Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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Defining my Terms 2: Polyamory

I've been meaning to post this for ages, and I've finally guilt tripped myself into it, having already announced that I'm organising Polyday this year (I'm sure I'll go into the story behind that at some point), without actually defining what poly means for me. This will no doubt be the first of many rambles, as poly is a large part of my life, and of what this blog is about, but it's a start!

For those in a hurry, I've marked a few sentences that I think sum up my important points in bold.

I'll state categorically now, that my views are not the same as all poly people, and I'm speaking for nobody but myself in this journal.

The wikipedia definition runs as follows:
Polyamory (from Greek πολυ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin amor [love]) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and free consent of everyone involved.

For me, being 'poly' is tied to my definition of what Love is. I believe that if you love someone, you want them to be happy, whether that means they are with you or without you - this applies both in the long-term, as in 'who would I like to spend the rest of my life with?' and the short, as in 'who would I like to spend this evening with?'. To me, loving someone means facilitating their happiness, or giving them space to create their own, in the best way you can.

If that sounds like a masochistic approach to relationships, it can be. In my early years of relating to people, this meant I gave a hell of a lot and expected little in return. However, having matured a bit since, and gained a lot more experience, the flip-side of this is that I now expect my partners - all of my partners - to feel the same way about me.
Obviously, what will make me happiest at any given moment is not always what will make my partner(s) happy. There is always a balance to be struck, and compromises to be made. Sometimes partnerships are just plain incompatible, and end up dissolving - but any two people who love each other in the way I defined above will care for and support each other even through break-ups.

There are still hard times: In the long-term sense, letting go of someone you're madly in love with but not well suited to is still damned hard, and in the short term so is spending an evening alone when you really don't want to, because it's better for someone else. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone else's happiness is nothing at all, and coming to terms with that can also be tough.

The bit that makes it worth it though: knowing that the person you're spending time with is there because they want to be with you, not because you've blackmailed them into it, or because they have nowhere better to be. That in itself is a heck of a boost in self-esteem.

Some observant folks may notice that the above segment doesn't actually refer to sexual interaction - and in that sense, could apply to monogamy just as easily as poly. I'd also like to point out that a lot of people talk about monogamy versus polyamory, as though there was a definite divide, and not a continuum – I'm guilty of this too sometimes (as I did just a minute ago), but in actuality monogamous relationships have different rules just as poly ones do, and the borders most certainly do overlap.

Perhaps it may surprise a few people coming from a poly activist such as myself, but I don't believe that poly is 'the best' or the only way to be. The way I prefer to see it is that everyone has a number of partners that they're happiest with, and have the time and energy for.

To me, 'fidelity' is about making sure you have enough time and energy for all the partners you're committed to. For some it's just one and that's fine, for others it may be half a dozen or more - just as some families have just one child, and others have many. For some people, who are 'married to their jobs' that may even be nobody. What I do see as wrong is trying to force someone else into being what they're not, whichever direction that goes in.


So where does the sex come in?

This is a huge simplification of my view, but it's a start: I don't see what makes sex different to any other activity that makes people happy. If a person I love wants to spend one evening playing tennis, and another having hot sweaty sex in a club with a few dozen strangers, or if they're happiest tucked away on the sofa watching a film with me, as long as they're being sensible and not endangering my health (and preferably not theirs either) I'm going to feel happiest knowing that he or she is enjoying life to the full - and I've worked on developing the communication skills to make sure I'm not losing out too. And for me, the thing that makes me happiest is freedom to choose.

The difference between poly and swinging to me is a preference, not a moral judgement. It's simply about how I am as a person. I don't make friends terribly easily. I put a lot into my relationships with people. I have platonic friendships that I consider to be on the same level as my love relationships, even when I haven't seen the person in question for a year or two at a time, and that makes sense to me. I would normally not consider sleeping with someone I didn't care about, not because I think it's a bad thing, but because I have no personal investment in making them feel happy. I also have no particular inhibitions about sleeping with friends, because ultimately I believe all of my friends care more about my happiness, and I about theirs, to let an orgasm or two get in the way of that.

Often after explaining all this, I still get asked why it is that I want to be sexual with more than one person - why I want to have more than one relationship at a time. My answer is a question: Why would anyone want to have dinner with more than one person? Or play tennis with more than one person? Or have a conversation with more than one person? The experiences are different – and an extra bonus is that there is always something new to learn from every new relationship – if you have parallel relationships, your existing partners benefit from this (believe me, I know!).

I keep my definition of fidelity in mind, which means that I do limit the number of people I see – because I have limited amounts of time, but if I was to cut out any one of the people I care about from my life, I'd be missing out on the unique things they each bring to my life, and bed, and ultimately I don't believe a single person would be happier for it.

Feel free to ask me questions on this, or point out errors. I am happy to receive direct messages, and will do my best to respond.


- Maxine.


A few polyamory links:

http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html (Polyamory, What, like, two girlfriends?)


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Beautifully put, thank you for sharing that. :-)
I consider myself Poly even though I have never had more than one partner ever, let alone simultaneously, because of what you describe above. My feelings for a person are not impeded by my feelings for some one else and I want the people I care about to be happy even though I realise that they may find some of their happy with some one else.

I like that this means we don't have to be the other person's entire world. All to often I have seen people try change who they are in order to be everything their partner needs all of the time, but in the process losing the things that inspired their partner's love in the first place.

Edited at 2009-08-26 03:47 pm (UTC)

Thanks, it's good to know there are other people seeing the world in the same way!

Regarding being someone else's entire world, there are a couple of long rants that have been sitting in my journal waiting to be transcribed onto the web for some time, about codependence and healthy balance in relationships (my opinions, as I'm not a counsellor or therapist, just rather experienced and jaded). At some point they'll be popping up here too, but I think you're very right. Poly gives you the opportunity to be a small-but-good thing in someone's life, and vice-versa, without the pressure of automatically having to be 'The One', and that's another of the things I love. :)

Hmmm, if I didn't know better I'd think this was kicked off by my uber-emo-rant this morning.

I agree with everything you've said in theory and now have a semblance of understanding of what conflicts with it in my head; unfortunately there's a lot of stuff bouncing about up there so its going to be a while before I can debate any finer points with you coherently ... so next time we meet you'll just have to amuse yourself by drawing on me or something ;-)

Brilliant, thank you for writing this. A fair chunk of it resonates really strongly with me and it's interesting to get some insight into what poly means for you.

Thank you,

Thanks for writing this, it's interesting to read :) the views on reciprocated love and on sex are (I think) extremely emotionally mature and sensible!

Thanks for summarising my thoughts on the matter! :)

Interesting to find that someone else doesn't classify polyamory as necessarily sexual. I feel I have several loving connections with others that fulfill your qualifications for poly without having a sexual component to them. Most people look at me like I am crazy when I say things like that.

Thanks for writing this better than I ever have.

Cheers for that. I've actually been meaning to write a further essay on polyamory for me being not just 'many loves', but many *kinds* of love, after it came up in a seminar type thing last year. (Don't hold your breath though, I'm very slow to update my blogs!)

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