I originally published this on Google’s Knol quite a while ago. Some have liked what is written here, story some have not. I did have a little help with this, so it is not solely my work.Since my original article this has undergone quite a few changes, reorganizations, and additions so it is a little bit different than the original.
This is by no means complete or the end-all-be-all of polyamory tutorials or introductions, since it is such a diverse lifestyle that you could not really hope to encompass it all in one readable page, but this should give you a good starting point from which you can do your own research and form your own opinions. Good luck and enjoy.
Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof
This is a broad overview of polyamory from compersion, jealousy, and relationship agreements with a helpful list of references and definitions.
Polyamory (or the more British spelling ‘polyamoury’) is also referred to as ‘responsible non-monogamy’ or just ‘poly’. It is the state of having, or being oriented to having, multiple concurrent intimate relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all concerned.
Polyamory does not necessarily imply that the relationships are sexual, but many times they are. Some poly relationships may be non-sexual (platonic) romances, with an intimate emotional, psychological, and/or intellectual connection beyond what would merely be called “friendship.”
Successful polyamorous relationships generally require a high level of self-awareness, honesty (especially with oneself), introspection, self-security, and communication among all concerned. Polyamory is not for the faint of heart or wussies.
Origin of the Word
The word ‘polyamory‘ is derived from the Greek poly-, ‘many’, and the Latin amor, ‘love’. The word was invented independently in 1990 by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (in the adjectival form ‘poly-amorous’) and in 1992 by Jennifer L. Wesp. (Reference: Polyamory Enters Oxford English Dictionary)
Forms of Polyamory
Poly relationships can take a wide variety of forms. A person may have two lovers who having only passing knowledge of each other, or lovers who are close friends, or lovers who are also romantically and sexually involved with each other (an “equilateral triad”). A married or otherwise life-bonded couple (‘primaries’) may have less-involved relationships with other lovers (‘secondaries’). The commonest poly formation is probably the ‘vee’ (three people with two of them not romantically involved); a vee may be called a “triad” if their lives are deeply intertwined, sex or no. A ‘full’ or ‘equilateral’ triad involves romantic relationships between all three — but the three relationships need not be ‘equal’. In fact, it is a piece of poly wisdom that no two relationships are exactly the same, and trying to force them to be equal is asking for trouble. Larger groups may be ‘quads’ of four with various degrees of interconnectedness, ‘quints’ of five, or ‘intimate networks’ of more people with more complicated geometry.
“The Poly Mantra”
Since the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s, the poly community has grown enormously and shared many hard-won, trial-and-error lessons within the community, both in person and, especially, online. The most often-cited lesson is the so-called poly mantra: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”
A habit of open and honest communication, experience has shown, is almost always required to enable everyone to understand what is going on with each other’s emotions and thoughts — and in the absence of such openness, problems in a poly group are almost guaranteed. Communicating your thoughts and emotions (positive and negative) sooner rather than later helps avert hard feelings and difficult situations, or forces them onto the table. Your partners cannot ‘read your mind‘ and will not ‘just understand or know‘; such romanticized ideals are quickly put aside by successful polyfolks. When a problem arises, be open, honest, calm, and understanding, and all may eventually work itself out. Some poly people and groups hold regular ‘family meetings’ to promote the early airing of nascent problems. If serious problems do not resolve, you might seek the help of a poly-friendly counselor. The books Radical Honesty, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and Nonviolent Communication may help give you perspective and effective communication tools.
Compersion or Frubble
‘Compersion’ (or the British ‘frubble’) is the state of feeling joy at the joy of another loved one, specifically, when applied in the poly context, is when a loved one is relating to another person intimately; such as a husband feeling joy at seeing or knowing that his wife is enjoying time with her new boyfriend.
Compersion is the complete opposite of jealousy. Compersion is a goal to which polyfolk often aspire in order to break negative cultural (and/or evolutionary) programming and increase their satisfaction and happiness in their poly relationships.
See Wikipedia’s Compersion article and A Crazy Little thing Called…
Poly relationships are wide and varied in their form, assumptions, and ideologies. What one person takes for granted and assumes may not be true for the others in the relationship, so many find it useful to form a relationship agreement. These agreements, when done, are generally written, but can be completely oral; many are setup as a relationship contact that is agreed and signed by all so there are no misunderstandings. Relationship Agreements can be a very useful tool, especially to those that are new to poly, to help verbalize and work through their thoughts, assumptions, and ramifications of the agreement, as well as to solidify a joint definition of their relationship and acceptable practices.
It is important to remember that relationships are not static, especially poly relationships where people can come and go as time goes on, and you will need revisit this agreement, and bargain and change the agreement to reflect the change in the relationship and your needs. The document should be a living breathing extension of your relationship changing as much as you change.
The book Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts has some good info on this.
Adultery or Cheating
Polys define cheating as the breaking of an viceral agreement or understanding within the relationship. Most married or bonded couples have an agreement, either explicit or culturally implied, and most times includes not having sex with other people (i.e. sexual exclusivity). Polys have a wide variety of agreements and understandings (which, some believe, are best put in writing in order to prevent later confusion, evasion, or wishful thinking).
In sexual terms, cheating can be defined as engaging in an intimate relationship with an outside person without the consent and/or knowledge of your existing partner(s). This usually involves lying, deceiving, or omission of important facts. Cheating is antithetical to polyamory and is usually is as fatal to it as it would be to any relationship. Polyamory requires informed consent and knowledge from all parties involved — and, experience shows, consistently high integrity overall.
Adultery is a legal term referring to sex with an outside partner while married, and the word normally implies cheating. A more extensive treatise on adultery from the Christian perspective is handled in the book ‘Divine Sex‘ (see below).
Jealousy is the big ‘monster-in-the-closet‘ for many relationships regardless of their form. It is a special issue for polyamory, since participants have to face personal fears and insecurities (the roots of jealousy) that monogamous couple may mostly avoid. The righteousness of feeling jealous is supported by our culture in movies, cultural values, religion, and laws, but jealousy something that is learned and therefore can be unlearned. Many couples battle with it (in and outside of poly), and is a common reason for emotional turmoil and breakups in poly relationships, especially near the beginning. Defeating jealousy in your life may require a tremendous amount of soul searching, introspection, honesty, communication, as well as trust and faith in your relationships and partners.
See below for some sites that deal with this issue.
Polyamory, in-and-of-itself, does not assume marriage is the goal or a desired outcome. Polyamory and Marriage, however, are not mutually exclusive either, since they both deal with relationships at various levels.
Polygamy is explicitly a type of marital state involving plural partners, whereas monogamy is explicitly a type of marital state involving single partners and that is it.
Polyamory is referring to an open and honest relationship model involving plural partners.
Polygamy is specific to marriage, whereas Polyamory is not. However, since marriage is a type of relationship and so is polyamory, they can and do meet.
Polyfidelity within polyamory could mirror a ‘traditional’ polygynous (MFFF) or polyandrous (FMMM) marriage exactly. You could have a polyamorous quad (MFMF) that is married polygamously via Group Marriage (polygamy). You could also have a Polygynous Quad (MFFF) that was polyamorous. You could even have a monogamous marriage that was polyamorous or more commonly – just an Open Marriage.
New Relationship Energy (NRE) or Limerence
NRE (resulting from limerence) is the honeymoon phase of the relationship when everything is new and exciting and brain chemicals keep you in a potentially blind emotional high. It typically lasts 6 months to 2 or 3 years. This ‘high‘ can have you doing things that you would not do while in a normal and objective frame of mind. When you are engaging in a new relationship you will want to guard yourself and your relationships from this as best you can. Enjoy the ride, but be careful.
Once the ‘love-struck‘ or ‘blinded-by-love‘ condition wears off some find themselves, in retrospect, having made bad decisions, hurting and neglecting those that they love and have committed themselves to. NRE can be seen as a sort of a not-so-short sickness that one has to deal with and monitor for fear of negatively impacting your other relationships with emotional and love-struck decisions.
See Wikipedia’s articles on New Relationship Energy (NRE) and Limerance.
Swinging is not polyamory, and the difference is often a sore spot when poly people are speaking with non-polys about what polyamory is. Swinging is generally recreational sex with little emotional involvement. Swinging is typically done by couples attending special swing venues or parties together. Swinging communities often have rules, explicit or implied, against falling in love with others in your swing group.
Sometimes people who swing tire of sex for its own sake and wish for more personal and intimate connections. Two or more couples who swing together frequently may simply grow to become close life friends and/or desire more. In either case, people may find themselves drifting away from swinging and into the wonderful and challenging world of polyamory.
Conversely, polyamorists can be swingers too, happy to enjoy an occasional no-strings fling at a party or sex club. But the two circles tend to be different in terms of sociology, class, philosophy, and intellectual background. Many polys shun swinging because of negative connotation associated with it. The mainstream attitude is that swinging is wrong and immoral; the mainstream attitude toward polyamory is similar, but polys usually resist being stigmatized as caring only about sex.
A group could be an open triad with a relationship agreement stating that swinging is OK, and one or more of the participants engages in swinging. The triad relationship would still be polyamorous, but the relationship with the outside swinging partners would not necessaily be.
- adultery or cheating
- see the Adultery or Cheating section
- not open to new relationships; see polyfidelity
- see the Compersion section
- a newer term I encountered that refers to a bisexual person maintaining relationships with 1 person of each gender with the belief that if the 2 relationships are with people of different genders and are mongamous with respect to the specific genders, then it is still ‘monogamy’. This might be kind of a transitional label or used to specifically deny or avoid the polyamorous label while still respecting their choice for a plural partner arrangement.
- an intimate committed relationship with two people
- golden unicorn
- slang term for the bisexual female that is generally desired as a intimate and/or sexual partner for both members of a Dyad, most likely with the intent to form a Triad. In most cases this is for an established MF Dyad whose female is also bisexual.
- group marriage
- a subset of polygamy
- a general term which refers to a marriage which includes more than one person of each gender. While polygamy, in current contexts. tends to have connotations that assume a main spouse of one gender and then multiple spouses of the other gender as in polyandry and polygygy (see below); group marriage generally connotates a marriage which includes more than one person of each gender which may be further defined as open or cloaed, etc…
- and acronym meaning ‘Hot Bi(sexual) Babe’; see Golden Unicorn
- Intentional Community
- a community of people with shared values that live together and share various resources
- see Wikipedia’s article on Intentional Communities
- see the New Relationship Energy (NRE) section
- loving only one other person
- marrying only one other person
- new relationship energy (NRE)
- see the New Relationship Energy (NRE) section
- an relationship formation that is open to intimacy from outside their primaries, such as an Open Dyad
- open marriage
- a marriage in which the spouses have agreed to have intimate partners outside their marriage
- within polyamory a pod has been described as ‘a committed network of lifelong intimate friends’. More generally a pod is a collection of people who are intimate at varying levels. Some may be permanent parts of each others lives like the primary/secondary arrangements or may be only part of the pod for small parts of times.
- a subset of polygamy
- the state of a woman having more than one husband
- polyandry, fraternal
- a subset of polygamy
- the state of a woman having more than one husband that are brothers related by blood
- statistically, this is commonly the most successful form of polyandry
- ‘polyfi‘ for short
- a relationship with multiple committed partners that is closed to new intimate relationships
- the state of having more than one spouse
- a subset of polygamy
- the state of a man having more than one wife
- polygyny, sororal
- a subset of polygamy
- the state of a man having more than one wife that are sisters related by blood
- statistically, this is commonly the most successful form of polygyny
- Refers to the most committed relationships, which are also most likely the most important relationships such as a husband, wife, life partner, or others whom a person has committed relationship with. The most time and energy is spent with a person’s primaries. Some do not like this terminology, but others find it fitting and precise.
- an intimate committed relationship with four people
- romantic myths
- Romantic socio-cultural beliefs that when stoically held onto may potentially hinder a person’s ability to find happiness in relationships. Their belief in these myths, may have them holding out for an impossible romantic ideal for a future partner or have unrealistic expectation for their current partners. Western Romantic Myths tend to reinforce the starvation model of love as well.
- see starvation model of love and ‘the one’ for more information; there are links below on this topic
- Refers to relationships that are secondary in importance, time, and/or resources, etc to their primary relationships, such as new girlfriend or long term casual long distance love. Some do not like this terminology, but others find it fitting and precise.
- see: Successful Secondaries, Taking Care of Secondaries from Xero Mag
- scarcity model of love
- starvation model of love
- starvation economy of love
- Believing that love is limited and that if I love this one person romantically then I cannot love another romantically without loving less or not loving the first person. Love is limited and therefore I can only romantically love one person at a time. This seems to be at odds with our ability to love more than one parent, child, friend, etc. This phenomenon is greatly fed by the romantic myth of the ‘the one’ or ‘your one true love’, as well as by movies, literature, and our conservative laws and social views.
- sex negative
- The pervailing attitude of Western culture finds sexuality and all things sexual negative, sinful, guilt ridden, and distasteful. Sexuality is not something to open about or to enjoy, since it is only for species perpetuation – reproduction. It is something to be repressed and ignored unless necessary.
- see Wikipedia’s article on Sex Negativity
- sex positive
- Sex positive people see their sexuality as a natural part of who we are and not afraid of or ashamed of enjoying it, or taking responsibility for their own satisfaction.
- see Wikipedia’s article on the Sex Positive Movement or The Language of Sex Positivity (The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality)
- sexual dimorphism
- Sexual Dimorphism is term from biology that refers to the size difference in the genders of a species. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the level of sexual dimorphism in a species to the level of monogamousness of a species. The greater the size difference the less monogamous a species is.
- sexual monogamy
- This comes from the world of biology and refers to the state of a creature that maintains a sexually monogamous relationship with one another mate, but this does not assume social monogamy. Generally a creature that is sexually monogamous will also be socially monogamous other wise there will not be much reproductive benefit.
- social monogamy
- This comes from the world of biology and refers to the state of a creature that concentrates on acquiring food, shelter, defense, etc for only one other mate. A socially monogamous creature can can be does not also have to be sexual monogamous. Socially monogamous creatures are often sexually polygamous (seeking sexual partners outside their primary partner). There is only a small percentage of creatures that are mostly socially and sexually monogamous.
- a psychological source of discomfort (see wickionary’s definition)
- see the Swinging section
- ‘the one’
- ‘the one true love’
- ‘you complete me’
- This view assumes that as soon as you have met ‘the one’ that you cannot and will not love another, and that you will need no one or anything else because this one person will fulfill you in all ways. You will also find no other people physically, sexually, intellectually, or emotionally attractive or desireable. This is one of the most destructive romantic myths in Western culture by putting the responsibility for your happiness in someone else, and not yourself.
- an intimate committed relationship with three people
- intimate network
- a set of words to describe the collection of poly and/or potentially non-poly people having relationships with poly people. Each word has its own set of connotations and nuances depending on the group.
- A trouple is 3 people involved in a romantic relationship; whereas two people in a romantic relationship are referred to as a ‘couple’. a dyad that is dating a third would be referred to as a trouple.
- a relationship form where there is a single person (at the V’s hinge) to which both other members are sexually intimate with and are not intimate with each other, which is a typical formation for a FMF or MFM triad
More Terms and Definitions
References and Resources
- About Polyamory
- Search Engine for Polyamory from Google Coop
- My Poly Links on Delicious
- Polyamory (Wikipedia)
- Polyamory – What it is and what it isn’t (Derek McCullough and David S. Hall, Ph.D, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality) – a really, really excellent article
- 10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships (Sex Geek, June 2007)
- Polyamory for the Monogamous
- Polyamory on Answers.com
- Polyamory Percolations – Polyamory in the News
- Poly people I can do without – Heartless Bitches
- Poly (Greek, “Multiple”) Amor (Latin, “Love”)
- Evolutionary Tendencies (Sexuality.org, by Eric Francis, 1998)
- What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory (Weizman, March 1999)
- Adding a Co-wife (Leanna Wolfe Ph.D., February 2005)
- Bouquet of Lovers, A Church of All Worlds (CAW)
- Romantic Myths, “The One” Myth, and Scarcity of Love
Audio and Video
Discussion Groups, Meetings, Mailing Lists
Many of the sites mentioned through out this article have forums as well. You will most likely want to search for a group that is local to you as well. Many major cities have poly lists, meetings, and support groups.
Sites, Organizations, and Professionals
Meeting Poly Partners or Social Networking
I was not surprised to see this still an issue. In the pre-revolution days many of the colonies had religious tests as a requirement to hold office. They did out-law it at some point prior to the the uniting of the colonies, cialis if I remember correctly, but still there remains these last remaining vestiges of Christian religious oppression. Fortunately, the Constitution is really clear on this and tells the state to suck it.