On Learning and Loving

Polyamory Makes Us Question Current Relationship Ideals

  • The best thing we can do in life is love. Photo Brian Lapuz and Ocean DeRouchie

Until I made the conscious choice to opt-out of monogamous relationships, I had cheated on every partner I had ever been with.

I know how bad that might look on paper. But for the longest time, no matter how long I was with someone, no matter how much I cared for them, I would eventually find myself in a situation where I had serious feelings for another person(s).

Any sentiment of guilt or shame I felt came less so from the consequences of any action, and moreso from a societal belief that “sleeping with someone else is something you do to your partner, not for yourself,” as Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy put it so eloquently in their remarkable book, The Ethical Slut.

It wasn’t out of not loving my partner, or out of wanting to cause harm, that I acted on those feelings—I was just happy to share love, and I found that the more love I had to give, the more love I had to share.

So for years, I would try to follow my heart—and end up hurting everyone else’s in the process.

At the end of summer of 2015, I came to the conclusion that being in exclusive relationships was a no-no. I started telling new romantic interests that I was polyamorous, and soon enough my heart felt lighter and lighter. The realization that polyamory, for me, was moreso a part of who I am, rather than a lifestyle choice, came with a strong sense of self, and an even stronger feeling of relief.

That’s not to say that sharing this with people didn’t come without some intense reactions. When I first told my mom, she was like, “No, Ocean, you just need a boyfriend.” To which I responded, “No, Mom—I have like, five of them.” Her concern and bewilderment—which comes from a sincere, distinct place of love—is shared by many others who find out that someone in their life is polyamorous. It comes from a sheer lack of public knowledge or even comfortable conversation around non-monogamy.

However, polyamory still remains taboo in nature, and is largely ignored as a research topic as a result. It was only last summer that data from the first-ever national survey on polyamorous families emerged.

The survey collected information from 547 respondents—all self-identified poly folks in “families,” or what I just call “relationships,” between three or more consenting adults. It’s worth noting that this is by no means an exhaustive representation of polyamorous relationship structures.

The survey also (somewhat) reclaims the word “family,” indicating that the meaning of it in Canada is evolving.

It wasn’t out of not loving my partner, or out of wanting to cause harm, that I acted on those feelings—I was just happy to share love, and I found that the more love I had to give, the more love I had to share.

Of these respondents, there was a general consensus that public acceptance of polyamory is increasing, but perceptions that it’s a kink or fetish, or is somehow aligned with polygamy, is still giving it a bad rap.

Poly peeps have to consider who they tell, because “many parts of the world will not welcome us with open arms,” write Easton and Hardy. People have lost jobs, been denied leases and lost custody battles. “It’s not easy being easy,” they point out.

My experiences telling potential partners since this coming-to-terms with myself are different depending on the person. Some are uncomfortable with the idea of a partner pursuing other interests—and that’s okay; people need to set their own boundaries. On the other hand though, there are people who are into it, and they aren’t as few and far between as you might expect.

Poly living situations are on the rise, too. There was a time not too long ago when I was considering a move-in with two of my former partners. The dream, as a friend of mine once called it, never came true, but discussions around the idea included how many bedrooms we might want, in what context would it be appropriate to bring our other partners into the shared space, and beyond.

When looking at poly living situations, the 2016 survey found that most people lived between two households. However, one fifth of them said that all members of their relationship lived in one home. In these single-home families, three fifths of them included one married couple.

It’s interesting, because even though “lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriages” have been ingrained in us as “normal and natural,” as Easton and Hardy tell us, slightly more than half of all the respondents of the survey identified as non-straight. The findings also show that many people in polyamorous relationships still value these kinds of commitments. “Poly,” to some, might suggest that the person is “immature, or inauthentic,” says The Ethical Slut; that we do not want to settle down or grow up—that we’re adventurous.

And to that I say, “Hell yeah, we’re adventurous.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have a stable life, with solid partners; that I don’t want to one day raise kids, do meaningful work, or buy a house. I do want those things, and when I imagine having them, I picture my best friends, our partners, and our kids living together in an environment that offers unconditional love, support, and different experiences to share with one another.

It’s not unheard of, either. Just under a quarter of survey respondents have at least one child living in their household. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I don’t see how this is any different.
Poly is full of challenge, but then again, nothing worth having comes easy. No matter who we are or who we love, we will fumble and trip. Mistakes are a part of learning, and no relationship is exempted from that process. Operating on a basis of honesty, trust and communication is key in any relationship, but I believe polyamory pushes us to take those concepts to their furthest extents.

My father said to me once, while walking up Rachel St. on our way to Patati Patata for a late-night tofu burger that “it’s okay to love more than one person.” To be fair, even today we have our disagreements about relationships. But what we do have in common is that we believe in love—in whatever form that it comes in.

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