Polyamory is a practice which embraces the possibility of loving multiple people at once, and establishing meaningful romantic relationships with multiple individuals. People who are polyamorous may identify themselves as “poly,” and polyamory is also sometimes known as ethical non-monogamy or responsible non-monogamy, emphasizing the ethical code and morals associated with polyamory. The focus of polyamory is on meaningful relationships with others, not necessarily purely sexual relationships, and this differentiates the practice of polyamory from swinging.
For people outside the polyamory community, the poly lifestyle can be confusing, and this issue is compounded by the fact that there are multiple forms of polyamory, designed to accommodate a wide range of comfort levels. Most people who identify as polyamorous would say that the most important thing about polyamory is honesty; a poly relationship is characterized by open discussion, honesty, trust, informed consent, loyalty, and constant negotiation. In a polyamorous relationship, everyone is aware of what is going on with everyone involved, and everyone fully consents.
The term polyamory translates from the Greek as “many loves,” but in fact a polyamorous relationship doesn’t necessarily involve multiple people involved together all at once, and it certainly isn’t the same thing as polygamy or polyandry, the practice of marrying multiple spouses. For example, a woman in a long-term relationship with another women whom she considers to be her primary partner might also have a relationship with a man whom she considers her “secondary partner,” and her two partners may not interact all that often, beyond meeting each other. In other cases, people practice polyfidelity, which is polyamory within a group, in which case various partners may come to know each other very well. Everyone reaches an arrangement which suits his or her individual comfort level, and takes the comfort level of partners into account as well.
Polyamory is sometimes dismissively characterized as having “a partner on the side,” which many polyamorous individuals find quite offensive. The whole premise of polyamory is that it is possible to love multiple people at once in honest relationships where people cope with jealousy and other emotional issues, and hope to reach a state known as “compersion,” which refers to taking genuine pleasure in a partner’s happiness with someone else. Some members of the poly community define compersion as “the opposite of jealousy,” emphasizing the open and loving nature of their relationships.
Just like Brussels sprouts, polyamory is not for everyone. It requires a very deep level of trust and excellent communication skills, and both partners have to be willing to work together. If one partner pushes another into a polyamorous arrangement, the results are often less than satisfying for all involved, and members of the poly community frown heavily on cheating, lying, and other negative practices. A number of online communities and guidebooks for people interested in the polyamorous lifestyle provide excellent information on finding and negotiating polyamorous relationships.