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Redefining Polyamory

by Tinamarie Bernard

When one is young, the idea of a real and abiding love tends to resemble a fairy tale, and there is little room in the predictable lines of a storybook romance for the messy truths that adults sometimes find themselves in. That is because love, by its very nature, surprises. It thrills and moves us in ways unimaginable, and sometimes that means our heart is tugged in two directions; without any mal-intent, it pulses to the melancholic pop melody, “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool…”

Once upon a time, I might have misjudged a person in this predicament as suffering a lack of moral fortitude (the lothario, the tart…must have fallen out of the cheatin’ tree and hit every branch).  But that was before musing over modern love and the provocative words of Deborah Anapol, PhD, author of Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (2010).

Her insights have wrecked my notions of sexual ethics and classifications. If I had to identify myself – and the more I explore sexuality, the more I find them restrictive, problematic and injurious, but for the purposes of this contemplation will offer it up – I’d describe myself as a monogamous and heterosexual woman.  I believe in soul mates, long-term committed love and marriage, and practiced serial monogamy my whole adult life.

Thanks to Deborah, I may also be polyamorous.

Not become Polyamorous. BE Polyamorous. As in declaring that Love, by its nature – indefinable, sacrosanct and eternal – knows no boundaries. And who amongst us, those reading in understanding and in protest to a definition that surely rankles the establishment, can honestly say that they’ve only ever loved one person?

I can’t. I’ve been in love at least seven times (what can I say, consummate romantic).

That doesn’t include the tenderness for my children, or the feelings I hold for family and friends. Add up all that devotion, and we are one polyamorous posse of hearts, minds and bodies, intertwined by a common humanity and need for connection.

Relationships are complicated. In an effort to honor the growing repertoire of experiences, I’ve come to understand that polyamour describes how we can hold tender feelings for another person, long past any breakups and even into our next relationship. It doesn’t have to threaten our love or our morals. It doesn’t diminish the feelings for either lover, past or present. It simply accepts, as is, the deepening experiences of love in all its complicated, magnificent glory.

Instead, I gently suggest that we broaden our understanding of what it means to honor love in all its manifestations; including the lovers past who helped us become better people through loving them, and our beloved to whom we are committed.  For I do submit that holding a space in one’s heart for more than one person isn’t so strange after-all.

Consider platonic love, like that between family and friends, parent and child.  When I told to my son that he would have a new sister, he asked if I would still love him the same.  “Of course.” I answered.  “Your sister won’t shrink the love I have for you.  My heart will just grow bigger to include you both.’  We understand and accept the idea of polyamour in this context, perhaps because there is little risk of betrayal.  On the contrary, more siblings and more children often mean more joy (and screaming and muddy footprints and runny noses too).

So what about romantic, intimate love?  Can a man or a woman love two simultaneously, without that love violating a contract with either?  When a relationship ends due to bad timing or bad luck, but not because of a lack of real fondness, does that mean the feelings simply vanish when someone new comes along? From my experiences, I’ve learned to accept that grown-up love sometimes means holding a tender space for another, not because one is carrying a torch, but because one simply loves.

Polyamour stretched in this way is a matter of growing our minds to catch up with what our hearts already comprehend: love knows no boundaries.

Polyamour means cherishing the experiences we have of those who could not get on the train when we were ready to embark on a journey towards authentic, committed love.  In the context of this exploration, it transcends physical or emotional infidelity because it has nothing to do with that.  The motive is pure, not hurtful to your beloved, although it requires a deeper capacity for love and courage.  It doesn’t take away from the love you nurture and cherish, fully and in the Now; rather, it acknowledges the power of our hearts to expand in places and in enchanted ways that no one can write about in a story or a song.

Ah, but polyamory means having SEX with multiple partners, some will insist. It means willy nilly and indiscriminate relations with disregard to the hard work of fidelity and commitment, argue others. It undermines traditions and social morays, denounce others. Until I read Anapol’s book, I would have found myself at a loss of words for how to answer protests against the very notion.

Now that need to address reasonable concerns about this emerging lovestyle is less pressing, because the parameters have changed. By removing my focus from the physical aspect and shifting it to my emotional center, I see things differently.

Sexual and emotional honesty demands that we examine our navels if we are to evolve our understandings of what Love Really Means. If we separate our minds and attitudes from the shackles of traditionalism, and imagine Love in it’s purest form – again without the labels that I’m using to make my case – then the matter of who we love – physically, emotionally, spiritually – is a function of our hearts, not our genitals. It matters not who we share our beds and bodies with, but how we offer up the contents of our hearts.

Tinamarie is an occasional poet and writer for several acclaimed websites. You can find her attwitterandFacebook, or send her a private message at modernlovemuse @ yahoo dot com.

©2010-2011; PARTIAL reposts only permitted with link back to original article.