This page attempts to clarify the issue of interrelatedness in poly relationships. For some it matters a lot while for others it makes little or no difference. Are both views equally substantiated?
The first step in answering this question with some semblance of objectivity is to remove our personal bias about our own relationships and examine how important interrelatedness is to the concept of polyamory itself. When we do that it doesn't take long to see that it's a central theme.
The symbol ( top left ) is known simply as the Infinity Heart. It is the predominant symbol for polyamory, consisting of a red heart symbolizing love integrated with an infinity symbol which symbolizes limitlessness. Logically if love is limitless it cannot be partitioned without compromising that limitlessness.
Therefore in order for the infinity heart to remain symbolically coherent, the concept of interrelatedness must remain intact. If we remove the interrelatedness we end up with an unconnected set of partners that cannot be differentiated from a picking pool, and that is closer to swinging than polyamory.
The photo ( left ), is but one among many similar images portraying polyamory as a group of people who are quite obviously interrelated. The members of these groups are not simply names out of a little black book with no relationship to each other.
An Internet search during 2017 for polyamory images turned up so many examples of people, hearts, or other symbols that were interconnected in ways suggestive of some degree of interrelatedness that it would be impractical to list them all here.
When there's such prevalent symbolism it's difficult to substantiate the position that it doesn't represent an important facet of the concept of polyamory. But does that mean that interrelatedness is absolutely necessary in order to be poly?TOP
Metamours are what poly people call their partner's other partners. Because of this they're also sometimes referred to as "POPs". If there is to be any interrelatedness between partners it would be between metamours. In a sense everyone in a poly relationship is a metamour of sorts. After all someone else cannot be a partner to your partner without you being the same to them. But just how interrelated are metamours? Consider what Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert say in their excellent polyamory resource guide More Than Two:
However close or distant your relationship is to a metamour can vary enormously. He might be your deeply bonded co-intimate in a group that sleeps together in one big bed, or a guy you've never met. Whatever the case, though, the word polyamory carries an implication of goodwill and well-wishing among the people involved - an understanding that "we're all in this together" to some degree or another. 1
But to what "degree or another" ( above ) are we talking about exactly? If we're talking about someone you've never met it seems rather difficult to hold the position that there's any interrelationship between you and them and anyone else. However physical separation doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a meaningful connection. After all, people have fallen in love over the Internet without ever having met in person.
So meaningful interrelationships between partners in a poly relationship are entirely possible whether everyone hangs out together or not. It can even be argued that when there's no direct communication between the various metamours that there are still significant lines of influence between all partners that affect everyone involved.
If it weren't the case that the are significant lines of influence between poly partners, then what's going on in the lives of poly partners wouldn't be relevant to deciding who and when to spend time with. But these things do matter. They are an essential component of a poly lifestyle.
"The two essential ingredients of the concept of polyamory are 'more than one;' and 'loving.' That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other." - The Ravenhearts
Still, it seems intuitively weak to suggest that those who have no direct in-person relationship with one another are interrelated in as meaningful a way as possible. Therefore it might be helpful to consider how important the concept of face-to-face interrelatedness is to the concept of polyamory. As it happens, Hardy & Easton include some very relevant and unambiguous commentary on this subject:
"Should you meet the metamour? We vote yes: If you don't, you'll almost certainly wind up imagining someone sexier, more predatory, and more threatening than anyone could be outside a Hollywood erotic thriller. Besides, who knows? - you might wind up liking them." 2
When they say "wind up liking them" ( above ), they mean that metamours can form meaningful relationships between themselves, and they include a case in point in which two metamours who were initially nervous and resistant to meeting in-person eventually developed bonds that were stronger than those between them and the person who introduced them.TOP
Based on the predominant symbolism and reference material it seems reasonable to conclude that interrelationships are a core component in the concept of polyamory, and that without connections between metamours there seems to be little to differentiate the arrangement from swinging.
Polys differentiate themselves from swingers because they are emotionally, not just sexually, involved with the other partners they date. And polyamorous arrangements are not quite the same as “open relationships” because in polyamory, the third or fourth or fifth partner is just as integral to the relationship as the first two are." - The Atlantic
However sometimes things aren't quite so cut and dried. Consider the case of one forum discussion participant I'll call Ellie, who was in a very meaningful relationship with two men. She shared homes, vacations, and even included each of these men as beneficiaries of her estate, but these two metamours had no person-to-person connection with each other.
In Ellie's case there aren't a plethora of partners, she is emotionally involved and deeply invested in complex lives with both of her partners. So is it really fair to class that as swinging? It certainly doesn't sound like the stereotypical vision of swinging as a lifestyle consisting of numerous superficial sexual encounters. Then again, what if the common view of swinging is just as misunderstood as polyamory?
"Although swinging couples often become close friends with other swinging couples, there are rules restricting emotional involvement with non- spousal partners. That said, the relationships that form between couples can easily and often become as emotionally complex as that of the married partners." - The Loveologist
If the relationship between swingers can become as emotionally complex as that of married partners, then clearly swinging is a much wider spectrum than the stereotypes portray, and the kind of relationship Ellie describes with her two men seem to fall within that spectrum. However she doesn't engage in swinging as a habitual lifestyle with numerous other men. Doesn't that count for something?
So far we've eliminated all the typical objections as to why Ellie's relationship falls into the swinging category except for the number of partners involved. So how many different partners are required in order to say that one is swinging from one to the another? According to the e-zine 29 Secrets, it's a complete myth that numerous partners are required for swinging:
Myth: Swinging is all about having multiple partners.
Dead wrong. Many couples prefer to stick to the simplicity of threesomes ( yup, those are considered swinging! ) or having one-on-one sex with a single outside partner in a night. Contrary to popular belief, swinging isn’t like those orgies you see in porn. - 29 Secrets
Once again we're left with interrelatedness as the deciding factor between swinging and polyamory. As described in Inset 04 ( above ), as soon as "the third or fourth or fifth partner is just as integral to the relationship as the first two", we move out of swinging territory and into polyamory.
So in truth, Ellie's relationship involves swinging back and forth between two unconnected partners, and it's only the stereotypical connotations of swinging as a superficial lifestyle that evokes any objection to that analysis.
In all likelihood there are many more poly people out there in a similarly disconnected situation who think their relationship is poly when that interpretation isn't well substantiated, but let's not be too quick to judge.
The most important thing to be reminded of about this analysis is that it isn't a judgement call on the personal value of relationships like Ellie's. It's simply an objective clarification of the concepts in order to have a more coherent understanding of how to differentiate polyamory from other types of relationships.