What is Polyamory? It’s Not Exactly What You Might Think

The root of polyamory means literally “many loves.” Now, immediately people often think this only relates to our intimate relationships, but at the heart of it, it is about every kind of love – platonic, family, friend, intimate, social – the whole spectrum. It is about not seeing love as something we can feel towards our partners only, and opening our hearts (that is, our compassion and kindness) to a much wider circle of people.

It’s funny then, that when this kind of aim becomes our goal, the openness and naturalness to have lovingly intimate relationships with more than one person seems to arise organically. That doesn’t always happen, of course; it depends on the person, but that was my experience.

Now, I think it’s worth stressing. Even though the multiple, loving intimate-relationships thing is what usually takes all the spot-light in the discussion, it is really just one effect of this philosophy. It is not the essential purpose. Whether you prefer to have intimate relationships with one or more people is not the point. If you’re not interested in loving people and you just want to have sex, you can call that kind of situation swinging, or openly dating, or a free lunch, but it’s not polyamory. Polyamory is a philosophy on love. It includes the love we have towards one partner, towards two or three partners, towards our friends, strangers, and society as a whole. But maybe we need to take a step back a minute.

This may all sound completely crazy. It’s hard to say. What does it mean to try to love everyone, not just our romantic partners, but our friends – strangers? To disassociate sex with love and to love people completely, not just maybe 10 or 15 people in the world, but 50 people, 100 people – everyone we come in contact with in our life? Is it possible to even love like this? Now, if we’re talking about romantic love, I would say no. Physically that is probably not even possible. The kind of love I’m talking about is the kind of love we can feel towards anyone. Love, as I would define it, is the *will* to take kind actions; it is that quality inside of us that compels us to be compassionate and thoughtful towards the people in our life.

Now, usually the number of people that would make this list is pretty short. We usually afford our compassion and thoughtfulness to a fairly small group of friends and family, and of course, most prominently, our significant other. But for the longest time I’ve asked myself, why is it so easy to love someone I’m attracted to, but loving someone I don’t like that much is this incredibly difficult thing? I close my heart off to them, and everyone else does this as well, and so it becomes this accepted norm in our society.

Our capacity for empathy and compassion for others seems very limited. I can see this in myself, like most people I would have to guess, and I want to know if it is possible to love more than this small circle of people, to keep my heart open to more and more people in my life until one day I can feel in some real, physical sense a love for everyone in the world. I want to find out what the limit really is. The question is: how do we make the leap from loving this very small circle of people, to opening our hearts to everyone?

If I had to take a stab at it, I think loving others unconditionally is the secret. Loving someone, even knowing their flaws, even knowing their boring sides or whatever sides – you see them as you see yourself.

You can love them, knowing who they are, just the way they are, as if who they are doesn’t even matter.

Just by their existence, they are a part of you and all of it. I am not separate from him. I am not separate from her. We share the same basic desires, hopes, fears, sufferings and dreams – the same basic humanity. Intrinsically, just looking into someone’s eyes, while they’re talking or doing something very ordinary, without them knowing what you’re thinking about, just looking deeply into their eyes with mindfulness and that sort of conscious intention, aware of who we all truly are – it would seem hard not to love them.

It could be a moment like this.

You could look into one of these person’s eyes, and love inside them what is common in all of us, to appreciate the beauty of that. For me, the breakthrough came when I asked myself, “If I can love so-and-so with such ease, why not this person? Why not these people? What’s really the difference?”

It’s funny that it has always been easiest to work on opening my heart in this way to women whom I’ve been intimate with at some point in time (whether in a polyamorous or a monogamous context). That is just the way we are taught to love, so it is what feels the most natural for us.

Quietly, though, the voice inside my heart knows that my love must not be one-pointed. If I want to find out what it means to love fully, completely, not just to love sexually, in this very limited way, then I must love the world before it becomes particular shapes, or particular people.

Love the parts, because you understand the whole.

If I can love a woman in this way, should I not then be able to open my heart to others? Am I not able to love all my friends, strangers, acquaintances, and lovers in this way?

Using this love, this openness as a template, I can apply these feelings to everyone.

This to me, is what polyamory is about – opening our hearts to a wider and wider circle of people, no longer limiting our love to a select few, no longer cutting off existing loves when we meet someone new, no longer seeing love as a limited commodity. To explore polyamory is to tap into that deep, limitless well of loving energy that resides in all of us. And from this point, the desire and willingness to explore polyamory in our intimate relationships (when a good situation arises for it) becomes one of many new great adventures.

This last statement makes a subtle point. Many people are surprised when I tell them that, philosophically, I’m polyamorous, but that most of the time I prefer to pursue monogamous relationships. I’m sure some brains are exploding trying to compute this. 🙂 But the difference is flexibility. If monogamy is the best fit for the situation, awesome, I’m all for it. But if a situation arises where it would work better to explore third-dimensional options (which would bring a greater mutual happiness to everyone involved) then I’m all for that too. There are so many times that I’ve experienced or that I’ve heard about when being flexible in a situation can allow so many more joyous possibilities. And these possibilities are simply unattainable when we stick to the “one winner and one loser” outcome, where a person is stuck in the tragic dilemma of having to choose between two people she loves. And I find situations like this happen all the time.

But whether we prefer to be in monogamous relationships, or we want to actively work on cultivating loving, committed relationships with two or three people, that is simply our personal preference. What makes a person polyamorous is our desire to simply be a more loving person, to love everyone we come in contact with in our life, and to want to discover what is truly possible.

For me, it all starts from understanding the essence of the love that we all feel in our monogamous relationships, seeing the pathways that allowed us to open our heart to this person, and then working to apply this same path to everyone.

It’s a good template to work from.


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