Polyamory and Commitment

People sometimes ask us about how commitment fits with being polyamorous. The question can be framed in several ways. We get asked why we got married in the first place, or if we really value our marriages and how we could value our marriages but still want to date other people. We also get asked how we could commit to our partners when we’re already committed to someone else.

All of the answers go back to one truth that is central in our choices and our relationships: How these things fit together really depends on how you think about them and the role you want these things to play in your life as a whole.

Of course, if you think of romantic commitment and monogamy as being the same thing, then it doesn’t fit with polyamory. There are lots of people out there who choose to have open relationships or engage in non-monogamy of some form but still see their long-term lifestyle revolving around one, monogamous partner.  There’s nothing wrong with commitment meaning monogamy for you but that doesn’t mean that the definition or boundary carries over for other people

For us, making a commitment of any kind is simply a personal decision where you decide to incorporate something into your long-term vision of your life.  We all do this with jobs, choosing where to live, lifestyle choices like going to the gym or doing yoga, having kids, etc. We are designing our forever. We are deciding what our goals are for 1 year, 5 years and 10 years from now. We are using our current situation and experience to understand what we want from the future. I think we all have a few “never agains” and a few “forevers”.

Therefore, in our lives, it’s okay to decide that a partner who isn’t our spouse is still part of our forever.  We’re looking at our lives right now, our experience of the past year or so, and our experience prior to dating each other and we’re realizing when we imagine our future, we see each other in it.

Sometimes I get the sense that people worry for us and feel we’re taking this big risk.  They fear we’ll get our hearts broken and as people who love us, they don’t want to see us experience any kind of pain, least of all heartbreak.  I love and respect that the people in our lives care for us this way and would do anything to protect us from pain.  Still, I don’t think we’re taking risks that are truly above and beyond the unavoidable risks of love.

Honestly, from day one I have known that it would hurt if I lost Ben. I have loved that man through a lot of ups and downs. We’ve done a lot of growing up together.  If my marriage ended, it would be an unimaginable loss for me. The thing is, marriages do end. When I married him we put ourselves at risk of becoming bitter divorcees.  Falling in love and furthermore, basing your life around that love by moving in together and facing the world together, is a leap of faith.

It’s the same leap of faith whether you do it once, twice or more.  And it’s still the same leap if you make it with one person at a time or three.

I believe love is worth it. Ultimately, I am okay with taking the risk because I believe in love.

Alright, so I’m cheesy. That’s not new!

Maybe that helps clear up some of the misconceptions about the ability to be committed to more than one person. We generally all have more than one person we see in our lives forever. Best friends who talk about our lives, our dreams, and goals with. Best friends who we hope will have kids the same age as ours so they can grow up together, too. In my life, it just happens to be that I’m dating more than one of my forever people.

But there’s another misconception at play, too. Many people who are aware of polyamory or at least various threads of non-monogamy have the idea that while polyamorous relationships might have many goals, commitment isn’t one of them. As polyamory becomes more widely discussed in the media and more widely known, a list of potential relationship goals such as romantic and emotional fulfillment, support of different interests, and meeting different relationship needs is also known. Maybe you have one partner who is more reserved and supports your undying love of watching movies and talking about philosophy while another partner loves to party and supports your need to experience new things and travel.  However, most people don’t imagine polyamorous relationships as committed.

In fact, many of them are!

For us, being polyamorous is a belief about our infinite ability to love and choosing a committed lifestyle is a relationship preference. We could believe in infinite love but not want this “settled down” lifestyle. We could also want this settled down lifestyle without wanting polyamory or even want an “unsettled” lifestyle but with only one partner at a time – none of them gaining our commitment.

You see? Loving one or loving many and loving short-term or long-term are two different preferences. It just so happens, for us, we prefer to have multiple partners who are committed to a long-term life.

What Commitment means when you’re Polyamorous

With Valentine’s day around the corner I wanted to put something out there:

Polyamory is the belief that we can love more than one person. There’s no reason why the love you give to multiple people has to be any different than the fairy tale love we’re familiar with.  Polyamorous romances can be just as intense, long-lasting and committed as monogamous ones.

The thing is that when I fell in love with my husband there was a script for what to do with our feelings as a young, monogamous couple. We could easily google, for example, what we legally needed to do to become wed. We could find out about the process of applying for a marriage license, where to send it, what documents we would need to complete this process.

 

Ben and I

My Husband, Ben, and I

We could also find endless resources for how to plan a wedding. We could get ideas on how to make our wedding come together from tv shows, pinterest, magazines, friends or family and everywhere in between.

 

It’s a little different when you’re polyamorous and fall in love.

There aren’t tv shows about planning a poly wedding.  And because in Canada where we live you can’t legally marry more than one person it’s much harder to just google what the process might look like.

That’s kind of scary, for about half a second, and then it’s totally freeing.  There isn’t a script – we get to write it!

So here are a few thoughts on commitment when you’re in polyamorous relationships!

 

Living Outside the Closet

I have a great respect for people who keep some aspect of themselves and their love lives “in the closet”. Whether it’s polyamory, a matter of sexuality, or gender identity – it isn’t easy. We kept our polyamorous relationships secret for the first couple months while we all developed our own understanding of what was happening. We didn’t want to tell people what was happening before we had all the answers. At first, we didn’t even know what to call each other, much less if this was going to last. Until we knew those things, we worked on our relationships strictly in private.

It was hard. Given that we’re all reasonably privileged and had never had to hide a

Maggie and I

My girlfriend, Maggie, and I

relationship before it was frustrating and a constant, irritating limitation to check ourselves – not reaching for each other’ss hands or kissing in public.

 

That made the decision to come out easy for us. Make no mistake though, not all of the responses we got were easy to handle. We have a strong appreciation for why some people never come out.

But we’re glad we have and it makes thinking about living together, and staying committed easier to be excited about since we won’t have to hide the true nature of our relationships.

Where Do We Live?

Of course Ben and I had a perfectly happy little home, as did Maggie and Tom, before we all started dating. As the feelings grew stronger we had to start seriously asking ourselves where this could go. When we started dating our spouses that script was there to support us: if it’s going well, make it facebook official. When you don’t want to sleep without them anymore move in, and so on.

 

Tom and I

My boyfriend, Tom, and I

What about us now? Do poly people follow that at all?

 

The answer is – sure, if they want to!

And we do, so we are. Ben and I are moving into Maggie and Tom’s house. We have all acknowledged that this isn’t really for practical reasons – we were all perfectly able to run our own households. But we wanted the time together. We spend more time than we care to admit driving back and forth. Our current houses are about a half hour apart so it’s kind of a pain to always be commuting here and there.

When we sat down and thought out what we all value in our households, the presence of the people we love was number one. More broadly, our priorities and goals about how we believe a household should be run were compatible so the move makes sense for us and is underway.

 

To Ceremony or Not To Ceremony

Maybe we won’t do anything. Maybe we’ll just make our home and keep living our lives, happily ever after.  Then again, just because we can’t legally marry our new partners doesn’t mean that we can’t have a wedding. After all the legal part of getting married is a 30 second moment after the ceremony when we actually signed the paperwork.  It’s still a wedding without that moment.

As far as the ceremony goes… we get to make it up!  We can say vows that make sense to us, involve a wedding party or not, invite whoever we want… there aren’t a whole ton of rules for how this is done!

Just think – when I married my husband there were magazines and a tradition full of must’s and mustn’ts that I needed to follow in order to participate in the tradition.  Now though, commitment means designing something that reflects only us and nothing else.

Kids

At this point, children are probably the most popular thing for people to ask us about. Each of us being a couple years into our marriage, and between us having good jobs and stable relationships people were starting to ask us as married couples when we would have kids even before we got together.

The reality is that any thoughts of having kids have been shifted back a few years. We all really value forming tangible commitments before bringing children into the picture.  Give us time to live together and continue building our lives to match the new family structure before expecting us to add to the family!

That being said, people’s main concern seems to be who will parent the children. The short answer is: it’s not their business.

We all love each other. I don’t know who will create children with who, but I know those children will have 4 parents to love them unconditionally. And I expect that to be enough knowledge for the others who love our children.

 

All in all the most complicated part of being committed and polyamorous is figuring out how holidays like Valentine’s day work! We get to write our own script and I love that about the direction our lives are going.

Comment your questions and thoughts!

Carmen