I am talking about the overlaps between polyamory and swinging at the upcoming Beyond The Love Polyamory conference. It’s November 13-15 in Ohio if you are interested. http://www.beyondthelove.org/
Anyway, even though there are those who are judgmental on both sides, I think there is a lot of overlap and I am perfectly happy with a foot in both worlds. That said, I do think that there can be issues because it isn’t always clear when it is poly and when it is play.
There are plenty of swingers who are very clear in the fact that their boundaries are to avoid catchin’ feelings as Naughty By Nature called it in OPP. To those who are emotionally monogamous, you are making it easier on yourself. In this case, if it’s not your married partner, then it’s play. You might get butthurt over rejection. But being offended is a long way from being broken hearted.
Then there are swingers who prefer their sex with friendship. Maybe they like it friends first. Maybe they like it fuck first, friends second. In either case you are slipping down the slope and starting to behave like poly people whether you embrace that term or not. There are levels of friends. Some are really just acquaintances, some are besties, some are fuckbuddies, some are closer than family. You may hang out constantly if the sex is great or if they are just fun people. But at what point does it become “love”? I love my good vanilla friends and would be there for anything. It’s not the same as with my partners, but then I’m not having sex with them either. At what point does the type of love cross the line?
On one hand, it doesn’t matter. As long as you are with swingers with a common understanding of how this game works then it is fine to have strong bonds with the people you swing with. Even if it’s unspoken, experienced people know the deal. You can be good friends but only up to a point. For many, if you cross the line and they see you as a threat to their primary relationship, you are likely to get dumped, cut off from sex and friendship and never talked to again. Maybe that’s rough but that’s the way it goes.
Then there are the pure polyamory people. Some of them argue that any close intimate relationship falls under polyamory. Even if there is no sex. By this view people who you are good friends with would count as a polyamory relationship. And if you cuddle or have sex with them then it is definitely a relationship and since you have multiples then it is polyamory.
Trouble can ensue if you cross poly leaning people with swingers. Especially if said swingers are also poly. If poly people are crossed with regular swingers, they will learn the ropes even if it is the hard way. But if poly leaning people start hanging out with swingers who like friends with benefits and have a history of being poly, they can start assuming that what is going on is also poly. Assuming is always a bad thing in swinging or poly where things need to be based on clear communication.
My answer to the title question, when is it poly is this: It is poly when all parties involved have clearly communicated and agreed it’s poly. It’s poly when you discuss the nature of the relationship and the level of commitment. Without that, you may be mistaking good friendship swinging for polyamory.
So as a service to the community, here is a partial list of things that may either be crossing the line depending on the type of swinger you are, or may confuse you into thinking you have a poly relationship when the other person doesn’t see it that way at all.
Spending the night
Spending the weekend together
Spending lots of time together repeatedly
In general doing vanilla things together
Getting together to hang out and not having sex
Separate dates (if you are a couple)
Referring to it as a date
Separate room sex
Agreeing to be fluid bonded
Talking about mundane vanilla friendship topics like work or your childhood
Talking about polyamory in a generic sense
Meeting their kids
Getting birthday gifts
Getting Christmas gifts
Getting Valentine’s gifts
Saying “I love you”
You may not agree with that last one. But some people use if a lot more freely than others. Some will say it in the heat of the moment. Some will say it to people they still just view as friends. So if you want a poly relationship and are playing with swingers, use your communication skills to ensure everyone is having the same view of what the relationship is about.