Words || Georgia Drinan
In today’s dating world, the baseline for what constitutes a relationship is constantly changing. No longer is a socially-accepted relationship confined to the straight married couple with 2.5 children and an aversion to the female orgasm – in theory, anyway. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that the modern dating world is light-years away from the relationship norms my grandmother, or even my mother, grew up with.
Polyamory, however, is not a new concept. The idea of having a relationship (sexual, marital or otherwise) with more than one person, with the full knowledge and consent of everybody involved, has been around for thousands of years. Polygamy has been written about countless times in the ancient world, with traditions of individuals (okay, usually men) with multiple spouses recorded in texts from a multitude of ancient cultures. Polygamy and polyamory is talked about in the Bible (Exodus 21:10) and in the Qu’ran (Sura 4:3), with many cultures still holding on to the practice of having multiple spouses. Philip II of Macedon had eight wives in 359 BC. That guy in Utah from the Sister Wives show on TLC has, like, four. The more things change, hey.
That being said, there is an important distinction between Polygamy and Polyamory. Polygamy refers strictly to somebody having multiple spouses, and may often be done for religious reasons. Polyamorous individuals don’t need to be married – and while polyamorous people may have a primary partner – a relationship they have committed to as their most serious one – relationships aren’t always centered on bringing someone else ‘into’ a main relationship, as may be standard of a polygamous marriage.
Being polyamorous myself, I am constantly fascinated with the way poly relationships are perceived in the modern world. In the name of research, and personal curiosity, I sent out a survey to over 100 people, to see how much they knew and what they thought of the phenomenon of polyamorous relationships.
What I found was that while 96% of the survey respondents were familiar with the concept of polyamory – of having romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person, either in committed relationships, casual dating, or any variation in-between – many people were confused about the specifics.
“How does having children work?” one respondent asked. “What happens if your partners don’t like each other?” “How do you not get jealous?” Or, my personal favourite: “How do you decide which partner to watch the new episode of Game of Thrones with?”
While I could answer a few of their questions from my own experience, there really is no catch-all answer to “how does it work?” In fact, the most wonderful thing about polyamory is the diversity. Just as every individual is different, so too is every relationship.
Tony Guyot, an individual with many years of experience in polyamorous culture, was nice enough to sit down with me over tea and Mapo Tofu while I asked all sorts of terribly intrusive questions about his love life. Guyot, a long-time poly enthusiast, was able to shed a lot of light on the modern culture of polyamory.
In response to the common questions regarding jealousy, Guyot cites it as being scarcely different to most relationships. And, just like in most relationships, it’s manageable if you have the tools to deal with it. “What tends to happen is, sometimes people come up with rules – which tend to be much more serious and diligently adhered to than ones in monogamous relationships. Once you’re working outside the rules system, you need better rules. You’ll find most people are absolutely emphatic about things like safe sex. It’s all about re-engineering and recreating a comfort zone based on what’s important to you.”
Guyot was wonderfully candid about how he navigates complex emotional issues. “Everybody is an individual. Your primary partner – if you have one – is going to feel differently to you. They’re going to find different things cute, annoying, endearing, attractive … So when you have a new person in your life, and you’re dealing with all of their emotional baggage, and they’re dealing with yours, it can affect them differently than you.” In a world of ever-changing relationship dynamics, Guyot highlighted the importance of open communication between partners. “There’s a lot of communication in poly relationships – if what works for you is changing, I need to know,” he said.
Guyot says that a lot of the misconceptions about polyamory – that it’s selfish, or debaucherous, or tantamount to cheating – often comes from a failure to recognise that in healthy polyamorous relationships consent and communication is everything.
Talking to Guyot really helped dispel some of those assumptions about polyamorous relationships being solely for the emotionally immature or the commitment-phobic – he’s been happily polyamorous with his current partner for 10 years, and they are very much committed to being emotionally supportive of each other.
“In polyamory you always have a definite veto if you really need one – in situations like, ‘The dog died,’ or ‘My PhD just got rejected,’ or ‘my mother’s just been diagnosed with a very serious illness;’ you can say look, I just need you to be with me and just me tonight. If that’s the case – sorry for the short notice, but the date is off,” he says, making clear that he would be there to support any of his partners if they needed him. “In a world of depression and anxiety, sometimes you can just ask for company when you really need it, and that is completely okay.”
On maintaining the (ahem) energy for multiple relationships, Guyot pointed out that his perspective was very much his own on how he keeps up with being in multiple relationships at the same time. “It helps if you have a high appetite for love and a high capacity for attention,” he said. “I can sit there for hours, cheek to cheek to somebody sharing a cup of coffee and, when the date is over, I’ll still want more. I won’t be sick of company. But of course I would think that, I’m an extrovert. Most of my partners are introverts. Occasionally my primary partner has called up my girlfriend just to tell her “Please come and get him out of the house! He’s bouncing off the walls! I want to read a book in peace!” Usually when my primary partner takes time out, she’s leaving me for a book.”
While a hardcore aficionado of polyamorous relationships, Guyot was upfront about its challenges as well. “I feel like a lot of trouble comes from the communication being superficial; there’s a lot of ‘this is what I need from you’ but less of a ‘this is what I feel and what my actual emotional state is’,” he stated. “I’m sure the healthiest relationships can do this, and have open communication down to a second nature, but it’s hard.”
In the 21st century, dating is moving further and further off the map. The dating world has changed and some rules no longer apply. We’re living in a time when we can start making our own rules and these really come down to what works for you. While it probably isn’t for everyone, many people have found incredible happiness through polyamory – happy, healthy and complete relationships with a variety of people they love.
So, if that’s you, get out there; make your own rules, spread your joy, and get your love on!