faq draft - question 77. What does 'polyamorous' mean, anyway?
'Polyamory' means 'many loves' -- it's similar in construction to 'polygamy' or 'polygyny', but doesn't assume marriage. I think I first encountered the idea that you could have more than one romantic partner when I was about ten and reading Heinlein for the first time (author of some of those subversive books I just mentioned). In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, we encounter the concepts of line marriage and clan marriages, and in Stranger in a Strange Land, we get a very sixties-ish free love approach.
I'm a terrible romantic, and I was just delighted when I came across these ideas -- poly felt right to me, the way love ought to be. There's this great poly word, 'limerence' -- it's the warm fuzzy glow you get when you know your sweetie is happy because of their other sweetie -- a shared joy which, if you're lucky, builds on itself into something quite gorgeous and blissful. I haven't experienced limerence often, but when I have, I've felt uncommonly blessed.
[Argh -- I drafted this in the airport, without web access; I just did a web search, and discovered that 'limerence' doesn't mean this at all. Limerence means something pretty far from this. I don't know what the word is that I'm thinking of. Does such a word exist? Help!]
I have since learned, of course, that many people (possibly most) are far happier with monogamy than they would ever be with polyamory. While I don't think either monogamy or polyamory is particularly the 'natural state' of men or women, I do think individuals have strong personal predilictions in one direction or another. Which of course causes conflict if you live in a culture which pressures you towards one mode or the other. (In Nepal, women commonly have multiple husbands, usually brothers.) And it can cause untold grief if you (polyamorous) fall madly in love with someone else (monogamous), or vice versa. It's like being a woman in love with a gay man, but worse, because it can take years or decades before you figure out what's actually wrong.
I tried monogamy in college, and did very badly at it. When Kevin and I got involved, it was explicitly as a non-monogamous relationship, which was a tremendous relief. There have certainly been some bumps along that road -- it's not that I don't get jealous, for example, but rather that I'd rather work through the jealousy for what I think is a worthwhile result. Overall, so far, polyamory is working well for us. I can't say for certain that it's what I'll be doing for the rest of my life, but for the last decade-plus, being in a poly relationship (or two, or three) has made me very happy.
For more about polyamory, including the ways in which it differs from what is commonly referred to as 'swinging' or 'the lifestyle', visit: www.polyamory.org -- I particularly recommend Elise Matheson's piece on "How to F*** Up", which is funny and quite applicable to monogamous relationships as well.