Polyamory isn't 'sleeping around', monogamy isn't natural: Meet Indians who are 'poly'

How does it feel to be in multiple relationships with your partner’s consent?
Polyamory isn't 'sleeping around', monogamy isn't natural: Meet Indians who are 'poly'
Polyamory isn't 'sleeping around', monogamy isn't natural: Meet Indians who are 'poly'
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Society as we know it today, with monogamous, heterosexual marriage being the norm, is suspicious of anyone who does not toe the line.

Whether it is those who have a different sexual orientation or have made other lifestyle choices, it is hard to escape judgment and social censure. But outliers to the "system" do exist, even if they may not be in a position to proclaim their decisions and choices to everyone.

One such group is those who practise polyamory, which is engaging in multiple intimate relationships with the consent of all the partners involved.

No, it's not "cheating" and neither is it "sleeping around".

Is monogamy "natural"?

33-year-old Shekar* is a heterosexual man who is attracted to women. It was in his late 20s that he discovered polyamory.

Calling monogamy "a construct that has become the default programming over centuries", Shekar says that most people are likely to be polyamorous - just that it's hard to be so when monogamy has been the norm for so many years.

This is why, he points out, polyamory has to be cultivated as a relationship practice.

Shekar is currently in a 10-year-long relationship with a woman. While their relationship has been monogamous for the large part, Shekar says that there have been polyamorous periods in between.

For 36-year-old Krishna*, a scientist, polyamory is a political choice he made three years ago. However, he acknowledges that members within the polyamorous community may consider it to be a sexual orientation or a relationship practice.

"I became disillusioned about monogamous relationships at age 24, when I started learning more about IPA (Intimate Partner Abuse)," he says.

Krishna is mostly attracted to women and draws a distinction between what one would call having a "fling" and being polyamorous.

"Polyamory is not the same as casual relationships. In casual relationships, people may have sex with multiple partners, but the relationships themselves maybe considered temporary. Polyamory acknowledges that many relationships may carry emotional weight, and tries to open the conversation up regarding how to handle that emotional weight in the long term," he says.

35-year-old Sandhya* is a writer and researcher. She is a trans woman who is currently in a relationship with an "amazing, amazing woman".

While Sandhya says she is polyamorous in theory, she's currently monogamous.

"I don't know if I had a clear moment of epiphany when I knew I was poly. It was just a slow realisation, along with my changing ideas of gender, sexuality, and whatever else, that monogamy was an artificial imposition and was designed as a system of control and policing of human reproductive capacity and sexuality. Or something like that," she says.

Isn't this just a fancy term for sleeping around?

Sandhya's answer is an emphatic no.

"People who cheat or sleep around might use that as an excuse, but polyamory is based on trust, communication, and establishing boundaries. It means full disclosure to your primary partner, if you have one," she says.

Shekar and Krishna are on the same page.

In polyamorous relationships, "trust" is the operative word and all the people involved know what the terms and boundaries are.

As Shekar puts it, "The whole point of a polyamorous relationship is to multiply and infinitise the principles of care and love, not to denude them."

What this means is that polyamorous people don't believe in an artificial hierarchy where you are forced to care about only one person, pushing others to the bottom. And of course, terms and boundaries can always be re-assessed and negotiated.

Krishna says, "Being polyamorous implies being honest with your partners regarding your intent. Some relationships did not turn sexual after I admitted to being polyamorous. Some partners thought it would be interesting to experiment with it. Some ended abruptly. Some turned into platonic friendships."

Shekhar shares that while he first considered polyamory because he realised he was attracted to multiple women, it's actually his partner who has had relationships outside their primary one.

How do you handle the drama?

When there's so much drama in the average monogamous relationship, does it get multiplied in polyamory?

Shekar says, "When my partner first entered into a relationship with another man, my thoughts were stuck in competition mode, wondering if he was a better lover than me."

However, when he indulged in some self-introspection, he realised that he was making this all about himself and his desire to satisfy every need of his partner's.

He frames polyamory as a "sort of the Copernican revolution of relationships -- the realisation that you don't have to be the centre of your partner's universe for there to be love between you."

For Sandhya, the question of drama doesn't arise when boundaries have been established, and Krishna points out that emotions like jealousy and possessiveness can be part of platonic relationships, too.

So, are you out of the closet?

The Internet has made it easy for the polyamorous to find like-minded people and have discussions and conversations on relationships.

However, in real life, it's a very small circle (outside of their relationships, that is) which knows that they're polyamorous.

Friends, more than family, are likely to be taken into confidence. So, even though polyamory is "liberating", the fact that it is still very stigmatised means that people cannot talk about it as openly as they'd like to, says Krishna.

Sandhya sums it up: "To me the best thing is the idea of polyamory. Of knowing this is a more natural 'state' of human sexuality and sexual expression. And that it allows someone to develop close, intimate relationships and partnerships based on mutual need and desires, understanding."

*Names changed on request

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