BY ALICE HOWARD
Alice Howard writes for various queer publications, as well as writing plays, blog entries and Aldi London Road shopping lists. Her writing interests are sexuality, gender and inclusion. @TheAliceHoward
We are not swingers. We are not having an affair. This is not bigamy. We are not greedy, or unable to commit. Polyamory means having more than one loving, sexual partner.
To paraphrase the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (which incidentally is one of the rare movies showing polyamory in a positive light, along with Netflix series You Me Her), polyamory: respect, love, and never boring.
When I came out over a decade ago, I remember worrying,
Who should I tell?
What will be their reaction?
My polyamorous status has resurrected these questions. It’s exhausting trying to second-guess people’s reactions. The negative responses have all come from those insecure within their own relationship status.
It wasn’t long ago that I too had less than generous views on polyamory. Wasn’t it something those hairy American weirdos do in cults?
Today I am ashamed of those prejudices; I am certainly not anti-American or anti-hairy. Cults, I’m still not so keen on.
There are many combinations in polyamory. First let’s lay sex, gender identity and sexual orientation on the table. Polyamory can be a combination of any and all of the above, involving three and upwards people.
The relationship covered most in the media is an established heterosexual couple bringing in a third person, usually a woman. Social theory would suggest this is the tamest combination, but research would suggest variety is the spice of life in polyamorous make-ups.
A couple where only one sleeps with one other. Or both sleep with the same other. Or two people who each have their own other. Or all four sleeping together. Or five, or six.
Every which way, as long as we are talking consensual, open, human connection. There is no established model to follow, which has given me the pleasure of freedom within connection.
We are three cis females. Cath and Sonny are a happily married couple. Both had the desire to open up their relationship. Cath and I are sexual partners; Sonny and I are friends.
Doesn’t that make me The Other Woman? If it was an affair, yes. But it’s not a secret. The three of us hang out together, fully aware of what we mean to each other.
For us, the situation raises a range of exciting possibilities. Cath discusses bringing in another lover who may or may not sleep with Sonny or me. Sonny explores short-term lovers, and I have occasional one-nighters.
We each take health precautions. Sexual adventure isn’t any less exciting when doing it responsibly. Catching an STD is not only dangerous, it is not in the spirit of polyamory.
Yes, there is jealousy. A valid emotion in all relationships. Let it in and mix it with compersion (see Glossary.) Recently when my lover and her wife went on holiday I started feeling excluded. Then I focused on the fact that the woman I love is having a well-deserved rest in a fantastic location with someone she loves. From this I felt genuine joy.
This situation works for me on so many levels. Years of relationships turning into merging, co-dependent nightmares where sex disappeared as matching onesies appeared. But this is unlikely to happen in a relationship where the desire is for growth. Stagnation is not an option, and Cath hates any kind of matching nightwear.
My sexual appetite remains peaked. Cath and Sonny’s relationship has developed in new and fulfilling ways. Change begets change.
How does it work?
Communication. I have never talked so openly in a relationship before. We have three people to consider. Three sides to our story. Three sets of emotions. Three, as yet, uncoordinated menstrual cycles.
On a practical note, a WhatsApp group and online calendar are paramount. Also, it sounds trite but respect is key. Consider this, you don’t need to know everything about each coupling. Before you ask a barrage of questions, give thought to whether you actually want the answer, or you just want them to know you are thinking about a topic.
Opening up your relationship doesn’t mean a free-for-all. It can add a level of honesty and depth of understanding that would not have grown otherwise.
The most difficult part was deciding what to call Cath. I’ve settled on ‘lover’ but it’s still not quite right. Accepting we will not have all the answers has been a big part of my polyamory journey.
So is this the way of the future? Will we all eventually be multi-partnered? Having attended several weddings this year I’ve sat listening to the monstrous list of promises. It is unreasonable to expect everything from one person.
Want more information?
Alice Howard’s Glossary of Polyamorous Terms
Affair – a sexual liaison based on secrecy, occurring outside of a marriage or monogamous relationship. Polyamory is not an affair.
Bigamy – the illegal practice of being married to one person while still married to another. This is not polyamory.
Compersion – the feeling of happiness that your partner is enjoying time with another partner. Sometimes called ‘Frubble’.
Ethical Slut – reclaiming the word ‘slut’ and using it to describe someone who is responsibly muti-partnered.
Lover – the non-married sexual partner in polyamory. Sometimes called ‘Sweetie’.
Metamour – the partner of one’s partner who you don’t sleep with. This is what Sonny and I are to each other. Sometimes called ‘lover-in-law’.
Monogamy – having one sexual and emotional partner.
NRE – New Relationship Energy. The excitement at the start of a new relationship.
ORE – Old Relationship Energy. The feeling of security in an established relationship.
Paramour – a partner outside of the primary coupling. In this case, me! The literal translation is ‘Passionate’… I’ll take that.
Polygamy – having multiple spouses, often with the stereotype of not all parties being happy with polyamorous set up. Not to be confused with polyamory, where connection and freedom are fundamental.
Primary Relationship – a polyamory pairing where more emotional, financial and time entwinement occurs, compared to the Secondary Relationship. Cath and Sonny are the Primary Relationship, Cath and I are the Secondary Relationship, although none of us are keen on these labels.
Swingers – usually a couple who sleep with others for sexual gratification. Different from polyamory in that love and connection often aren’t part of the sexual encounter.
Threesome – usually a couple who bring in a third person for sex, and who neither are emotionally connected to. This is not polyamory.
Thruple – three people in a polyamorous relationship, who are all emotionally and sexually connected. This is not currently our situation, as Sonny and I are friends but not lovers.