The paradoxes of polyamory

BODY LANGUAGE

I love to pontificate on what the cool kids are doing and their funky trends, such as hipster hats and cool round glasses. But the fad that has floored me is the rise and rise of polyamory and open relationships.

Polyamory is the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time.

Living in a world with polyamory forces us to contemplate our existence. People are caught in a paradox, gripped by the desire for mono-gamy and the need to wander. As my brother-in-law said: “You can’t square that circle.” He added that he had seen many polygamous households and no one was happy, so what was the difference this time? How were people reinventing the wheel?

I was inclined to agree to some extent. The entire notion seemed stickier than a toffee-themed children’s party. Polyamory is not to be mistaken with polygamy, which is the practice of a man taking more than one wife and is usually based on (somewhat antiquated) notions of religion and tradition. Polyamory gives either partner the option to have other relationships.

Herein lies the possible difference between old notions of polygamy and its sleeker version, Polyamory 2.0. Even if it is not for everyone, there are lessons to be learnt from notions at the core of the practice.


Introducing someone else into your relationship can be like herding cats — it’s all logistics. Doing the tango with another person while not skipping a beat with the first can call for fancy footwork. Communication becomes key. Things that might previously not have been discussed, such as spending time together and the quality or nature of that time, become hot topics.

It’s important to be able to talk about topics such as jealousy, relationship wants and needs or even deal breakers. If you can communicate effectively that you are feeling jealous, the chances are you’ll feel comfortable saying that you’re struggling with something else in the relationship, for example that their feet smell like the third and fourth circles of hell.

Relationship gurus stress that communication is key to maintaining a happy, healthy relationship.

Nothing will show you your proverbial ass quite like letting people outside your monogamous structure see your real ass. In a relationship, introducing another person, no matter in what capacity, will force you to evaluate a great many things about your coupling because it must always be done from a good space.

You must get your house in order before you invite other people inside. In doing so you find the cobwebs, the mould and the skeletons, as well as all the pleasant trinkets you’ve gathered over the years that you forgot you had.

If you do not spring-clean your house, you are essentially inviting someone into a decrepit hot mess of a situation. This is unfair and unhealthy for everyone involved. It leads to old slights coming up and dirty laundry falling out of hidden places while you have a guest in your home.

Issues of jealousy are normal. It helps you to explore why you have negative feelings in your relationship, if you can get past the “jealousy is a natural progression of love” notion.

Jealousy is often rooted in something other than “the boy is mine”. It could be pain caused by a previous lover, feelings of inadequacy from your childhood or even mistrust in your partner having your best interests at heart stemming from a power imbalance in the relationship.

My jaunt into polyamory has revealed some good examples, some great ones, some confusing ones and some that made me want to start a sad blog of heartbreak lyrics.

I noticed that some of the most effective instances of polyamory (or open relationships, in some cases) involve queer brown women who, after tackling notions of love, sex, monogamy and ownership in heteronormative monogamous structures, decided “nah, let’s try something else, fam”.

These women are the embodiment of loving relationships filled with enough communication to choke a horse, and enough self and group reflection to get a psych degree. All this serves to better tackle ideas not only about oneself but also about how to unpack this couple thing.

Taking stock of these aspects, the sex-positive kids doing it right may be on to something. Polyamory may not be reinventing the wheel in terms of numbers, but it is reinventing the wheel about the power dynamics of monogamy. It’s a move away from the idea of partners as objects to that of peers who can engage on different levels.

Kagure Mugo is the cofounder and editor of the HOLAAFRICA! blog

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kagure Mugo
Kagure Mugo

Kagure Mugo is the intoxicatingly scary gatekeeper of HOLAAfrica, an online pan-African queer womanist community dealing with sexuality and all things woman. She is also a writer and freelance journalist who tackles sex, politics and other less interesting topics. During weekends she is a wine bar philosopher and polymath for no pay.

Related stories

Young and his restless endeavour

Sihle Mthembu has a Facebook messenger conversation with filmmaker Roger Young about his 20-year film in the making ‘Love Runs Out’.

Tu has a new way to give love

Nokwe has the freedom to love anyone but restricts herself to one sexual partner at a time.

When three is not a crowd

Polyamory is gaining traction as an ethical way to be romantically involved with more than one person.

Polyamory: Two’s company, three’s a charm

Many couples are finding meaning in loving, open relationships.
Advertising

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday