Polyamory is formed by using the Greek prefix “poly”, meaning “many”, and the Latin root “amor”, meaning “love”. Put together, the word literally means “many love” and denotes folks who opt for, prefer and are okay with having multiple intimate relationships at the same time. These relationships can be sexual, romantic, or both.
In polyamory, the partners are aware of each other’s existence and the relationships happen with the consent of everyone involved. The different partners can sometimes be friends -or even dating each other- depending on the agreements set and agreed upon.
There are also different types of relationships under the umbrella of polyamory; some of them are V (vee) polyamory, arrow polyamory, polyfidelity, hierarchical relationships, non-hierarchical relationships, solo-polyamory, mono-poly relationships, kitchen table polyamory, and parallel polyamory.
V, or vee, polyamory is used to describe a relationship between three people where one person, the base of the V, has two partners, represented by the two ends of the V. These two partners are usually not romantically involved with each other, and might not identify as polyamorous even, but are aware of one another.
Arrow polyamory involves a similar dynamic to V relationships except with four people instead of three. In Arrow polyamory, three folks are dating the same person at the same time. Again, the three people are usually not involved in a romantic relationship with each other.
Polyfidelity is when three or more people agree to be in a committed relationship with each other. Folks involved in these relationships tend to be faithful and exclusive to one another, also why it is sometimes called polyexclusivity. It is often compared to how a monogamous relationship would work just with extra people involved to make it easier to understand. These also include triads or throuples and quads.
Hierarchical relationships are when the person practising polyamory has multiple partners that are unequal in the level of emotional involvement and/or power within the relationship. The person usually has a primary partner or a primary relationship that takes priority over all their other partners and relationships, the latter referred to as secondary. Again, this is established and agreed upon by both primary and secondary partners.
Non-hierarchical relationships are, obviously, the opposite of hierarchical relationships meaning that all partners are considered to be equal in terms of emotional involvement and power they hold within the relationship. There are no primary or secondary partners and no one takes priority over the other.
In solo-polyamory, a solo-polyamorous person is open to having multiple partners but doesn’t seek to enter serious or committed relationships. They prefer to preserve their autonomy and independence while also dating and seeing other people.
Mono-poly relationships, to put it simply, is when one of the partners involved in a relationship is monogamous while the other one identifies as polyamorous. The monogamous partner only wishes to have and maintain a relationship with their partner while that partner can and wants to pursue other relationships at the same time.
Kitchen table polyamory is a type of arrangement where the partners and their metamours, partners of partners, not only know each other but are comfortable enough to befriend each other. The word originates from the metaphor that everyone is close enough to be able to sit around the kitchen table and talk.
Parallel polyamory is the opposite of kitchen table polyamory; it means that while partners are aware that there are other people, they do not wish to have any sort of contact or friendship with their partner’s metamours -and thus, exists in parallel with each other.
Ethical non-monogamy is the all-encompassing term that designates all the different relationship approaches that stray away from mono-normative standards. Folks who practise ethical non-monogamy often follow a relationship philosophy that doesn’t put an emphasis on a relationship being one that only involves two people, otherwise called monogamous relationships.
There isn’t much of a difference between ethical non-monogamy and polyamory as the latter falls under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy. Think of it as ethical non-monogamy being the book and polyamory being a chapter in it.
Polygamy is used to describe a marriage that involves having more than one spouse at the same time. It is often used to describe a V or arrow type of relationship where the co-spouse generally aren’t romantic relationships but it’s not always the case. Polygamy is also often used interchangeably with polygyny, denoting relationships when one man is married to two or more women as polyandry, having multiple husbands, is much less commonly recognized by law.
The difference between polyamory and polygamy is quite straightforward; polyamory is about having multiple intimate relationships at the same time while polygamy involves being married to multiple spouses. Contrary to polygamy, it’s not necessary for folks in polyamorous relationships to get married to each other.
An open relationship is when partners in a more or less committed relationship agree and consent to be with other people romantically, sexually, or both. The two partners usually consider each other the primary partners and their primary relationship takes priority over other ones.
As mentioned previously, unlike open relationships, polyamory doesn’t enforce the need for a primary or a committed relationship to branch out from.
The simple question is no. No, polyamory is not cheating. The most defining and important pillars of polyamory, and ethical non-monogamy, are consent and ethics. Anyone who identifies as polyamorous carries the obligation and responsibility to disclose that they are polyamorous and to discuss with prospective and current partners, and get their consent, about pursuing other relationships and partners.
Cheating refers to having either romantic or sexual relations outside of an exclusive relationship where having other partners was not agreed upon. Cheating can happen within polyamory if the promise of exclusivity is broken but polyamory itself is not cheating.
This question is less easy to answer than the previous one as it’s not as black and white. On one side, due to the central role that polyamory can play in a person’s identity, some people do tend to consider it as part of being LGBTQ+ to account for its queer and unconventional approach to relationships.
On the other side, others are against categorizing polyamory as part of the LGBTQ+ community. While LGBTQ+ folks are more likely to be polyamorous, there are quite a lot of cis heterosexual people who adopt polyamory as well. Therefore, the two are not and should not be interchangeable.
Our take: Polyamory and other types of ethical non-monogamy are relationship structures while LGBTQ+ is used to refer to marginalized sexual, romantic, and gender orientations and identities. The two do intersect a lot when it comes to discrimination against folks under the two umbrellas but are essential each their own thing -and it’s okay for the two to be separate and operate separately.
It’s already a known fact that the legal system can be quite unhelpful at times, and often helps reinforce discriminative behaviour by not acknowledging certain relationship structures. Unfortunately, as of now, legal rights are rarely given to more than one partner (joint saving account, hospital visitations, marriage licences, etc.) and there are little to no protection laws for polyamorous folks.
On the bright side, there is a positive change in the making with Somerville, Massachusetts becoming the first city to make adjustments to existing laws in order to accommodate polyamorous relationships and marriage between multiple people.
Don't worry too much about the jargon. It's OK if what you do doesn't fit with such and such label. You do you. Take this as inspirational material.