Naturally, I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately and one of the considerations has been the number of people in a relationship: a polyamorous vs. a monogamous relationship.
To define the terms: a monogamous relationship is one where you are in a committed relationship with one person (cheating on your significant other in a monogamous relationship does not make it a polyamorous one- just makes you a cad.) A polyamorous relationship is one where you are in a committed relationship to two to many people, each partner is free to have other partners, and each partner is aware of that there are other partners. (Again, deciding that you are now going to be in a polyamorous relationship without informing both partners doesn't make it so- again, it just makes you a cad.)
Now, as you can guess, I am a little biased against the idea of polyamorous relationships (so read this post with a grain of salt) but I can't deny them as a viable method of living outright. After all, there was a time when I wanted a polyamorous relationship. During our four years in college, the Law Student and I had an "open" relationship- though neither of us felt compelled to act on it and if we had it might have closed a bit faster. (We did eventually close it when we went our separate ways to grad schools. Or at least I did.)
I thought I understood the appeal of an open relationship. Think of the possibilities in bed! Think of the gifts you could receive from not one but two people! Think of the love and comfort and warm fuzzies that you would get from having two loves!
Then I realized relationships were hard. You have bad days. They have bad days. You need to forgive and shrug off little annoyances. Accept bad habits and different ways of thinking. You have to change yourself (and yes, every relationship requires this- the health of one just depends on how much you do.) It's not easy to love someone. It requires a lot of work on both parties part and I am still learning how to do that properly. If it was this hard to keep a relationship alive and going with one person, how hard would it be with two? Or more?
But! I can't say a polyamorous relationship is immoral or impossible. I think it would take a lot more work. And so while I don't have any tips or guidelines to offer, having never been in one myself, these are some thoughts I've had:
~ Understand your reasons for going into a polyamorous relationship. If, like me, you want multiple loves for the benefits it gives you, that won't work. Even in a monogamous relationship, if you are just using your partner as a tool to make you happy, it's not healthy. I can only imagine this is amplified in a polyamorous one.
~ Understand that you won't have the force of culture behind you. Whether right or wrong, we live in a monogamous culture (though it is swiftly becoming a serially monogamous culture). There aren't the institutions or social support in place to help you when you enter a polyamorous relationship. There aren't books written about what to do when one partner is jealous of the other or how to negotiate the tricky waters of multiple relationships. There are probably support groups of other people who have chosen this lifestyle and they can offer advice and comfort. But you aren't going to find that in the larger country. If things go wrong, you'll hopefully be met with genuine concern, but I think there will be a tinge of "I told you so" in a lot of people. (After all, you've just confirmed the rightness of their own more normal behavior.) Again, this doesn't preclude a polyamorous relationship, it just makes it more difficult.
~ Communication becomes even more essential. Jealousy is a normal response in our culture. If you've managed to truly free yourself from the concepts of possession, then that is wonderful and I'd love to hear how. But that takes a level of self-awareness and a understanding that I don't, and I imagine most people, don't have.
~ Don't start a new relationship when you are in a Long Distance Relationship with one or multiple people. New relationships cause new changes in people- as they should. And willingly changing to that degree while you have someone waiting isn't fair to either of you if you are committed to your relationship.
~ All the rules of being in a single relationship still apply. I'd worry that I would forget this. That when things aren't going well with one person, I just start concentrating on the other rather than work it out with the first. Though, again, this could just be why I am not suited for a polyamorous relationship.
~ Make sure all your partners know that you are interested in a polyamorous relationship from the beginning. If they agree to try it- make sure they are really committed and not just agreeing out of fear of losing you or something else.
My final thoughts are that polyamorous relationships are a lot like communism. They sound great on paper, but in practice a host of human weaknesses come to light and the thing collapses. Of course, some people can thrive in a communal living situation and I have heard of polyamorous relationships that work wonderfully for everyone involved. It's just that the benefits of both lifestyles are only achieved through more hard work and personal changes of thought and feelings than I think most people who embark on them are aware.