The Valentine’s season often heightens one’s awareness of the presence of couples—hand in hand, enjoying time spent together, and perhaps even sharing a kiss or two. For many, this is the de facto image of love and romance: one person cherishing the presence of another romantically. However, this vision of romance does not necessarily hold up in every situation, especially not for people who are open to the idea of polyamory.
Being in a polyamorous relationship only differs from “normal” or monoamorous relationships in that the former involves multiple consenting partners, often in the form of a primary couple that engages with other partners romantically. This isn’t to be confused with an open relationship, where members of the relationship are free to take on new partners at any time with the knowledge of their partner; polyamory requires the consent and knowledge of everyone involved regarding the parameters of the romantic relationship, functioning as a loving partnership between multiple people.
In a deeply Catholic country where having a single partner is the standard, there is the question of whether or not polyamory has a place in the Philippine dating scene, as such relationships are uncommon and often considered taboo locally. After all, given the difficulty to even discuss matters beyond conventional heterosexual relationships in the country, one can imagine just how difficult it may be to factor in the concept of multiple partners in that discussion.
For skeptics, there will be questions digging into the nature of polyamorous relationships and whether it may be possible for relationships with multiple partners to find a place in the modern day status quo. The discussion of polyamory challenges the conventional composition of romantic relationships, begging the question of what it means to love and be loved today.
For Trisha O’Bannon, a freelance writer currently in a polyamorous relationship, the truth has always been simple. It began at a get-together with friends, where she casually mentioned to her then-partner that she wouldn’t mind if he dated other people. A series of serious conversations with him later ended with both of them deciding that they were open to exploring polyamory.
A few years and a few partners later, Trisha has become more certain that polyamory is the right fit for her. While others might see polyamorous relationships as a recipe for disaster, she has never deemed this to be the case, having found openness and genuine joy in being honest—not just with her partners, but most of all, to herself. “[When meeting prospective partners,] I usually say something like, ‘I’m non-monogamous, and while I could be exclusive for a short period of time while we get to know each other and grow our relationship, I will want to open the relationship up eventually. Is this something you could see yourself exploring?’” Trisha says, alluding to the blunt nature of her polymorous lifestyle.
Even though some secondary partners do sometimes end up quitting the arrangement after realizing polyamory is not for them, Trisha attests that there is no harm done. After all, getting to know oneself—our own wants and needs—is the crux of dating.
Most of the time, Trisha can be found at home with the person she considers her primary partner, doing chores, cooking, and enjoying each other’s company. However, there are days when the two spend time apart—sometimes going on separate dates. They share partners apart from each other, and Trisha shares an amicable relationship with her partner’s other lovers, sharing that they “all cuddle on occasion”. For her, intimacy isn’t necessarily limited to being shared by two people; rather, it is endlessly redefined through the different configurations of human connection.
The many shades of romance
While more people are starting to accept other forms of romantic relationships, there still exists a considerable number of stereotypes surrounding polyamory. An example would be the common misconception that the appeal of polyamory boils down to the sexual aspect of relationships. This is partly due to the conservative culture in the Philippines that values romantic fidelity and popular culture’s often sensationalized depiction of non-monogamy, featuring a limited and negative view that emphasizes it as a practice scandalous in nature.
However, Sin Posadas, a non-binary social media specialist and tabletop game designer, believes that while polyamory may provide the freedom of greater sexual expression for some, it can also offer so much more. “I believe that as with any relationship, intimacy can be a great thing and a big part of it, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t be the only part of it,” they say. “The overwhelming love from multiple partners, the different shades of it, the support—all these things weigh far greater than [the sexual aspect of the relationship].”
Another common misconception is that the lifestyle is for those unable or unwilling to commit to a single partner. Trisha laments this misunderstanding, saying, “In my experience, ethical non-monogamous people are very expressive about their love and commitment—it just so happens to manifest in a different way.” She continues, “Being in a non-monogamous setup doesn’t mean that you aren’t happy with your partner; you could be very satisfied with your relationship and still want to experience other people.”
The freedom to be more honest about love and being loved is a relief that goes beyond words for Sin. “When you have a partner that gets it, you no longer have to worry about being punished for wanting and desiring ‘too many people’,” they share. They don’t need to make themselves smaller to fit into a narrow definition of relationships; without fuss, they are seen and understood, no questions asked.
Being extroverted by nature, Trisha relishes meeting new people and establishing new connections, a trait that meshes wonderfully with her polyamorous lifestyle. “That’s the most rewarding part of it for me—the connections I make with others aren’t limited by the rules of monogamy,” she explains. “If I meet someone I want to be friends with, great. If I meet someone who can offer me more, I’m free to explore where that relationship will take me.”
For people like her, commitment isn’t exclusivity—it’s a capacity to be maximized, and a notion for anyone to freely define for themselves. With polyamory, Trisha is able to love on her own terms. Whether with her nesting partner or a secondary partner, she is in the relationship because she knows that she has the capability to love, respect, and care for all of them.
There is no rule dictating how love between individuals should be expressed; what works for one may not work for another. Monogamy is a concept molded by culture, and like many other things dictated by tradition, the way we view romance and relationships is constantly evolving, being negotiated and redefined to accommodate alternative sensibilities that can be just as valid.
The manifestations of human connection are eclectic and diverse, and while complete societal acceptance of polyamory may not come for a long time, efforts toward a greater awareness of our differences will lead to a time when love can surely be celebrated in all its many forms.