Polyamory is being in multiple (intimate) romantic/sexual relationships, with consenting partners and varying degrees of commitment.
Conversely, an open relationship is one where two adults in a committed romantic relationship decide to see other people outside their relationship, without being committed to those other people.
A polyamorous person can choose, for whatever reason, to be committed to one person. In this scenario, they are in a monogamous relationship. Maybe with time, they could want to open up that relationship to explore other people, with the consent of their partner. Because their partners are aware of the other people, it erases cheating, and they define their relationship as open.
Being polyamorous does not necessarily mean a person is an open relationship.
It is the same way being monogamous is not equivalent to being in a monogamous relationship. It could be that the other person in the relationship is polyamorous or wants to see another person/ other people.
I like to think monogamy and polyamory, like many other things, exist on a spectrum. At different times, pending on the context, we can dangle anywhere between monogamous and polyamorous. These two polarities are valid, as there is no one way for human behaviour to manifest.
Human nature desires to own and possess things, and so, we have the concept of “I”, “Me”, and “Mine”. This desire to possess things enters romantic spaces. We want our partners to ourselves.
Moreover, humans are adventurous and curious. We want to explore. Despite being in satisfying romantic relationships, we see people we find attractive, and a part of us imagines how being with them would feel.
We know how lesbian romantic relationships could be intense. I mean, there are cases where one of the partners says something like this: “Oh my god, we are like sooo perfect. It’s like we are lines: I don’t know where I stop and I don’t even know where she starts.” (Read that with a vocal fry, for effect.) Lesbian romances easily spin into co-dependent relationships. Because our relationships are supercharged, we run a risk at wanting to own our partners. But what happens when we see other women who catch our eyes?
In the past, I would not have minded crawling under a lover’s skin like a tiny, harmless love bug to love on her. All that closeness, all that intensity. Then again, there were women everywhere. Gorgeous, witty, fun-to-be-with, and sexy-as-hell women all around. And I wanted to know how it would feel like to be with them. The quandary! But after considering how I love myself and solitude, I realised I did not have the emotional and mental resources to expend on anything serious or flimsy with other romantic partners. This is my experience.
To decide if we want to be in open relationships, we must be honest with ourselves, even before pitching the concept to our partners. Firstly, do we have the bandwidth to be in an open relationship or we doing it out of peer pressure, because we think it is what “cool people” are doing? Are we certain we can have a fling with this new person without engaging our feelings? Would it be a one-time-thing? What happens if this new person starts wanting something serious? Would we be okay with it if our partners want to see other people? Can our hearts take it if our partners start catching feelings for other people?
If in the course of being true to ourselves we realise we can successfully thrive in an open relationship, we should give it a go. But what happens when The Bae says nay? Another ball game entirely.
If we realise we do not have the emotional and mental wherewithal to be in an open relationship, then we should not rock the boat.
Also, serial monogamy is a thing: we break up with Woman A, move to Woman B, and like that we go through all the letters of the English alphabet and veer into the Cambodian alphabet (with its 74 letters).
Or we could join the bandwagon filled with staunch believers of “romantic relationships are a waste of time, money, and energy.”
It is not safe to say, “Make a conscious decision to be in romantic spaces with people who are as monogamous like us to save stress.” I understand people evolve over time – that a person hates the concept of polyamory today does not mean that they would not be open to it tomorrow. However, it is important we have these conversations in the budding phase of the relationship and during the course of the romance.
Lesbian relationships are intense, and the idea of sharing our partners could be stressful to contemplate. However, with the right conversations and ground rules, I feel they can be fulfilling, healthy, and easy to navigate. Most importantly, we should understand this: having our partners does not mean we own or possess them.