Ask Polyamory Paradigm

Check out my new question and answer blog!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Accidental polyamory.

A while back I wrote an article about a concept I called "Accidental Monogamy". Basically it is the concept that a polyamorous couple in a long term relationship where neither has had another partner in a while can in effect become, or be seen as, monogamous.

Here I want to take a look at the other side of things. An opposing concept I will call "Accidental Polyamory".

This concept came to mind after hearing about a few swing quads who had closed their relationships. The result was a fidelitous quad. What interested me was that the members of these quads were now describing themselves as Polyamorous. In most of the examples I heard about there was physical interaction between all members of the opposite sex and often between the women. In a few examples there was also physical interaction between the men.

Now, the simple definition found on my Definitions page is as follows:
1. Any of various practices involving relationships with multiple partners with the knowledge and consent of all involved.
Source: Wiktionary.

Holding a fidelitous quad up against that definition seems to prove that the quad is indeed practicing Polyamory. The key in my mind is the fidelitous part of the relationships. Once you allow for one of the quad partners to continue swinging I find it hard to apply the term Polyamory to the relationships anymore. Of course there are plenty of arguments out there that someone can be Polyamorous and Swing at the same time.

My definition of Poly differs though and I have a hard time considering a swing quad that has become fidelitous as Polyamorous. For me, polyamory inherently includes the concept that loving others should not be limited by a number of partners or the design of a situation. In other words, polyamory is the freedom and ability to love others as your heart desires. Applying fidelity to a relationship, a quad in this example, as a means of limiting the partners involved in the relationship contradicts my definition of Polyamory because at that point the freedom to love outside the quad is prohibited.

Now, I'm not saying a fidelitous quad is a bad thing or even that it can't function. I think it is a great way to define a relationship and still provide some variety and freedom for the quad members. I believe it is a completely viable relationship design.

That leaves me with the question of the day; Do you believe that any relationship design which prohibits new partners doesn't qualify as Polyamorous? More to the point maybe; Do you believe that making a swing configuration fidelitous automatically qualifies as polyamorous?

And here is the definition I have added to my Definitions page:
Accidental Polyamory (This one is still a concept in progress).
1. Finding yourself in love with multiple people at the same time.
2. The closing of a previously open relationship with multiple partners by redefining the relationship as fidelitous.
Source: Me


  1. You have some interesting thoughts on definitions of poly. While poly may indeed involve freedom to love others, I submit that it also involves freedom of partners to decide whether they're comfortable with an ongoing pursuit of additional partners and the upheaval that can entail. Sometimes people just want to feel that their emotional lives are stable. In our own group, we don't currently want to pursue additional partners. This is for multiple reasons, including a stable environment for our kids, feeling that our schedules are already crazy, and that we prefer to spend our energies on the people who are already part of our group. Does that mean we will never want additional partners, say, when the kids are grown? No. It's just what we want for now.

    We've never been swingers, so I don't have the insight to comment on the swing to poly conversion, but I think that if they choose to self-identify as poly, more power to them.

  2. Polly,
    Thanks for sharing! Should I interpret "interesting thoughts" to mean "you are whacked!"? ::laughs::

    I can see your perspective, particularly given the current configuration of your relationship. And while I do agree completely that anyone can decide not to pursue additional partners regardless of their configuration that is part of the grey area I was trying to understand and apply to definitions.

    Forgetting my example and your configuration for a moment, poly is generally defined as multiple simultaneous relationships. While that definition doesn’t imply at all that you must be open to new relationships it also doesn’t imply you are limited in number either. That said it seems that, at least in the poly community in which I exist, polyamory is generally taken to mean that a person is available to entertain new relationships. Are there exceptions? Of course. I myself have been closed to new relationships for different reasons for periods of time, but the majority of the time I consider myself available.

    Where the question came up for me recently, and I’m speaking specifically, was encountering several swing quads that have closed (become fidelitous) and chosen to self-identify as polyamorous. Members of the quads then came to poly focused events and presented themselves as a poly quad. Once a few questions were asked however the quad members’ reasons for identifying as poly were unclear. It seems the quads were still interacting as if in a swing situation but had simply limited themselves to only swinging within the quad. Apparently where it became a problem for them was within the swing community. A closed fidelitous quad attending swing events isn’t really swinging so they no longer fit in. Solution; re-identify as polyamorous so they are again part of a community. A bonus being that many in the poly community also swing at times or are somewhat accepting of the swing lifestyle, allowing the quad members to search for playmates who would respect the fidelitous aspect of their lifestyle. They didn’t seem to be searching so much for community as they were for playmates that would be happy in a long term fidelitous swing situation.

    This was the point at which I started to question the application of “polyamorous” to the quad members. Admittedly it is a fine line but in my mind the idea of a relationship, regardless of the number of partners involved, includes an emotional component and the quad members mentioned seem to still be living in a swing type mindset rather than a poly type mindset. Polyamory is basically multiple loves and to be blunt it felt like they were saying “We only screw certain people now so we are polyamorous”. Maybe I’m a bit warped in my opinions but to me loving multiple people, without limitations on number, is polyamory. I concede that a fidelitous multiple partner configuration can be considered polyamorous but I have great difficulty accepting a multiple sex configuration, without a love or commitment component, as polyamorous. Hence the question at the end of the article: Do you believe that making a swing configuration fidelitous automatically qualifies as polyamorous?
    That question was intentionally asked without qualification as the quads mentioned didn’t indicate any change to their relationships other than the agreement to fidelity.

    A side note: In my mind I was questioning their identification as polyamorous but felt it was only because they didn’t quite meet my definition. Then I spoke to some other poly folks who had met the same quads and when I asked their opinions was told very directly they didn’t believe the quad’s to be polyamorous.
    That prompted me to write this article and look for some more input and ideas to help clarify my thoughts. In the article I focused on the partner limitation but the failure to add an emotional component when the quads were closed is also part of the equation which I should have included originally.


  3. No, you're not whacked! :)

    I agree that it can be a fine line to try to define when swingers "become" poly, and whether simply being fidelitous physically amounts to being in a poly relationship. It seems like a lot of folks argue about the swinging/poly boundaries.

    I do think that poly inherently has the emotional component. I know that I couldn't be a swinger and only have physical relationships - I'd be bringing the emotional component in all over the place and creating a fine mess! :) It's interesting that the swinger quad feels that need for emotional support and community, which tells me that perhaps there's more to their relationship than merely physicality.

    You are always thought provoking and well-grounded. :)

  4. Polly,
    Thanks for the follow-up, and the compliments. Good to know I'm not yet completely insane :)

    I actually love the swing vs. poly arguments/discussions. It is one of my favorite because I don't think there is a solid single answer to the question. Instead it just gets the brain cells working and often helps me to understand another perspective.

    I agree that there is possibly more than a physical aspect for the quads I mentioned. I thought the same thing. But their answers to emotional questions were unclear. What did become clear to me while talking with them was that they were searching for support in a group they don't understand nor completely understands them. I think their new self-identification as polyamorous is part of the confusion for both sides. Were they to identify as poly-curious or attempting to convert their relationship to poly the answers to their questions would have been adjusted accordingly. Instead it seemed they didn't understand the answers the group gave them and the group didn't know why the quad was having a hard time understanding the answers. It made for an entertaining conversation!


  5. We entered polyamory this way. As swingers. And at the moment we are in a closed quad. We aren't currently still swinging either. We identify with poly since we all love each other. It isn't just sex anymore.

    A couple of us are open to the possibility of other relationships. A couple of us are not. We love each other and the two of us who can see loving someone else as well are ok with the fidelity part of this. Not to say that we won't renegotiate this in the future.

    For me personally, I'm ok with other relationships. Once I came to terms with what we were indeed involved in, I felt I could embrace poly fully. If I'm capable of loving 2 men, why aren't I capable of loving 3?

    Just today I encouraged my boyfriend to pursue someone he finds attractive in many ways. He won't due this more than likely because his wife is the major one in our group that wants things closed. Odd that, as she is bi and would enjoy a relationship with a female. But she's unwilling to pursue one knowing that would leave the door open for the others.

    More than this post really was referring to. But our quad did meet swinging but we are in love with each other. Is this different than the quads you are thinking of?

  6. Lovingmorethanone,
    Thanks for the comment :)

    Yes, your configuration does seem different from the quads I was talking about because you include love in your definition, not simply fidelity. It does sound like you entered into polyamory in the same manner.

    Though I'm not sure it would meet my definition of polyamory (because I don't believe in placing a limit on the number of partners), I do believe it meets a general definition of Polyamory.

    I'd be curious to hear how your group decided to identify as poly rather than swing. Was it a group meeting scenario or individual conversations? Do you all identify now as poly or do some still identify as swing or something else?

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Well, the other couple entered swinging hoping to find "friends they happen to have sex with" I guess.

    I'm the one that looked and looked on the internet for something that resembled what we had in order to find help for dealing with some issues. I stumbled upon the concept of poly. I've come to the place that I identify with that. (Though I can still identify with swinging as well...maybe an odd female that doesn't have to be in love to have sex.)

    The others, haven't done the reading on the topic that I have. We've talked and we belong to a local poly group as well.

    My boyfriend, did have two girlfriends at once while in high school and they all went most places together.

  8. Lovingmorethanone,
    Thanks for the follow-up!

    I don't think you are the odd female that doesn't have to be in love to have sex. I've run across quite a few people (male and female) who separate sex in some way from the emotional aspect (love) of a relationship.

    Where I find your comments interesting is that you and I seem to both separate sex from love but at different ends of the spectrum. As you said, you don't have to be in love to have sex. That indicates a disconnect in that sex is a separate act from love. Basically, sex doesn't have to include love for you.

    I also separate sex and love but opposite you. I believe love doesn't have to include sex. e.g. I can have a loving relationship that doesn't involve sex at all. However, for me to have sex with someone I must feel some type of love for them.

    One of the things I 'love' about Polyamory is that it encompasses two people such as ourselves that have such different views on love and sexuality.