Summer officially started last week, which means it is uncuffing season. People are out and about, the days are longer, and warm temps mean less clothes and more beach parties.
Summer is also the perfect time to try out polyamory if it's something you’ve been interested in. What is polyamory? No, it’s not a geometric shape or a rare Pokemon. The word comes from greek and latin roots and means “many loves”. 💖 Being polyamorous means having, or being open to having, multiple intimate relationships at once.
Though on the surface, it may seem similar to an open relationship, the two differ in intention. An open relationship is driven by the desire to have sex partners outside of a core romantic partnership, whereas polyamory is the desire for multiple loving, caring, sexual relationships. And it is definitely not the same thing as cheating - a core value of polyamory is open and continuous communication and consent between everyone involved.
Though polyamory has always existed, lately it seems to be gaining more mainstream acceptance. In 2017, polyamory was the fourth most googled relationship term. This isn’t totally surprising. Monogamy and marriage are still the gold-standards of relationship world, and I’m not expecting any Disney movies where the princess ends up living happily alone in a loft apartment with three loving boyfriends anytime soon, tho a girl can dream. However, these days there are less and less practical reasons to only have one sexual partner.
Many scientists, anthropologists, and vagina-friendy blog editors (Hi 👋) have wondered if monogamy is really the best option for relationships, or if there are better alternatives. One answer might come from our closest primate-relatives. In the book Sex at Dawn, co-authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue that humans are social, communal beings, and monogamy probably doesn’t come naturally to us. They studied the sexual and social dynamics of bonobos, one of humankind’s closest primate-relatives. Bonobos live in a non-monogomous, matriarchal communities, and instead of having sex purely for procreation, also have it, and I mean a lot of it, for conflict resolution, entertainment, and pleasure, which sounds pretty great if you ask me.
Psychologist Esther Perl questions how we can continue to make long-term monogamous relationships work in our modern age of plentiful birth-control and career options for women. She argues that all people have dual needs, which is what makes long-term romantic partnerships so difficult. Humans want security, dependability, and support, but have an equally strong desire for adventure, novelty, and surprise, and that is an awful lot to expect out of just one other person.
Dave*, a New-Yorker who has been in poly relationships on and off for the past 6 years, agrees: “What I like most about polyamory is the stripping away of pressure. No pressure to find complete and utter satisfaction with one other human. The way I frame it for myself is that I’m glad I don’t have just one friend, and poly is having multiple friends that you feel a level of connection with, but no pressure to pick and choose."
Others are drawn to the lifestyle because the communication required helps them to define their personal needs. Courtney, a 25 year-old Brooklynite, explains: "It requires constant communication about boundaries and desires. Because of this it has forced me to confront what it is that I really want and also what it is that I am afraid of losing. And perhaps more importantly, be more comfortable with all the ambiguity/shifting that lies in between. And in acknowledging all this, I feel that I am able to reach a level of intimacy I wasn’t able to in a traditional monogamous relationship where trust and expectations are often assumed and not built.”
Dave also felt polyamory helped him reach a new level of intimacy: "My perspective on human connections changed. I could disengage my relationship with love and sex and treat them as two separate emotions. After living through the disengagement long enough, I felt fully satisfied."
Even if polyamory isn't for you, there is a lot that even the most dedicated couples could learn from their poly peeps. Mostly, the importance of continuous honest, open communication. Jealously is often noted as an inevitable challenge to polyamorous relationships, but it's important to acknowledge that monogamy isn't a cure for jealousy either. No matter how much you love your partner, it's inevitable that you are going to find other humans attractive (oh hello John Krasinksi 😏) , and one of the cool things about polyamory is how it can help you confront and work through those feelings.
In the end, it's important to find the relationship-style that makes you feel happy, safe, and empowered - be it monogamy, polyamory, singledom, or something in between. I think it's positive to see people exploring alternatives to your run-of-the-mill rom-com romance. Who knows, maybe in 200 years we will look back and think of monogamy as being as weird and out of date as 8-track players. Plus, with enough experimentation, maybe someday someone will finally find the cure for heartbreak. If we find out what it is, we will let you know. 💖
*Names have been changed to protect privacy