PHILIPPINES/UNITED STATES: In the past decade, nearly 30 media projects from film to anime have included characters who are involved in intimate relationships with more than one partner. While polygamy, marriage to more than one person, is illegal in the majority of the world’s nations, polyamory falls outside the bounds of most laws as there is no legal agreement between multiple partners.
Having multiple lovers is natural for people who are polyamorous. Yet, most societies insist on a monogamous relationship as the norm, and laws reflect these values. Dean Spade, an American lawyer, writer, trans activist, and Associate Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law said in Exile and Pride, “The point for me is to create relationships based on deeper and more real notions of trust. So that love becomes defined not by sexual exclusivity, but by actual respect, concern, commitment to act with kind intentions, accountability for our actions, and a desire for mutual growth.”
Experimentation versus settling down
Trisha O’Bannon, co-founder of the Now Open podcast, shared insights into what polyamory is in the Philippines, and how it’s perceived in Filipino culture.
She told Transcontinental Times that she realized polyamory was for her after an ex-boyfriend cheated on her. She said, “I had been in plenty of monogamous relationships before. But, I only date as a polyamorous woman now.”
She continued, “People always want to experiment and try out open relationships. But the truth [is] they want a single partner. When you want to settle down into an actual polyamorous relationship, they get iffy about [how].
Taking the step into polyamory
Jennifer*, a 43-year-old woman in Upstate New York, described how she played at the edges of polyamory for nearly a decade before she finally settled into a polyamorous relationship, feeling that rather than limiting her options, it opened up more possibility.
“I was first interested in the poly lifestyle after my separation. I dated poly people, usually at the same time, but I don’t think I’d gone far enough into “poly” life to really call myself more than openly dating…until now. Currently I am more seriously engaging in a poly relationship with a partner who has a non-sexual live-in relationship with his wife and children and also lives with a committed poly partner.”
Jennifer’s willingness explore polyamory came out of an examination of her friendships. “Wait,” she said. “I’m already sharing love with multiple people in my friendships.” The leap to including sexual intimacy wasn’t too far.
Any relationships that fall outside the mainstream can be challenging. Jennifer shared, “I like to go deep in intimacy and this seems difficult for me with more than two people, even maybe with two. I’m realizing that it seems more reasonable for me, both with regards to this as well as to my lifestyle that includes caring for young children for half of the week and working, to have a primary partner and be open to other possible, less frequent connections, both sexual/emotional or even more deeply emotional or spiritual.”
Religion and relationships
O’Bannon shared the additional challenge of practicing polyamory in a country where monogamy is deeply embedded. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic culture and monogamy is the far-reaching norm. She said, “[Others] don’t get what you are saying. Yet, they think monogamy is the only way to have an ethical relationship.
Communication is key
Communication and sharing time are two of the most difficult challenges. 43-year-old Zak expressed that these dual challenges brought his poly relationship to its knees. “Where I spend my time became a source of conflict, and jealousy often arose. If there is any insecurity on the part of a partner, it surfaces easily.”
O’Bannon echoed this concern, “Polyamory also faces challenges such as communication, time, and cautiousness in sharing with relatives or friends.”
The benefits must clearly outweigh the challenges for those who choose this alternative lifestyle. O’Bannon shared, “The benefits are more such as share household expenses, multiple emotional support, and sleep with anyone you want.” She added, “You can do the activities you want without a partner checking on you and the joy of sharing your partner(s).”
She continued, ”The beauty of polyamory is the decision of sexual relationships. You decide what you like. So, either you have one partner at a time or an orgy. But, with the consent of everyone involved.”
Polyamory appeals to those looking for freedom and mature partnership
O’Bannon, Jennifer, and Zak shared that having a close connection with multiple people allows for more complexity and nuance. While O’Bannon emphasized the sexual aspect of polyamory, Jennifer emphasized the emotional. “Most people in polyamorous relationships tend to be more “open, compassionate, and empathetic, and better communicators. They tend to seek more freedom, have a growth edge.” Zak shared that he too found that people who were interested in a poly lifestyle tended to be more mature, open, and better communicators.
For more information about the poly lifestyle, see: Vox YouTube series Explained.
*Name has been changed