Polyamory As Orientation (And Why It Works For Me)

`Brass Sundial Compass 2' by Bob Marquart

An vital component of self-discovery is figuring out how we're best set up to connect with others. For Saul-of-Hearts, polyamory gave voice to something more than a workable relationship model.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a bonfire with some of my friends in LA, when I mentioned that my roommates and I were hosting a discussion on polyamory the next weekend.  It had been a topic of much debate around the neighborhood lately.  One of the guys in the group snorted.  “Polyamory doesn’t work,” he said.

He wasn’t trying to be confrontational, or dismissive — and he wasn’t judging the idea on any moral principle.  For him, it was a simple fact: It doesn’t work.  I didn’t feel like debating it at the time, so I just shrugged and moved on.  But I thought to myself, That really depends on what you mean by “work."

What does it mean when we say that a relationship “works”?  Is there any objective way to measure it?  I can think of a few ideas that most of us would probably agree upon:  A relationship works if it lasts.  If there isn’t too much fighting.  If no one is lying or cheating.

But even these measures are subjective.  How long does it have to last to be considered “successful"?  Should a relationship be static and unchanging, or adaptable and fluid?

It seems to me that saying polyamory “doesn’t work” is missing the point.  Of course it doesn’t — but neither does monogamy.  Because there is no one way to define what works.  What works for you may not work for me, and vice-versa.

I don’t see polyamory as a solution to monogamy, but as an alternative.  For me, it’s a matter of preference — a preference as deeply ingrained as sexual orientation.  And not only that, but it helps to explain how I approach sexual orientation.

I've never felt comfortable with any of the usual labels: heterosexual, heteroflexible, bisexual.  Even if of one of those terms applied to me, I didn’t relate to how other people who used those labels approached sex.  I admire people who find gender irrelevant, or who could fall just as easily in love with a man or with a woman.  But I can’t.

A polyamorous identity allowed me to recognize a simple truth: I wanted other men to be a part of my sex life, but not necessarily as lovers.  I could build up deep relationships with other men in the context of a quad or triad, without “dating” or pursuing a romantic connection.

This changed everything.  It allowed me to get over my fears of male intimacy, without feeling pressure to pursue one-on-one relationships with other men.

****

A few weeks ago, I started watching the reality TV series on Showtime, “Polyamory: Married and Dating”.  There’s been enough debate already about whether or not it’s a fair or realistic depiction of polyamory, so I won’t get into that.

But regardless of how “real” the depictions were, the individual scenarios and situations really hit home for me.  I approached it as a kind of fantasy/thought experiment.  I stayed up until 2 AM watching Season One back to back, and I was welling up with tears toward the end of it.

The commitment ceremony between the LA triad, watched over by the San Diego quad, touched me in a way that no rom-com ever had.

This is the kind of life I want to live, I thought.  I’d kind-of/sort-of known this for a while, but seeing it depicted so openly on TV really brought it into a new light for me:

Polyamory is my orientation.

Even before I knew the word, before anyone around me identified in this way, I'd written stories in which the characters took part in multi-partner relationships.

I gravitated to movies that questioned traditional relationship models and gender roles.  I don’t think I’ve ever teared up watching a traditional chick flick -- but add a third person to the mix, and I’m bound to get emotional.  Go figure.

****

For me, whether or not polyamory “works” is a moot question.  That’s how I’m built to pursue love and relationships.  That’s my orientation.  So far, those issues that skeptics have addressed — jealously, time constraints, etc. — have been remarkably easy to deal with.

I feel more jealously toward my “monogamous” male friends who bring home new lovers night after night, than toward shared polyamorous lovers.  I feel frustrated when their “traditional” approach makes it easier for them to get dates than my polyamorous one.

It’s one thing to see a love interest with another man, knowing she’d still be open to dating you tomorrow -- and another thing entirely to know that you don’t have a chance with her because she only dates “monogamously”.

And yet, as time goes by, even that bothers me less and less.  If my dating pool has shrunk in quantity, it’s increased in quality.

After the discussion group that we hosted at my house, I stayed up late talking with one of my female partners and her male lover.  At one point, he turned to us and said, “If the two of you want to … um, continue in the bedroom … don’t let me stop you.”

It was so unexpected — so selfless and open-hearted, and so unlike anything that most of my friends would ever have said to me — that I felt deeply moved.  I felt a deep bond of trust and affection.  How could jealously even come into the picture?

It’s wonderful to be surrounded by people who believe in an abundance of love, not scarcity — and who value the sexual fulfillment of those around them, as well as their own.  I’m only at the beginning of my journey, but I couldn’t be more certain that it’s the right path for me.  And if it doesn’t work out … I won’t be any worse off than if I hadn’t tried.

All relationships have their ups-and-downs.  Why should mine be any different?

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About the Author

Saul-of-Hearts - - Active Contributor

Saul-of-Hearts is a writer, musician, and videographer based in Los Angeles and Portland. He's lived among various subcultures and intentional communities, studied everything from yoga to evolutionary psychology, and writes about places where art and science meet. His writing has appeared in Slate and Brazen Careerist, as well as on blogs such as Puttylike, Gutsy Geek, and Burn After Reading Magazine.  His most recent project is an e-book on the Share Economy called "The Lateral Freelancer." For more about Saul and his work, visit his website.