Queer little thing.
My personal joy when coming across it was like something out of a Pharrell Williams song.
A word! I have a word!
And as it is with language, a word only arises when there has been a long, lively interest in the concept surrounding it. With that concept, come people. Writers. Thinkers. Tinkerers.
I’d found a vast, exciting well of riches and knowledge in which I could immerse myself, and through which I could better myself.
Discovering the word “polyamory” gave me ammunition for my moral code, my day-to-day life, my relationships; proof that I wasn’t alone; proof that there wasn’t something very wrong with me. But most importantly, it gave me a way to explain my relationships to my friends, family, and loved ones.
But now that the NRE phase has passed, I now strongly wish that the term chosen had been a slightly different one. Not only does the word “polyamory” itself give me the literary shivers–horrible Greek and Latin hybrid that it is–it is the prefix that annoys me most of all things.
NRE, New Nelationship Energy. A state of mind experienced at the beginning of most significant sexual and romantic relationships. You experience heightened emotional and sexual excitement, or in short, butterflies in your stomach.
When the general population hears words starting with poly-, out come all the negative associations. These are mostly due to popular American shows surrounding, polity stated, obscure families in trailers. Or saucy documentaries on Islam. The African continent if you will.
First of all I’d like to state that polygamy is a broader term that encapsulates both polygyny (one man, multiple wives) and the far lesser known polyandry (one woman, multiple husbands).
Additionally, polygamy and polyamory are, at least in my mind, nothing alike.
Firstly, polygamy is rooted in religion. Religion, also a word that suffers from negative associations. Polyamory has nothing to do with religion. It is more of a relationship construct, a phylosophy and to some, a way of life. Like marriage from a bureaucratic point of view, your relationship status has nothing to do with what you believe in.
Secondly, polygamy is largely practiced as polygyny, where male supremacy and patriarchy come into play. Not very female-friendly.
And last but not least, where polygamy always benefits the needs of one individual over the needs and wishes of others, polyamory views all participants as equals. As this helpful video beautifully states, everyone has a voice.
There is a sidenote to the later statement. Some people choose to divide their relationships in Primary and Secondary, which one could argue is a more conservative form of Polyamory.
Mostly this is intended to establish some sort of structure and, let’s be fair, I can see how this would make everyday Poly life a lot less complicated. If you live, dine, and do all the things that lovers typically do with one partner and just have a girlfriend on the side, it’s easier to divide your free time between the both of them.
Another big pro of hierarchical polyamory: you may not have to explain things to your co-workers or say, mother in law, doing away with awkward family dinners where you’re only allowed to bring one date. Last but not least, no one will ask the dreaded question: “Isn’t it time you started thinking about settling down?”
That said, this form of Polyamory can cause confusion because of its similarities with Mistresses.
The classic tale of one married man and his secretary?
Yes, coarsely stated, the former may come close to some Primary/Secondary arrangements, with one very important exception.
- Everyone is aware of the situation at hand and thus;
- all partners can chose freely to go along with it and give informed consent.
So no lying, no going behind each-others back, and actually dealing with all the discomfort of feeling threatened, feeling lonely, and generally, feeling very confused and scared.
Prepare for long talking sessions. Prepare for fears and tears. And be prepared for your SO to also start considering taking another lover. Polyamory is about honesty, fairness, and owning up to your need to have another lover in your life.
All in all, there isn’t much wrong with this former tale of deception, intrigue and passion, as long as everyone’s happy, right? From the girlfriend side of things, a part-time man can be preferable to a full-time partner. Not everyone needs that commitment in their lives, or at the very least, not right now.
Many Polyamorous people share this view of love and let love. But, as this little example states very clearly, polyamory has fallen victim to various negative associations and ill-educated controversies.
The stigma surrounding constructs such as polygamy, cheating, and affairs along with their definitions are widely understood and much more common in our every day vocabulary.
Polyamory automatically inherits these judgments, even though they might not necessarily be righteous. The word is pretty much innocent. It’s a newborn term, up to the point where my helpful text editor doesn’t as much as recognize it.
And even though the practice has been around for ages, I feel a lot of people in my personal life have never so much as encountered the idea even in passing.
Can you blame them?
Not really. Save for at small Cultural Film Festivals, all one hears, sees, reads, and grows up with around these parts is the idea of “The One”.
The white, heterosexual, English-speaking, fit One, I might add. There is little to no veriety in our media, making it a very bad representative of what the world and relationships are actually like.
That’s the way privilege works. If you fit into the general idea of what your life is supposed to be like, why bother with the complication of other options? Most people never stop to think about it. And we’re certainly not actively educated about it.
In this, Polyamory is a minority.
No one knows us and therefore people who encounter us mostly think we’re pretty odd.
And no, I’m not suggesting that we change the word simply because it can sound confusing. Polyamory makes perfect sense as an alternative to Monogamy. Which is what this is all about.
In the end, it’s how it goes with language. It’s rarely given much thought at conception. Language is like society, it grows and changes due to the people who are an active part of it.
So instead, I write and advocate for others to write. I discuss. I try to explain to others what it is that excites me about polyamory, and I work hard to keep an open mind.
words are weapons.
They can cause hurt when wielded with mall-intention.
Their little differences can be infuriating and confusing.
They conflict with one another, and fight for a spot in the dictionary, just as much as people fight for their place in society.
You can’t change language with a simple stroke of the pen.
Vocabulary is a counter-effect.
The written word that proves,
long after events have taken place,
that we were here,
and we made a change.