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Multiplying the love: A spotlight on polyamory

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Over the last decade, polyamory has become more widely accepted and popular in American culture. Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ+ people have been leading the pack, embracing alternatives to traditional forms of monogamy and multiplying the love in their lives.

However, with minimal representation of it in media and sometimes negative connotations, especially from the conservative right, the journey to finding acceptance and community with a polyamorous identity can be difficult.

Emma started dating her partner Andrew three years ago after meeting on Feeld and becoming good friends. Since she had never been a strong proponent of monogamy, she was hesitant to embrace the label of "polyamorous" at first.

"I've never really been great at monogamy, and most of my adult relationships have been nonmonogamous in some form," she said. "I resisted the label of polyamorous for a long time, mostly because I just didn't mesh with any of the poly people I met, so [I thought] I couldn't be like them. I'm not into tabletop board games. I'll never go to Burning Man. They just didn't feel like my people.

"It wasn't until I started to fall for Andrew that I recognized I had not only capacity but intense desire to cultivate multiple loving romantic relationships, so I begrudgingly accepted the label of polyamorous."

Eventually, Emma met Aliah, a college senior, on Tinder. At first, their relationship was fun and casual, two young people exploring their early twenties — and Emma had the perfect couch for Aliah to crash on after long trips to Seattle for roller derby. As the two grew into themselves, their relationship evolved as well.

"I was young and still exploring who I was and what I liked and wanted in relationships," Aliah said. "Our relationship fluctuated from open to nonmonogamous to solidly polyamorous as we grew up and figured out what worked."

True selves
For many people, the journey to polyamory has coincided with growing into their true selves. "Seven years ago, I was straight and monogamous and married — holdovers from a conservative, evangelical upbringing," Andrew said. "I wasn't happy about how my life looked and wanted more sexual exploration."

After getting divorced, Andrew started exploring polyamory in Seattle and eventually his Queer identity. "I found polyamory for its promise of sexual freedom and exploration," he continued, "but now, after six-plus years, I couldn't imagine doing relationships any other way: the joy of more abundant love, the personal growth, and the deeper relationships with friends and partners have all kept me pursuing polyamorous relationships."

Through polyamory, Emma, Andrew, and Aliah have found the freedom to explore different versions of themselves with the various people who bring them out. Together, Emma and Andrew shine as social butterflies, hosting stellar parties for holidays and birthdays. With Aliah, Emma enjoys the quieter sides of life. "A perfect day in our relationship is waking up early to hit some estate sales, getting brunch, and then ending the night on the couch with our pets, watching a documentary," Aliah said.

While Andrew and Aliah aren't dating each other (they each have other partners), they still share a deep friendship and mutual love for the people in their lives. "I love that I get to bear witness to Andrew and Aliah's beautiful friendship," Emma said. "They support each other's relationships with me, but they also support one another as individuals. The three of us are a family, and while it's not traditional, it is spectacular."

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Growth and learning
Opening themselves up to the possibilities of love all around has encouraged growth in Emma, Andrew, and Aliah's personal lives and relationships. "I grow so much through my relationships, and being polyamorous has given me even more opportunities to grow," Andrew said. Holding space for multiple relationships means he can process feedback from his partners easily, especially when multiple people tell him the same thing. Andrew's relationships have also helped him to process his big emotions.

For Aliah, polyamory is about exploring the different dynamics each relationship brings. "I discover and nourish different sides of myself in every relationship I am in. It is so cool to see how I show up and what others bring to each dynamic," she said. Polyamory has also helped her become a more confident, independent, and self-assured person.

For Emma, polyamory is about learning what trust and love look like in relationships, each of which has brought her closer to herself. "I've done a whole lot of growing (and growing up) in these two relationships," she said.

When Emma first started dating Andrew, she identified as a Lesbian. "I didn't ever trust or like men," she said. "And I certainly couldn't ever see myself falling in love with a man." Her relationship with Andrew opened Emma up not only to the possibilities of polyamory but also to the idea that people can be surprising. "He showed me that men can be kind, gentle, and soft. He showed me the type of man that I adore," Emma said.

While Andrew taught Emma to accept kindness from others, Aliah helped her discover how to provide kindness to herself. "I met Aliah at a pivotal moment in my life," Emma said. "I was depressed, had an unhealthy relationship with substances, and lacked any kind of direction. I always say she didn't heal me, she gave me a reason to want to heal myself. I'm so grateful for that."

Mutual support
Two years ago, Emma received the devastating news that her father's health was rapidly declining. While she got on the first plane she could, Aliah and Andrew found comfort in each other.

"I called Aliah to ask how she was doing, and we ended up hanging out and keeping each other company that evening," Andrew recalled. "It was really nice — hanging out with each other was a welcome distraction from the tragedy at hand. We could both be present whenever Emma called to check in, and it all felt like the best way to support each other while our shared partner was in crisis. Despite the sadness of the situation, that felt really special and a unique moment in a relationship like this."

"This, to me, is an example of my absolute favorite part of polyamory: the community," Aliah added. "There is something so special about being in a group of people that are all interwoven and connected in so many intimate ways, [who] can all show up and support one another and share the load of community care."

While their relationships, like any, are full of complexities, the moments full of love make it worth it. "I won't pretend that polyamory is always easy. It's not," Emma said. "It's relationships on hard mode, and that can be painful, complicated, and messy. But moments like this remind me that it is so worth it."