Doing the Poly Math: A Millennial’s Take on Dating Multiple People at the Same Time

It’s Saturday night. A quarter-past-two a.m. and I’m texting the man I’ve loved for three years, who lives 1,200 kilometres away. I end with an ‘I love you’ and a beating heart emoji and smile for a moment at his reply. Then I turn around and kiss the man I’m in bed with.

Contrary to what you might imagine, this is not a classic cheating scenario.

My long-distance partner of three years, the man I’ve been dating for six months and me, are all polyamorous.

Simply put, it means that we are free to enter into consensual, intimate and (occasionally) sexual relationships with multiple people.

Also, by the rules we’ve set for ourselves, we have no concept of a primary partner. We treat all our relationships in their separate niches as equally important. To a large proportion of my acquaintances and friends, even the most progressive of them, this would seem like a sure-shot recipe for disaster.

For someone like me, however, having had my fair share of monogamy, no-strings-attached and unaccountable romances, a polyamorous relationship is, by far, the least toxic bond I’ve ever been in.

Despite its normalisation into our society, it is monogamy that is a relatively recent phenomenon in Indian culture.

Polyamory isn’t as alien a concept as you think

Polygamy and polyandry have been intrinsic parts of our epics such as the Mahabharata and find mention in the Vedic period, too. Examples of intimate connections between Sufi saints and their disciples, beyond the ambit of their marital relationships, are prolific. Ancient Indian philosopher Vatsyayana perhaps summarises it best in his treatise Kamasutra from the 3rd century CE by saying, ‘Passion knows no order’.

What conventionally began as more of a legal arrangement to define rights of succession and property, has grown into a behemoth of social morality and conduct. Over the past few centuries, as a by-product of the Victorian era, the very definitions of romance, relationships and marriages have become synonymous with organised heterosexual monogamy.

Even as the younger India is gradually broadening its perspectives, increasingly opting for civil partnerships, live-in relationships, and even open sexual arrangements, a large section of millennials still remain uncomfortable with the idea of multiple “meaningful” relationships.

The idea that one can share a romantic comfort level with multiple people beyond mere sex tends to bring in a sense of disloyalty and inadequacy, mostly because of the way contemporary culture has developed the myth of “one true love.”

Polyamory in common parlance still continues to be associated with interpretations like “being confused,” “cheating” or having an “irrepressible sex drive”.

The first question I am most often met with is usually “Don’t you love your partner?” quickly followed by “How can you share the person you love with someone else?” Occasionally, it’s a whispered “Is the sex bad?”

However, a large part of being polyamorous stems from recognising that my ability to care for one person is not hindered by my love for another. My relationships are organised on the same principle as my close friendships – every one of them is indispensable, each one of them unique.

As Dossie Easton pertinently states in her book The Ethical Slut,

“…faithfulness has very little to do with who you have sex with. Faithfulness is about honoring your commitments and respecting your friends and lovers, about caring for their well-being as well as your own.”

To those treading the adventurous waters of millennial dating, if polyamory sounds like the coolest concept in the Universe since portable WiFi, a word of caution – it generally requires a lot more work than monogamy.

While such relationships are traditionally considered a convenient excuse for promiscuity, the dynamics of such bonds entail the polar opposite.

The greater autonomy to determine the dimensions of one’s relationships comes only with larger responsibilities and a need for crystal clear communication with all partners, a mechanism that further requires you to be immensely secure in your sense of self-worth.

Notwithstanding the pressures and misaligned expectations that it sometimes imposes, it is romantic monogamous love that continues to be a selling point in popular culture whenever the idea of ‘settling down’ is broached.

As I lie in bed with one person, firmly in love with two people, I realise that if this were a movie or a book, I would be expected to choose between them at some point. But this is my life, and here and now, at least, I get to decide my own climax.

Amrita is a 25-year-old with an MA in Applied Economics from JNU who writes to find goodness in a haywire world.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty