Originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter.
More Than One Way
Polyamorous relationships aren’t just for swingers
If a previously taboo topic hits mainstream TV, you can hope it’s on its way to cultural, and eventually legal, acceptance.
That’s my hope for polyamorous relationships. The Showtime TV series Polyamory: Married and Dating could be a marker of change to come. The definition of polyamorous changes depending on who you ask. Some people use polyamorous as an umbrella term to mean anything other than monogamy, while some people choose to give “poly” a specific definition.
Santa Fe counselor Mim Chapman Ph. D developed her definition of polyamory to help bring understanding of the term and lifestyle to couples, families, churches, agencies and more. Chapman has lived in Santa Fe for eight years and works as a coach to couples trying to navigate and build healthy polyamorous relationships and families. She authored a book, What Does Polymory Look Like?, wrote a curriculum to educate various groups around families that have more than two members, and teaches polyamory workshops.
“To me, poly is a lifestyle that believes that one can openly, honestly, romantically and with commitment love more than one person at the same time,” Chapman says. “And it’s also egalitarian, ideally. Everyone benefits and everyone has a say in the relationship… To me the key to polyamory is synergy.”
In her coaching sessions, Chapman covers anything from sexual intimacy to jealousy. She says one of the most common realizations people have about non-monogamy is the idea of compersion, a term that describes empathetic happiness felt because another individual experiences happiness and joy. “It is sometimes identified with parents’ pride in their children’s accomplishments or one’s own excitement for friends’ and others’ successes. It is commonly used to describe when a person experiences positive feelings when a lover is enjoying another relationship. It is an opposite of jealousy,” according to Wikipedia.
Another common ‘aha’ moment for Chapman’s clients is when they question the scarcity of love model. The scarcity of love model follows the idea that if you love one person, your love is ‘used up’ and you can’t also love another person. I bet most people know that to be false. If you love your mom, is your love ‘used up’ so you can’t also love your partner? And that brings us to jealousy, which is a common concern for people curious about polyamory.
“We’ve made such a big deal of jealousy like it’s proof of love,” Chapman says. “No, jealousy is a proof of insecurity. Is that how I tell you I love you? That I’m so insecure that we live in a house of cards and if I look away for a moment the whole thing comes down?”
Jealousy can happen in any relationship, but understanding that we don’t need to give jealousy so much power is key to dealing with it, Chapman says.
So where are all these poly people, you ask? Probably all over the place, but they might not feel comfortable outing themselves because of the associated stigma. Some estimates say around 10 percent of the population is poly, but statistics about relationships and sexual happenings are challenging because many people keep it under wraps. Also, many people might practice consensual non-monogamy but not identify as polyamorous.
“There are swingers who don’t want to be thought of as poly and there are polys who don’t want to be thought of as swingers,” Chapman says. “And I kind of say ‘hey we’re all fighting the same fight.’”
The social stigma around non-monogamy is changing. Chapman referenced an event in Brazil in recent years where a triad (three-person relationship) was legally recognized by Brazil’s equivalent of the Justice of the Peace. She also has friends who have come out to their bosses as poly without negative repercussions.
Chapman has hosted a poly potluck at her house for over seven years with people coming in from Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But the meet-ups still have room for growth, especially in a town like Santa Fe that touts acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Chapman says it’s changing slowly, but Santa Fe is still a town that is “politically liberal, but socially conservative.”
Hunter Riley is a Santa Fe native living and working in Albuquerque. She is the store manager of Albuquerque’s best-voted sexy shop, Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center, selfservetoys.com. She also manages her personal sex education blog, hunterrileysexeducation.com. You can reach her at email@example.com.