“Open” Does Not Mean “Cheating”

Polyamory n : is the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time. . . . [Xero]

So, polyamory. It’s a fairly taboo subject about which to talk, right? Even more so, in a lot of ways, than queer stuff or trans stuff, race or class (although those can also be really sensitive subjects). That’s kind of silly, though. 

There’s such a stigma about polyamory and open relationships, and I don’t really get it. I mean, I understand why the social stigma exists, given society’s overwhelming fixation with the (straight, hetero, white, cis, able-bodied, Christian, middle- to upper-class, capitalist, monogamous) married couple. But aside from social/governmental control, keeping the status quo, and various religious objections (which, frankly, don’t phase me all that much, given all of the perfectly acceptable things to which religions sometimes object), I don’t really understand why people actually care so dang much about other people’s consensual relationships. I mean, if you’re happy, and you’re not harming anyone (e.g. you’re not cheating, you’re not coercing anyone into being with you, etc), how is that my business?

And let’s address that whole concept of cheating because it feels like that comes up whenever polyamory comes up in conversation with people who (I can’t think of a way to put this tactfully) don’t really know what it is (or have a lot of unfortunate misconceptions about what polyamory means). Polyamory does not mean cheating. Open does not mean cheating. To quote Franklin Veaux, “Cheating is breaking the rules. If you aren’t breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating, by definition.”

Could there be cheating within an open relationship? Yes. It’s not as though “open” means “anything goes.” As Veux put it, it all depends on the rules of the relationship. But getting involved with someone outside of a pre-existing open relationship is not necessarily cheating. That concept often seems to be difficult for some people to grasp, perhaps because U.S. society is so insistent on monogamy (or perhaps I should say “monoamory,” if that’s a word,  since societal norms deal with more than just marriage).

I just don’t really see there’s such a fuss about it. I mean, I recognize that it becomes more complicated if, for example, a person wanted to have a closed relationship and the person with whom they wanted to have that relationship wanted to have an open relationship. That would be something they would need to figure out, but it’s not as though I should have any say in that.

And maybe I’m wrong about all of this. I don’t identify as poly, and I’ve never been in an open relationship, so I’m not writing from personal experience. But ultimately, I think polyamory is just another form of loving and having relationships. It works for some people, and it doesn’t for others. Perhaps it’s that some people simply are polyamorous, and some aren’t; perhaps it’s that some people choose to be poly, and some don’t. To a certain extent, I don’t suppose it matters. A little like the whole queer thing, perhaps — whether it’s biology or choice doesn’t change that, either way, it’s okay.



10 responses to ““Open” Does Not Mean “Cheating”

  1. Hey Polyamory! You’re thinking about all kinds of stuff at 4 in the morning:). Nice to see you tackling this topic. And yes, there can definitely be cheating within a polyamorous relationship. If people have an agreement, like, say, you have to let me know asap if you meet someone else and want to date them/have sex with them/whatever non-platonic with them, but instead of telling their other partner/partners, they simply hide it, then that is DEFINITELY cheating. Unfortunately cheating can be easier (because you don’t have to work through the isues, negotiate minefields of emotion or communicate clearly and honestly) for some people, so it seems to be perennially popular for those who aren’t up for monogamy but don’t have the courage to be open and honest with their partners.

  2. Thanks for the post! i appreciate that you don’t identify as poly and have never been in an open relationship, but still respect the concept and ideas behind open relationships and are willing to defend the thoughts in your blog!

    And yes, absolutely you can still cheat in an open relationship. It’s all about following the rules that everyone has agreed to and is comfortable with.

    Yay for other forms of loving!

  3. I totally agree. I think everybody should blog about this! Polyamory can be a beautiful thing if the people involved choose to live that way. And besides, what makes that worse than the typical American norms? Our society’s tendency is to cheat on our spouses, and then eventually divorce or break up with them so we can move on to other people. I personally thing that’s way worse than polyamory because it fills the heart with pain and suffering.

    In addition, in such a thing as a polygamy (about 40,000 families in Utah, where I live, are polygamous), the family dynamic can do wonders for the children. First of all, with multiple wives, there are usually lots of little tots. While Daddy and most of the wives are out working and bringing home the dough, one of the wives can take care of all the children. This can be really great because not only do the children have the emotional (and academic) support of a stay-at-home parent, they also gain valuable social skills that come from growing up with other children. And, with a large family, the children and the stay-at-home wife have a great support system. In addition, there could be trading—one the wives trade off days or weeks that they take care of the kids.

    Anyways, I’m a huge supporter of do-what-you-want-as-long-as-you’re-not-hurting-anybody.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • Thank you for commenting! I’m really sorry that I didn’t reply for so long; I took a bit of a break from the blog. However, I’m really glad that this post sparked conversation (well, ‘conversation’ might be stretching it, but comments, anyway), and it’s nice to hear your perspective.

  4. P.S. I’m also not a polyamorist. I am completely monogamous and will always choose to be that way. And in addition, I think I have stricter rules for my monogamous relationship than most couples. But that doesn’t mean everybody else should be that way.

  5. P.P.S. Sorry about straying from polyamory to polygany in my example. It’s just that I think it’s just as relevant.

    • Don’t worry about “straying” — polygany would’ve been an interesting topic about which to write (and I may cover it in the future), and it clearly has overlap with polyamory; I just don’t know as much about it, so I didn’t write about it.

  6. So I haven’t read your blog in about ten ages, clearly (sorry about that!), or I would have certainly commented on this particular entry earlier. Ah, so, would this be a good time to mention that I’m poly? And I adore you for being so supportive and not telling me that people like me are cheating/being greedy.

    • Beth! Good to hear from you! We really should talk sometime — and not just posts on my blog or accidental, wrong number phone calls 🙂 — I miss you.

      I’m really glad you like this post. I always get a little nervous when I blog about something I consider important because I worry that I’m not going to represent the issue well, or that I’ll come off as judgmental or ill-informed or something else. And that’s definitely not what I mean to do.

      Also, just for the record (because I hope you’d know this without me saying it, but sometimes things need to be said outright, even if there’s some kind of unspoken understanding), I totally support you in being who you are and living and loving in a way that is right for you. And anyone who thinks you’re cheating or being greedy for being poly is just being . . . if I were being charitable, I’d say ignorant, but accusing you of cheating or being greedy is hurtful, and it makes me not want to be charitable. If anyone says anything mean, send them to me, and I’ll yell at them ( . . . for a bit, and then I’ll try to educate them into not saying such things . . . ), how’s that? But on a serious note, you and I both know that the idea that being poly means cheating or being greedy is just stupid, and I’m sorry that you have to deal with such things. Hugs!

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