The lovely Midori posed the question of the difference between polyamory and dating recently, and it seemed as good a way as any to reboot my old zine as a blog. I found interesting that the question came up, but quickly realized that there are many who don’t understand the difference between polyamory and dating. Since she was so gracious as to provide a few speaking points to answer her question I’m going to go ahead follow her lead.
Your definition of each
For me, polyamory is maintaining multiple partnerships concurrently. While these might not be serious long-term partnerships, they are more than a fling. These are relationships involving both a physical and emotional bond to at least the degree that one would traditionally consider using the terms of boyfriend/girlfriend to describe each other.
Dating, on the other hand, is a very casual state. This is the stage of getting a sense of another person, and determining if you wish to pursue a more committed relationship (committed meaning adherence to whatever ground rules the individuals involved decide to set, not meaning specifically monogamy).
Compare & Contrast
I think the biggest contrast between polyamory and dating, for me, is the level of commitment involved. Dating is the window-shopping of the relationship world, whereas polyamory is having found the perfect outfit for different occasions.
Pros & Cons of each
One of the biggest pros I see to polyamory is for those in situations where there is a difference in desires, particularly in the sex life. I also recognize that some people just feel uncomfortable being monogamous. The con is that there are also those who do not function well in a polyamorous situation. Polyamory takes a considerable amount of mental and emotional energy, which is something that not all are capable of confronting.
Does it ever morph from one to another? Does it ever morph back?
I think that dating morphs into any form of committed relationship, be it polyamory or monogamy. Like I said in defining dating, it’s the stage between meeting someone and deciding to have a relationship with the individual. I don’t personally think the casualness of dating can return, as after having a committed relationship of any sort the sort of bond and understanding which develops would not allow for such.
Are there perceived social status or greater cool-factor to be in one or the other?
I do feel that right now it is considered “cool” to say that you are polyamorous, much like in the not too distant past when it was “cool” for young ladies to say that they were, and to play at being, bisexual when there was no real attraction involved.
Peer pressure for one or the other?
I feel like dating is a social norm at this point, so the pressure to date is such a part of our society that it’s hard to pinpoint them. Much like any social fad, there is pressure to say that you are poly, or to try and have polyamorous relationships. I personally have felt the pressure to have a polyamorous relationship in the past, and in the end it created a lot of resentment and distrust.
Role models for either?
I am lucky to have a number of friends in happy, functional, long-term polyamorous relationships. I also live in Seattle, which has a wonderful sex-positive scene and community which is full of good role models for poly living, including Twisted Monk and Mistress Matisse, who are kind enough to have a wonderful podcast which often addresses poly issues and poly life. Role models for dating are a bit harder. I feel like there are a lot of negative role models for dating, but few good ones. Popular television is full of sitcoms which turn dating into a horrible farce, and unfortunately this is often the most we get as far as an education in dating. I remember as a young pre-teen reading a book, I believe the title was Girl-Talk or somesuch, which was one of those dating/sex-ed books. I don’t know if it helped me much with dating, but at least I learned a good bit about my period and about contraception!
Your personal source of information about how to have poly relationships or how to date
I answered a lot of this in the last question, about role models, but I have also been in the situation where I felt pressured into having a polyamorous relationship, and suffice to say that it didn’t end well at all. I think I’m still processing the feelings from that experience. That’s not to say that I am not open minded about the possibility of such with the right partners in the future, but I do naturally seem to trend towards monogamy. Right now I’m monogamous and my partner isn’t, and I’m OK with that.
Myth around poly, myth around dating
Oof, myths around polyamory abound. They run the gambit from fear of commitment, that it’s how we’re meant to be (I’ve heard this to support both polyamory and monogamy), and all manner of other blanket statements about what poly is or isn’t. Again, with dating being such a part of our society, it’s hard to pinpoint myths about dating.
Something that Midori didn’t ask is if there is a difference between polyamory and non-monogamy. To me I feel like there is, and I will often refer to myself as non-monogamous because of my seemingly unusual relationship. I’ve also heard terms such as poly-fidelitous for folks who have multiple partners as stable relationships which aren’t adding new folks and aren’t having casual dates with new folks. I kinda like that too.
There are a lot of words, and a lot of them are only recently coming into play. There are also a lot of ways of having relationships. I think if there is any takeaway from talking about polyamory and monogamy as umbrellas for relationship variants it’s this: there is no right or wrong relationship style- as long as everyone is consenting. If it is making you and your partner(s) happy, go with it and fuck what anyone else says about it or whatever they wanna call it. Everyone being happy is doing it right.