Relationships can be tough — you have to care for and be respectful of someone else’s feelings and needs through the ups and downs. Now imagine adding in another person to the mix. Or maybe two or even three more people.
Polyamory is a term many don’t recognize. But it’s a way of life for some, with an upswing of support groups and events for polyamorous people. It’s a term that can be used for open relationships, for someone dating multiple people, or for group relationships.
“Polyamory is becoming more of a general term,” says Samantha Fraser, a life and relationship coach and sex educator.
“The root definition is many-love. Poly meaning many, amory meaning love.”
Fraser lives in Toronto with her husband of eight years. They own a home and have three cats. On the surface they seem the norm, but their lifestyle would give some a shock. They have an open relationship, and Fraser is a vocal proponent of “non-monogamy.” She says more and more people are embracing the lifestyle, or at least doing so publicly.
“When I first opened up in 2006, we were the only ones in our group of friends,” said Fraser. “Now four or five of my best friends are polyamorous.”
“People are talking about it more and more.”
Online dating a game changer
The internet has infiltrated our lives, and dating is no exception. Huge numbers of people find relationships online, and the poly community has blossomed there.
OkCupid is a free online dating site that is popular with people living alternative lifestyles due to its wide range of gender and sexuality options. Users can self-identify as “androgenous” or “intersex,” instead of just as a woman or man. As for preferences, straight, gay and bisexual have been joined by queer, sapiosexual and homoflexible.
And while countless sites are dedicated to finding lonely people love, one has come under fire for helping members deceive their partners. AshleyMadison.com is marketed toward people already in a relationship. Its tagline? “Life is short. Have an affair.” The website lists more than 32 million “anonymous members.”
Infidelity is a leading cause of breakups and divorce. So could polyamory, or ethical non-monogamy, save relationships?
Not so fast, says clinical practitioner and family therapist Carol Morotti-Meeker, based in Philadelphia.
“Some people will run for more partners when things aren’t good, but we don’t think that’s a positive way to have healthy relationships.”
Morotti-Meeker, who has personal and professional experience with the lifestyle, says the term polyamory was coined around 1980. She prefers to call it “consensual non-monogamy.”
“Consent is a big part here. Everybody knows what’s going on and consents to whatever is going on.”
She says it takes a level of emotional intelligence to balance a polyamorous lifestyle. And while there’s a lot of info out there, not all is accurate.
Morotti-Meeker says she has encountered polyamorous people of all ages, races and socioeconomic status. However there has never been a decent survey done of “who’s out there and what are they doing and who are they.”
“Polyamory among different age groups, people, sexual orientations, will have different configurations.”
She says there is evidence of different societies practicing polyamory for hundreds of years. Looking back at the “free love” ideals of the 60s and 70s, it may seem this isn’t as “new” of a lifestyle as some may believe.
The need to communicate
She acknowledges that many relationships break down as people’s needs change. “The big thing in polyamroy, or consensual non-monogamy, is communication.”
The community believes that there is a legitimate need for having more than one partner, to truly satisfy a person and keep them healthy.
“There’s a lot of questions,” says Fraser. “There’s a lot of assumptions about polyamory. There’s a lot of misconceptions about what is it and why people do it. The reasons are always as unique as the individuals.”
It’s not just about physical relationships, she says, however, “the sex is always an added bonus.”
She adds that it can be stressful juggling multiple relationships.
“It’s a challenge. It’s really hard. It’s a lot of work and so much communication is required to be successful at it.”
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