O pen to non-monogamy”, an option I came across on OKCupid, while researching on dating apps that provide an option for people to meet other polyamorous people. I did have an idea that a lot of these people don’t understand the idea of polyamory, which essentially means multiple intimate relationships, and I was right. A lot of them took the option of non-monogamy to mean “available to all”, a frustrated misconception most polyamorous people deal with. T, a poly woman in her 20s who identifies as bisexual, explains polyamory. “It’s merely the openness towards giving and receiving love in multiple forms. Being polyamorous allows us to explore those feelings of love and attraction for other people with consent and respect, while simultaneously growing closer and stronger as a couple,” she says.
Rohan, 24, from Kerala says, for him, it is being able to love and commit to multiple people at the same time. “You don’t necessarily need to be in multiple relationships to be polyamorous, and it is not an excuse for sleeping around,” he states. (Take note, OKC people, who don’t know what that non-monogamy option is). Societal conditioning on monogamy is quite tight, you would agree. So, understanding how one can equally love more than one person at a time is something monogamous people (except me, I somehow ace understanding this) are not comfortable with. Anantika, 25, has just finished her masters and wrote her thesis on how urban Indian women navigate polyamory. “When I told this to a friend’s friend, I am polyamorous, he asked me to add him to the ‘list’. I was like…that’s not how it works. They’ll ask questions like ‘who do you love more?’ and they think it’s a phase,” she says.
S, a college graduate who identifies as bisexual, says she doesn’t really talk much about being polyamorous because it can be a tricky road. But, she adds, her acceptance of being poly has helped two of her friends realise that they’re polyamorous, and bisexual too. “I have been in monogamous relationships, in fact, being in a monogamous relationship made me realise I’m poly. It made me realise I wanted to explore, and I understood that I don’t view love in the one-person sense. I feel it’s difficult for monogamous people to understand polyamory,” she says. A 27-year-old techie from Bengaluru, who has been in a relationship with his girlfriend for over two years and has a partner closer to home, also likes to keep it private. “We keep it low-key. A couple of our friends know about it and most of them are fine with it, even if they don’t approve it entirely,” he adds.
I’m sure poly people are tired of this question, but look, I tell Anantika, jealousy is an emotion. It can be there in any relationship. So how do you deal with jealousy when you have more than one partner to give that attention to? “When it comes to monogamy, movies have kind of put romantic jealousy on a pedestal. I think if you have a primary partner, you have this bond of trust where you will be consulting this person about the other people you’re seeing. So then the scope of jealousy is not there. All we’ve to do is remove romantic jealousy from the pedestal that we put it on and it’ll be like every other relationship,” she says.
T thinks it’s a common misconception that poly relationships don’t have to deal with jealousy at all. “The idea with poly relationships is that you take responsibility for the jealousy and insecurity and communicate it openly and honestly with your partner/s. My partner and I have both dealt with jealousy from time to time. Tell your partner how you feel so you can explore the situation together and understand that jealousy. The truth about jealousy is that it has nothing to do with monogamy or polyamory. If a person doesn’t trust you in a poly setup, they probably wouldn’t trust you even if you were monogamous. That’s what makes communication so important,” she explains. Polyamorous couples or individuals are often bearing the stamp of being called “ethical cheaters”, but cheating is exactly opposite to what being poly is. We all say we want someone who is “honest”, but imagine, polyamory literally cannot function without the one thing it’s supposedly said to not have – ethics. “I was 16 when I had my first relationship, and I’ve always been attracted to more than one person at a time. I knew nothing about polyamory then, and people made me believe that I was just finding excuses to be unfaithful. It took a toll on me,” says Rohan.
T shares, “To a lot of my friends, polyamory sounds like glorified infidelity. I am currently seeing someone who was already in a long-term relationship, many of my friends were quick to assume that I was either being taken advantage of or that I was breaking up a couple. But since then, my boyfriend and his partner have offered me immense support during my own times of need and I think my friends have started to notice that. They also feel surprised that I don’t hate my boyfriend’s long term partner, and that we get along. When two people realise that they both have immense love for the same person and want what’s best for them, how can you not get along?” Anantika believes that whatever your form of relationship is, it’s for you to decide. “But without honesty if you’re just using polyamory to fool around, it’s not okay. Taking consent of people you’re with is the key,” she adds. The most painful part of dating a monogamous person, S explains, is no matter how much you’re open with monogamous people, they don’t realise that honesty is the most important aspect in any relationship, because without consent and being on the same page, it doesn’t work, it’s cheating. “There was a poly girl in my class who cheated on her partner a lot of times and she chalked it up to polyamory. And that’s exactly the stigma we’re trying to break,” she says.
If anything, the techie from Bengaluru feels like polyamory has only helped him become better and helped regain hope, which is not what relationships built on mistrust can do. “I was in a committed relationship back in college for years and I got cheated on. I had almost lost faith in relationships and love as such. I’ve learned that there really isn’t one silver bullet to everything. I’m more open to all kinds of possibilities the world has to offer now,” he says. Polyamory has a lot to do with equally loving more than one person, and while sex may or may not be a part of the equation, it’s definitely not all that the equation is for. “People assume that if you’re polyamorous, you’ll sleep with anything. There’s nothing wrong with being promiscous, but it’s not the same thing as being polyamorous. It’s even okay to say that poly people are more sex-positive, but it doesn’t mean they’re not emotionally connected to their partners or that they’ll sleep with anyone who sends them a nude,” states Anantika. T has a similar opinion. “It’s quite absurd to me because if they knew how much time and effort truly goes into ensuring that their partner/s feel loved and cared for, they’d know that we don’t really have the time or energy to sleep around as much as they think we do,” she says. In fact, T continues, the most ludicrous thing people assume is that poly folks are at higher risk of STIs. We’re very aware of the risks of infection, especially when having multiple partners, so the use of protection is not something we take for granted. I once received a message from a stranger on Twitter, asking me if he should use a ‘different kind of protection’ on his date with a poly girl. What does that even mean?” she exclaims. Rohan agrees.
“The biggest myth is that people consider polyamorous people to always participate in orgies, which is absolutely not true,” he clarifies. Yes, we’re still definitely wrapping our heads around the idea, I slowly say, so, how far do we have to go till we stop judgments on the choice of polyamory? I get a “long time to go” groan from all of these people. “Normalising polyamory is too far for our country, we’re not even able to normalise basic rights for the LGBTQIA+ community yet. But yes, there is a conversation. We’re now finally getting the vocabulary right. Also, It’s going to become a larger conversation on Twitter, but that’s about it,” says Anantika. The Bengaluru techie feels like the present situation is challenging the norms and it’s changing with time. Polyamory isn’t really for everyone, however the rights and freedom of individuals involving in polyamory needs to be protected. It’s not an easy walk out there in the society,” he feels.