Polyamory: The Ruling Definitions

by Kozure Okami

Nowadays, the topic of Polyamory has graduated from the “realm of taboo” to “ethical Mexican standoff” for both individuals and groups within modern society.

Additionally, battle lines have been clearly drawn with Monogamy on one side and Polyamory on the other. Or have they?

downloadWith all of the conversation, heated debates, and mud-slinging, that continue to polarize groups and entire communities (as if there isn’t enough of that), the common assumption about Polyamory is that it’s a free-for-all where sexual deviants retreat en masse to escape the daily rigors, personal responsibilities, and expectations for accountability, that are believed to be associated with Monogamy.

In spite of all the proselytizing from both sides, it has been made clear (through blogs, chats, talk shows, and movies, alike) that very few honestly know what it means to be Polyamorous.

Monogamy, as defined by the “Almighty” Wikipedia, is:

  1. A form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time.
  2. In current usage, monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner, irrespective of marriage or reproduction.

Polyamory, also defined by Wikipedia, is:

  1. The practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
  2. Often abbreviated as poly, is often described as consensual, ethical, or responsible non-monogamy.
  3. An ideology that openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved.
  4. Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in Polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships.

As a former monogamist many moons ago, it was difficult to conceptualize the structure of Polyamory. My upbringing and learned behavior caused me to compare the inadequate amount of information I acquired (by assumption, visual perception, or listening to someone who claimed to “be Poly”, but knew even less than I) to what I knew to be “concrete” truth about Monogamy. In corporate America, this is commonly referred to as “comparing apples to oranges.”

Lack of exposure to the inner-workings of Poly life causes many to focus negatively on the topics of promiscuity and selfishness. Some assume that people choose Poly because they are psychologically ill equipped to handle the requirements of a meaningful monogamous relationship; seeking the additional attention to offset their social or relational inadequacies. Another common assumption is that Poly folk desire multiple concurrent relationships because they are greedy and/or indecisive; seeking to “create the perfect partner” by sampling the favorable characteristics of anyone willing to commit to their terms. From the naysayers’ point-of view, Poly is not a relationship model that promotes structure, personal integrity, or accountability, and, therefore, lacks credibility.

As an experienced Poly person reflecting on the negative views and assumptions regarding Poly, including my own, the issues and concerns appear to run much deeper than social inadequacies and indecisiveness.

Looking through a monogamist’s lens, several aspects of polyamory, which can easily cause confusion, should be identified, addressed, and defined. They are;

  • Identity
  • Self-assertion
  • Coordination
  • Control/Self-Discipline
  • Progression

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To monogamists, providing definitions and functional examples of those points would be a fundamental requirement for anyone who identifies with a non-monogamous group, or subscribes to an alternative relationship dynamic. What monogamist commonly fail to understand is that polyamory, as a valid and functioning relationship system, calls for a separate criterion to be addressed, and agreed upon, prior to discussions on ethics and standards of alternative relationships.

To Polyamorists, the majority of ones time should be spent in continuous consideration of the first bullet point, identity. In Poly, all experiences, both positive and negative, hinge on the individual’s capacity to comprehend multiple elements within, and facets of, themselves. Whether Poly or Monogamous, personal accountability and continuous self-auditing will determine the integrity, direction, and rate of growth, of the relationship.

Where the two systems differ is in the underlying motivations. In Monogamy, your significant other is most important; according to the unwritten rule that you are sometimes required to “put yourself on the back-burner” for the sake of your significant other and/or the relationship. Many people, when presented with the idea of Polyamory, assume that the same unwritten rules apply.

In a Polyamorous household, a member can be directly affected by the concerns and issues of any, or all, of the members of the poly family. In short, you are obligated to refine your definition of identity, not only for yourself but also, for your partner, their partner, AND any other member of the community, as well as for the community as a whole.

In a perfect world, an individual who chooses Poly would self assess, define, and articulate, their core principles, views, and overall personal values. After that time is spent in “personal introspection”, the next task is to define and measure how the construction of “self” can be integrated into the pre-existing design of polyamory. In the “real world”, nothing could be further from the truth.

More often than not, the emotional concerns of the individual for self are either de-prioritized or “back-burnered” in an attempt to “toe the line” for the others in their immediate Poly community (family, by love, within the house and outside of it). The individual is then forced to reassess the integrity of their personal ethics (self-leadership, interdependence, and personal goals) as related to seemingly new (in truth, self-imposed) Polyamorous concepts, such as:

  • Initial Concerns
    • Impatience
    • Moments of solitude
    • Emotional and mental confusion
    • Previous relationship issues
  • Expectations of Sacrifice
    • Personal definition of “sacrifice”
    • Putting aside self-interest
    • Putting others first
  • Expectations of Acceptance
    • Acceptable levels of vulnerability and openness
    • Ability to surrender
  • Expectations of Reversal
    • Looking at life and relationships from a new perspective
    • Re-prioritization
    • Turning your entire world around

When the individual fails to spend quality time addressing these basic Poly ideas and concepts, it results in a form of internalized oppression. If those topics are neither communicated to one’s partner, nor addressed on a personal level, over a significant period of time, while functioning within a Poly community, it can lead to paranoia. Combine that with the integration of ones personal needs and the groups/communities needs and expectations, and the potential for an emotional meltdown, affecting all community members, has now increased exponentially.black_man

All of that could’ve been prevented by spending time with yourself, by yourself, and getting to know yourself. Yes, Poly is defined as “many loves“; but, more often than not, individuals tend to alienate themselves from the group of people they love. The topics of self-assertion, coordination, self-discipline, and progression, must be addressed; only after the topic of identity has been addressed and defined by the individual FIRST. That process is the essence of love, starting with self-love, and must precede any attempt to exist in a loving relationship with others. It is during that space and time that the Poly individual finds the answers they seek and, as a result, discovers the integrity of polyamory and the “secret” of making it work.

Know yourself. Start by identifying yourself to yourself and for yourself. And don’t lie to yourself.

Once the poly individual can commit to the process of self-assessment as a personal best practice, any identified misunderstandings can be presented to the other members of the Poly community with confidence. Without a commitment to initiate and maintain that level of introspection, the real question becomes, “What is it that you seek to gain from Polyamory that you don’t feel you receive from Monogamy?”

Written by Kozure Okami

Edited by WritetoMind


  1. lisalday111711

    Reblogged this on The World According to Lisa and commented:
    I enjoyed reading this post not only to be educated but also as a reminder that labels can be so damaging. Before labeling someone perhaps people should actually research the very thing that they are labeling. I have several friends that are polyamory and they are very happy. They are authenticate and true to themselves as well as others however they have a hard time as so many love to judge that which they do not understand. Education is the key but even that may not stop those who love to judge.

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