The growing dialogue around non-monogamy, specifically polyamory, would have you believe that people are polyamorous to have more sexual connections, or because they have fallen in love with multiple people all at once. And to be perfectly honest, polyamory can absolutely be that. But years into actively committing to a polyamorous lifestyle, I have begun to realise that it is, first and foremost, about me.
Let me explain.
At its very core, polyamory is a relationship structure that acknowledges that human connections can be complicated and ever-evolving, and encourages partners to discuss the level to which they would like to explore the connections they build outside of their own relationship.
This could mean exploring sexual intimacy with others, but prioritising emotional/romantic intimacy only with your existing partner, it could mean pursuing all kinds of relationships with multiple people, while also splitting finances as a unit of multiple partners, or could simply involve you keeping your living spaces and finances entirely separate from the people you date or build relationships with.
Polyamory is a structure built entirely on your unique ideas of romance, intimacy, sex, commitment, finances, living spaces, and more.
In my own example, polyamory has meant several different things over the years. At first, it was about wanting my partner to explore their feelings towards other people so we could better understand if they still wanted to come home to me when they had the choice to be anywhere else. Much of this stemmed from the fact that I was extremely depressed at the time, and felt guilty for depriving my loved ones of sunnier company. But as I got better acquainted with my own mental health and realised that I craved a sense of community just as much as I thought my partner deserved it, I found myself developing complicated feelings towards other people too. Polyamory began to feel less and less like a sex/love thing, and more like the act of keeping one’s heart and mind open to allow an authentic connection to develop, even if that meant falling in love with an old friend or feeling sparks with someone new.
Over the years, stepping away from toxic ideas of control and ownership in relationships also meant that I could spend more time with friends and express my affection for them verbally and physically without my partners worrying that I would cheat on them. It became easier to watch my partners and other loved ones have crushes on other people, and still have a solid bond with me. It meant learning to make time and effort for people based on the unique relationships I had with them, and not on the arbitrary notion that romantic partners would have dibs over my time and energy.
When both or all of you have created an environment of candid communication and constant boundary checks, the fear of infidelity begins to dissipate. When financial and social obligations like shared bank accounts or shared families are not the primary reason for you staying with someone, you find yourself with partners and communities that you choose to commit to on a daily basis. And when your community consists of people who are free to define the level of engagement and involvement they want with you and your life, you are also more likely to explore your own boundaries and desire for involvement with other people on your own terms.
As someone who was earlier led to believe that adult relationships were about putting my ‘one true love’ above all else — even if it meant growing isolated and increasingly unsure of my worth outside of that relationship — polyamory felt like I could no longer put my needs and preferences in the backseat. I had to figure out what I wanted, I had to build better boundaries between caring for others and caring for myself in order to actually be a good partner, and I had to communicate more in my interactions to preserve myself and shield the multitude of needs that other people had.
And for my mental health, this worked wonders. My depression would always tell me that I couldn’t be loved and yet, I was surrounded by multiple people who were regularly choosing to care for me while also prioritising their individuality and personal lives. When people were not available to care for me, I watched myself grow into someone who could offer my mind and body the love that it needed, rendering the depression voice in my head almost completely powerless Polyamory is absolutely about love, sex, communication, and intimacy. It can be about the fun threesomes, the bizarre heartache of falling in love with one person as you simultaneously find yourself breaking up with someone else, or the amusing discomfort upon people’s faces as they wonder why you seem to be in the company of a new person every time they run into you.
But polyamory can also be the reason why someone feels more supported for their mental health, their chronic illnesses, or their disability. It can be the reason why queer people with strained or broken ties to their blood families, now have a sense of community with people who actually see them for who they are. It can be the reason why some of us feel supported enough to leave toxic spaces, find the courage to communicate our feelings and fears like never before, and even make us see the value in ourselves as individuals. Polyamory can even be the reason why someone feels freer to explore jobs, hobbies, and lifestyles of their choosing because they no longer have only one partner to share finances with or feel dependent on.
For me, polyamory is a commitment that I made to multiple loved ones, with the promise that I will always own up to what I feel and what I want to do about it, without violating or neglecting the unique needs we have within the bond that we’ve built together.
But more than anything else, polyamory is the commitment I made to myself — to love as hard as I was capable of, to strike a balance between asking for help and fighting my demons on my own, and to always be my most authentic self in every interaction I have.