When we first started dating, my boyfriend, Said, was new to being in a polyamorous relationship. He started from a really open and curious place as a swinger and his love style definitely includes being happy (and turned on) when his partner is happy, so polyamory wasn’t a difficult concept for him to adopt. We have always been totally open, honest, and connected to each other. These three words are even written down as the core of our relationship values. OPEN. HONEST. CONNECTED. But polyamory is not an easy concept to always wrap your head around and labeling things within non-monogamy, a relationship style that is often “self-designed” can be a challenge.
One time, after he had been doing some reading about non-monogamy, we were discussing “polyamory vs. open-relationships.” His conclusion was that polyamory is two (or more) committed “in love” relationships like ours. Then the next conclusion was because neither of us was currently in that kind of relationship with anyone else we must be in an “open relationship.” Well, he’s not wrong. It’s all kind of semantics, isn’t it?
Often Polyamory is defined as being open to more than one committed romantic relationship and Open- relationships are defined as having sexual (non-romantic/love) relationships outside of the primary relationship.
Every day on Twitter, (where I have gotten to “know” most of my polyamorous peeps) I see posts or comments asking how to describe relationships and partners within our constellations or polycules. These questions are being pondered by experienced polyamorous people, so what about those who are new to the whole concept? It can be impossible to know how to define relationships, to know what “my” relationship structure is, or how to label my partners.
I consider myself polyamorous. Specifically solo-poly with a relationship anarchy lean. (HA! There’s a mouthful eh?) I enjoy my traveling life, making my own decisions, not sharing finances, and not really cohabitating with my partners. I also work to ensure I am NOT prioritizing my romantic relationships over my platonic ones. Finally, I prefer to form “self-designed” relationships that work for me and my partner. I allow relationships to find their level.
For me, this means relationships could become sexual or romantic, or a combination of both, (or change from romantic to platonic) and that’s all ok. I prefer not to limit my relationships to one kind or another and I’m ok if the relationship ends up looking “different” than a traditional romantic relationship.
I recently read that polyamory is more of a mindset rather than necessarily being your actual relationship structure at any given time. Sometimes you may even appear monogamous, but if you are open to other romantic love relationships, then you are still polyamorous. I believe that. I am open to more than one serious, steady romantic relationship. I am also open to casual relationships, committed long-distance ones… whichever ways they work for me and that partner.
How do we define love?
If polyamory is “being open to more than one loving romantic relationship” what comes up for me, is how do each of us define love? One of the key factors of this style of relating is that love can have many different looks. There are ‘shades’ of love. I love Said in a very traditional looking way. Until recently, I pictured a long-happy sexy more intertwined life with him. We have always made long-term plans for our future, we consider ourselves to be partners, moving forward together. This is often considered following the “relationship escalator.” It is a social and cultural way of looking at love and relationships that is very relatable to most western cultures.
(I would argue that we are not truly on “the escalator,” though I recognize it looks that way from the outside. In my mind, our conscious decisions about the design and structure of our relationship force us to step off the escalator. Though we might appear to be walking up the stairs sometimes.)
I love Stefan too. But that looks a LOT different. We’re now long-distance and only text occasionally. We don’t talk much about our relationship and definitely don’t plan for a future together. We very much love each other in the moment. I know we both think about the future and are committed to finding a way to continue this lovely thing we’ve already shared for more than four years, but it’s not something we intensely discuss or make plans to work through. Our relationship has always pretty much been, “Let’s see what happens.” I consider him a man I love- a shade of love that is different than the love I share with Said.
Open Vs. Polyamorous
Because the definition of an open- relationship tends to have the connotation of sex rather than love, I was worried that Said didn’t understand how strongly I feel for my other partners. I always want that part of my life to be transparent, so we talked about it. (We really do talk about everything.) I think he understood better where I was coming from when we were done because he remarked, (and not for the first time) that I have the biggest heart he has ever met, and he understands I feel deeply for my other partners, and knows they are not casual sexual relationships.
We never circled back around to discuss if our relationship is Polyamorous or Open at that time. At the end of the day, it’s not the label that’s important to either of us. What IS important is that we are open, honest, and connected. We have a strong foundation because we understand that we don’t own each other, nor do we owe each other anything. What we give, we give freely from love and self- confidence, not from fear or scarcity. We discuss things as they come up and we have the same understanding of our relationship. That’s what really matters, not an arbitrary label.
People who are in healthy polyamorous relationships, whether they are life-long commitments or more casual connections, understand that partners don’t own each other and they base their relationships on respect and communication. Elle Beau- Medium
As a writer, I find labels to be helpful and when I discovered polyamory I was thrilled to read that there was a word, a label, for the way I felt about relating to other people. I have also read about people who, upon discovering a word for their particular feelings, inclinations, orientations, etc, felt a relief, an acceptance, and new confidence in themselves. I do think they can be very useful. In this case though, I am ok, as long as we both know what we are to one another, how we define our relationship to the world, isn’t as important.
If you would like to see images of potential various non-monogamous relationship structures and labels you can click on a few of these links and get lost in the amount of information available.
How do you feel about labels? How do you label your non-monogamous relationship?
Here are some other posts on this blog about polyamory you might find interesting:
- “That Sounds Like a Real Relationship!” and Other Things People Say…
- 5 Surprising Side-Effects of Non-monogamy
- I’m Solo-Poly: No Relationship Escalator for Me
- My Polyamory is Changing – And That’s OK!