Polyamory is becoming increasingly popular in younger relationships, especially queer ones. Now TikTok is debating polyamory, people are sharing resources about polyamory, and many couples on campus are starting to explore polyamory. However, polyamory must be done correctly to be successful, and many young people tend to struggle with the logistics of polyamory to make it work.
I am in a monogamous relationship. I have no real experience with polyamory, but I have been watching all of the TikTok discourse about polyamory and have done some digging on the subject. Polyamory is somewhat like an open relationship at its most basic level, but practicing polyamory tends to have many working parts, challenges, and dynamics that an open relationship cannot account for.
For starters, polyamory, as it is currently practiced in the U.S., tends to focus on the premise that there is a primary relationship between two people and one or both of the people in the primary relationship are looking for secondary relationships. Also, the originally monogamous relationship can collectively incorporate a third person into the relationship — and sometimes more than a third! Reasons for polyamory can range from exploring sexuality to bringing out different aspects of yourself with different people.
This practice can work. I think it is possible for this kind of polyamorous relationship to survive, but I think too many relationships fail to take into account some logistics.
For starters, Western polyamorous relationships focus heavily on jealousy and ownership. In the “All My Relations” podcast, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate professor Kim Tallbear points out that “a lot of these conversations are shallow.” She describes how many polyamorous conversations center on how the people in the relationships are jealous because of a miscommunication or a misuse of ownership.
The concept of having a primary and secondary partner implies a hierarchy of relationships and ownership. If a primary partner feels threatened, the balance of ownership falls apart. And this happens a lot.
This isn’t to say that jealousy and ownership are bad. They are inherent in a monogamous relationship, but once a polyamorous relationship begins, Tallbear emphasizes that there must be a focus on having “good relations” rather than primary and secondary partners.
There are just too many ways to mess up a polyamorous relationship. People often get into polyamory for the wrong reasons: the thrill of a new relationship, unfulfilled lust, a sudden attraction to someone else, or just plain boredom. If these are your reasons for starting a polyamorous relationship, then you need to reevaluate your current monogomous relationship and maybe break up. For example, if you are sexually unfulfilled, this might not be the relationship for you.
That being said, Western polyamory can definitely function for people. According to a 2014 article from Psychology Today, at least 9.8 million Americans are in a polyamorous relationship. I imagine that the number must have at least doubled by now.
Western polyamory is fine, but I’m advocating for something more like Tallbear’s polyamory: good relations, freedom from being owned by other people, sharing desires and experiences with people, and absolute sexual and romantic liberty. It’s hard, especially for us individualistic Americans, but it’s possible, and it’s the best that polyamory can do.
If you find yourself thinking about polyamory, first think about why you are interested in polyamory. Then, do some research to figure out what kind of polyamory you want to partake in, and, finally, communicate, especially if you are already in a monogamous relationship.