As a minority in the UK, polyamorist’s are a community of people who are quietly breaking down social assumptions around relationships.
Both a philosophy and a lifestyle, Polyamory is based upon romantic or sexual relationships with multiple people, with the consent of everyone involved.
The reasons for why people choose polyamory vary from person to person. For some it is an unconscious choice, and others have used it in as a tool to revitalise their marriage or relationships.
The term polyamory itself means ‘many loves’, and the synopsis is that it allows you to find emotional fulfilment in building open, honest and non-possessive relationships. Although a recent phenomenon, the term became commonly used in the ‘90s and has witnessed a growing number of people that identify as polyamorous; much so with the help of the internet.
One of the sites that has welcomed this concept to the online world is Poly UK, who are a Facebook community that allow people to openly share information and discuss ethical non- monogamy, relationship anarchy and open relationships.
All of these terms have one thing in common, which is the idea of polyamory. But, allow me to break it down.
Ethical non-monogamy allows people to consciously explore sex and love with numerous people.
Relationship anarchy – ironically to what the name suggests – is the practise of forming relationships that are not constrained by rules, other than those created by the people in the relationship.
And, an open relationship simply allows each partner to partake in sexual relations with others.
I was welcomed into the group by John Cossham who sent me a message before my acceptance, to confirm my interests in joining Poly UK. ‘Sorry about that. But polyamory relies on good communication!’.
I explained my personal relationship with the idea, and that I was interested in finding out more for the benefit of myself and this feature. With the promise of not using any of the stories from the page without permission, I was in.
From the outset it was obvious that the members are reflective of the loving and open foundation that polyamory exists upon. If this were real life, I would have been welcomed by every single person with a huge hug. When I posted to ask for people to share their ideas and stories, the wealth of offers was genuinely overwhelming.
I read through the comment threads which spanned from people asking for relationship advice, to dealing with personal feelings of jealousy, and intellectual debates on the poly movement or for better context, lack of.
Not the seedy, swinger meet ups that some may assume. The latter comment thread is one that sparked my interest.
Why isn’t this a wide-spread, forward social movement?
Ellie* puts it simply, ‘’I don’t consider myself part of any movement related to polyamory, or any other ‘alternative’ style of relationships. It’s simply what I am. I don’t care how far it gets, really, and I’m not in any hurry to waste more energy justifying myself to other people.’’
After our brief conversation, John agreed for us to arrange a Skype interview to answer many of my burning questions. He introduced me to Joy, who is one of his secondary partners.
This is a common words used by people in polyamorous relationships to distinguish the degree of relationship and the describe the participants. Although, John tells me how he tends not to use these labels, through personal choice.
For John, non monogamy was always a natural way to be.
In his early 20’s, he had a seven year relationship, in which monogamy was the general assumption. Although, it had always felt natural for John to have multiple partners and the relationship eventually broke down because of this. He defines polyamory as a relationship orientation, similar to sexual orientation and explains “it’s as clear to me that some people are mono and some people are poly, as some people are gay and some people are straight”.
On the other hand, Joy was in a monogamous relationship but acknowledges that she has always been non monogamous to some extent but just lives in a normative society where it is frowned upon. She describes her perspective of polyamory;
“it’s not intrusive, it’s not hurtful… it’s life fulfilling. I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier in my life.”
John takes over to explain that with an increasing amount of knowledge, Joy has been able to move forward in life and realise that it is possible to love more than one person.
The inevitable question quickly arose, that is familiar to many in the poly community. But… don’t you get jealous?
John naturally puts his positive spin on my question. “I’ve only ever experienced jealousy once and it was quite a weird thing, but I’ve experienced compersion once as well.
For a woman of words, this is one I was unfamiliar with. It’s defined as ‘the opposite of jealousy… positive feelings about your partner’s other intimacies.’
The first time John felt this was at a festival with his girlfriend at the time. She was introduced to a friend of his who also happened to be the bass player in a band, and they hit it off straight away. He left them together and when he came back two hours later, the pair were kissing and cuddling in the audience. As John puts it, “I let out this big laugh, it was like a wave of joy and beauty and happiness spread through me instantly and I thought.. that’s compersion!”
John soon loops back to the original question to tell me that “jealousy is not wrong and insecurity is normal it’s a part of the range of human emotions, the same as anger. But how do you express it?”
People in monogamous relationships somewhat value jealousy as an indicator of true love, whilst society makes us feel ashamed when we choose to confront it. It’s seen as a sign of insecurity and neediness and is difficult to deal with. Polyamory encourages you to acknowledge natural feelings of jealousy and recognise it as a potential symptom to personal issues.
Communication is of paramount importance in any relationship, be it friendship, monogamous or polyamorous and discussing these feelings can only give you more control over it.
Even though the stigmas that surrounds polyamory are often misconceptions, they will be difficult to overcome. John is hopeful of this, but says that his aim is to just be open about what poly is in order to normalise it and declares, “this is what I’m about, and everyone else can make their own choices.”
With this new information, perhaps polyamorists are next in line for liberation?