Why Defining “Polyamory” IS Important

I found this draft of a post from Feb­ru­ary 2014, and while I would­n’t ordi­nar­i­ly react to any­thing as old as that post, the draft was too good to toss away.

I don’t nor­mal­ly respond to oth­er peo­ple’s blog posts, but I’ve seen a par­tic­u­lar notion all over the place, so I am going to respond to the Polyamory Week­ly post, Every­one is doing poly wrong and needs to die in a fire, that talks about it.

I don’t real­ly have any issue with much of Cun­ning Minx’s post. Yes, it’s a bit much for any­one to say that some­one else isn’t poly because that per­son­’s rela­tion­ships are struc­tured dif­fer­ent­ly than the speak­er’s. Hon­est­ly, I haven’t ever encoun­tered any­one who said that such a dif­fer­ence means the oth­er per­son should “go to hell” or “die in a fire,” but appar­ent­ly they exist. I’m all for tol­er­ance of diversity.

Where I have a prob­lem is with the notion of accept­ing absolute­ly any­one label­ing a rela­tion­ship as polyamorous when it does­n’t meet the basic def­i­n­i­tion of the word. It’s even in a dic­tio­nary now, remem­ber? From the OED:
“Polyamory: the prac­tice of engag­ing in mul­ti­ple sex­u­al rela­tion­ships with the con­sent of all the peo­ple involved.”

We define words for a rea­son — so we know what the hell we all mean when we use them. Oth­er­wise, we can’t com­mu­ni­cate effectively.

Cheat­ing and affairs do not fall under the umbrel­la of polyamory because they do not occur with the con­sent of all the peo­ple involved. Infi­deli­ty isn’t just anoth­er way to do polyamory. Yes, it’s non-monogamy, for sure. It isn’t eth­i­cal non-monogamy, though, and it isn’t polyamory.

Every­one does not get to choose their own label when those labels involve mis­us­ing per­fect­ly rea­son­able words that have agreed-upon def­i­n­i­tions. If qn open mar­riage involves mul­ti­ple sex­u­al rela­tion­ships with the con­sent of all involved par­ties, you’re polyamorous. Yay! But if any­one involved is cheat­ing rather than engag­ing in eth­i­cal non-monogamy then the rela­tion­ship isn’t polyamorous.

This isn’t about a “one true way” — there are many ways to “do” polyamory, and while I may not agree with them, they are per­fect­ly valid for oth­er peo­ple. But this is a hill on which I will die: cheat­ing and infi­deli­ty of any sort are not polyamory!

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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