Lately the concept of polyamory is all over the media. The basic concept: having more than one relationship. But what does that mean for those involved, how does it feel – and what makes people begin doing it?
Loving more than one person – not in itself problematic. It works in families, and it’s also possible to have more than one friend. But as soon as it’s a question of relationships, many people become sceptical. Can the people in question be ‘multiple’ in this context too? Those who live polyamorously don’t see it as a problem.
The word polyamory stems from the Greek word for ‘many’ (poly) and the Latin word for ‘love’ (amor) – Wikipedia can tell you that. But it doesn’t say anything about the really interesting part: how does it feel to have several partners? When your own boyfriend sleeps with other women? Why would people do this?
The underlying concept, the possibility of ‘many loves’, is inherent in the word itself. But the way in which such an idea works on practice depends on each individual person – so let’s hear from them directly.
“Wanting to control and possess other people is unfair and selfish”
Daniela (name changed), 31, from Hamburg
This is my first polyamorous relationship. I’d never heard of the idea of non-monogamous relationships (except for in a few religious contexts) until a friend, who was interested in a relationship with me, told me about how he had his relationships. I was fascinated and thought, “Why not?”. That “why not?” at some point turned into a “Hey, this actually works!”. I am currently a ‘leaf’ in the context of existing poly relationships. That means my partner has many partners.
I myself have only one relationship and have only ever had one partner in the past, but I am open-minded about it. I don’t order the people in my life according to any kind of a ranking, they are all unique and important in their own way. I think that I would also differentiate between my various relationships, if I were to have more than one of them, just as people do. At the very most for practical reasons it could be that someone was given preferential treatment, for example in the case of illness or in terms of bringing up children.
During my experiences with polyamory I was confronted with the idea that each and every single one counts. I understood that demanding to possess someone else, or to control the behaviour and affections of the other, is extremely unfair and selfish. Polyamory makes people in a relationship communicate well with each other on numerous different levels.
Potential problems stemming from jealousy don’t exist exclusively in polyamory – it’s an issue that comes up in other contexts too, like career, friendship, or monogamy. It has its roots in a feeling of insecurity, feeling that you are ‘being replaced’ or ‘not good enough’. In addition, although good communication is essential in order to avoid these feelings of insecurity, on top of that you also need a certain self reliance in order to thrive in polyamorous relationships. I myself sometimes feel jealous, but then I try to understand where these feelings come from, and I talk about them with my partner.
In the past I’ve often met with very negative reactions regarding my kind of relationship. People make assumptions – they think I’m not able to commit to a ‘real’ relationship, that my relationships are ‘unnatural’, or that I’m just trying to be ‘rebellious’. Most of my friendship group and my family don’t know that I’m in a polyamorous relationship, and I still have misgivings when it comes to telling people who aren’t part of the ‘poly community’ about what my relationships are like.
But in principle the decision to live a poly life isn’t a question of lifestyle. Instead it’s a question of morals: I don’t want to ‘possess’ anyone, and I don’t believe that my partner belongs to me. In the end, I want my partner to do what he/she enjoys, and if that means having other partners, then that’s OK.
“It’s just much more logical: everyone involved lives a more fulfilled life”
Matthias, 30, from Hamburg
It must have been about ten years ago: I stumbled across an article or a blog post that described what I had been doing for a long time, and called it ‘polyamory’. I just thought, “Oh, so that’s what it’s called”.
I lived a poly life almost from the very beginning, I just didn’t know that was what it was called. I’ve just never understood why you should only be allowed to only love one person in the context of a relationship, but you can still, for example, ‘love’ several family members, or have as many friends as you please. I was once in a relationship and got to know another great woman, who was also very open-minded, and had the same views on relationships as we did – and so we gave it a go.
For me, different relationships are different most of all in that they are with different people. That sounds mundane, but every human being is unique, and through being with different people I learn a lot about myself, about them, and other interesting things. I just share many lives, and I often have great experiences that I would never have had on my own. Some relationships come about because of outside circumstances – being in the same city, living together, etc – while others only last a short time. But I wouldn’t say that some are more important to me than others.
To me, polyamory seemed, and still seems, just so much more logical than other relationship models. You avoid the whole jealousy thing, and claiming ownership, and everyone involved lives a more fulfilled life, because you can have fun with other people, because no single person can fulfil all your desires, or even simply because it makes it more likely that one of your partners will be available when you are.
I find jealousy pointless and selfish, and I’ve never really understood it. Other people have different personalities, and I can’t demand that they should be there for me. Apart from that, I don’t define myself by what others feel for me. I’m glad to have time to spend with great people, and I want them to be as happy as they can. If at the moment it’s better for them with other people, that’s really not a problem at all.
What I find most challenging is time and distance: if you work full time, you have less free time and you can’t use it as flexibly. If not all your partners live in the same city, meeting up becomes a big logistical problem because of the distance. That can be frustrating, though with today’s technology, communication does become a bit easier.
When other people find out that I lead a poly lifestyle, most of them react positively and want to find out more about it. Though I have it much easier as a white, mostly heterosexual man, because having lots of simultaneous relationships is generally seen largely positively – sadly it’s much more difficult for women. The most negative reactions I’ve had are more along the lines of “Well that wouldn’t be for me”. But I’m very open about it, so maybe people who find it completely weird might just stay away.
“It’s as if you’ve been given a few extra senses”
Johannes, 35, from Berlin
When I first heard about polyamory, I found it difficult to imagine it being for me. Then I got to know a woman who told me the first time she met me that she lived the poly lifestyle. I found it very confusing: how can you be with multiple people at the same time? I still remember how she told me about one of her girlfriends who had got upset about an ex-boyfriend they both had in common, and who had said that poly can sometimes be a bit crap. My acquaintance had told her: “Poly isn’t the problem. He’s the problem.” I understood then that poly relationships weren’t the simplest type of relationship. They are complex networks of relationships, and everyone involved has to be responsible and truthful within them.
Personally, back then I didn’t want anything to do with it. Poly always seemed to me to smack of ‘not wanting commitment’. But then something happened to change my mind: I met a woman, and straight away thought she was great. But I noticed that she was with someone. “Oh well”, I thought, “she’s taken” – until she began very obviously to flirt with me. A few days later, we had our first date. She told me very early on, that she lived poly. And it was obvious to me that she wouldn’t want a monogamous relationship. So I decided to give it a go.
It was clear to me that apart from anything else I was doing it because I felt so strongly attracted to this woman. There was just no other option. But at the same time I was curious. The relationship sadly lasted only just less than a year, but despite that it was a really intense time, and I learnt a lot about myself.
In the end, different relationships are like friendships: even when I let some go a bit because of a crazy schedule, or because we live far apart, each one is important to me, because each one is unique. It’s was the same with my poly experiences, except just with sex and a lot more intimacy. At the same time the levels became more distinct: sex isn’t just sex and intimacy isn’t just intimacy. With each of these women it was physically and emotionally different.
For me, the thing that’s different about polyamory is the basic principle of openness: I’m unconstrained and at the same time tied down. It’s like being given a couple of extra senses that allow me to get to know people in a whole new way. At the same time, this openness has changed my view of women: now when I find a woman attractive, I feel it as an expression of appreciation and wonder. Not that it’s unpleasant – the opposite! And I feel like it shows.
It’s true that jealousy is a problem. But you can solve it. For me, it was the first big conflict that I had to deal with: my girlfriend had arranged to meet another partner, and I knew that they would sleep together. I was mad with jealousy! Then I asked myself why it bothered me so much. Did I really need to be jealous? Was that something that I wanted to feel? Really, it’s just an extreme form of envy. Do I need to be envious? Then it became clear to me that jealousy is actually much more about personal insecurity. Then I saw my girlfriend with her other partner, and it looked very loving. My envy disappeared, and instead I was happy for her.
I also think that a lot of people imagine poly-relationships to be more complicated than they really are. Yes, it can get complicated, and it can really hurt. But that’s the case in any relationship where you truly love another person. Having said that, I’m actually not so certain if I really am poly. There are aspects that I wouldn’t like to live without any more. However, despite that, I have a longing for one partner who I can spend more time with than the others. But that’s the great thing about poly-relationships: that you really can’t define a lot of it. So I’ll just let it come to me, and see how it feels.