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Theory and Practice

One of the questions that people often ask each other early on in potential polyamrous relationships is “how do you do polyamory?” This can be a great jumping off point for a conversation about relationship desires and personal values - but sometimes it’s pretty hard to answer.

It’s not just hard because people and relationships don’t fit neatly into categories and labels but also because our desires have to be translated into words, and we have to feel like those words fit to be willing to use them. If you’ve been reading here (and listening to the podcast) for a while, you’ll have noticed that I waffle a bit around what words I use to describe my own practice of polyamory. Some of this is because I’m a nerd who strives for accuracy - can I say I’m a relationship anarchist when part of the point is to blow up labels, and actually I kind of like labels?- and some of it is because I’m insecure about them - will the RA police come for me if I misuse their term? (There aren’t relationship anarchy police, or any kind of terminology police, I’m being ridiculous and need to get over myself.) So I end up doing a dance around “Well, I’m non-hierarchical and kind of relationship-anarchy-adjacent and I’m happy to talk about what that means in practice FOR US as we go, this is my current network, what about you?” and then talk about the actual values that the question is trying to get at.

If the point of the question is to get at the shared values rather than examine the theory and word-choice (which can honestly be a kind of gate-keeping - it’s testing who’s read enough to know all the words for what they want to do going forward), we can maybe present our interest in this information and our version of this information differently. “I’m looking for a variety of kinds of connection right now, I don’t really like labels that prioritize sexual or romantic relationships over platonic friendships and I just want to see where this goes because I think you’re cool” gives all the values that you’re a relationship anarchist without saying it. You can throw in that you call that relationship anarchy or respond in the affirmative that you are one, yeah, if they ask. Ask what relationships they’re in and tell them about yours. Be curious and come into early conversations from a place of connection and you’ll cover all the same information that comes out of “What kind of polyamory do you practice” - probably and then some! - and be better at accommodating the grey areas in your own relationship style.

Our practice of nonmonogamy or polyamory changes over time. We may enter into nonmonogamy intending to practice more hierarchically and over time drift into a style with less structure; or in reverse we may theoretically prefer an approach with very few rules or restrictions but find that our responsibilities and realities lend themselves best to a structured approach and acknowledging that in description is the most honest way to proceed. There’s value in acknowledging the fluidity of relationships and the place we are now as we meet people; we’re not bound to one theory for how we’re going to conduct our relationships. So, don’t see “how do you do polyamory?” as a couple word or one phrase answer. See it as an opportunity.

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