Here’s a dictionary definition, from Wikipedia:
“Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not exclusive with respect to other sexual or intimate relationships, with knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It may or may not include polysexuality (attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes).”
For me, the definition that resonates most is this one: “Consensual, ethical, responsible non-monogamy.”
Seems simple and to the point, but within that definition is contained a lot of rules, effort and work for anyone involved.
For something to be ethical, it must be consensual. For something to be ethical and consensual, it must be discussed, honestly, openly and among equals. Those involved must know what they are getting into, agree to it freely, without coercion of any kind, without emotional blackmail or fear of reprisals.
Polyamory is something I’ve always felt made logical sense, since before I ever heard the term. When I was young, I recall being confused by television plots that hinged on someone getting suicidally or homicidally upset by their boyfriend or girlfriend dating someone else behind their back. Why not just talk about it? I wondered.
In college, I always dated multiple people. I would go on dates and quite early on (like maybe before the main course arrived but after the salad?) I’d ask, So, how many people are you dating right now? It seemed to me a matter of basic respect that I would not assume they didn’t have other stuff going on, just as it was a matter of basic respect that they should tell me honestly if I asked. Often, this question seemed to take people back. Some friends applauded my blunt approach and others cautioned me not to ask questions like that because it would “send the wrong message” but it always worked for me. I believed (and still do) that it sends the accurate message that I value blunt honestly above pretty much all else; that I wouldn’t make assumptions but that you shouldn’t, either.
I can’t recall when I first learned the term “polyamory” but it was probably some time in college. I was involved in BDSM, sex education, assorted sex-positive clubs, parties, communities etc. Still, I didn’t start really identifying as such for some time, because it was so hard for me to understand why a “poly” life needed identifying, why most people wouldn’t just admit that they had emotional needs that went beyond whatever one person they were dating, why so many insist on denying that about themselves and their partners, and why so few people seem to take the time to have open discussions with their partners about what they want, what boundaries they will agree to, what they want out of their relationships.
To me, “poly” is a kind of shorthand for a type of highly conscious relationship-building. It indicates a high standard of honestly, forthrightness, a willingness to communicate a lot, and an ability to look at oneself in relation to others with an occasionally cold, analytical gaze.
It is also, despite several years of semi-incidental monogamy in my past, pretty much the only way I understand how to have relationships.
(How two highly conservative, monogamous, married, straight hetero parents produced me, I have no idea. It probably has something to do with all the fantasy and sci-fi books they left all over the house.)