From a very young age, we’re fed — and often, we feed into — the structure of traditional, heteronormative monogamy. Just think back to Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King…
Some of these characters may have been animals or mermaids, but at the end of the day, it’s one man and one woman, who get together — marriage is usually portrayed on screen — and they live happily ever after.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. Li Shang from Mulan is quite obviously bisexual — but very rarely is something deviating from that “norm” explicitly stated. It’s only this year that Pixar — part of the Disney conglomerate — is casting its first transgender character.
Traditional monogamy is often the only option offered to us. And when we grow up and out of cartoons, movies that often portray something different still fail to portray it in a positive light.
If you look at polyamory, it’s taken years for a truly positive depiction to hit the silver screen. According to a review of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, published in The Guardian in 2017, the movie treats the three-way relationship like a “typical movie coupling” — something the writer claims is “decidedly atypical in the history of cinema.”
In real life, it’s even less likely to see any sort of depiction, let alone a positive one. One exception may be Ginny Lemon, a non-binary queen from Drag Race UK. In the coronavirus special of the show, they were shown to have both a husband and a boyfriend. A “sighting” like this, for lack of a better term, is rare.
Happy Valentine’s days xoxoxo pic.twitter.com/iL68wMrIzk
— Ginny Lemon (@GinnyLemon69) February 14, 2021
One recent development — exception — is Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith. You know, of I Whip My Hair fame. Appearing on her mother’s talk show, “Red Table Talk”, Willow opened up about her polyamorous lifestyle, saying “It’s about being able to have the freedom to create a relationship for yourself.”
But what about your everyday people, who practice monogamy?
That’s why The Latch spoke to Chloe*, who is polyamorous — and for full disclosure, a friend of mine — to learn more, and bring more visibility to a valid relationship type.
Chloe defines polyamory as “having, or the desire to have, multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all the people involved.”
As for how she prefers to label herself? She says the label of being in an ‘open relationship’ was considered, but “polyamorous has been a more accurate definition since becoming interested in ongoing romantic relationships” — as opposed to just casual sex.
She says that she’d been together with her partner for about eight years when she realised she was interested in polyamory. He had, in the past, expressed the desire to have sex with other people, but she was yet to understand it.
“It took me some time to be open to unlearning what I knew about healthy relationships,” explains Chloe, “and learn that relationships can be formed, strengthened and sustained with a different model.”
But it wasn’t a dive into the metaphorical polyamorous deep end — it started with small steps. To start the journey, “a lot of conversations about desires, expectations and boundary setting” were required.
One of the first steps was starting with “being open to developing connections with people that we met”, and then making the move to dating apps.
Books like The Ethical Slut, social media accounts like Polyamory Awareness were some resources that helped most — as was “connecting with like-minded people and hearing about their experiences.” Speaking openly about her journey with a psychologist was also an important step for Chloe.
If you’re intrigued as to what her relationship status is like nowadays, Chloe is still with her partner of 10 years — who is also seeing a few other people on an ongoing basis, in addition to meeting up with new people.
“I am in a mono-poly relationship with a girl I met late last year,” Chloe tells us, “and have decided to not pursue other relationships because I am happy and satisfied with the love shared between me and my partners.”
Stressing the importance of conversation, Chloe says that when having the conversation with partners, it’s best to “be as upfront and honest as you can be.” She reassures that people new to the idea “will have a lot of questions” but that the more knowledge they have “the easier it will be for them to understand and communicate with you.”
As for how she continues to navigate and communicate through polyamory?
“There are no relationship models that guarantee joy and success,” Chloe told us. As she says, all types of relationships — whether traditional or unconventional — can be difficult, unsatisfying or painful. Reiterating the importance of communication, she calls it “the biggest asset to any relationship.”
And if you’re thinking that you could never be polyamorous because you’re too jealous of a person — those in a polyamorous relationship aren’t immune to those same feelings. “Talk about feelings of jealousy and hurt, so that your partners can offer you reassurance and love.”
Asking your partner questions about their relationships is another suggestion from Chloe, as well as being honest when you need or don’t like something. “Set shared boundaries, and be open to changing them.”
In addition to communication, organisation is another necessary asset — “Use a shared calendar to keep track of comings and goings.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about polyamory, several of which Chloe lists: “Polyamory is cheating, just about sex, a way to fix a failing relationship, somehow wrong or unethical, and that polyamorous people are afraid of commitment.”
She says one thing she wishes people knew about polyamory is the fact it can be “a wonderful and viable relationship model.”
In addition to the aforementioned communication and trust that polyamory encourages, it also “provides many opportunities for personal growth and exploration, and allows for each person’s needs for love, support and intimacy to be met in different ways by different people.”
One other thing she says she wishes people knew? “You don’t need to be polyamorous to be in a polyamorous relationship. You can be monogamous and be in a relationship with someone who has multiple partners, and be okay with it.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity