I was spending time with some of my husband’s friends one evening when two of them shared that their relationship is polyamorous. I asked for further clarification, and they explained that they share romantic feelings as well as physical and emotional intimacy with each other as well as others. One of the greatest ways to understand polyamory, I think, is to contrast it with monogamy; monogamous relationships are exclusive, but polyamorous relationships can involve multiple people consensually.
In monogamy, the idea of sharing intimacy of any kind with someone other than your partner can be a relationship-ending no-no. In polyamory, partners are free to share intimacy with multiple people with the understanding that this is okay. Obviously, poly-oriented people and mono-oriented people wouldn’t be very happy in relationships together because their objectives differ greatly, but our friends seemed to connect with like-minded people freely, leading me to wonder if polyamorous people have their own community settings through which to connect, much like other ethnic or religious groups do. Regardless, the conversation helped me gain a different perspective on polyamory, and I think it might be the solution to many of society’s problems.
I am not in a polyamorous relationship, and at this point in my life, I’m not sure I ever could be. But that doesn’t negate that polyamory offers a lot of residual benefits that I don’t think people consider as readily when they think of these types of relationships. I think most people’s minds fixate on group sex or shared sexual encounters, and I’m not denying that these details can accompany polyamory. To be clear, these things can be present in monogamous relationships, too. But sex is to a relationship like a toilet is to a house—you need it, and if it isn’t working, everyone in the house suffers. But you didn’t buy the house for the toilet specifically. Polyamorous people enjoy the added benefit of receiving intimate affection and support from multiple people. At a time when mental illness is common, stress levels are high, and the population is dying quickly due to disease, this can be a plus. Similarly, if polyamorous people decide to settle in together, that configuration could make life more livable for many people. The cost of living is expensive, but if you’re splitting the bills four ways with people you love and care for, doesn’t that make things easier? It seems just like a happy family to me, except instead of having a mom, a dad, two kids, and a dog, there’s four consenting adults working together to keep the roof up, the fridge stocked, and the Spotify membership paid. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing if all parties consent to the arrangement.
As public health remains an issue all over the world, I think polyamory could help lower the spread of disease by helping to curb STD and HIV/AIDS transmission and by making way for better communication among people. Polyamorous relationships are still built on the same things as monogamous ones: transparency and honesty are key, and nobody wants to get hurt physically, emotionally, or otherwise. This seems like an environment where collective honesty can be nurtured. Whether or not it’s nurtured is up to the individuals involved, but the possibilities exist. As we age and make plans for what the last chapter of life will look like, I see polyamory as an added safety net for security. A group of five who are polyamorous could decide to look out for one another in retirement, lessening the ominous feeling of abandonment and solitude that (possibly) awaits us in our 70s and 80s.
Of course, I am not planning to change my relationship status—if something isn’t broken, no need to fix it. But I do celebrate our world having more conversations about “alternative” lifestyles as a means for adapting to the world as it is now and continues to evolve. As experts work to address the litany of issues harming the human condition, I think polyamory should be counted among the solutions, not the risk factors. Humans joining together in groups to share love and intimacy