is sure to follow. NRE fades, plain and simple. With familiarity, the release of these neurotransmitters diminishes and in time, no partner continues to seem perfect like they did in those first few months. We all have flaws and as NRE fades, the little mistakes and nuances become less “cute.” So, be realistic! Remember the biology of human connection and always remember to honor the love who has trusted you with his/her heart.
Another key polyamory concept is that of “compersion.” As defined in our story at the beginning of this article, compersion can be described as the opposite of jealousy. It takes a developed trust in your love and a strong internal confidence to skirt jealousy and feel joy when your love speaks fondly of his/her other amorous relationships. That is not to imply that you’re less evolved if you experience jealousy. Jealousy is natural and designed to inform us when something does not feel right. However, just because one experiences jealousy, does not mean that one might not experience compersion periodically as well. Look for it. You might have experienced it already and not even recognized it. With awareness, comes cultivation.
So, you might be thinking, “How can I get to the point of feeling compersion when jealousy still rules the school! Tell me more about that!” Yes, jealousy is a HUGE topic within polyamory. So much so, that it is advisable to read full articles or chapters devoted to the topic. Two sources of information on the topic can be found on the websites, morethantwo.com and lovemore.com. These websites are wonderful resources for many questions regarding polyamory, jealousy and more.
Pros of Polyamory
Authenticity: There are many positives to polyamory. First and foremost, if you have a primary, additional relationships can take away some of your perceived responsibilities to your partner. No longer are you expected to be ALL things for one person. If you don’t like your lover’s fascination with BDSM or horror movies, then guess what, that’s okay! You can send your lover off to be with someone who does. You get to be your authentic self. You don’t have to pretend to love baseball or feel pressure to watch a “Jersey Shore” marathon because your mate’s interests differ from you own. (Although, I advise you to seriously reconsider a relationship, if there’s any “Jersey Shore” pre-recorded!) The point is, someone else can fill those needs for him or her. Thus, you and your mate are left to share the things you both truly love to experience together, which always deepens the bond between a couple.
Expansiveness: You will have a greater opportunity to become a more fulfilled person. Other loves will help you discover things about yourself you never knew existed. Now, you might say to yourself, “But can’t my friends do that?” Sure they can, but romantic relationships tend to run deeper and richer. Some of the best lessons about life are learned while holding someone’s hand.
Extended family: If you are living with several loves, then they become an extended family that provides a broadened support network for both emotional and financial challenges. This also applies to children in the household. Ongoing research by sociologist, Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., indicates that children often profit from polyamorous households due to a higher household income and increased emotional support. In addition, Sheff states, “Many parents say their children’s lives, experiences, and self-concepts are richer for the multiple loving adults in their families.” This abundance of support frequently leads to children with higher self-esteem and psychological well-being. That is not to say that polyamorous families do not have challenges as well, especially from the outside community, but the strengths are powerful and vast.
Cons to Polyamory
Not Being the “One and Only”: Especially if you are single, not being the one and only in somebody’s life might be hard when you have to send your love interest back to their husband or wife. Most people desire to be at the center of somebody’s universe. Ideally, most polyamorists attempt to make ALL their loves feel special and honored. But sometimes an individual is left feeling like a “side-kick” or disposable. If you find yourself having such thoughts, then it’s time to own your feelings and have a voice. If you can’t come to some resolution after considerable effort, then seek a relationship that leaves you feeling peaceful and content.
Complications: Being committed to one person is hard enough. Being committed to many loves compounds the difficulties and the potential stressors. If you are considering this path, please don’t go into it with blinders on. One has to cultivate amazing skills at setting boundaries and be ready to REALLY communicate. The need to negotiate sleep and date schedules is a given. Spontaneity often becomes impractical and/or impossible. It takes a responsible soul who is ready and willing to hear all their lovers’ feelings and attend to them.
Legal Difficulties: Polyamorous families face MANY legal difficulties. They can only marry one person, regardless of how many people might be in a loving relationship with them. This barrier leads to many other legal constraints, such as not being able to add other people to their health insurance. If a girlfriend or boyfriend is in the hospital, they may be denied visitation due to not being immediate family. Other legal matters such as wills, custody agreements, powers of attorney, joint property and medical powers of attorney are all impacted. However, there are websites such as polyfamilies.com and books, such as Opening Up (2008) by Tristan Taormino, that offer guidance and suggestions to circumvent these roadblocks to a small or greater degree.
Furthering Your Education
Polyamory is a very complicated way of life; therefore, beginning your journey fortified with knowledge and community support is highly advisable. For a more comprehensive understanding, please continue to educate yourself with all the wonderful books, articles, podcasts, and websites at your disposal. The following section covers a few.
Books: Although there are many amazing books, here are a few that are the most well-known and well-received. Perhaps start with the how-to bible of polyamory, Dossie Easton’s book, The Ethical Slut (the 2009 second edition). A book that stands the test of time is the 1997 book, Polyamory: The New Love without Limits by Dr. Deborah Anapol. And finally, Jenny Block’s 2009 book, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage is a strong third choice. These books will help set you up for success before beginning your adventure into polyamory.
Podcasts: My personal favorite is “Polyamory Weekly”, hosted by Cunning Minx. She describes her podcast as supporting “responsible non-monogamy from a kink-friendly, pansexual point of view.” She covers all imaginable queries from issues of jealousy to covering the best polyamory conventions and gathering.
Another great podcast is “Life on the Swingset” hosted by Marilyn and Cooper. The title leads one to believe that it is only for swingers, but as Marilyn and Cooper state, “There’s something here for everybody who subscribes to the notion that sexual exploration and openness is healthy, friendly, and most importantly fun”.
Websites: There are so many wonderful websites that it’s hard to pick just a few. For general links, resources and area conferences, visit the World Polyamory Association at worldpolyamoryassociation.org.
Another strong website is the Polyamory Society at polyamorysociety.org. The Polyamory Society “promotes and supports the interest of individuals of multi-partner relationships and families” and can be a great starting point.
If you need poly friendly professionals (therapists, lawyers, doctors, etc.), check out polychromatic.com. Here you will find a plethora of varied professionals who have identified themselves as being “open-minded” about polyamory and polyamorous issues.
Connecting to the Community
So, if you have made it fearlessly this far, then it’s time to discuss how to connect to the polyamory community.
Internet Dating Sites: I suggest that you check out Polymatchmaker.com. It’s a fantastic polyamory community and dating website that also provides educational tools such as articles, a glossary, links, local support information and forums. Once you connect to their website, they disclose other ways to connect to their community, such as through their Facebook profile or local gatherings.
Okcupid.com is gaining a reputation as being friendly to alternate sexual lifestyles, and unlike some mainstream dating sites, allows users to identify as polyamorous. The site even has a “polyamorous test” to help users explore whether polyamory might be right for them. Searching by the interest topic “polyamory” is a great way to cut to the chase! Once you have done your research and begun to make personal connections through the web, you can take the final and most exciting step by actually meeting others like you.
Conferences: At Lovingmore.com, you can find information on the next Poly Living Conference. One past attendee proclaimed, “As a Poly Living newbie, my experience overall was awesome and you will be seeing me again!” This is a strong conference with a host of nationally recognized speakers and amazing events.
A more general conference is Momentum Convention that is described as providing “a safe place to listen, discuss and learn about sexualities and gender without the fear of reprisal or shaming. It is a space for acceptance and appreciation of diversity, including for those in the LGBTQ, sex-work, BDSM and non-monogamous communities.”
Conclusion: Be True to Yourself
There are many paths to fulfillment in life and love. Polyamory is an adventurous path that deviates from the direction many have been conditioned to believe is right and proper. But ask yourself, is love about being obedient to cultural norms? Or is love about following your own truth to the point of rebellion? Emotional expansion begins with respecting and honoring one’s own intuition. A heightened ability to love can only branch out from the self-love and awareness we allow for ourselves.
In Deborah Anapol’s 1997 book, Polyamory—The New Love without Limits, she describes polyamory as “A ‘lovestyle’ which arises from the understanding that love cannot be forced to ﬂow, or not ﬂow, in any particular direction: Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to engage with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.”
Should love be bound, controlled, and shaped by outside cultural forces? Polyamorists would probably say no, but rather invite you to gallop, leap, and skip into the arms of abundance, connecting to all things good and nurturing. With this final note, I wish you well in your own exploration and adventure into all things loving, sensual, and sexual. Polyamory can be a gift—if it is the right fit for you…and if you are ready to let the limitless nature of love surround you.