What is polyamory? The word is increasingly being used in public sources and media but the explanations of what it is can vary from one source to another.

That is mainly because polyamory (poly for short) itself can be variable. So, how can we understand something if it is varying?polyamory

First of all, let’s start with what it is not. It is not swinging. Swinging consists of casual sex with others with no strings attached. Sometimes, real names are not even exchanged. In poly, more than just names and body fluids are exchanged. It is a relationship that may last a lifetime. It is liking, loving and being intimate with another very much like a marriage but without the restrictions of marriage.

It is not marriage, at least not by this country’s legal standards. Polyamory does not have that legal binding that can end up in courts defining and dissecting what your life has come to mean. That doesn’t mean polyamory is devoid of heartbreak. Any relationship can end with sadness or bitterness, whether legal or not. Poly is also without the legal protection that marriage can offer in that breakup. Marriage is also a commitment to ‘staying true’ to one person. In poly, each partner is free to have more than one partner or lover.

It is not polygamy which means a husband with more than one wife. To give equal time to the other side, polyandry is the case where a woman has more than one husband. Polyamory is where both or all partners are free to have more than one lover. Beyond these simple differences, polyamory is free to be defined by those in the poly relationship.

Now that we know what poly is not, let’s look at what poly is. First of all, the word itself. Poly (more than one) and Amory(love) literally means loving more than one. Even though its origins are in Greek, the word polyamory first appeared in 1990 as ‘poly-amorous’ in Green Egg magazine. Polyamory has been in the Oxford dictionary since 2006. The idea of poly has been around for generations even if the word itself has not.

In a poly relationship, each is free to date, pursue or fall in love with another. This doesn’t mean that everyone in a poly relationship is actively searching for another lover. It just means that they are free to. It is their decision. Some choose to share their partner with another for various reasons. That nonparticipating partner may be focused on things outside a relationship like a career or an interest. With their partner having someone else, they have more time to devote to other pursuits.

In a case of three partners, (triad) in a poly relationship, the shared partner now would have a primary and a secondary partner.  The primary is the one the shared partner was already in a relationship with. The shared partner may have an interest they want to pursue but their primary partner has no interest in it. If this other interest involves intimacy, it can lead to searching for a poly partner. The other interest could involve certain sexual practices that the first partner does not want to get involved in. For those who have seen 50 Shades of Gray, it could also involve the power exchange of BDSM which is another article entirely. The primary and secondary partner can choose not to meet. Or they can come together and become very good friends. In some cases, even lovers. This is why polyamory can be so varying. It is defined only by those participating in the relationship.

Another form is where a couple is searching for a third partner to share intimacy with. The common form here is looking for the fabled unicorn which means a bi-sexual woman that can please the both of them. Again, another article entirely.

One more example: a long and happily married couple have friends. One partner starts becoming closer to one of those friends and they start realizing they are having feelings for each other. In the old days, if they pursued this desire, it would mean cheating on the other partner. The lies would start to distance the couple and the lying could destroy them. More marriages can break up over an affair than heal through one.