The Scoop: Abandoning the 'rules of love' and exploring polyamory.
Multiple primary school crushes – where it all began
When I was 12, a group of friends organised a “truth circle” during lunchtime at school. The purpose of the get together was for two of my friends, Blake and Miles, to tell me that they liked me, which at that age meant ‘like-like’ not just ‘like’.
Blake and Miles had amicably decided between themselves that an impasse had been reached, and it was time to reveal their feelings. The idea was I would then make a choice between who I liked back.
They soberly but matter-of-factly explained the situation. After briefly reflecting on this newfound information, I replied well, truthfully, I like both of you. I connected to each in a different way. Miles was sweet and sensitive. We exchanged long, confessional style notes in class. Blake was fun and had perfect surfie hair, a real drawcard when you grow up by the beach.
In actual fact, I also had a crush on a third boy at the time (there was a lot of talent at my primary school). How was I meant to explain to my peers that I felt each crush as it’s own thing, not diminished or adulterated by the existence of the others?
The ‘rules’ of love
This pre-puberty conundrum would repeat itself, at least on an internal level, as I started dating for real at 16 and learning the ‘rules’ of love.
- You’re only meant to love one person at a time.
- When you start dating someone new, you have to renounce all feelings for your so-called ‘ex’ (regrettably, a rather violent sounding term for a former lover). Whether your feelings have truthfully diminished, transformed into a softer form of love or remain just as strong as ever – you’re not ready for a new relationship, apparently, until you’ve cleansed your heart of all those ~dirty~ feelings you have for other people.
- You have two options: ‘single’ or ‘in a monogamous relationship’. Any state or experience that can’t be defined as such is confusing for people, and must be expediently resolved.
My heart wouldn’t always obey the rules. I felt perturbed by the fact that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to explore connections with other people as they arose, having to artificially shut down feelings. My mixed feelings and secret crushes, even when happily partnered, led to a lot of internal guilt and confusion.
Discovering this other thing existed… polyamory!
When I got to university, aged 19, I discovered the term ‘polyamory’. Polyamory means ‘many loves’ (the English, poly, the Latin, amor) and was coined in the early 1990s, although different societies and cultures having been getting around the idea for eons. It’s sibling, monogamy, is something you’re probably familiar with. Polyamory as an idea sat well with my experience, because it gave space to the notion of loving multiple people at once as something that was not only possible, but also okay.
You can be polyamorous, meaning you consider it an integral aspect of who you actually are, or you can be in a polyamorous relationship, meaning you don’t identify as poly, but you practise non-monogamy for whatever reason. So, you can consider yourself to be polyamorous, but be in a functionally monogamous relationship – but choosing to be in that relationship doesn’t necessarily ‘turn off’ the part of you capable of loving multiple people.
Learning about polyamory helped me question the need to feel that someone is ‘ours’. You can call a person ‘yours’, but should that always mean you have exclusive dominion over their body and feelings? Why are we taught that jealousy is a sign of how much someone cares?
For monogamous or poly people, there is immense value in interrogating this societal injunction to ‘own’ another person, and question whether exclusive possession is what love really is. I’m not saying poly relationships shouldn’t have boundaries – people need to know where they stand. No one is going to feel safe and secure if everything is a total free for all. I’m simply saying that monogamy doesn’t work for everyone, and ethically and honestly explored, it doesn’t have to either.
Polyamory for me is about being allowed to maintain a couple connections at once, if that’s what my heart desires. It’s not really about sex, although for some people it is. Ethical non-monogamy is not about ‘cheating’ on your partner at all, it’s about setting up boundaries that might look a little different from the norm. For some people, they want random hook-ups every now and then, others may have a particular kink that their primary partner isn’t into that they want to explore with someone else who is down.
Understanding the philosophy of polyamory is one thing, putting it into practice is another. I have done polyamory well, and I have done it badly.
You have to become very good at processing your emotions and communicating them to others if you’re going to be in a polyamorous relationship. Being poly might sound like it’s all about hooking up with other people, but really, most of your time is spent having deep, emotional chats with your partner/s. (Crying usually features from time to time, especially as you brush up against deeply held beliefs about how relationships are ‘supposed’ to work). Stumbling into the world of open relationships, I have had a few fuck ups along the way. These were usually because I failed to be honest with myself about something and that failure would later hurt a partner. Like monogamous relationships, some poly relationships are healthy, some are not.
Choosing your own path, that’s right for YOU, always
You can’t force polyamory on a person, just as you can’t force monogamy on a person who tells you it’s not what they want. You have to check in with what feels right for you and for your prospective or current partner/s. Neither approach is a superior expression of love, they just have different advantages and disadvantages. The book The Ethical Slut is a great starting place for anyone wanting to explore the concepts and practicalities of polyamory before diving in.
Even if I’m not in a poly relationship, I want to actively choose monogamy because it feels right for the situation, not because it’s the default. There are many beautiful, positive things about monogamy and for many of us, that’s always what we are going to want.
12-year-old me was baffled at having to choose between Blake and Miles. 24-year-old me believes that as long as everyone is fully on board, you don’t necessarily have to choose at all.
Tash Gillezeau is a writer and a law student at the University of Sydney. She is also the editor-in-chief of sex education project Bits and Bods, a digital platform featuring videos, interviews, articles and art that start an inclusive conversation about puberty, sex and all the awkward bits in between. You can also check them out on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr!