It's 2018 and awareness of sexual diversity has never been more topical. Last year, same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia.
In October, we celebrated our very first same-sex union ten months after the Constitutional Court ruled to legalise gay marriage.
While inclusivity has taken big strides in recent years and more people accept a wider range of gender identities and sexualities, relationships involving more than two people remain a little too unconventional for many.
But, maybe this is changing too. According to an article in The Advocate, it's estimated that 'sexually non-monogamous' people number the millions in the US alone. A polyamorous relationship is one kind, and it's gaining traction here in Australia.
Hang on though... isn't that when a man is allowed to have multiple wives?
We all know that exists, in various other cultures, but that's illegal in Australia right?
Right. You're thinking of polygamy – a major 'no go' zone here.
LGBT advocate and activist Kathy Belge distinguishes polyamory vs polygamy by saying polygamy "is the term for having multiple spouses and is practised in cultures worldwide" while the polyamory "is usually not related to a religion and is unrelated to marriage, although some polyamorous people are married or have participated in commitment ceremonies with their partners."
What does being polyamorous actually mean?
To define polyamorous, Huffington Post contributor Angi Becker Stevens, herself a polyamorous person, emphasises the 'amorous' in polyamorous: "The word" polyamory," by definition, means loving more than one.
Many of us have deeply committed relationships with more than one partner, with no hierarchy among them and no core "couple" at the heart of it all."
Let's get real: in a society used to male-female monogamous couples, it's difficult to wrap our heads around a relationship that doesn't fit this mould, and most people end up looking at poly relationships through that lens.
This is where polyamory vs open relationship misunderstandings start.
More than one person involved? Isn't that a person seeking "a bit on the side" while their partner knows about it?
According to sex and relationship therapist Renee Divine in an article in Women's Health, "an open relationship is one where one or both partners have a desire for sexual relationships outside of each other, and polyamory is about having intimate, loving relationships with multiple people."
So polyamory is more about love and connection rather than straight sex.
I want a polyamorous relationship
If this is you, or maybe you're asking "my husband/wife wants a polyamorous relationship! What do I do next?"
Answer this first: what does polyamory mean for the people involved?
Just like any other commitment, it comes with a set of (unwritten) rules. Unlike monogamous relationships that are heavily represented in society and media, we have little idea of how they're "supposed" to work.
Polyamorous relationship rules are best laid out on the table and discussed openly especially when you' re new to them.
First things first, talk to one another (if you have a partner already) and get on the same page. Eg. Polyamorous meaning what?
What is polyamorous to one person might not suit another. People have different ideas and preferences. Make sure you understand what you want and expect before diving in.
Next, try a Google search. Dating resources like Australian community Polyfidelity have popped up to give polyamorous relationship advice and connect interested parties with each other.
Polyamorous relationship advice
We'll get you started with the essentials. In a blog post on Psychology Today, Psychologist Elisabeth Sheff Ph.D explains how polyamorous families, in particular, maintain much-needed resilience. She lists two key must-haves: flexibility via negotiation, and honesty in communication.
This means polys are able to innovate their own relationship structures and roll with life's surprises, and resolve difficulties in their complex relationship style by practising total honesty and compassionate listening.
We see how these play out by hearing real polyamorous relationship stories.
Aussie couple Scott and Amy, who have two kids between them, talked about having poly relationships long before putting them into practice. They also believe that being honest with their children is crucial.
They only introduce the kids to more serious partners and answer any questions in age-appropriate ways.
Other advice? Scott says to use Google Calendar.
"You have to be organised. Amy and I make sure we get two date nights a week while the other watches the kids. We swap weekends but also make sure we have every third weekend together as a family," he revealed.
In an article on Ozy, California couple Jen Day and Pepper Mint can attest to time management solutions. Mint keeps her smartphone calendar stocked with colour-coded slots, and Day has a weekly date with her other boyfriend keyed in.
Alex, another individual who has been polyamorous for several years, demonstrates honesty and compassion's necessity when jealousy rears its ugly head. He says to Business Insider that "jealousy for me acts as a warning sign that I am feeling insecure or stressed about my relationship with someone, and when I address whatever is causing that worry, usually with lots of reflective conversation, the jealousy goes away."
It gets tricky, especially when you're juggling dates and battling your own feelings. But like any other relationship, (platonic included), it all boils down to putting in the time and effort. If you think about it, even those in monogamous partnerships can learn a thing or two about how to navigate love!