July 19, 2016
By Angelica Walker
Imagine this: after months of trying, you’re finally pregnant with your second child. You’re ecstatic, but when you tell your four-year-old daughter, she’s terrified. Your daughter says, “If you really loved me, I would be all you need.” Soon, you’ll start spending less time with her. She’ll have to share her food and her toys. She asks, “Aren’t I enough?” The more love there is for another child, she thinks, the less there is for her.
The daughter is right about a few things. You will have less time. However, the same could be said about mom taking a new job, going back to school, or even making a new friend, and these things are never as scary. The key here is love. Love is often viewed as one piece of a static pie; you can make the daughter’s piece bigger or smaller, but the size of the pie is finite and always stays the same.
Meanwhile, the mother is already baking another, larger pie.
Monogamous ideals are drilled into our heads before we even learn how to talk. We tell fairytales about living happily ever after. We refer to our partners with ownership-based phrases like, “my girl” or “my man.” Finding your soulmate – that one person you’ll share your entire life with – is a crucial piece of achieving the American dream.
As a society, we generally categorize non-monogamous relationships into two other options. First, there’s “the single life:” testing the waters, dating around, partying, and engaging in one night stands. The second option is cheating: sneaking around, sending sexts from a secret phone, and, ultimately, breaking your partner’s heart.
More and more people – including me – are choosing something different. Polyamory, or ethical non-monogamy, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the custom or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.” This differs from “sleeping around” because love is involved, and “cheating” because everybody is actively aware and okay with what’s happening. Polyamory also greatly differs from polygamy because polyamory does not necessarily include marriage, and is usually not based in religion.
Many polyamorous relationships involve primary partners. In my case, this means that Jon, the partner I live with and spend the most time with, is considered my primary. Other polyamorous relationships are more “equal” in nature, with people spending equal amounts of time with all of their partners. Another option is forming a triad, where three people are all equally in love; that is to say, Jocelyn, Joe, and Julie are all in love with, and possibly living with, each other. Many other types of ethical non-monogamy exist, as the specific rules and conditions of each relationship are uniquely decided upon by the people involved.
As I said before, monogamy is drilled into us from a very young age. We are taught to associate alternative relationships with inadequacy. Polyamorous people are either slutty, desperate, insane, confused, or all four. Our relationships are entirely based on sexual pleasure. Our love is not real.
The signs of me being a naturally polyamorous person have been around for as long as I can remember. Monogamy took a huge toll on me; from my first middle school relationship to the one I ended in the middle of college, I felt defective. No matter how happy I was in my relationships, there was always something missing. I was lonely and depressed. I felt trapped. Even though I was faithful enough to never have sex outside the relationship, each relationship would inevitably end in “emotional cheating” and violence. I desperately wanted to find something that would give me both the stability and love that comes with a serious relationship, and the freedom to pursue relationships with other people as I met them.
When I discovered the label, and that there were other people like me in happy, lifelong relationships, I finally felt free. When I found Jon, and realized they would love me unconditionally despite my “defectiveness,” I stopped feeling defective at all. When I started getting close to my other partners, I finally felt whole. When I dropped off Jon for their first date with somebody else, I felt even more excited and happy. As I went off to grab sushi a few blocks away from them, I couldn’t wait to hear how it went.
My goal with this article is not to bash monogamy and turn anybody poly. Rather, I just wished more people knew that polyamory exists.
Even today, only my closest friends and family know the reality of my relationships. When I go out with multiple partners in public, we are forced to “tone it down” the same way LGBT couples are. To do anything else would be to subject ourselves to confusion, hate, and disgust from everybody around us. Our love in pictures is hidden behind friendly poses and ambiguous captions. I’ve even started telling more and more of my platonic friends that I love them, so that when I tell my partners “I love you” in group environments, people just brush it off as friendship.
I often see people exhibiting the same negative behaviors I used to – cheating on their partners no matter how “in love” they are, causing pain to the people they love the most, and hating themselves because of it – and I wonder if they are even aware that other options exist. Maybe if we had more narratives of happy poly people, more people would know that alternatives to monogamy exist. Maybe there would be less people acting out my story. Maybe there would be less people in pain.
If you’re reading this and it sounds like you, I need you to know that you’re not the only one. You’re not defective, you’re not broken. You may have done things you regret, but you are not a bad person. I need you to know that finding “the one” is not the only way to be happy.
Angelica Walker is an intern for The New People covering LGBTQ rights and criminal justice reform. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying social work, legal studies, writing, and political science.
Polyamory can make sense for some people and has probably existed discretely for generations. Where it seems to get complex is when one of the group wants child(ren). If it is the man, then, unless there is a marriage he has minimal claim to the child. If the child needs medical care, they are not covered under his insurance, if the child goes to the hospital in an emergency situation he may not be allowed in unless the mother is able to okay it. If anything happens to the mother, her family will have more rights to request the child live with them. If the group breaks up, the mother can leave with the child. If the woman wants a child, though things are not quite as complicated, they still are not simple. And then the child also needs to understand the family and be able to feel comfortable in a school and social situation as they grow older. So my comment/question is … is this for people without children? Or do you see it being adaptable?
The simplest answer would be, we need to update our laws to allow polyamorous marriage and parental rights. Three years ago in California, where polyamory is a much more common practice, they signed a bill into law allowing children to have more than two legal parents. In the case of a divorce, the parents would go through the same legal custody battle as a monogamous couple getting divorced.
As far the child fitting in at school, this is another cultural barrier that will become less of a problem as polyamory becomes more accepted. I know a family in San Francisco with a father, two mothers, and a child to each mother. Bullying hasn’t been an issue for them. Of course, had they grown up in Pittsburgh, things would probably be different – but I’m pretty confident that this will change with time, just as Pittsburgh kids of LGBT parents are not bullied today nearly as much as they would’ve been just 10 years ago.
Thank you for your response. I will keep an open mind. I don’t really care what adults do as long as the kids get what they need.
Warm regards, Marcia