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What Is Polyamory?

We're happy to present this story from one of our favorite sites, The Good Men Project. Noah Brand gives us a brief guide to the most common questions about polyamory and how it works.

Like a lot of polyamorous people, I have to answer the same questions repeatedly from folks who don't yet understand how polyamory works. I don't mind that, but I'm also awfully lazy, so I thought I'd just write them all down in one place I can just point people at. These are the most common questions poly folks hear, and the clearest answers I know how to write.

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What does polyamory mean?

It's the practice of maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships concurrently. A polyamorous person might have multiple girlfriends, boyfriends, or both, and may also be married. Their partners may also have other relationships. Everyone involved knows about everyone else involved.

Isn't that just called cheating?

No. Cheating involves lying and breaking promises. Polyamory works best — only works at all, really — when it's built on a foundation of very open, very honest communication. It is still possible to cheat in poly relationships; for example, you might get involved with someone after telling your current partners you wouldn't. That's extremely bad practice: nobody, poly or otherwise, likes a cheater.

Don't you get jealous?

Sometimes. Most poly people don't get jealous easily, but in practice it's possible to feel shortchanged for attention in favor of another partner, or inadequate, or left out, or any other reason you might feel jealous. The difference is that jealousy doesn't have to be a dealbreaker. It can be something like irritation or frustration; anyone who's never been irritated or frustrated with their partner is either a saint or a liar, and there's not a lot of saints in the world. We don't dump our partners over these minor annoyances, though; we talk about the source of the problem and handle our feelings like grownups. Poly people strive to handle jealousy the same way.

Further, most poly people often feel an emotion we call compersion, which has been described as the opposite of jealousy. Compersion (adjective form: compersive) is the pleasant sensation one feels on seeing one's beloved being happy with someone else. Compersion is when your partner texts you saying "Having a great time on my date!" and you smile with genuine pleasure. For monogamous folks who might have a hard time picturing that: think of how you feel watching your beloved enjoy something they really care about, but that isn't your cup of tea. Like if they're into running and you're not, the way you feel seeing them come in from a run, drenched in sweat and breathing hard, excitedly telling you about the personal best they just beat. Yeah, it's like that.

Read the rest of What Is Polyamory? over at The Good Men Project.

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