Getting real about polyamory: The why, the who, the how and the what

Does polyamory bring openness and honest communication to relationships? How does it actually work in the real world? The ethical polyamorists answer these questions for The Man

polyamory column Illustrations: Azad Mohan

Last month, some people shared how polyamory brings openness and honest communication to relationships. While this sounds good and ideal in theory, how does it actually work in the real world? How does one discover polyamory? Is it a smooth ride with every poly partner? The ethical polyamorists continue to answer these questions and more with THE MAN this month.

Also read: Monogamy or consensual non-monogamy or polyamory: It’s all about relationships

Why Polyamory?

“You are not jealous enough. If you cared about me and felt possessive about me, then you would not have let me go meet my ex!” Harish, 51, media professional, recalls his girlfriend accusing him of being too liberal. That was when he knew that he wasn’t cut out for monogamy. In the 90s, polyamory wasn’t a popular term in India, so Harish started reading about open relationships and experimented with different partners.

Initially, he was embarrassed about it because he was raised in a conventional family and had married siblings. So he was not completely open but over a few years he learned to be transparent with all his partners.

Not all people have an epiphany moment. Some are introduced to the idea by their partners. And they discover other partners who are interested in some of their pursuits the way their spouse or primary partner is not. And they are also open-minded or curious about trying new things and connecting with people and experiencing the high of new relationship energy (NRE).

getting real about polyamory

Sex and Intimacy Coach Aili Seghetti, 48, who is polyamorous herself, says, “It is becoming more and more difficult to connect with other human beings because of work and timings and gadgets and fast-paced lifestyles. As we push ourselves more, we also have a lot of expectations from our partners. You expect your partner to be your friend, your lover, someone who makes you grow spiritually, someone you can have fun with, someone you can have great sex with. It is like looking for a God in a human being.”

Polyamory offers a solution. “Now you have all these options that you can spread across different people. You can have one person for deep conversations and another for having a fun time and someone else to look after you," says Aili.

Also read: Are you safe? Do you ask this before, after, or never

Another aspect of polyamory is that it also gives you the option to change or evolve in a relationship without really breaking up as you see in monogamous relationships, unless there has been abuse or violence.

In monogamous relationships, one may end up cheating on one’s partner or having an affair on the side because one can’t be open about looking for other people with qualities that one’s partner may not have. 

Aili herself went from one monogamous relationship to another after her husband cheated on her. Over time, she realised that break ups are extremely painful and she wanted to address the issue when she decided to explore other partners.

Who Will You Be?

Finding a partner who meets some of your expectations is one thing, but sharing that partner with another is a big leap. According to Aili, the biggest problem that you have to deal with when you practise polyamory is jealousy. “Jealousy is a normal emotion and, like most emotions, it comes and goes. It is not going to stay with you unless you are chronically jealous. If you are chronically jealous, you have to address it with a therapist. If you have insecurities or low self esteem and are jealous every time your partner goes out, then there is no point in being in the relationship.”

One of the green flags in polyamory is replacing jealousy with compersion. It is a sympathetic feeling that goes beyond being glad for them but actually feeling happy when they are happy. Polyamory makes people face their past traumas to move past them. Anthony, 44, entrepreneur, admits that he was insecure initially about his partner meeting someone else. But, over time he was able to work through those insecurities and understand what made him feel threatened. Once he cracked that, he was able to be happy for his partner.

Also read: The first romantic getaway: Relationship maker or breaker?

Jealousy is not limited to romantic possessiveness. Roshni, 38, social scientist, didn’t know what to feel when her husband’s partners sent gifts for their kids. She was okay being a poly couple but felt territorial when it came to the children. However, when she started dating another parent in an open marriage, she realised how it is natural to have conversations about one’s children because it is such a big facet of their lives.

While it is easier for her to date other parents, Roshni finds that most of them are not in open marriages and though it is not her ethical dilemma, she steers clear of such men because she doesn’t want to be part of a messy situation.

If you are exploring polyamory, it is good to be upfront about your desires and needs so your partners don’t feel let down or cheated. And to invite the same degree of openness from a potential partner so you can choose your level of involvement.

How Does it Work?

Given our hectic schedules, it seems tough enough to devote time to one partner. Then how do polyamorists manage multiple? Aili’s trick is to stick to a scheduled calendar and assign a specific day to a specific partner and that works for her!

Obviously, it does not work with people who are not good with timings. While spontaneity is well and good, Aili has managed with her method for many years. She addresses each of her partner’s needs by making time for extra phone calls or sending messages even if it does not come to her naturally. “It takes a lot of empathy and compassion because you need to understand what space they are coming from and their relationship history.”

Scheduling aside, it is critical to define boundaries and set ground rules. Roshni, who has a demanding career and family, has limited time to date. She has her priorities straight and tells potential partners that she can’t be available at the drop of a hat or that her emotional bandwidth is limited. Her husband is aware of the partners she likes and knows enough about them without knowing the details. They are very open about who they are dating.

Also read: The unintended one-night-stand: Lowered expectations Vs raising the bar?

Simmi, 36, consultant, has lovers who know her primary partner and some of them have also met him. “It becomes much easier because certain layers just vanish and you become much closer and they also open up.”

A very important aspect of mindful polyamory is safe sex not only for yourself but all your partners. While protection is a no brainer, polyamorous partners also discuss regular testing and sharing test reports. Harish adds, “As a polyamorous person, offering to get tested is the decent thing to do when you are dating. Even if it means waiting 20-30 days before it gets physical then that is the discipline you must practise!”

What is your attachment style?

The type of polyamory you practice depends on your attachment style, says Aili. Your romantic attachment style can be broadly classified secure or insecure. She says that most polyamorous people are very secure and independent and reach out to new experiences. However, if you are the anxious type and insecure in your attachments, then you might need more rules and structures which can be reassuring like more phone calls and other such strategies to help you cope. “Being self aware is important and if your partners are supportive, then they will know that you have this issue and they will learn how to manage it on their part.”

Some people have an avoidant attachment style where they are not too deeply involved. Obviously they will find it difficult to be paired with someone who has an anxious attachment style. However, a deeper understanding of your partner’s attachment style can help your relationship.

Knowing your dominant attachment style will help you navigate the different types of polyamorous relationships. Each of these types, ranging from hierarchical to solo polyamory, is used to describe the depth and degree of involvement with each partner and metamour (partner’s partner). For example, relationship anarchy is a type of polyamory without many rules and restrictions about who partners can connect with and how whereas poly fidelity involves a closed group of members who are emotionally and sexually involved only with each other.

While a label might help you identify what you can relate to, it is not important to study all definitions and terms. What is more important is the mindfulness you practice when you engage in any relationship. 

Also read: Tick all the right boxes: Before, during and after hooking up

New Relationship Energy (NRE) is the euphoria or heightened emotion and attraction  you experience when you meet a new partner and it is common in the beginning of a relationship. But remember that it also fades away after a while. So it is important to be mindful of all partners while being caught up in the high of a new partner!

POLYAMORY GREEN FLAGS

* Compersion 

* Secure attachment  

* Open mindedness  

* Safe sex  

* Honesty  

* Clear communication

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