The room can barely fit the over 50 visitors who come here from all over the region to meet like-minded people. The group is very mixed: it ranges from teenagers to people well over 40, and features pan-sexuals, BDSM-practitioners, a person on a wheelchair and even parents with their young kids. And so is the diversity of their relationship situations: some have been avidly practicing polyamory for years, others are simply curious to try out new things, and a few are just monogamous “tolerating partners” of their polyamorous spouses.
“When my ex-girlfriend first brought me here, I soon ran away,” Alias recalls during the round of introductions. He was a mono-partner in a poly-relationship for years, and now is starting to newly explore polyamory once his relationship broke apart. He still shares a flat with his ex-girlfriend, and it still feels like a cosy marriage: they cook together, take care of their cat, and plan purchases in the supermarket. Even though M. is now in engaged in a new polyamorous relationship.
M. is one of the few people from the community who doesn’t mind speaking on camera about her polyamorous views and experiences. She readily answers personal questions, but she does not want to be recognized. That is why her name has been changed and her face is only half-lit.
Polyamory can take different shapes and sizes, and also has different origins, says Stefan Ossmann, a PhD-candidate on the topic of polyamory in the University of Vienna. He divides polyamorous relationships into two basic groups: “poly by choice” and “poly by nature”. The former subsumes people who, just like M., always felt that they want to build emotional and sexual bonds with more than one person. “If it’s in you, and you haven’t chosen that, it will be there for the rest of you life. You can live it or not, but if you don’t live it, you suppress it. It is irreversible”, says Ossmann. “Poly by choice”, in contrast, means that people made a conscious decision to become polyamorous at some point in life, and this decision can be reversed at any moment.
Regarding the form of relationships, polyamory is very flexible and has literally no limits to the number of people involved and the combinations of connections. “There is no most common model. Everything is possible,” says Ossmann, talking about his attempt to categorize such relationships. Vee relationship is a form where one person has the relationships with two partners who are not connected to each other. This model is typical for heterosexual people. “Closed triads”, in contrast, are more common among gays - three lesbian, or three gay men. These are not open external partnerships. The largest form of polyamorous connection is called a polycule - it is open at all ends. It can start with three people at the core and have growing connections in different directions that are constantly evolving. The biggest polycule in the Ossmann's research contained 35 people.
Ossman’s explanation of this is simple - he thinks it can be attributed to the lack of legal protection for polyamorous relationships. “If you are invited to a corporate party and you bring your gay partner, they can’t fire you. But if you decide to take your girlfriend and her second boyfriend with you, theoreticall they can fire you”, explains Ossmann. He says, however, that there have not been such legal cases yet.
M. is not fine with the fact that polyamorous people do not have a place in the entire social system that is build around couples: “If I want to marry my two partners - I cannot. If I want to have children with two different partners - how do I ensure that kids have the legal support? And if I die, my belongings will also not automatically go to all of my partners”.
She also thinks that polyamory is neither understood, nor accepted in society on a personal level. Scarce statistical data available on the attitude to polyamory in the USA confirms that the majority does not think that polyamory is acceptable. According to research by YouGov, 56% of Americans consider polyamory to be morally wrong, with just one quarter of the country regarding it as morally acceptable. Even less can people imagine assuming a polyamorous lifestyle themselves - 64% of Americans say they would not forgive their spouse for having an affair, a Gallup poll revealed.
M. often feels that she is being judged before people even get to know her. “Just because of my polyamory and the feelings that I have, they think that I am not responsible, or that I haven’t found true love”, M. says. She wishes that there were more people who speak openly about the needs of poly people and who would shed some light on this theme.