While polyamory is not a new concept, awareness of this style of ethical non-monogamy is still growing. With this new(ish) awareness are seemingly lots of misconceptions among those who are monogamous or even (yikes!) those new to polyamory.
As a practicing polyamorist, I’ve come across more than a few misconceptions of polyamory over the years and would like to do my part in dispelling these incorrect ideas. As such, the following are 10 common misconceptions that people seem to have regarding polyamory.
Polyamory is consensual, meaning that all partners know about the other partners and willingly consent to you having those partners. In contrast (and this should be obvious but unfortunately isn’t always), cheating is when an individual has an intimate relationship that they actively or possibly even passively keep hidden from their other partner. With cheating, at least one partner cannot consent because they don’t know about the other relationship.
To be clear, cheating can happen in both monogamy and polyamory since cheating involves breaking trust, and trust can be broken in any type of a relationship. For example, a polyamorist might continue seeing someone that he or she agreed to quit seeing. Or perhaps a partner breaks an agreed-upon rule. Both of these instances are a form of cheating in the poly world.
But, polyamory in and of itself is not cheating.
Embarrassingly enough, I did believe, in the beginning stages of my poly lifestyle, that anyone who has trouble with cheating in monogamous relationships is simply poly, and all of their cheating ways will be solved if they just embrace polyamory. According to the authors of More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory, a cheater has a very different mentality than someone who is polyamory; if someone cannot behave with respect toward just one relationship, then how will they be able to provide the respect and care necessary for multiple relationships? Polyamory is best started when relationship skills are already strong since it requires balancing your time with multiple people and making sure everyone feels equally cared for and loved.
The authors make sure to point out, though, that a monogamous cheater can certainly learn to become an ethical poly partner. They also agree that sometimes it is the case that someone who has the inclination to be poly might struggle with cheating because they don’t realize that polyamory is an option. However, again, it’s much better for someone to repair and improve their ethics within a current relationship and to improve their interpersonal skills before venturing into polyamory.
There is a particularly destructive idea floating around out there that anyone could be poly if they would just let go of their monogamous upbringing or conservative ideals. But this idea is as ridiculous as saying that everyone could be a Type B personality if they just let go of their ambitious nature or that everyone could be Type A if they would just learn to be more aggressive. In fact, this poly myth can cause a lot of harm to an individual or in a relationship, especially if a partner uses it to try to convince their significant other that they simply aren’t open-minded or enlightened enough. There are plenty of very monogamous individuals in the world who are much more enlightened than those who use this erroneous argument to sway their partners.
Some people are very monogamous, others polyamorous, and still others are somewhere on the scale of monogamish (a mixture of poly and mono). While, yes, there are some individuals who could easily live a poly lifestyle if they let go of the idea that monogamy is the only way, many others simply aren’t wired for polyamory.
Most poly people do not believe in the concept of there being only one person in the whole world among billions of people to fulfill their life in a loving, intimate relationship. In fact, the entire idea of polyamory is that all of your needs cannot be met by just one person. Polyamory is about the expansion of love, rather than limiting intimate love to just one individual.
As such, dating in the poly world is a bit different than dating in the monogamous world. The purpose of dating within polyamory is to find multiple people with whom to experience love or romance or a deep connection. Of course, a solo poly person could have a main goal of finding a primary partner or nesting partner. However, many other solo polyamorists enjoy living alone and like the freedom they have without a primary partner.
And still others enter the poly lifestyle with their primary partner and may only have secondary relationships outside of the primary one. Or the previously monogamous couple could transition their primary relationship into a less hierarchical one so that each relationship has equal “weight.”
While both threesomes and orgies are a possibility with polyamory, not every poly person even wants such experiences or relationships. People often mistakenly link polyamory with a kinky lifestyle. While some poly people are a part of the kink community, many polyamorists are very vanilla in their relationships. Still other poly relationships do not include any sex at all.
Another type of non-monogamy that differs from polyamory is called an open relationship. In an open relationship, the couple’s focus is on having sexual adventures and experiences, sometimes apart and sometimes together. In contrast, polyamory is focused on having more than one intimate, emotional relationship at once. The focus is less on the sex and more on the connection.
Swinging is another main type of non-monogamy. But, again, polyamory differs from swinging in the same way that it differs from open relationships: poly is more about relationships than sex. Swinging is when two couples agree to swap partners for sex.
Now, some polyamorists might take part in swinging with a partner. Or they may have casual sex now and then. And sometimes a couple may start out with swinging or open relationships and decide to transition into a more polyamorous lifestyle. So while other types of consensual non-monogamy can look similar to polyamory to an outsider, poly is very different because of its focus on relationship-building.
One of the most common misconceptions that people new to the poly lifestyle hold is that they will not or should not experience jealousy. In any relationship, monogamous as well as polyamorous, jealousy will be encountered to varying degrees, depending on each individual.
In my own experience, though, because of the very nature of polyamory, jealousy is usually a tool for pointing to and addressing needs that aren’t being met. When I was monogamous, my jealousy was a way to control with whom my husband spent time (women whom I saw as a threat to our relationship were out of the question!) Now, when I feel jealous, I take the time to pinpoint the reason for it and then address the unfulfilled need. A gift that I as a naturally jealous person never thought I’d encounter is the feeling of compersion for my partners; when I have addressed and worked through my fears and made my needs known, I actually get excited and happy when I hear of my husband’s and partner’s experiences with their significant others (my metamours - my partner’s partners).
An important thing to note here is that even though many polyamorists do learn how to better work through their jealousy, not all actually do so. In both monogamy and polyamory, you will find people who have excellent relationship skills, others who have excellent intrapersonal skills, and still others who are awful at relationships all around.
Polyamory might mean more sex with more individuals, which, yes, means higher risk than sex with one person. However, there is a very high standard in the poly community for staying safe when it comes to sex.
Many poly people choose to get tested more than once a year. The high standards also come with pressure to be completely open and honest about test results, including sharing the printed lab report with partners. Most poly people have a closed circle within which they exchange bodily fluids and use a condom with anyone outside of this circle.
Does everyone practice safe sex? Of course not, and this is why it’s important to discuss your expectations regarding safe sex practices from the beginning.
Polyamory is not associated with LGBTQ+ even though some poly individuals might identify as such. However, there are many poly people who are straight and cisgendered.
Some who are polyamorous have questioned why polyamory is not included within the LGBTQ+ community. After all, some polyamorous individuals feel that poly is an orientation, rather than a lifestyle choice. And it is true that many poly people are afraid to live openly because society still doesn’t have necessary protections in place for the prejudice that non-monogamous relationships encounter.
However, the reason that polyamory is a separate community than LGBTQ+ is because polyamory as well as other non-mono relationships are a relationship orientation, not a sexual or gender identity.
The commitment misconception is an especially laughable one since, for many people, polyamory takes commitment to a whole new level. After all, commitment is a bit more complicated when more than one person is involved.
Now, some people do try to solve their fear of commitment by trying out polyamory. And for some, it works because they are open and honest about their commitment issues up front. Those who don’t admit their commitment issues, though, usually end up creating more stress for themselves and end up hurting good people along the way, which is why polyamory is best to start once someone has taken the time to address and work through their commitment issues.
Also it’s important to note that while many poly individuals understand that not all relationships are long term, they do believe in being fully committed to those relationships for as long as they last. This ability to commit is even true for polyamorists who are relationship anarchists.
Keep in mind, too, that those who have a primary relationship in poly are often committed to their primary partner long-term. No matter if someone is monogamous or polyamorous, committment works the same way - it’s a daily choice to stay committed even during the rough times.