Language is a funny thing: while definitions seem to be precise and specific, words are often interpreted differently by different people. Such is the case when it comes to defining “open relationship”, “polyamorous” and “swinger”. There are many places to read up on what these mean in more detail, but it isn’t difficult to find conflicting definitions.
I consider “open relationship” to be a broader, umbrella term, that refers to any variation of non-monogamous relationship. Polyamory and swinging are more specific types of open relationships, the former focuses on emotional connection that allows for falling in love, the latter on sexual play between couples that tend to only play together.
But as explored on a recent Swingset post, it’s far less important to worry about the definition of these terms, and what you consider yourself, as it is to ensure you and your significant other(s) are on the same page about your rules and standards. And of course, even if someone or a couple labels themselves as one thing, it is common for that not to remain static over time. Allowing yourself the freedom to explore what feels right, regardless of what it’s called, is one of the joys of open relationships.
The journey from monogamy to polyamory is often a turbulent one. For couples who have lived monogamously for many years, it seems common for one of the two to come to the realization that they can no longer be monogamous; then comes the challenge of how to communicate this to their partner.
Scanning the polyamory-related mailing lists, there are often desperate pleas for help from individuals who are stuck in a situation where their significant other will not accept polyamory, and yet they desperately want to love not only that significant other, but someone else too. The logical resolution would be to drop the pursuit of polyamory, and focus on keeping the status quo of their life stable. But love and logic do not always go so well together, and so this solution is not easily accepted, and rarely implemented.
The unfortunate reality is that humans are not naturally monogamous, and yet we are conditioned at an early age to believe that we should be. Add to that religious and social constructs that enforce monogamy through the threat of all sorts of consequences, and it’s not surprising that those trying to break free of monogamy don’t often do so smoothly.
Because of the tricky situation monogamous partners face when they want to “open up” a relationship, timing is key. There is a big difference between having the “monogamy isn’t for me anymore” conversation before you have had a significant relationship with someone else versus afterwards. Afterwards, this declaration can seem like nothing more than rationalization, no matter how true it may be.
There are plenty of success stories when it comes to couples making this transition. But sadly, there are also many cases that just don’t work out. The common theme across these examples is that once someone realizes they believe in polyamory, they often cannot live any other way, regardless of the consequences.