I love you, and you and you
Polyamory is exposing many of the flaws in the institution of monogamy
JUSTIN SCOTT // MANAGING EDITOR
Valentine’s Day is billed as an occasion for monogamous couples to celebrate their undying and exclusive love for one another, but for a growing section of society, this idea is increasingly unrelatable. “I can’t really say that I’ve ever been in a relationship that really fits the Hollywood ‘finding one true person’ model,” said Liam Helmer, who identifies as a relationship anarchist. Although Helmer prefers to be called a relationship anarchist as opposed to a polyamorist, he is a member of the same community.
Polyamory can be defined as consensual, ethical and responsible non-monogamous relationships, but everyone has their own individual definition and interpretation. “Polyamory is just loving more than one person,” Helmer said. The general idea is that rather than restricting oneself to a single partner, those in polyamorous relationships are open to themselves and their partners maintaining other relationships at the same time. This can be emotional, sexual or both, depending on what agreements they have made. “Consent becomes more important in polyamory because we don’t have the script already written for us,” Helmer explained. While people in traditional monogamous relationships generally have a very clear idea of what interaction is okay with others outside of their relationship, the line can get very blurry for people in open or polyamorous relationships.
No one situation is the same. Helmer believes that one of the most important factors in a successful non-monogamous relationship is open and clear communication. Establishing boundaries and expectations between the partners and their other partners helps everyone involved avoid crossing a line. Helmer used a hypothetical relationship where partners can kiss other people outside their relationship. “If you want to do more than just kissing, then you need to checkin with your partner first,” he explained. “Sure you can have sex with other people when you want to, but you need to have x, y and z safe sex practices when you’re doing it and I need to be informed the day after that this happened, or before I see you next, for instance.”
Although polyamory and polygamy may sound similar in both pronounciation and implementation, polygamy has traditionally been a very patriarchal practice, whereas one of the main emphasis’ of polyamory is equality in the relationships. Additionally, a 2012 survey conducted by polyamory support and advocacy group Loving More found that 49.5 per cent of those who identified as polyamorous identified as women, with just 35.4 per cent identifying as men. Another study conducted by the Vanier Institute found that the number of Canadians involved in polyamorous relationships is on the rise.
Along with the number or relationships rising, so are the communities around them. Polyamory communities and support groups are growing as a way for members of the community to both meet each other and seek support. Vanpoly, for example, is an organization that holds multiple events each week for those in Vancouver in open or polyamorous relationships, or those interested in testing the waters. “Being able to have people for support can be really important if you’re poly, because there’s so much advice out there that is very monocentric,” Helmer explained.
One of the biggest potential benefits of a polyamorous relationship is the ability of the partners to find different styles and sources and support in their various partners. “Our relationships are simply really different,” said Helmer, who currently has two partners. “Each of them is not getting the same things out of me, but the reality is each of them has very different needs.”
Polyamory then, is not what many perceive it to be. Upon googling the term, articles on swinging and polygamy pop up, but they’re vastly different. Helmer identifies as a relationship anarchist because he doesn’t feel that he falls under any of the other categories, but knows what works for him. “I think the best reason to get into it is wanting to connect with real people and also push your own boundaries of what you think is possible for yourself in your life,” he said. So, this Valentines Day, remember that with all the messages about love and relationships being shared, they don’t have to apply to just two people, after all, what’s better to share than love?