By Millie Jackson
Upon a foundation of honesty, mutual respect and consensuality, polyamory offers freedom to structure relationships based on the unique needs, desires and circumstances of those involved. Given its complexity and diversity, you might ask: “How, then, do polyamorists agree on the definition of polyamory?” The answer is: “We don’t.”
Some people, especially non-polyamorists, see polyamory more broadly as an umbrella term for non-monogamy that includes relationship structures such as polygamy and swinging. Other people see polyamory as a subcategory of non-monogamy, with some overlap with other relationship structures depending on the intent of those relationships.
Since the word contains the Latin root “amor”, which means “love”, a poly purist (literalist), such as myself, distinguishes polyamory from multi-partner relating which does not intend to cultivate the emotional connections typically involved in a loving relationship. However, narrowing that down remains a tricky endeavor depending on how you define “loving intent”. Using this model, people still disagree on what constitutes polyamory. If this all sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. It’s confusing even within the poly community, and there is on-going debate about this topic.
To highlight nuanced perspectives of this multifaceted love-style, here are actual definitions from members of my local polyamory support and networking group:
“Engaging in relationships defined by emotions shared between individuals and not defined by external rules. Polyamory requires open communication and full disclosure among lovers.”
“Open to or involved in multiple loving romantic relationships.”
“A healthy consensual relationship between adults to develop a strong committed loving life as multiple partners.”
“Non-exclusive, authentic loving relationships, physical and/or spiritual.”
“Honest, open, loving, non-territorial relationships where one or more of those involved are open to forming other honest, open, loving, non-territorial relationships.”
“Polyamory allows love to expand naturally.”
“Not just sex, but emotional and intimate relationships with more than one person with the consent and disclosure of everyone involved.”
“The ability to express love in infinite ways to multiple people without a puritanical social stigma that monogamy is the only way to show love.”
“Refusing to draw limits around who and how you love.”
“A philosophical social orientation where the possibility of having meaningful and intimate relationships with more than one other person can exist.”
“Having too much love for just one person.”
“Letting love flow where it will, without limiting it with rules, ideas, customs, or other constructs. It is obeying the greatest commandment, one that exists in all religions: to love.”
“Having, at the same time, more than one relationship that involves sexual love.”
“Loving more than one person simultaneously in a full-disclosure arrangement that benefits all parties.”
“Infinite Love shared widely, yet still deeply.”
“A philosophy that expands the old idea of romantic love, which often feels like a form of attachment, to a new idea that is inclusive, nonjudgmental and ecstatic.”
“A relationship that recognizes freedom and honesty, encourages dialogue, nurtures friendships and respects the needs of all involved.”
“A more open arrangement in which a committed loving relationship exists among more than two people in any combination.”
“Being able to love and be loved without restriction. Swingers might use a different verb, and therein lies the distinction.”
“Cultivation of honest, meaningful relationships without developing the mainstream attachment that depends on one person to fulfill your interpersonal and intimate needs.”
“Not having to place boundaries on the natural human inclination to fall in love.”
Though there is a common theme to these descriptions of polyamory, they each have an individual flavor. Not surprising, given the individual flavor that each of us has in regard to the intricacies of our emotional make-up, our sexual and gender identities and preferences, and our romantic proclivities and how we choose to express those in our lives. There are endless possibilities when we give ourselves permission to create our own path unmitigated by someone else’s rules regarding how relationships are “supposed” to be structured.
There are other variations of how polyamory is defined and even more variations on how it is practiced, which do not necessarily align with my definition and interpretation. Despite the disparities, it is exciting to be part of a growing community of people who aspire to find our own ways of expressing love as we define it. I find this to be a hopeful and valuable way to improve the quality of life by tapping into our unlimited capacity to love in all its diversity.