What Is Polyamory?

The word polyamory written on a wall.

Polyamory is a cross between re-branded swinging, 1960s style "free love", and (usually) far-left ideology. There are many differences between polygamy and polyamory, primarily the absence of commitment or exclusivity within polyamorous relationships.

The concept is generally that no one "owns" another person or should be obligated to the other person in any way.

Unfortunately, this is not how human nature works. Committed relationships, monogamy, and polygamy existed throughout recorded history for a reason. Emotionally, humans need other dependable humans. The more those other people mean to them emotionally the more stability is craved. When love is involved, people naturally desire emotional commitment and not having that available to them is emotionally damaging, if it does not end the relationship.

Polyamory attempts to turn all of that on its head, assuming that societal norms came into existence by force and fiat rather than due to human nature. While that could be argued very well if these norms only recently came into existence, when they can be dated back to the earliest recorded human history, it becomes difficult to argue that love and commitment do not follow human nature.

Types of Polyamorous Relationships

If you do much research into polyamory, you will notice several newly-coined terms being used frequently. We'll go into each of the most common types of polyamorous relationships below.

Vee (or "V")

Where two people are dating the same person, but not dating others or each other.

Polyfidelity

Polyfidelity involves a closed polyamorous group. Although various members of the group may have sexual relations with certain other members, no one is dating outside of the group.

Thruple, Throuple, or Triad

A three person relationship that may involve all three people dating and in sexual relationships with each other or both people dating one person.

Quad

A polyamorous relationship involving four people. They can be two couples that became involved with each other, a couple with two partners, or a polyamorous relationship with four people that built over time.

Polycule

Multiple members of a polyamorous group who may share any number of sexual or emotional relationships with each other.

Parallel

Where each partner is aware of every other partner but has little to no interaction with them.

Solo

A single individual pursuing non-committed polymory.

Polyamory Terms

NRE

New Relationship Energy refers to the initial spark of interest and excitement that comes from meeting a new partner. With no long-term exclusive relationship, this emotional high becomes addicting. The problem with NRE is that it is short-lived, leaving the person to pursue the next relationship.

Compersion

Unique to polyamory, compersion is the term used to describe feeling happy when your partner is sexually or emotionally involved with another.

In relation to swinging, most swingers would be aroused by their partner being sexually involved with another person. In polyamory, that sexual interest is refocused on re-working the emotions, which can cause long-term psychological damage.

Primary

The person's primary partner, whom they typically live with.

Secondary

Anyone you are in a relationship with other than your primary partner.

Metamour

The partner of your partner. You may be friends with them or have no contact with them at all, but you are not involved with each other in any way.

Nesting Partner

Who you live with, have the most long-term relationship with, and/or are raising children with.

Consensual Nonmonogamy

Being sexually or emotionally involved with multiple people, while being open and honest with all the parties involved, is referred to as consensual nonmonogamy.

Kitchen Table Polyamory

Close-knit polyamory, usually with live-in partners or at least partners that share major life events and holidays.

Kitchen table polyamory is the form that most closely resembles non-polyamorous relationships.

Polyamory and Swinging

What in decades past would have just been casual swinging and purely physical in nature has largely been re-branded with the invention of polyamory.

Where swinging is recognized as a recreational lifestyle, with many swingers in long term committed relationships, polyamory rejects the idea of committed relationships altogether.

Instead of having a base relationship where a couple's emotional needs are met, polyamory seeks to fulfill those needs through multiple shallow relationships, intentionally avoiding depth.

Political Ideology

The rise of polyamory is mainly political and ideological. Prior to this shift, people who just wanted multiple partners called themselves swingers and went on about their lives. But, the polyamory community has clear ideological drivers and it is not simply a "because I want this" kind of thing.

Many arguments for polyamory come directly from socialist ideology, and most individuals pursuing polyamorous relationships are firmly on that side of the political divide.

Polyamorists are generally against "hierarchical relationships" (ie: your wife is more important than a casual girlfriend), or inequality (a person's spouse means more to them than someone they have sex with on the side).

Polyamorous people are generally against traditional marriage, or any marriage, and commitment. Particularly, much of the poly community seems to abhor any kind of obligation between partners or compromising your own desires for what's best for your partner, especially if you are happy doing that.

Conclusion

For polyamory to be centered around being against hierarchical relationships, most of the terms used in the polyamorous community denote hierarchy and inequality of individuals. The terms primary, secondary, metamour, and nesting partner all refer to inequality of status between the individuals.

While one can very logically argue that inequality is unavoidable, it's an uncomfortable issue for a relationship dynamic primarily based on avoiding it.

The biggest problems that arise with polyamory come from denying human nature. While successful multi-person relationships are possible, such as in the case of polygamy (see How To Date A Polygamous Couple), they are only healthy so long as they align with a person's natural desires and do not require overriding them for ideology.