Polyamory supporters in San Francisco. via WikiCommons.
Tall, dark, and handsome. That’s the general idea of a perfect husband when you’re a little girl. You can’t really imagine what he’ll look like, but you imagine he’ll be waiting for you at the end of the aisle. You exchange vows in your own mind, have a tea party with some stuffed animals, then forget all about the fake wedding and run off to skin your knees somewhere. It’s pretty stereotypical to see little girls plan their dream weddings and with the onslaught of television shows geared toward monogamy like Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezilla, Four Weddings, and the countless other trashy programs that seem to be coming out, it seems like the whole world is putting on the heat to find that one eternal true love.
Anyway, I can’t tell whether it’s because I always develop a wandering eye after a few months, or if I just start to feel suffocated and trapped like a tiger in a cage, but monogamy always gives me that same old feeling of jamming a puzzle piece into the wrong place. I thought people in committed relationships were huge suckers. Then I had a friend sit me down and explain polyamory.
For those of you who aren’t aware of what polyamory is, it’s kind of like an open relationship but better. It’s based on the belief of loving multiple partners, so you can have many lovers, yet still forge deep and involved emotional relationships. The ideal polyamorous relationships are egalitarian, communicative, and honest. It sounds a little complicated at first, but once you get into the swing of things, it can be a pretty great way of living if you’ve struggle with the idea of “till death do us part.” The more I thought about it the more I considered it to be the exact kind of relationship that I would like. Basically, it seemed like a really good way to be pro-slut without hurting anyone.
I called up Zoe Duff, the director of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, one of the organizers to “Claiming Our Right To Love,” the first ever Poly Convention in British Columbia, and author of Love Alternatively Expressed, which is due to be out this fall, to dispel some misunderstandings of polyamory and maybe help me sort out why I generally feel less than human when it comes to traditional relationships.
VICE: Some of my friends who are presently in polyamorous relationships talk about the "rules" of being poly. What are some of these rules?
Zoe Duff: Polyamory has the knowledge and consent of all partners as a key component. Fundamental to the philosophy is open honest communication and moving into new relationships with more than just consent but the support of all partners. The rules of any poly relationship are negotiated by the people in that relationship and modified as new people are added. Deborah Anapole's book Polyamory: The New Loving Without Limits has lots of tips for the successful practice of polyamory. Moving at the pace of the slowest partner is one that comes to mind. You don't push your partner into accepting a new partner however enthralled you are with him/her. You slow it down and negotiate as your partner is comfortable. Getting ongoing feedback from your partners to ensure that they all are getting a fair share of your time and energy is another.
Can you quickly explain to me some of the pros of being in a polyamorous relationship?
There are more minds on the problem, more incomes on the bills, more hands to take care of the housework, and more loving parents/grandparents to take care of the kids. Partners share different interests with you and so there is someone to dance with, someone to laugh with, someone to fix your computer, lots of snuggles, and schedule permitting, lots of great sex.
What are some of the down sides of a polyamorous relationship?
Poly is a lot of work. If more monogamous people worked this hard on communication, compromise, and inclusivity there would be a much lower divorce rate. Things like jealousy and safer sex are obvious issues that come up more often in poly relationships—but in general, poly people learn to negotiate honestly and find solutions. Sometimes this is very hard work. You can't get away with hiding information or bad behavior.
How do you avoid jealousy? It’s so human.
The trick is to keep the feedback continuous and be alert to the first signs of jealousy. It is a perfectly natural reaction to needs not being met. It is important to openly discuss it and find the true source. There are desensitizing exercises that are terrific in Deborah Anapole's book. You should not feel like you are "not poly enough" because you are experiencing jealousy, and it is essential that your partners work with you and support you working through it. There is always a period of adjustment when new people are added to the relationship, and if everyone works together with compromise and consideration the balance is restored and the relationship shared by all is enhanced.
Official swag from PolyCon, the convention for polyamorists. via the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.
What is the difference between polyamory and polygamy?
Polygamy can be polygyny (one male, several females) or polyandry (one female, several males). It is most often the former, and the relationships involve a marriage rite that is entrenched in some organized religious doctrine. The relationships are governed by the dominant partner—usually the male head of household—and his role is sanctioned by the religious community. This dominant partner is the only partner to have the right to take on new partners, although the knowledge of current partners and their acceptance is considered a key factor to the marriage covenant.
Polyamory can be any configuration of gender and size from the smaller group of three partners to an extended network of unlimited partners. Partners may or may not live together to still be considered members of the family unit. Most commonly, all partners have equal rights and responsibilities as well as full knowledge and consent to other partners joining the family. There are no set rules to how these relationships work, and are negotiated amongst the people involved.
How do you go about choosing a new partner to add to your already existing relationship?
Generally that is a process that you agree upon with your other partners. Everyone has a different amount of discussion required in being comfortable with adding new partners. In our family, we most often meet someone through an online dating site or a poly community event. If it’s online, we meet for coffee first and then date the person with the understanding that we are in a poly family and any long term relationship would involve getting to know other family members. If the new person is a poly community member, likely we all know them anyway. We all date outside of the household but a new partner that is to move into the house must have the approval of all partners. In my experience, it is important for the same gender partners or "metamours" to have a good solid friendship for poly households to be happily successful.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen from people who have attempted a poly relationship?
It never ceases to amaze me how someone who has struggled with discrimination will in turn be critical of someone else's choices because they differ from theirs. This happens in the poly community because we are reinventing relationship forms and living on the growing edge of personal development. “You don't do poly the way I do so you're wrong.” That’s very counterproductive to community building and always hurtful. Poly is about negotiating for a balance in the needs of those in your poly configuration and being inclusive and at least tolerant of the expression of other people who claim to espouse the same philosophy.
Would you say you're more of an asexual or a "quirky alone?" via Flickr.
Do you have any crazy poly stories to share with us?
The best poly stories are happy poly moments when the concept of "compersion" is realized. Compersion is when you can find happiness in the happiness of someone you love being loved by someone else. These are noted on poly lists a lot. Moments when you get the "aha" that poly is working and the philosophy is a reality. My best poly story is simply the bliss of walking hand in hand down the street in Vancouver with both of my partners at the same time and not getting one puzzled look or rude comment. Sitting in a movie theater holding hands and cuddling with both of them. Stopping outside my workplace to kiss each goodbye after a lunch date and not even caring if there were puzzled looks by passersby. The craziness of poly is the wonderfulness that it isn't crazy—it is somebody's version of normal and all is right with the world regardless of who you or I love.
For those of us who are thinking of making the switch to polyamory, how do you know if a poly relationship is good for you?
Same as any other relationship. Are you happy? Do you feel like your needs are met and you are valued by your partners? Is the level of communication and participation in decision making appropriate for your needs? Do you feel empowered and loved beyond any other experience that you wouldn't trade for anything? Relationships are always a work in progress, so you might not have all of that right now, but if you have none of it and you cry yourself to sleep at night, you’re in the wrong relationship regardless of how many partners you have.