March 31st, 2014

Commentary | February 10th, 2014
Rethinking commitment
Polyamory and the potential for new ways of loving
Written by | Visual by Saad Salahuddin

I always dreaded having to play the game. Soon after coming out I entered a relationship with the first guy I hooked up with, and when we finally broke up almost two years later I felt lost and helpless in a world of single, gay men I knew nothing about. We attempted making our relationship an open one in the last few months we were together, which in hindsight was just a vain attempt to make a failing relationship work. Although he saw a few other guys, causing surges of jealousy for me in a confusing and turbulent time for both of us, I was always afraid to leave the cocoon of our comfortable yet dysfunctional situation.

Now, months later, despite continued qualms about immersing myself in the dating scene, as a single 20-year-old gay male in a city with a large queer population, I know that this is my time to experiment. I need to see what works for me as I figure out what it is I want from my relationships.

The media obsesses over the ways relationships are changing because our generation tends to communicate using social media and texting. We resist labels and commitment, and have a proclivity for casual hook-ups over serious, committed relationships. For queers, the likelihood of experimenting with polyamory adds to the complexity of the dating scene.

In some ways, I sometimes feel this invisible pressure that as a queer person in this day and age, a successful polyamorous relationship is the rainbow-covered, glittery, golden peak I should be striving for.

Despite having more straight than queer friends, it seems more of my queer friends have experienced, or at least considered, open relationships. It’s probably because the essence of queerness implies challenging, avoiding, and questioning traditional gender norms and social relations. I’m sure straight people engage in polyamory as well, but I personally haven’t met too many who are into that sort of thing.

In some ways, I sometimes feel this invisible pressure that as a queer person in this day and age, a successful polyamorous relationship is the rainbow-covered, glittery, golden peak I should be striving for. Given the benefits of polyamory, I understand why.

I remember a great conversation with a queer friend who has been in a successful, albeit sometimes challenging, open relationship. We discussed how being able to see other people while still having a committed relationship can mean fulfilling different sexual desires and preferences. Different people can provide you with different pleasures and help you discover different sexual practices and preferences. Polyamory can definitely limit the potential for boredom in a relationship, making things more fun and dynamic.

Being able to see other people while still having a committed relationship can mean fulfilling different sexual desires and preferences.

If you’re able to make it work and strike a balance, a successful open relationship can mean a much more interesting and challenging sex life. For a sexual young adult, what could be more attractive than that?

Of course, given the dimensions that seeing other people adds to a relationship, it can mean a lot of hard work and commitment in figuring out what makes you and your partner comfortable. Based on my own experiences, and what I’ve heard and seen from friends, nothing is more pivotal to an open relationship than communication.

After flirtily texting with one guy for multiple weeks, he told me that he and his boyfriend were trying to be open – yet after enjoying one late night rendezvous together, he stopped answering my texts and I’m inclined to believe they realized polyamory wasn’t right for them. It might work for you to tell your partner when you’ve seen someone else, or it might not. Reevaluating may be a necessity too. Setting boundaries, sticking to them (or altering them if need be), as well as continuing the dialogue, immensely increase the chances that an open relationship will work.

Problems can go beyond jealousy. Figuring out to what extent you and your partner are allowed to see other people can be a tricky thing. What if a couple decided they could hook-up with, but not date, other people? What would be acceptable? Does that limit someone to Grindr hook-ups and one night stands? Are casual beers and coffee dates out of the question? It’s tough to say, and relates to the importance of defining terms and boundaries.

Every polyamorous relationship is going to take a different shape and allow for different experiences and understandings of what one wants from their different sexual partners.

It’s common to scroll through the plethora of guys on Grindr and see plenty whose status is ‘open relationship.’ There are also plenty of couples, anywhere from their early 20s to past 50, scanning Grindr for guys to come add a little spark to their relationships that monogamy probably couldn’t provide.

Every polyamorous relationship is going to take a different shape and allow for different experiences and understandings of what one wants from their different sexual partners. Open relationships have the potential to challenge concepts and ideas of the differences between sex and love. What are the implications of sustaining loving relationships with more than one person? Emotional attachment to someone besides your primary partner could have serious implications for the relationship. I’ve found it can be quite difficult to play the role of the mistress too, especially when the motives of your polyamorous love interest are unclear.

Since beginning to overcome my fear of the dating scene, I’ve had one open relationship that spanned a few months. We established a mutual desire to also see other people early on, and were able to sustain a comfortable, enjoyable, and I’d like to think healthy relationship thereafter. Once it was no longer working, our commitment to ‘not being committed’ meant the relationship ended more easily than it probably would have otherwise. In this case, establishing openness from the onset allowed us to sidestep commitment.

There are times I want things to be simpler though. Isn’t seeing one guy at a time enough? It may be, but resisting experimenting with polyamory will be a tough thing to do, both because of my own prerogative and since so many queers are just doing it anyway.

I’m aware of the potential polyamory has for redefining commitment, allowing for different concepts and forms of sexual expression.

I’m sure some stigma surrounding polyamory will remain, despite changing ideas and concepts of relationships on a more societal level. People are likely to believe open relationships aren’t legitimate, assume they can’t work, and disregard their potential for success and greater sexual fulfillment. Nevertheless, I’m becoming more comfortable with the fact that as a queer person, the way I interact, hook-up, and go about my relationships will inherently deviate from current and past concepts of the norm.

Despite my current desire to explore, date, hook up, and see what’s out there, having known the comfort and stability a committed relationship can provide, I secretly look forward to getting back there. Whether or not polyamory is a part of that equation remains to be seen, but I’m aware of the potential polyamory has for redefining commitment, allowing for different concepts and forms of sexual expression. Overall, I definitely see this as a good thing; considering and embracing polyamory can only mean a wider array of options and opportunities for relationships, and a more interesting pursuit toward understanding what queerness means for the way I date, hook-up, and fuck.


White Noise is a column exploring what it means to identify as gay or queer in McGill and Montreal communities. Eric can be reached at whitenoise@mcgilldaily.com.

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