/ 23 June 2017

The paradoxes of polyamory

Third wheel: You need self-awareness and good communication skills when you bring another person into a relationship.
Third wheel: You need self-awareness and good communication skills when you bring another person into a relationship.

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