real life

What it’s really like to be in three relationships at the same time.

Kate is a thirty-something Melbourne woman, in a happy relationship of two years with Mike.

Kate is also in a relationship with Nora.

And Kate is also in third relationship with another man (who didn’t want to be identified).

Before you feel outraged at Kate cheating on so many people, you should know that all of Kate’s partners know about each other and are fine with the arrangement.

Yes, they really say they are totally fine with it. They even say it’s “great”.

Read more: New study suggests cheating men and women are different. Who knew?

Yes, they really say they are totally fine with it. They even say it’s “great”.

They’re part of a group of people called “polyamorists” –  from “poly” meaning “many” and “amor” meaning “love” – who engage in multiple, open relationships, and they’re by no means the only ones doing this in Australia.

We spoke with them as part of our Radio National series “Assumptions” to investigate the common assumption that monogamy is the best way to arrange a relationship, and that anything outside of that would be either a jealousy-ridden disaster, or just a way to bang as many people as possible.

I asked academic Maria Pallota-Chiarolli from Deakin University if “polyamory” was really just a fancy word for “sleeping around with no responsibility”, but she said that’s “one of the biggest myths about polyamory, and it’s false.” She went on to say that “polyamory is the practice of multiple, ethical, loving relationships, with the emphasis on the love and the care. And there are definitely people who enjoy having lots of sex with lots of people, but there’s always care and engagement involved in that.”

All people within a polyamorists relationships know about each other.

Anne Hunter, a polyamory educator, agreed, saying that far from being a consequence-free, free-for-all, polyamory “is about taking on everything else of the other person’s life. You take on the raising of children, you take on the sharing of finances, houses, people’s illnesses, so, most polyamorous relationships are not just about the sex. It’s about every other facet of your life.”

Read more: “I’m having an affair with a married couple.”

While that might sound okay on paper, I couldn’t help but wonder about jealousy; if jealousy exists in monogamy, wouldn’t it, by definition, have to be multiplied in polyamory?

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Maria disagreed, saying “The research shows that people who are in monogamous relationships actually have the same or more jealousy issues than people in polyamorous relationships, because there is this issue of affairs and adultery and the secret relationships and the secret sex, while a lot of polyamorous people say, “Okay, I’ve got to deal with my feelings.”

And Anne said, “In monogamy, a lot of people are just, ‘I feel jealous, so my partner is not allowed to do this.’ And so people’s jealousy is allowed to control other people’s behaviour. In polyamory, we encourage people to have a look at it and unpack it and have a look at what the needs are that going on. And we find that when you break jealousy down into its component parts and accept responsibility for my own jealousy, it makes it much, much easier to navigate and to handle.”

And it even turns out, monogamy isn’t even the norm so many of us assume it is or has been. “Generally, if you look through anthropology, polyamory, or having more than one partner, has actually been the norm,” noted Maria.

This is the “new” normal.

Read more: A Brisbane woman has been fired for having too many “sexual partners.”

For polyamorists, it’s not just a matter of endlessly taking on more relationships; most of them reach a point (and the number at which they reach that point differs amongst people) of being at relationship-capacity, something Kate hilariously described this as being “poly-saturated”.

It’s not all multiplied joy, though. Kate discussed the judgment she and other polyamorists can face. She came out to her parents recently about her polyamory and they were very disapproving and said they couldn’t accept her lifestyle.  And it’s not just family that can be disapproving, as Kate pointed out, “Polyamorist relationships are seen as not as deep or valid, because if you’re having more than one relationship, they must not be as deep than if you were with one person. That’s one assumption. So there’s that kind of feeling of having your relationships illegitimised or invalidated.”

But within polyamory circles, at least, there’s a lot of love going around.

Hear the full interviews and more content, including a discussion on what it’s like for children in polyamorist relationships, on ABC RN today at 3:30pm, or download the podcast here or here under “Assumptions”.