By Sharon Gordon
Johannesburg - I recently visited an acquaintance. Our sons went to school together. Mine is in a relationship with a lovely woman and hers equally so except it’s ‘private’. I’m not sure what that meant, so me being me, I asked.
They are seeing each other, but it’s not exclusive. Which in my world means that they can see other people. There is a difference between ‘Open’ relationships and ‘Polyamorous ones. A bit more about that later.
More and more relationships are being classified as open or polyamorous. Good old monogamy seems to be so last year!
Last year (2022) according to a Yougov survey in the United States, 43% of Millennials, (born 1981 to 1993) said that their ideal relationship would be Polyamorous.
Polyamorous is characterized by or involved in the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved.
The word Polyamory is derived from Greek and Latin, meaning love and several or many. It is the practice, desire or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not exclusive with respect to other sexual or intimate relationships, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
According to the same research the LGBTQIA+ Community is also more likely to explore consensual non-monogamous relationships.
Popular culture seems to be embracing the idea as well. If you’ve ever watched the’ L-Word’ and a Netflix series called ‘Polyamory’. There are even new dating APPs that make provision for Polyamory, like Polyfinda. I’m not sure how popular these Apps are in SA but if Grinder and Tinder are anything to go by, they are rocking.
What is the difference between poly and open relationships?
An open relationship is all about no strings attached. Whereas a polyamorous relationship is focused on bonding emotionally with other people that you are physically intimate with.
Polyamorous relationships require a connection on a far deeper level. It requires a level of honesty not often found in your garden variety relationship. Poly couples need honesty, transparency and cognitive flexibility.
This is not a one size fits all type of deal. People in the relationship make their own rules to help navigate conflict and expectations. They will often refer to a primary relationship, with secondary relationships having less rights.
I know a married couple who live in the same house but share sleepovers rights at their other lover’s digs.
If you ever watched ‘How to build a sex room’, the host of the show builds a couple of rooms for a couple who share multiple partners. The couple who owns the house are the primary couple and the rest are secondary.
Open relationships remind me a bit of ‘friends with benefits’, you like each other enough to have sex sometimes but are free to explore relationships and sex with other people.
You can define your own rules. Swingers are often categorized as having open relationships. Swingers are couples that invite other couples to have sex with them. They have a primary relationship and occasionally invite others to play and have sex. It is casual and considered monogamousish!
The way I understand it, Poly couples can be swingers, but swingers are not necessarily polyamorous.
In an open marriage partners have consent to play and have sex outside their marriage. The other partner has nothing to do with it and doesn’t even have to know about it. These relationships are usually casual.
There are a couple of myths about polyamory that have to be unpacked.
The first is that poly people are unsatisfied, that they look for companionship, intimacy or sex outside their relationship because something is missing from their original relationship.
This may very well be the case but not always.
The desire for an additional relationship may have nothing to do with dissatisfaction. You very rarely have a second child because you are dissatisfied with the first! These relationships are usually completely independent of each other and are had in ways that don’t harm the other parties involved.
The next misconception is that it is all about sex. Sex may be involved but this is not always the case. In many instances the parties will only have one sexual partner.
Many poly relationships are paired around a committed couple, but it is not a requirement. Many resist the hierarchy of primary or secondary partners and prefer to live as triads or quads. There are absolutely no hard and fast rules about how these relationships look. There are, however, hard and fast rules about how the relationships are managed and maintained.
Do people form these relationships because they fear commitment, because they cannot be monogamous?
I cannot answer any of these questions but can only share my experience. The couples I know share and talk about everything. They communicate in ways that I wish we could all learn. Nothing is hidden, it’s all out in the open. They even go as far as to agree on who will be allowed into the relationship and who not. They talk so much that sometimes I want to cringe, but what is the alternative?
The alternative is all too prevalent. Many, many of us would rather sneak around, have inappropriate relationships outside the marriage and lie about it.
Poly couples are very open and honest about the status of their relationships. It’s the only way to ensure that everyone’s needs are met, and no one is feeling jealous or left out in the relationship. Imagine being able to talk openly and honestly about your insecurity in the relationship and actually being heard and accommodated!
My partner and I have been together for many years. We have a very different relationship to most couples, but it works for us. I also have very close relationships with two or three other people. I meet with them often and speak to them daily. We do lunch, weekends away and my life would be significantly poorer without them.
They do not fill a void that my partner cannot fill. They just add additional flavor. Not better or worse, just different.
I am committed to these relationships. I would fight to keep them, and I would not give them up.
They do not in any way threaten my primary relationship except if I was asked to relinquish them. I am honest about them and then I realized that maybe there is more to this polyamory thing than I can understand and maybe I should get off my high horse and try to learn a few things from those I so badly want to judge.
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