“I was in a five year relationship with this guy I met while doing my post-graduation. Three years into the relationship, I met this other guy at my workplace. And lo! I fell in love with him. But I didn’t do anything about it because I was so guilty I could fall in love with another person when I already loved one. I remember I went up to my boyfriend, full of guilt, to tell him that I fell for a colleague, while trying to convince him I loved him all the same.
None of those relationships worked out. But that’s not the point.
Years later, when I chanced upon an article on polyamory, it all made sense. More importantly, I realized the guilt that I had felt stemmed from monogamy-conditioning that we are all put through while growing up.”
— Ananya (name changed to protect identity)
The Oxford Living Dictionary defines polyamory as: the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.
Let’s try and break that sentence to understand the true meaning of polyamory through those who practice it, and with pride.
And for a change, we will try and understand this through women in polyamorous relationships.
‘Multiple’, ‘relationship’, ‘consent’, ‘people involved’ — are the key words in the above mentioned definition of polyamory.
Multiple: simply means more than one; it does not necessarily mean a whole lot.
Relationship: between two people or more is still a relationship
like any other.
Consent: something that more often than not is stifled in monogamy, but is fundamental in polyamory, giving way to
People involved: stems out of respect, consent and honesty. No one involved is kept in the dark.
Now, to the word ‘sexual’: yes, it plays an important role, but it’s not all encompassing of the relationship.
“People tend to think polyamory is all about sex. It’s not. We forget that attraction need not always be physical. There can be emotional, intellectual, romantic attractions as well. And usually in a relationship, you will have a mix of all or different types of attraction. Polyamory is no different. There may or may not be sex involved. For instance, I had a partner who was asexual. We connected and shared things on different levels, other than sex. Also, people think polyamory is easy, but it is not. I have to be there for all my partners and ensure that nobody is unhappy in the relationship. The time and energy that I may have invested in a monogamous relationship… multiply that by the number of partners I have: it is a lot of work and you have to constantly communicate with your partners; for communication is the pillar of a polyamorous relationship. You always have to come to a solution together,” says Anagha Panakkada, who identifies as pansexual.
As a teenager, Anagha was afraid of the idea of being with one person for an entire lifetime. “In college, whenever someone confessed their love for me and wanted a relationship, I would run away from them, even if I really liked that person; because I can’t be in love with just one person. I fall in love all the time and I didn’t want to feel guilty about it. Love is free, and I wouldn’t want to confine it. The only monogamous relationship I have had, survived for a month and half,” she shares.
But Anagha didn’t know that what she felt had a name till four years ago. “Though for me, it was a very natural progression to polyamory, I started reading about it only towards the end of 2015. After college, I moved to Bangalore. Whenever I met people here, I would always make sure to tell them that I am seeing other people as well at that point of time. That’s how I used to explain it. There were people who were not okay with it, and they didn’t stay. But there were other people who were not looking for anything very serious or at least that’s the idea I got, so they were like: okay, let’s do this. It was during one such conversation with a person I was meeting that I first heard the word polyamory. I was explaining to him how I feel about relationships, and he said ‘you are polyamorous’. I went back and read about it, and eventually also met a polyamorous group here in Bangalore,” says Anagha, a
The group that Anagha joined is Bangalore Polyamory, started by Rishika Anchalia, and another polyamorous friend, when they got back to India from Malaysia. Rishika identifies as genderqueer (hence we will be using the pronouns they/them/their). Rishika says, “I realized I was polyamorous about four years ago. I had met polyamorous people before that too, and it had seemed interesting and not something I found outright problematic, but I wasn’t sure if it was my thing because I had a lot of monogamy ingrained in me. On the other hand, I had been in monogamous relationships, but none of them lasted particularly long. I always thought I was just doing monogamy wrong. After a pretty serious breakup, I got tired of just being able to divide up most of my life by the dudes I’d been with. I hadn’t taken the time to focus and prioritize myself. So, after my last monogamous relationship, I tried dating ‘non-exclusively’.”
Around the same time, Rishika stumbled upon Kimchi Cuddles — a hilarious and touching comic about polyamory, queer, and genderqueer issues, and it felt like ‘validation’, says Rishika. “When you choose a label and then find a community where you suddenly belong, it feels like, ‘wow there is a word for this!’ — that felt great, because now I knew I was definitely not doing monogamy wrong, I was just polyamorous. I realized that when I would get into monogamous relationships, I would almost police myself and start distancing myself from friends and significant people in my life because if my partner had these relationships outside us, I would be upset. So how could I do that? Once I embraced polyamory, I don’t think I could ever identify as monogamous again, even if I was romantically or sexually exclusive, because the way I love and how I define it has changed. Polyamory has given me the space and time to truly examine my relationship with myself and the language to express how valued other non-romantic/sexual relationships are to me.”
The biggest misconception that people have about polyamory, say both Rishika and Anagha is that, it is considered “casual”. Talking of their own experience, Rishika says, “I have been very open about being genderqueer and polyamorous, and there have been times on a date where I mention I am polyamorous, and the dude is like: cool, I am looking for something casual too. It’s exhausting! Because, let me tell you, poly people love commitment so much, they want to get committed to multiple people! Also, being polyamorous does not mean you are always open to new relationships.”
Polyamory is consensual, ethical non-monogamy. It is about freedom, to let everything blossom into whatever it could. It’s also about nurturing relationships, even if it constitutes an end, just like any other relationship.
And oh yes, there are heartbreaks too, and it hurts all the same. Polyamory, like we said, is just like any other relationship, but honest and communicative.
“Polyamory is quite customizable,” says Anagha, while Rishika clarifies that the equations and dynamics between partners differ depending on the people involved. “In the last four years, I have been in both open and closed situations.”
The one thing that polyamorous people are working towards is breaking ingrained societal monogamy. However, Rishika says, in conclusion, “I don’t see the societal stigma attached to polyamory changing any time soon. It is deep-rooted, and while there is growing awareness, it’s mostly sensationalized as a topic. There are people who are closeted, and I am sure they have their reasons — you could be married and poly; you could have kids and be poly; perhaps you have a conservative family and you are poly; maybe your workplace isn’t poly friendly and you are poly. So, yes, I don’t see any major societal or structural change happening soon.”
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