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Polyamory as an Orientation

So, one of the biggest repeated arguments in Polyamorous communities is whether it’s an orientation, like sexual orientations, or not. I find that generally, this splits along the line of people who practice ethical non-monogamy that includes but is not limited to long-term-relationship polyamory (or who have done this and had a positive experience) and people who very intentionally practice only long-term-relationship-seeking polyamory. (I know this is not all polyamory; both polyamory, and even more massively, ENM, contain multitudes.) The latter category is more likely to feel that their polyamory is an orientation, and an identity, rather than a choice of relationship style.

I don’t think people on either side of this debate mean badly or are wrong. I respect the stated identity of anyone who lets me know they have an identity or orientation, and if someone identifies as polyamorous by orientation, that’s their call. I don’t have any right to police their identification.

The people who I know who identify this as an orientation liken it not just to sexual orientation but to a calling, to a job they love; and tend to cite it as the reason they do the hard part of polyamory.To quote Robert Frost (and my favorite poem, Two Tramps in Mud Time) “My avocation and my vocation, as my two eyes make one in sight.” The folks I know who view it as a relationship style tend to see it as an important path to growth in communication, in options, in removing pressure from themselves and their partners. As the next line of that poem says “Only when love and need are one.” So it’s an option and oftentimes the right option.

This is why I don’t take on polyamory as an identity, but teach it and support others’ right to; why I firmly view this as a choice of relationship style. There very well might be a reason why I intentionally choose to be monogamous some day. I can’t imagine exactly what it is, given my history of ethical non-monogamy, but there might be a situation in which I meet someone who meets so many of my needs and is so relaxed about the needs they can’t meet that I meet with friends or family that it doesn’t feel as though acting on additional relationships in a romantic way, on crushes, or on the sexual kinds of ethical non-monogamy is important. I’m probably always going to think that the relationship anarchists is a little bit right, and actually, by my own definition above, therefore be an ethical non-monogamist, but not a polyamorist, and not someone who’s sexually open, and therefore fit our larger society’s definition of monogamy, if not my own.

I bring this all up because there’s a word for all of this in between nonsense that I do, where I am neither quite polyamorous for life nor monogamous for life. It was coined by Page Turner of Poly.Land, and it’s ambiamorous. Being ambiamorous means that you are (or can see yourself being) happy in a monogamous relationship, or in polyamorous relationships; that you can walk back and forth through that door as many times as you like, and it’s not essentially transformative, although a particular partner agreeing they’d like to with you may feel freeing. One of my friends, who we’ll be talking to on the podcast in a few weeks, has called this “being poly-capable.” You’ve gained the skills you need to be successfully polyamorous, but for you personally it could go either way, depending on the moment in your life, the partner(s) you currently have, and the external stresses you’re currently under. I have one partner at the moment, but I don’t call myself monogamous because I’ve got a polycule connected to him, because that’s mostly a result of stress and The World Being on Fire (I write this in the middle of both the COVID19 pandemic and national Black Lives Matter protests; and if you don’t believe in the latter get off my page, the moral disagreement is too great.) that make it absolutely too hard to date. Look for me to gain other partners next year, maybe. When there’s a vaccine and police are defunded to fund schools and mental health resources. You might also, like me, envision alternate futures where you’re solo-poly and romantically connected to a lovely network of people while Golden Girls style roommating with your best friends in your old age, or to have found partner(s) to settle down with and both are equally appealing and you’re young enough to have no idea which it will be. As much as I joke that I’m old, we live a LONG time now, I have plenty of time to figure it out.

In short, many people view polyamory as an orientation, equivalent to a sexual orientation, that they discovered and came out about; and a similar proportion of the People Who Have A Minute to Argue About These Things say it isn’t for them, but they’re polyamorous NOW, and that’s equally legitimate. I think they’re both valid and right for them; I’m in the latter camp, and there’s a word that’s been made up for the group who could go monogamous or polyamorous - ambiamorous - that’s gaining traction, although to me it sounds like a medication. It probably applies to me, since to me polyamory is a relationship style I’ve chosen. I have, and continue to, love polyamorous, ambiamorous, and monogamous people, and to respect anything people include in their identities versus their choices, and I hope you will too, regardless of how you feel about this issue.

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