Starting at a very young age, people develop relationships with their parents, siblings, friends, and significant others, but many struggle to understand what those relationships should look like.
Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ+ Students Hunter Kirschner (pronouns: he, him, his) said, “We learn about relationships from our parents, friends and media. You basically only see monogamous relationships, so you can understand what those look like and what the rules are for that.”
When the societal expectations of monogamous relationships are challenged, confusion and frustration can occur.
KSC sophomore Dreamy Kljajic (pronouns: they, them, their) said, “I mostly heard of it from how society says that if a couple is in an open relationship, that means they’re not happy with each other.”
Dictionary.com defines an open relationship as “a marriage or relationship in which both partners agree that each may have sexual relations with others.”
Kirschner said he hopes that students attending the event will take away the proper skills needed to have a healthy, polyamorous relationship.
“Also, exposure and understanding that these relationships are not of any less value and that they can be done well and that they can be healthy,” Kirschner added.
On Wednesday, Jan. 31, Relationship Therapist and Sex Educator Yana Tallon-Hicks (pronouns: she, her, hers) came to Keene State College to present her “Polyamory and Open Relationships” workshop.
At the presentation, Tallon-Hicks said non-monogamy is a term that umbrellas several others, including polyamory, solo-poly, open relationships (including subcategories: swinging and monogamish), polyfidelity and relationship anarchy (refer to infographic).
Tallon-Hicks defined polyamory as a “multiplicity of emotional and sexual relationships.” She said many students are confused on how this concept works, giving the term and other non-monogamous relationships many misconceptions. A common belief among students is that both polyamory and open relationships are equivalent to one another.
Kirschner said, “I think people use them interchangeably. I think in an open relationship you have a primary partner and you are open to seeing other people, but it’s your relationship that is central. Whereas polyamory can also include multiple primary relationships.”
Tallon-Hicks said that, usually, in polyamorous relationships, each partner fills a different role, but it is very common that everyone is connected to each other. She said one partner may be for sexually intimate relations, while another could be someone for going out on dates with regularly. Another term often confused with polyamory is polygamy.
Kirschner said, “Polygamy refers to just marriage… we associate [it] with the Mormon Religion. I think it’s more the idea of being married to multiple people rather than just being in any other kind of relationship.”
Kirschner said an easy way to understand polyamory is by knowing the common nickname Polycule.
“This idea of individuals having all these different connections, like atoms, to this one thing; like a molecule, but with people. It’s kind of like having a network of people. You may have one primary or not. You may just have multiple relationships with different people that all know you are dating all these people,” he said.
Although both relationship types have multiple significant-others, both Kirschner and Tallons-Hicks said that that polyamory and polygamy are two separate classifications.
Kirschner said he believes a huge misconception is that people in non-monogamous relationships are sexually greedy or are afraid of commitment. “There are all of these negative associations with these ideas [of non-monogamous relationships],” he said.
With greed comes one of the most common debated misconceptions of non-monogamous relationships: cheating. Kirschner said, “If you are in a monogamous relationship and one or both members are cheating, it’s not an open relationship. The cheating part is doing something negative to your relationship. You are going against the terms of your relationship.”
He said that some people who cheat in relationships will claim that they are in an open relationship to make excuses for breaking their agreement. These instances add to the negative stigma around relationships with more than one partner.
Tallons-Hicks added, “[Polyamory and open relationships are] all consensual.”
She said open, non-monogamous relationships take a lot of communication and agreeing with everyone involved. If one member goes back on an agreement, then problems can occur due to the natural human emotion called jealousy.
Tallons-Hicks said, “Jealousy is more like a check engine light.” She then said that people tend to ignore it the first few times, and then they find themselves in a predicament. Tallon-Hicks said people who are polyamorous or are in open relationships can become jealous because the relationship concerns more people.
“Underneath jealousy may make [people] feel like ‘I am not enough,’” she added. She said she believes that a lot of negative emotions are caused internally.
During her presentation, Tallon-Hicks provided some tips on controlling jealousy. One phrase she said was “catch it, check it, change it.” Meaning that the partner suffering should figure out what is bothering them, and change the thoughts from within rather than try to change the person.“[Compersion is] the opposite of jealousy,” she said.
Tallon-Hicks said she believes that if someone can feel empathy and joy for their partner by seeing them joyful and happy, then jealousy will occur less often.
“It’s kind of scary because non-monogamy takes this idea of being inherently safe and smushes it,” Tallon-Hicks said. “It takes all of the uncertainty in monogamy and puts it right in the middle of your relationship.”
Kljajic said they were previously in a relationship with a Poly but was unfamiliar with the term. “When I first learned the term, I was like ‘I have to unlearn so many things and learn so many things,’” they said.
Although people may not understand the terms fully and could be uncertain of its effectiveness, Tallon-Hicks said there are a lot of good parts of the non-monogamous lifestyle. Tallon-Hicks said, “An extremely open and honest relationship can develop,” she also added, that if one partner doesn’t like something sexually or share an interest, people who practice polyamory can find someone who does (As long as they still follow the agreements created). “You and your partner can choose together instead of feeling the pressure of some monogamous pressures,” she added.
Tallons-Hicks said that a very important thing in these types of relationships is the agreements and rules created by all involved. “We make sure we are honoring the biggest difference between non-monogamy and cheating, which is communication and consent,” she said.
She added that agreements change over time because the individuals figuring out what works, what does not work, how they feel and what’s comfortable for them.
If another person is in a happy, healthy relationship, it’s not anyone’s place to question that.Kljajic said they wish more people would be accepting of other relationship types, whether students are comfortable in monogamous relationships or not. “[KSC students] should be more open about [open relationships],” they said.
Angelique Inchierca can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org