(Re)Defining Poly

I’ve resisted coming up with a specific vision or definition for what kind of polyamory I wanted to practice.  To me, this was too similar to constructing the house of cards that I tried and failed to live up to before reinventing my life four years ago.  This house of cards was an ideal that I couldn’t live up to.  And, importantly, it was in fact never well suited for me to begin with.  It was destined to cause me great misery.  It did just that.

In choosing a polyamorous approach to relationships, I recognized there were important preferences that I needed to understand and make clear to potential partners.  It is kind of definition.  Or, perhaps more accurately, those preferences describe the ingredients that I use to define and redefine poly for myself.  The first preference to note is that I’m an emotional dater.  I don’t seem to have the capacity to have sex without forming attachment.  I don’t do casual.  I prefer emotional intensity which is reflected and reinforced in the bedroom.  So, I have a bias for deeper, longer term relationships.

Because of my emphasis on the emotional side of relationships, I also have a large openness to romantic, non-sexual poly relationships. I had a wonderful romantic non-sexual relationship with an old friend, university classmate, and spiritual guide for many years. When that relationship suddenly ended as her husband came to resent our emotional closeness, I mourned that loss as deeply as any traditional romantic relationship I’ve ever had. I find these connections deeply fulfilling. Indeed, it was the way I unknowingly “practiced” polyamory for nearly all of my active dating life.  I’ve nearly always had a very close, flirty, loving woman friend with whom I spent much time with when I wasn’t with my girlfriend.  These women were usually potential lovers that I met at the “wrong time.”  But, a few of them were also former lovers with whom the connection survived the end of the committed, sexual relationship. (more…)

On Commitment

Choosing a relationship style that includes ethical, non-monogamy (or, more directly described, multiple committed romantic relationships) presents a few challenges.  One of the persistent questions is related to the nature of commitment in open relationships.  People ask “how do you know a relationship is real? How serious can it be without commitment?”  I usually wrinkle up my nose, raise my eyebrow quizzically and ask “I don’t follow. What exactly do you mean?” I’m not trying to be dense.  It has taken me some time to realize the true nature of people’s concern. I think I get it now.  The essence, I think, is this:

Commitment = loyalty = sexual fidelity

We think the primary sign of commitment is loyalty as expressed through sexual fidelity.  We reach this stage in relationships when we label the union, boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife.  The expectation then is that we’re “serious” because we have forsaken all others, at least, temporarily.  I just don’t view things that way.  Commitment is only partially glimpsed by these formal arrangements.  There’s a presumed commitment behind them. But, the commitment should exist prior to formalization. It’s kind of like the difference between ritual versus belief in religion. The ritual can reinforce or symbolize a belief.  But, the symbol isn’t the thing.  The ritual isn’t the belief.  They are, however, signals to yourself and others.

So, what is the thing then?  What is commitment?  I tend to think of commitment as  wilful acts of love, over time. (more…)