“Polyamory is about loving, everyone’s perception of love is different – the main crux of poly is you discuss that shit.”
I’m talking to Frank, an Aberdeen student who practices polyamory, “the practice of engaging in multiple relationships with the consent of all the people involved”.
While the open relationship is a well known arrangement among students, polyamory – which practitioners say is more about love than sex – is still quite a new idea.
Frank is a “non-binary, queer, anarcha-feminist”. Non-binary transgender means Frank doesn’t identify as male or female and the word “queer” focuses on “mismatches” between sex, gender and desire. Anarcha-feminism combines anarchism and feminism.
They said about their experience in polyamorous relationships: “Polyamory is about communication, it’s about honesty. In polyamorous relationships you discuss everything.”
Polyamory is a multi-dimensional term and covers many types of relationships, ranging from consensual non-monogamy between partners, to having two – or more – primary partners.
Frank says: “Within polyamorous relationships, it’s about time, and how much time you can give someone. I have two primary partners, L and J, who I make a lot of time for and love, but I also have a tertiary partner. We see each other rarely – whenever I offer any free time I might have – and there’s no expectation to support each other emotionally.”
Between primary and tertiary partners are secondary partners. People who “mean a lot to you, but respect that you won’t give them as much time as your primary partner.
“In poly relationships, when we promise someone our time, we keep that promise. When you’re monogamous, there’s an expectation of someone’s time, but in poly relationships you have to make it. Breaking that promise is akin to cheating and lying in poly relationships.
“Of course, cheating and lying are also possible, but what matters is that you keep to promises of time and don’t prioritise something else instead.
“At one point I had two primary partners, two secondary partners, and a tertiary partner, who I still see. Google calendars can be very useful!”
I have always considered myself pretty liberal sexually, being unopposed to one night stands and believing that you certainly don’t need an emotional connection to have great sex. But the concept of loving more than one person is something I struggled to grasp, and asked Frank at length how they dealt with jealousy:
“Jealousy happens all the time in relationships, poly or not. Just because you get jealous doesn’t mean that you’re going to split up, or are failing at a poly relationship, it just means there’s something to discuss. The main crux of poly is that you discuss that shit.
“In my first poly relationship the guy I was seeing was also seeing a very attractive person. In comparison, I felt like I was coming up short.
“There was one night they were going to this really cool film screening and I got very jealous. But I realized that I wasn’t actually jealous of him being with the other person, I was jealous that they were doing something that I also wanted to do. It wasn’t actually them, but they were the thing I was pinning my insecurities to.”
It was this man who introduced Frank to polyamory, what he described as an “anarchist relationship – one where you have the ability to self-determine and self-identify”, when they were 22:
“I had polyamourous friends online but I thought it was bullshit. In my late teens I found out that my parents had been consensually non-monogamous, and my father wasn’t actually my biological father – but he had been around as my step-dad. I thought my mum hadn’t considered anyone else’s emotions and had been selfish.
“But when I was in a relationship between the ages of 18 and 22, I cheated on my partner a number of times. I didn’t feel guilty – and still don’t – because I felt emotionally monogamous towards them. I hated the sense of ownership in that relationship. Sleeping with other people felt right at the time for my body so why shouldn’t I be doing it?”
However, while it might have seemed to be the next natural step, starting out in polyamorous relationships was in no way an easy transition for Frank: “I was with the guy for a couple months before I met someone else I wanted to be with, and then it was new and exciting. But then I fucked up. I won’t go into details but I suppose I’ve learnt as I was going along.”
Three years on, Frank is very happy and secure in their polyamorous lifestyle, although not all of their partners are poly like them: “One of my partners is really quite monogamous – they had negative experiences with open relationships in the past.
When we met they described themself as “almost territorial” which set alarm bells off in my head. I sat them down and said to them: “my body is not yours”, but it wasn’t what they had meant to express.
“We’ve tried to explain monogamy and polyamory to each other many times, but it’s difficult when your brains are just wired differently. Anyway, they’ve always maintained that they’ve never felt lacking or unloved in the relationship, they get what they need from it.
“It would be unreasonable for them to ask me to be monogamous, just as it would be unreasonable to expect me to change my sexual orientation. I could end up hurting them by doing something that feels natural to me. For me, polyamory is like a natural extension, like holding someone’s hand, or kissing them.
“Everyone’s perception of love is different, as is everyone’s perception of cheating. For some people, flirting in a bar might overstep the mark, but for others it’s fine. Each person’s idea of intimacy is different so it’s very important to discuss that in poly relationships.
“But you also have to discuss what you want to know. I’ve had relationships where we’ve talked about our sex with other partners, but it’s not something I would do with every partner.”
After a whirlwind romance, Frank is moving abroad this summer, which leaves L, who is also poly, in Aberdeen.
“L is very supportive but of course they’re disappointed. They have a family wedding coming up just before I go, and I’m making sure I go with them because it’s important to give them that time.
“Being poly is all about concessions and consideration for that other person. With monogamy, there’s a lot of unspoken expectations, whereas when you’re in a polyamourous relationship everything is discussed.
“There’s a lot of diplomacy in poly relationships.”
However, Frank’s relationships have not always been met with understanding by the public: “I’ve been kicked out of bars and clubs when I’ve been with two partners. It’s not like we’re having a threesome on the middle of the dance floor – it’s more like I’m holding hands with both of them, or kissed both of them before going to the bathroom. There’s too much sexuality for people to handle.
“It’s funny, though, I get less shit walking down the street with two partners than I do with a woman. Maybe people don’t know how to deal with what they’re seeing when there’s three of us, but when I’m read as female and holding hands with a woman I get harassed about being a lesbian.
“Once, one of my partners came to class with me, and I was also talking about how another partner was coming up to visit. When my classmates looked confused I explained I had two, and one girl’s first reaction was to call me a “slag.”
“When I called her up on it she laughed and said she was joking, but why is that funny? That’s like if someone were to say they were gay, and someone else to call them a “fag” and try to laugh it off. It’s not on.
“I get so little autonomy in society it’s really important for me to have it in my relationships.”
When I asked Frank to differentiate between polygamy and polyamory in their head, the answer was immensely diplomatic and educated:
“By definition, polygamy is about marriage, about having more than one spouse. Polyamory is about love. In fact, monogamy should really be called monoamory nowadays!”
As well as the obvious differences between poly and mono relationships, there are heightened risks in terms of sexual health:
“Sexual health is really fucking important if you’re going to be fluid-bonded – excuse the horrible phrase – with someone. You and all of your partners and all of your partner’s partners should be tested regularly. If you don’t, someone can’t consent to sexual contact with you because you haven’t given them all of the information. It’s imperative you’re open about sexual health.”
Frank said it was important to note that they weren’t speaking for the entire community:
“I can only speak of my own experience, I can’t communicate for everyone off my own shoulders. For example, there are polyamorous asexuals who have romantic relationships but don’t have sex. But poly relationships are about communication, and the benefit is when you can talk about how you feel in a safe environment, it helps you explore yourself even more.
“Of course,” they laughed, “it’s also a huge fucking ego-boost when someone is in a relationship and also wants to make time to spend with you.”
This article was originally published on The Tab Aberdeen.