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What’s Polyamory? How’s It Different from Open Relationships?

find true loveYou might know  of polygamy relationships from reality tv programs but how much do you know about polyamory? Sophie Lucido Johnson, author of MANY LOVE, shares what polyamory is and why it is right for her.

My friends ask me a lot of questions about polyamory. Some of them are ridiculous—“Since you’re poly, won’t you condone my cheating on my husband?”—and some are not. Chances are, if you’re reading this book, you have a few questions, too. To help get things off the ground, let’s get a few of them out of the way.

What is polyamory? Isn’t it just a failure to commit?

There’s a whole camp of people—many of whom are my relatives, fearfully praying for my soul when I say I’m polyamorous—who think that polyamory is about having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want, without a whole lot of emotional consideration. This definition is all wrong. “Poly” comes from the Greek word for “many,” and “amory” comes from the Latin word for “love”; literally, the word means “many love.” When I say that I’m polyamorous, that is what I mean: I have many loves. I am deeply committed to my loves. When I have sex, I do it with emotional consideration and communication, because loving someone means being compassionate about the way they feel, and that can be complicated when jealousy is involved. But to me, polyamory is not really about sex at all. It’s not “many sex,” it’s “many love.” The love I hold for my closest friends, with whom I do not sleep, is an enormous part of it. Polyamory is about shifting my definition of love to embrace the diversity of relationships in my life, and about allowing myself to prioritize all of those relationships according to their demands.

Love is infinite. This shouldn’t even be controversial. There is nothing more beautiful about the human species than our capacity to love; as a society, we’ve come a long way in the versions of love we accept. But saying “Yeah, our girlfriend Meg and our boyfriend Tony are going to come to the beach with us this weekend” raises eyebrows nevertheless. It can still be hard to have conversations about polyamory because there is something very fixed in the modern mind-set about how relationships ought to look— i.e., monogamous. …

How is polyamory different from open relationships?

We will talk a lot about this [in my book Many Love], so don’t worry. But here’s my short answer: if relationship models were geometrical shapes (bear with me), open relationships would be rectangles, and polyamorous relationships would be squares. By that I mean all polyamorous relationships are open, but not all open relationships are polyamorous. An open relationship is simply a nonmonogamous one; a polyamorous relationship requires a specific kind of commitment to the people with whom one is romantically involved. Polyamory requires transparency, communication, and enthusiastic consent. Open relationships embrace polyamory, but they might also include relationships centered on dating around, or don’t-ask-don’t-tell relationships.

In my own experience, people are very quick to make the leap from “open” to “slutty” without a whole lot of examination. [Sex columnist Dan] Savage has a newspaper column and a podcast that are mostly about sex; as he has come to be a sort of poster child for the modern-day polyamory movement, I can understand why people might equate polyamory with sex. I’m of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with wanting to jump into bed with tons of people—so long as everyone is communicative and responsible and everything is consensual. That isn’t, however, how all polyamorous people—or even most polyamorous people—live their lives. Savage told me that he feels sad for people who think the poly lifestyle is “about fucking and nothing else.” For Savage and his husband, polyamory is about building meaningful and lasting relationships with people inside and outside of their primary partnership.

So you’re saying everyone should just throw their wedding rings in a nearby creek and be polyamorous; is that it?

No, I don’t think polyamory is for everyone. I don’t believe that if couples were to open up their relationships and love freely, the world would automatically be a better place. People are different, and as such, they love differently. The characters of Cory and Topanga from the TV show Boy Meets World are not cut out for a polyamorous relationship, and the (fictional) world is better for it. (More on that later.) But I do think polyamory is right for me.


For any relationship to be successful, you must be open to love. Here are 3 ways to be more open.


Excerpted from Many Love by Sophie Lucido Johnson. Copyright © 2018 by Sophia Johnson. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


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