Jenny and Greg are a couple that have been together for a long time and have recently become engaged. Rebeca and Alex are a couple that had been married for several years. The members of both couples are within the same age range of about five years, and they now reside under the same roof. All four have known each other for years, and quite close friends. So close, in fact, that Jenny is both romantically and sexually involved with Greg and Alex, as is Rebeca. Everyone involved has full knowledge of this and all have agreed to this arrangement. Apparently it suits their needs well. Together this gang of four forms what is known as a quad, in polyamorous circles.
Polyamory is the form of ethical non-monogamy in which people are in ongoing substantive relationships with two or partners at a time. This is can be contrasted with swinging or partner swapping, which is a form of consensual non-monogamy based on short-lived sporadic sexual encounters. Polyamorous individuals like the ones described above are into more long-term, ongoing, intimate relationships with multiple partners.
It has been brought to my attention that the label Polyamory has a problem. It comes from the Greek for “many” and the Latin for “love”, meaning “many loves”. While there is nothing wrong with the concepts of multiple lovers, one should not mix Greek and Latin roots. It has been suggested that Multiamory or Polyphila would be more linguistically consistent, not that I picture either of these being catching on.
Jenny, Greg, Rebeca and Alex see their relationship as similar to those of any monogamous couple, except for the multiple partners. It is a consensual love triangle or square, of sorts. While, their group is committed to each other their was a phase where the members of their group were open to dating other people. As such they have strict rules. For example, group members may see other people, but any new-comer has to show paperwork proving they have been tested and cleared for STD’s.
Other non-monogamous people have different sorts of arrangements and have different strategies for coping with the challenges of their lifestyle. In addition to quads, there are triads, pentads, hexads and countless forms of networks, group marriages and tribes. Some individuals have primary relationships with one individual, and have rules to keep other relationships secondary. I knew a few married couples, where the wife was bisexual and the husband, agreed that she could have relationships with women, but not other men. I have seen the reverse of this as well.
It seems to me that for many people non-monogamous relationships are a sensible alternative to compulsory monogamy. Though it is clearly not for everyone. I for one, am in a monogamous relationship and have no desire to direct my romantic attention away from my partner. It simply would not work for me. That said, I have seen non-monogamy work in practice and have seen it fail, as well. I am of the opinion that people who have difficulty making monogamous relationships work will have even more difficulty trying to balance the needs of multiple partners. Do not think adding additional people can help a failing relationship; It will likely just make things worse!! This is important to remember when dealing with human emotions. Our decisions can have huge unintended consequences. Violations of trust in relationships with multiple partners can end up hurting a lot of people!!!
Communication is a key to any good relationship, as is the ability to deal with jealousy. For people with multiple partners, challenges associated with these can likely be stretched to their limits. Then there are the difficulties of raising children in a non-monogamous setting. On the other hand, I have been told that being able to get past jealousy and possessiveness can be greatly rewarding, and having multiple trusted adults around, can be great resource for kids. I have also been told that developing the level of trust needed to make a polyamorist relationship work is very liberating. Of course violations of trust can and do happen in polyamorous and open relationships, and can be quite painful.
I tend to hold the position of do whatever works for you!! If you can make polyamory or some other form of non-monogamy work, and such a thing appeals to you, than by all means go for it! If you are interested in only having one partner, or not having any long term partners that is also fine with me. I am all for free exchanges of ideas and free love. All I ask is you treat anyone you are with, with care and respect, and that you don’t go around hurting or trivializing the feelings of others.