BY: ELIJAH BASSETT
For most people, discussions of the ideal romance might center around the idea of “the one”. Your other half, the person with whom you have a bond that you couldn’t possibly share with anyone else. But in the past few decades, a different model for romance has started to gain recognition in the public eye, and it’s called polyamory: romantic relationships between more than two people at the same time.
Polyamory is different from promiscuity in that there tends to be more of a focus on romance and long-term commitments to specific people. It is also very distinct from cheating, because in polyamorous relationships, everybody understands and consents to it as a part of their relationship.
At the same time, though, it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that polyamorous relationships are “just like” monogamous ones. Just as there are all kinds of ways to love someone monogamously, polyamorous writers like Robyn Trask have sometimes called out overly simplistic views of how these relationships look, pointing out that there are countless ways to have a relationship with multiple people.
Many of these ways can complicate mainstream understandings of concepts like sexual orientation. For example, Trask points out that “a self-identified heterosexual, polyamorous man may well share a bed with his female partner and her other male partner … In another case a lesbian woman may share an intimate emotional relationship with her lover’s husband.” These kinds of intimacies bring people beyond the conventional constraints imposed by the sexual orientations they identify with.
And this certainly does span across sexualities, with at least parts of the LGBTQ+ community also having become more aware of and open about polyamory in recent years, even when they themselves are not interested in such relationships. For example, it is at least not unheard of for discussions about polyamory to go on early in relationships just to make sure everyone is on the same page before going further. Of course, anecdotal evidence only takes us so far, so it’s hard to say exactly how common this actually is, but it nonetheless speaks to a possible shift away from thinking of monogamy as an unspoken default, even though it obviously remains valid and many still desire it.
But why does all of this matter?
For one thing, you might know someone like this. Because for all my talk about polyamory as it relates to sexual orientation, there are some that go as far as to consider it a sexual orientation in itself, and others who hold it in their minds as a possible (or ideal) choice for them even when they aren’t currently in a polyamorous relationship. Even if you don’t, it can never hurt to find out more about all the unique ways of living that exist out there.
But even beyond that, the fact that polyamory has become this much more visible probably says something about how we’re currently relating to mainstream notions of how romance and intimacy ought to look. While monogamy tends to come with an implicit set of restrictions that don’t need to be explained because of how culturally ingrained they are, polyamory and its growing acceptance may speak to an interest in more individually determined relationship models rather than one that carries historical and ideological baggage.
It probably also helps that, in light of the ongoing LGBTQ+ rights movement, normative ideas about what valid romance and sexuality look like have already been challenged around many parts of the world. In that climate, it makes sense that other types of relationships that go against the status quo would also gain visibility.
This doesn’t mean that monogamy is on its way out, nor that it necessarily should be, but it may mean that the years or decades to come will bring a much more diverse array of possible relationship styles that challenge the way we currently think of intimacy and romance.
To learn more about polyamory check out this episode of Fully Exposed Podcast.