Polyamory: the Basics

What is it and is it right for you?

by | Jun 6, 2024 | Relationships

A thought cloud with a castle in front of a rainbow

Maybe you just heard about it, or maybe you’re considering it for yourself: polyamory. In this blog, we explore the absolute basics of polyamory: what is polyamory, what’s the difference with open relationships and with polygamy, does polyamory actually work and is it right for you? Let’s dive in!

What is polyamory?

The word polyamory is a bit of a mix of ancient Greek (poly = many) and Latin (amory from amor, love). So: many loves.

Simply put, polyamory put in practice is when 2 or more people are in a relationship that involves (or allows) people to have more than one partner at the same time. More often than not, the partners are romantic and sexual in nature, although there are exceptions (for instance in aromantic, asexual and/or queerplatonic partnerships.)

So for instance, we have Alex, who is in a relationship with both Ben and Charlie. Ben and Charlie may or may not be in a relationship with each other, and Alex, Ben, and Charlie may or may not have other relationships. Although in practice, polyamory certainly doesn’t mean you can have an unlimited amount of partners, the most common symbol of polyamory is a heart with an infinity sign.

People who identify as polyamorous feel a strong emotional connection (usually romantic, although again – there are exceptions) with multiple people at the same time. People who practice polyamory generally believe that love isn’t finite and shouldn’t be confined to just one partner.

Open relationships, polyamory, and polygamy

Polyamory is not the same as cheating or having an affair: everyone involved is aware of the dynamic and consents to it. If your partner is having multiple relationships behind your back, they may or may not identify as polyamorous, but they are certainly cheating.

Polyamory falls under the umbrella of open relationships, but they are not the same thing. Open relationships are relationships where it’s okay to pursue multiple romantic and/or sexual partners. This means that although there is an overlap, there also people in open relationships that only have sexual connections with other people. And then there are forms of closed polyamory, where people have multiple romantic connections, but don’t add new relationships.

If that’s polyamory, then what is polygamy? Is it the same thing? Not quite! ‘Gamy’ in polygamy comes from Ancient Greek gamos (marriage). Unlike polyamory, polygamy has a legal component to it – it’s about actually being married to multiple people at the same time. Generally, polygamy is what we know from cultures where one man is allowed to wed multiple women, which is why people often associate polygamy with patriarchy – a society that revolves around and serves men at the cost of women. In many countries, polygamy is punishable by law (while polyamory isn’t).

In polyamorous circles, polygamy is often frowned upon: polyamorous communities place a lot of emphasis on autonomy, while polygamy is a choice that involves the state (and the rules states impose on people). With that said, many polyamorous people do find their own alternatives to marrying multiple people (for instance through legal arrangements or custom-made ceremonies).

Why do people choose polyamory?

There are many different reasons for people to choose to practice polyamory. Here are some examples we’ve come across:

  • You don’t want others, including your partner(s), to decide what you do with your emotions and body
  • You don’t want to limit your partner if your partner feels a connection to someone else as well
  • You and your partners agree that you can’t find everything in one relationship and fulfill any needs that are unmet in your relationships with others
  • You enjoy the novelty and exploration of dating multiple people at the same time
  • You enjoy the community feeling of caring for and being cared for by multiple people at the same time
  • You don’t want to limit yourself in exploring feelings as they arise

There are many more reasons one might choose polyamory. There are no right or wrong reasons, although some reasons do lead to less successful polyamorous relationships (particularly if there is pain around unmet needs on both sides, or if people aren’t aware of their own limits). Which brings us to the next question

Does polyamory actually work?

To answer this question, we need to ask ourselves a different one: what does it mean when a relationship works?

Many polyamorous relationships are very fulfilling and last for many years, even a lifetime. So if you’re looking for happy and fulfilling relationships: yes, polyamory works.

Even so, you might find that polyamorous relationships tend to end more often than monogamous ones. This is generally true, but not necessarily a sign of failure. Here’s some reasons why polyamorous relationships may end more often:

  1. Polyamorous people generally place a high value on autonomy. As such, they are more likely to feel confident in their ability to be alone.
  2. When you have multiple relationships, it’s easier to stick with the ones that make you really happy and let go of the ones that no longer serve you. You’re less likely to stick in a relationship that makes you miserable.
  3. Most polyamorous people value quality over longevity, again meaning they let go easier.
  4. People who have commitment issues are more likely to explore polyamory (this does NOT mean that most/all polyamorous people have commitment issues).

So does polyamory work? Polyamory can be a great way to have fulfilling and vibrant relationships, but if your definition of a working relationship is one that lasts a lifetime regardless of its quality – you’ll find more ‘working’ relationships in monogamous relationships.\

Is polyamory right for you?

The only person who can decide that is… you. However, here are some signs polyamory might be a good fit:

  • You’re capable of feeling romantically connected to more than one person at the same time.
  • Autonomy is really important to you.
  • You are good at communicating your needs, boundaries, and emotions and listening to your partners’ needs.
  • When you feel uncomfortable feelings, such as jealousy or anxiety, you’re able to sit with them and process them.
  • You are comfortable all by yourself, without any partners, with hobbies, friends, or other projects.

And here are three important signs polyamory probably isn’t a solution to your needs:

  • You like the idea of having multiple partners, but aren’t comfortable with your partners having other partners.
  • You don’t want people to expect things from you or have emotional conversations.
  • You believe your partner(s) is/are responsible for your feelings and it’s their job to make sure you never feel any discomfort such as jealousy.

Ready to explore what you want your relationship to look like?