What is Polyamory?

three people holding hands

Image by Ashely Barli from Pixabay

We have been educated to believe that a monogamous relationship is "standard", and that anything else is a deviation from that norm... but how much do you really know about non monogamy? And what is polyamory?

[Full Transcript Below]

You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let’s Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

three people holding hands

Episode Transcript:

Kia: [0:00:00] It is eighteen minutes to ten, you’re with Kia Handley on ABC Newcastle Mornings.

What sorts of relationships do you have in your life, right now? I think of the common ones, parents, siblings, extended family, boyfriend or girlfriend, partner husband or wife, friends, you know these are all relationships that are quite mainstream, if you will, but the world of love and lust and who you want to spend your life with isn’t always straightforward.

So how much do you know about what is polyamory and polyamorous relationships?

We’re about to learn all about it thanks to our regular relationship coach, Tara Whitewood, good morning

Tara: Hi Kia

Why Don’t We Talk About Polyamory?

Kia: Do you think that these sort of non- I don’t know even what the word is, but non mainstream-

Tara: Non-monogamous.

Kia: Non mainstream version of relationships can get a bit of a bad rap, there can get a bit of a stigma around it?

Tara: A hundred percent and I think it’s- like anything, if you are unfamiliar with what that means and what it looks like, it can be seen as fearful and ‘other’, and different and people are uncomfortable around that.

Kia: Yeah, and we may not talk about as openly as we talk about “my husband”, “my wife”-

Tara: That’s right.

Kia: You know, my partner, because there is that sort of judgment that comes, right?

Tara: Yeah absolutely and like with the queer community as well there is a bit of a stigma about, I mean people needing to come out as polyamorous as well, there’s a whole experience of going home to family and saying, this is my boyfriend and this is my other boyfriend and this is my girlfriend, you know, identifying those people as someone who is important in your life.

[Edit 26/6/20: I said "needing to come out", and I want to be clear that noone need ever come out as anything if they don't want to! It is a complex decision, that has many implications.]

What is Polyamory?

Kia: Let’s start at the very beginning, what is polyamory, because there are lots of words in this space-

Tara: Yes.

Kia: And we may have a completely incorrect- before I looked it up, completely incorrect idea of what that is and means.

Tara: So, in its simplest, Polyamory means many loves. So if you could keep that simple that would be great [smiling]

Kia: However- [smiling]

Tara: I will give you some varieties of how that might look, so many loves, what that means is that it doesn’t mean necessarily many sexual relationships. So some polyamorous relationships don’t have a sexual component. So it could be romantic, it could be intimate-

Kia: Someone calls it dating-

Tara: Yeah that’s right and that can also be one of the benefits of a polyamorous relationship, that in a relationship where there is a difference in libido, that might be balanced out with another partner in that relationship, so, if you think as being like a spectrum, where on one end there is monogamy, and one, two people committed exclusively to each other and then a whole spectrum of different varieties of a relationships, where one may be what’s been coined as monogamish-


Kia: [smiling]

Tara: By Dan Savage who is a sex and relationship coach in the States and he talks about monogamish, so that’s at its core a monogamous relationship, a couple who are committed to each other, but then they have other relationships.

[Watch this podcast with Dan Savage on Being Monogamish]

Kia: So we might call that open-

Tara: Yeah, it’s kind of an open relationship, but it could be a whole bunch of different things depending on what they’ve negotiated so it could be, occasionally when they are away travelling, they might have a date, or someone else.

Kia: Or it could happen on business trips.

Tara: Yeah, which is interesting that you would say this-

Kia: [smiling]

Tara: One of the flavors of monogamish is don’t ask don’t tell. You know, I’m cool if you’re seeing other people, but I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to hear what you’re doing.

Polygamy & Polyfidelity

There is polygamy, which is multiple marriage, so that tends to be more, like a religious or cultural phenomenon, where there’s one husband or one wife with many partners, many married partners.

Polyfidelity, so now you’re looking at, it’s not an open relationship, it’s a committed poly relationship, so you might have three people in that relationship, and they are all committed to each other.


And there’s a whole bunch of varieties, I know of solo-polyamory, which you and I have talked about in an article recently, they talk about someone who identifies as solo polyamory, and what that means is that person identifies as being-

Kia: Single-

Tara: Single, that’s right.

Kia: Even though she has two partners.

Tara: That’s right, but primarily, that identification is a single. So what that means is that they make all on their own life decisions, they are independent financially, independent in terms of every sort of market that we might usually measure for relationship, but they also have these relationships that they maintain. It could be many or it could be few, it could be none at that time.

You know just like you identify yourself as monogamous, but you don’t have a partner right now, you still identify yourself as being monogamous.

Kia: Yeah, you just- yeah, haven’t found that person yet.

Relationship Anarchy

Tara: Yeah, and complete other end of the spectrum from monogamy you have relationship anarchy which isn’t as crazy as it sounds-

Kia: [smiling]

Tara: That’s about having-

Kia: You haven’t flipped a table.

Tara: Yeah, that’s right, that’s about a specific relationship with each individual [0:05:00] depending on that individual, so not putting labels or rules or anything around it, just allowing everything to organically evolve, with all of the people in your life, from friends to family, to partners.

So there’s a lot in there but if you want to go back and just remember polyamory is about having many loves.

Is Polyamory Common?

Kia: Yeah, is it common? Or is it hard to know because maybe we’re not as open about it as we would if we are living that sort of relationship life?

Tara: I think it’s super common, I mean, I’m on some sort of Facebook groups, different chat groups, to keep my education going, and it’s something that’s quite common and also increasingly, I don’t know if it’s increasingly common but it’s increasingly talked about.

Kia: Yeah. I guess a little bit like everything, right, you know we are becoming a little bit more open when it comes to our relationships and sexual adventures, so we do talk about this a little bit more to try to break down some of that stigma.

Tara: And the other part of it is that not only are we feeling more comfortable talking about it, but with the way that the internet is, with the way we can talk about things, people who have always felt this way now are able to say, oh my gosh, there’s a name for this.

Kia: And a community, a space.

Tara: That’s right a community where people can connect with this way so that I can meet other polyamorous people as well, there’s way I can learn about it, there’s way I can grow and improve my relationships as a polyamorous person.

What are the Challenges of Polyamory?

Kia: Because I imagine, you know, we talked a lot about challenges between monogamous couple, I imagine when you are adding a third party in this and things can get- like it has to be really strong guidelines and boundaries.

Tara: Yeah.

Kia: What are some of the challenges in a polyamorous relationship?

Tara: Like you’ve said, I think the polyamorous relationship and from the experience I’ve had with my clients is that it’s a real magnifier of the issues that already exist.

So where are you in a different relationship, you might let some of those things slide, so maybe your partner works away a lot, or you don’t spend a lot of time together, in a polyamorous relationship when that’s the case, there’s this huge contrast. You really see, you really notice that, one of the sayings that the community has that I love is that love is infinite, but time and attention are not.

Kia: [smiling]

How Do We Manage Poly Logistics?

Tara: So there’s a point where you’re sort of- they call it poly-saturated which I think it’s really funny. So poly-saturated when you know you just don’t have any more time or energy for additional people in your life and that’s when relationships begin to suffer.

So if some of the issues are like with monogamous relationships as well, logistics, but the logistics become more complicated. So you know, spending time together and now if you think of coordinating a family and the time they have available-

[Read More: How to Manage Domestic Logistics]

Kia: Has to soccer, and Julie has to go hockey-

Tara: Exactly.

Kia: But who- dad has to be here and mum has to be there, and no one wants to stand on the sideline.

Tara: Yeah, and then it’s Jane and Sally date night and on Friday we got to go on a weekend, but that supposed to be Tom and Sally’s date night and just-

Kia: And then there’s a wedding and- yeah-

Tara: Are we all going to go on a wedding or just two of us going to go on a wedding and you know all of those it just- it becomes magnified. So it really requires a lot of extra effort I think, to manage that, to coordinate that.

There’s some really cool apps, really cool poly apps, that allow you to negotiate that time or plan that time [smiling]

Jealousy and Polyamory

One of the other really big issues, Kia, is around jealousy. And around you know, how do I feel loved and know that I’m loved while I can see my partner also loving someone else, or how do I get away-

[Read More: How to Deal with Jealousy]

Kia: There’s nights that you’re alone, or days that you’re alone-

Tara: Exactly.

Kia: You know, how great it is when we’re here together, but I know that eventually you would have days, nights, weeks with the other person.

Tara: That’s right and on the occasion where, both where, where the two partners want the other partner’s time and that partner is having to choose, and so, you choose them over me.

Kia: Yeah.

Tara: Which is not, I mean, it’s not the case, but those dynamics are really complex.

There’s a really cool concept in polyamory which is compersion, and it’s kind of like the Holy Grail for some polyamorous people, so compersion is the feeling of joy that you get when you observe your partner feeling joy from their sexual or other relationships, so it’s like opposite of jealousy. It’s like, I see you happy because of that relationship and that fills me with joy.

Kia: I feel like that takes a special person, I feel like the humans aren’t actually wired that way  that jealousy is our animalistic response, right?

Tara: I think in a sense you might be right, it’s like, almost resource guarding, you know, you’ve seen dogs in the pound and they have to compete for food, like they get really-

Kia: Aggressive on that, right.

Tara: You can’t take this, this is mine. So on that sort of level, it is something that we all of it experience. And it’s not- you know it’s really not a nice thing to feel and it’s really not a resourceful way to be in the world either.

So I think that all of us can do some work around that, what does jealousy mean [0:10:00] there’s a lot of- it’s almost a reflection of your self-esteem, you know. I feel jealous because I feel like I’m not enough and that’s better. It’s that comparison with others that’s not all that healthy.

Kia: Which is seen in all relationships as well.

Tara: Absolutely.

Kia: Not just our intimate ones.

How Do You Know if Polyamory is For You?

Kia:  It’s nine minutes away from ten o’clock, my guest as always on a Monday is Tara Whitewood, our relationship coach from The Sugar Doctor.

We’re talking polyamorous relationships today. I feel like, is it pretty obvious if it’s for you or not, like, you’re sitting at home and listening, going, no I don’t think that would work, or do you really have to try it to know?

Tara: Well, I mean, all of those things.

For some people it’s very, very clear, I’m monogamous, that doesn’t interest me. I’m one of those people. It doesn’t interest me. For other people they see it, it’s really obvious that they want to have many relationships, so it’s really, really clear for them as well. “I am polyamorous I want to be with more than one person”, monogamy just make them feel, soon as they think like no, that is not for me.

Kia: Yeah.

Tara: And then there are people who are in the middle of that, where they’re like, I’m not really sure, I don’t know what that would look like, I don’t know what that would feel like, maybe there is something I’d like to explore.

So I guess some of the things you can think about is, do you want sexual and romantic variety, you know, do you want to have more than one person in your life. And it doesn’t always need to be sex, like I’ve said before. Could be romantic, like you could have a partner who you just cuddle with, you could have a partner who aren’t sexual with but you feel committed in that relationship, in that- yeah, the sense that it’s an intimate relationship.

It doesn’t have to be a definition around it. If you seem as someone, you’re my partner, that’s the only thing that matters. There’s no criteria for partner in that way.

You could also ask yourself things like, how committed do I want to be, you know, do I want to be someone who is identified as being whatever it is, how committed do I want to be to those people? What level of commitment, you can have a high level of commitment with one person and another, and all of that just needs to be negotiated really heavily.

Polyamory as Ethical Non-Monogamy

Tara: I think the key though is that polyamory is the ethical non-monogamy. Ethical being the key, so it’s consensual, it’s transparent, it’s negotiated. It’s the complete opposite of- well it’s not opposite, it’s not infidelity. Infidelity requires secrecy, it’s sneaking around-

Kia: You’re open, by having these conversations you are saying, hey, this is what I would like to do, do you want to come with me, basically.

Tara: That’s right, consensual agreed to, there are boundaries, it’s been negotiated.

Kia: Jill says my friend who is poly gave me a great distinction, that your primary relationship remains with yourself.

So it is a decision that is giving your partner giving yourself a sense of compromise is the way that you dividing your time, you feeling unsettled to keep strength in your authenticity with others, asks you to keep that as a highest priority with yourself. Yes and implicates issues that exists for everyone, but I love that, you are the primary focus.

Tara: That’s beautiful.

Kia: And that becomes for your partner as well. So when you have that understanding-

Tara: Yes.

Kia: So you maybe you’re that only, that one person’s partner right?

Tara: That’s right.

Kia: So you’re your partner just waiting at home for you, you know there might be other elements in that. And if you all know that you are focused on you than that makes it, almost a little bit like clarity, right?

Tara: It is, it’s a really great check in, I love that definition or that sort of, that guideline. Because what have sort of, reminds of as well is really- it’s not something that you decide once and then stick with it.

What Happens if I Change My Mind?

Tara: So there’s kind of a sense in many different relationships, particularly in polyamory. You know, "you knew what you are getting into when we’ve started down this road." So, it’s not okay for you now to change your mind or say this isn’t okay or wants things to be different or want to be renegotiated which is not the case at all.

You can change your mind at any time, right, and you can renegotiate any time and say, Jill like, like Jill have said, “I thought that this would be cool, but now that we’re doing it, I’m not feeling okay about it.” You know, I’m feeling sad, or like I’m stressed, or it just not fitting right for me, can we have a look at that again.

Kia: And let me just say, we’re not talking about marriage, right?

Tara: Well, it could be.

Kia: It could be -?

Tara: Well it’s not a legally recognized marriage in Australia, but you could have commitment ceremonies, but that sort of playing into that polyfidelity, where you’re saying, we’ve decided that this configuration is what we want.

Kia: We are committed to this level, that’s what you’ve said, choose what you like, you talk about what that commitment is.

Tara: That’s right, and it’s funny because there is a perception of what that polyamory is promiscuity and it’s just not the case.

Does Polyamourous = Promiscuous?

Tara: That’s right, and it’s funny because there is a perception of what that polyamory is promiscuity and it’s just not the case.

You can think of someone who is monogamous, a serial monogamist, who might have a different partner every month or every week. [0:15:00]

Or they might have not being committed to anyone, they’re might just having sex with whoever, whenever, quite promiscuous, and there’s a perception of polyamorous people having lots and lots of relationships. But that’s might not be the case.

Are There Groups I can Join?

Kia: I know you’ve been talking a lot about people talking about this online and finding safe places, is there better space to go and have these conversations with other people who are maybe already exploring this a little bit, if you’re interested?

Tara: Definitely. It’s definitely a really nice to check in, you don’t even really need to interact, you can simply observe, so there is some really podcast so if you look up for polyamory in the podcast app. And there is some great resources, particularly Facebook groups, there are some Meet- up groups, in Sydney, I don’t know if there is some Meet- up groups in Newcastle but it’s pretty close.

And around the country there are definitely workshops and groups and people that are getting together also really important to keep in mind, back to what Jill said, always checking in with yourself. So if you go to a group or if you get online, and people are saying something, is the way to do it-

Kia: And it doesn’t sit with you, don’t do it-

Tara: That’s right, don’t take that on, because you’re the only measure of whether is working or not.

Does Polyamory Last?

Kia: Do we have a sense whether polyamorous relationships last to old age like that dream is with marriage or monogamy.

Tara: Yeah, and it depends again on specific people and how they’ve set it up.

I remember reading an article last week, actually it was written by women who’d reflected that her grandparents had polyamorous relationship.

There were her grandparents and then there was another man who lived with them. And all her life she sort of didn’t realize that everyone didn’t have a group of three as their grandparents, and it’s absolutely something that the people have done for a long time it really hasn’t had that name.

Kia: Yeah, really interesting to learn more, a little bit more about this, I know it is, you know it’s a part of the relationship discussion we’re not having so often, people can find it a bit confronting and a bit hard to understand, sometimes it’s great that you’re able to dive in in this way, thank you so much, we’ll catch up with you next week.

Tara: Pleasure, Kia.