By: Al Gentile/TRT Reporter—
Polyamory, or the act of being romantically involved with more than one person, has not been the subject of much academic research. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, “Prevalence of Experiences with Consensual Nonmonogamous Relationships”, states that one in five Americans have engaged in “consensual nonmonogamy” at some point in their lives.
The Rainbow Times reached out to several people in polyamorous relationships to explore the reality, stigma, and characteristics surrounding consensually nonmonogamous couplings.
Spencer Belén Icasiano said they often struggled with feelings of wanting more than what one romantic partner was capable of providing.
“I would obsess a lot about my own feelings,” said Icasiano, who identifies as genderqueer. “I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt a lot of guilt wanting something more than monogamy. I thought I would never be able to have a deep, lasting connection with someone.”
Polyamory is a dynamic term under which many different distinctions exist. For example, Icasiano is in what they describe as a “pseudo-hierarchical relationship,” one where they have a “primary” partner with the option of “secondary” and “tertiary” partners.
There are many terms used to describe nonmonogamous relationships, and often the language used to describe those experiences are based on several factors, including the presence of consent, the emotional and sexual nature of a relationship, and more.
Now being in a committed relationship and with the freedom of exploring others as well, Icasiano said they were able to learn much more about themselves and others.
For Katie Martini, a non-binary queer person, discovering that polyamory was a viable option came at a crossroads.
“I found out I had feelings for my current girlfriend and this other person. That’s when I started to consider it,” Martini said. “Growing up, I didn’t know it was a thing that you could love other people. I started to realize there were healthy ways to be in a relationship with more than one person.”
A not-so-different definition of love
One question many polyamorous people often field is how they could have the capacity to love more than one person. For Chrys Lee*, a woman who is in a straight polyamorous relationship with her husband and boyfriend, it comes down to what’s brought to the table.
“My husband is more nurturing, and my boyfriend is more goal-oriented,” Lee said. “I haven’t found someone better than my husband; I’ve just found someone else. I have two whole relationships.”
Lee said that, as opposed to splitting her emotional capacity between two people, she brings everything a monogamous person brings to their relationship to hers.
Lee said assessing one’s own capacity with honesty is integral to maintaining full-fledged relationships with her two partners. Yet, people still have their doubts, she said.
“If they saw how much effort we put into each other, I don’t think they would [have doubts],” Lee said. “I can handle it because I have very few friends who take up my time.”
Icasiano said that one of the central tenants of polyamory is that if a person wants to satisfy all of their various needs, one needs to look beyond the limits of a single person.
“I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on one person,” Icasiano said. “Being polyamorous allows me to find the pieces that fit and lets me work with that.”
Icasiano said likening polyamory to having multiple friendships is helpful in understanding the motivation to want different things from different people. They said it’s like how someone can have friends they’re close with for different reasons.
Yet, it goes deeper, according to Alexander Blake Silverman, who identifies as genderqueer. Silverman said one reason they considered polyamory was because jealousy was never present in their first long-term relationship—a monogamous one—even though their partner was flirtatious with other people.
Silverman said they fielded a lot of concerned questions from friends.
“I’ve never been a jealous person. A lot of people would question me on that,” they said. “I don’t see exclusivity as a component of love.”
For Icasiano, being polyamorous is in part pushing past what they see as commonly detrimental in monogamous relationships.
“Within my relationships, I try to challenge the ideas of ‘toxic monogamy,’” Icasiano said. “Nonmonogamy is taking a step back from that.”
Communication is key
Generally, being a part of a polyamorous relationship requires consent, or at the very least recognition from all partners involved, for various issues.
Silverman said consent is an integral part of many facets of a polyamorous relationship.
“The key is consent. Everybody has to know what’s going on,” they said. “If I’m going to have sex with somebody, I need consent from not only my partners, but from the partners they have.”
Martini said communication is one of the worthwhile difficulties of being in a polyamorous relationship. Based on their experience, making plans and being committed to expressing desires is the fuel that keeps their relationships going.
“For a lot of people, it’s difficult to communicate well with just one person. You have to be sure that there’s really clear communication,” Martini said.
Icasiano said the amount of dedication needed for open and honest discussion has changed them, for the better.
“Being polyamorous requires so much communication. It takes a lot of empathy and caring about other people’s feelings,” Icasiano said. “I’m way more intuned with my own needs and those of my partner.”
Consideration is also key
Although polyamory can be fundamentally different that monogamy, the principles and the values you bring to the relationships are similar, according to Silverman.
“You take all the good and all the bad, and multiply it. But, you also spread it further,” they said.
Lee pointed out that polyamory is not a solution for the problems of a monogamous relationship.
“If you’re going to open up the relationship to fix it, it will only make things worse,” Lee said. “The big thing is you know exactly why you’re trying.”
Lee also cautioned that polyamorous people are sometimes used by couples for unhealthy reasons. For instance, “unicorn hunting” is when a straight couple seeks a bisexual person to simply fulfill their sexual desires.
“Many of the inquiries I was getting were from couples who wanted me as their ‘birthday present’,” Lee said. “There are absolutely predatory people in the polyamorous community who prey on newcomers.”
People enter into polyamorous relations for many reasons as well. Silverman said it doesn’t have to be only about sex.
“I’m not in a polyamorous relationship for sex, but for emotional support,” they said.
Communication and trust become even more important when issues such as sexually transmitted infections are involved. Silverman said people considering polyamory have to keep this kind of difficulty in mind.
“It can be hard enough to come out about that with one person,” Silverman said. “Imagine having to do it with five.”
For some, polyamory teaches someone more about themselves.
“Working on polyamory expands my definition of love,” Icasiano said. “Honestly, I feel like I’ve become a better, more emotionally intuitive person.”
Silverman made clear that honesty and openness with other people— and oneself—is paramount.
“Like any kind of relationship, being polyamorous is not inherently good or bad, but it’s good for me,” Silverman said. “Different strokes for different folks, you know?”
*Note: Chrys Lee is a pseudonym used to protect the interviewee’s identity.
[This exclusive TRT story was originally published on October 5, 2017]