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Terms & Definitions
This page is a guide to many terms associated with polyamory; some are academic terms used to address multiple partner relationships in academia, some are used seriously to communicate actual concepts, and some are a tongue-in-cheek way to both communicate a concept and to poke fun at ourselves for our penchant for coming up with terms. Some of the definitions given here, particularly colloquialisms, reflect the usage I am most familiar with. Some of the terms contain my personal opinions, experiences, and/or interpretations and follow the word Commentary. Links in the definitions will take you to that word's definition elsewhere on this page and [bracketed links] will open a new page to an outside site. There are a few terms here that cross over into other subcultures, which overlap with the Poly community, such as terms you might hear in reference to Swinging, New Age, or Fetish cultures, but mostly I tried to limit those only to terms that also have strong usage in the poly community, and/or terms that are often confused or misused by those less-informed about Polyamory. For more information about BDSM or the Fetish culture, visit [www.xeromag.com/fvbdsm.html] and [www.symtoys.com]
~ Literally: the literal translation of each of the components of the word.
Most of these terms were provided by [www.morethantwo.com/polyglossary.html], one of the best poly resources available. A few terms come from [www.polymatchmaker.com] and still others come straight from my personal dictionary.
A specific form of polyandry, practiced historically and occasionally still practiced in some portions of Tibet and Nepal, in which a set of brothers is married to the same woman. See also: Leviratic Marriage. Also: FRATERNAL POLYANDRY, LEVIRATIC POLYANDRY.
1. A state or condition of not engaging in marriage, or more generally not engaging in marriage or reproduction.
2. Sociology; of or relating to a society with no recognized rules or prescriptions on marriage, or which does not recognize marriage at all.
"Truly what I want is one person in this world who gets me. An anchor. Two or three people would be great, but really, everything after one gravy. ... I like "anchor" because it implies support without exclusivity (more anchors is better) and a state of connectedness without implying a sexual, live-in or hierarchical arrangement. My anchors could be a long-distance friend and an in-town lover; two live-in partners; a long-distance lover, an in-town friend, a partner and a metamour; or any other combination."Non-hierarchical alternative to the term "primary". See related core, satellite, comet, indoor / outdoor cats.
1. A relationship in which one person is married to two spouses. Gender of any spouse is not implied by use of this word.
2. Illegal In most Western countries; the crime of entering in one marriage while still legally married to another person; marriage fraud. See related polygamy, polygyny, polyandry. See related Enoch Arden Act.
Often mistaken for Rules-Based Relationships by people outside of the relationship when outcomes are similar, such as when one partner self-limits behaviour in deference to a partner's preferences. The difference is internal, where these relationships do not have any implied power exchange and neither partner has agreed to accept any degree of power over the other partner. These relationships operate on trust between the partners that each will choose to do things that honor and cherish the relationship, such as either complying with a request or being honest about not complying with a request so that accommodations for not complying can be made. Non-compliance is not viewed as a breach of the relationship or cheating, but a point at which a relationship may need to be adjusted.
These relationships will tend to address conflict within the relationship solely in terms that exclude other relationships while finding solutions to conflict solely within the relationship, i.e. if one does not feel one is getting enough time with the other, one will take care not to blame the problem on the other's new partner and to request a solution of increasing time together without specifying where that extra time should come from such as expecting the other to reduce time with the new partner. The expectation is that the other will want to honor the relationship and can find the extra time from wherever the other deems appropriate without requiring one to tell the other where it should come from. These relationships are built on a foundation of individuality, personal autonomy, and respect for differences. See related: New Paradigm Relating. Contrast: Rules-Based Relationships.
Commentary: Joreth Innkeeper originally coined this term to describe a partnership that felt, for all intents and purposes, like a "primary", emotionally speaking, but that was not a live-in partnership, had no intention of becoming a live-in partnership, and the partner was not ranked "above" any other partner in terms of power or priority-by-default because priority was assigned on a situational basis. But the emotions felt towards this partner and relationship felt as strong as any tradtional life partner, so another term that implied the strength of the emotions without the ranking was needed. See related anchor, satellite, comet, indoor / outdoor cats.
Commentary: Use of passive-aggressive behaviour and other tricks to sabotage her partner's other relationships identify this person. He or she may even not be aware of the behaviour, having the intention be subconcious. Sometimes it may be difficult to tell if someone is a cuckoo or a cowboy, especially if they deny being either. This is a person who claims to be polyamorous or legitimately "trying" but who blames his or her default monogamous status on coincidence. This person can say "of course I'm poly, it's not my fault all your partners dump you!" The difference between a cuckoo and a cowboy is that a cowboy tries to turn her poly partner into a monogamous partner, whereas a cuckoo doesn't try to change the poly partner, she only scares everyone else away so that the relationship is monogamous by default. This should not be confused with a person who historically identified as monogamous, legitimately attempts to engage in a relationship with a polyamorous person, then discovers he or she is unwilling to participate in non-monogamous relationships after the attempt. See related: Cowboy, Cowgirl.
Example: Quinn is in a relationship with Jordan. Quinn and Jordan have equal power to negotiate with each other regarding what their relationship looks like and nobody has more power than Quinn and Jordan to determine what the relationship between Quinn and Jordan looks like. Quinn is also in a relationship with Charlie. Quinn and Charlie have equal power to negotiate with each other regarding what their relationship looks like. Jordan does not have a say in the relationship between Quinn and Charlie, and Charlie does not have a say in the relationship between Quinn and Jordan. However, because Quinn loves both Charlie and Jordan, Quinn takes into consideration the feelings of both Charlie and Jordan when making important life decisions that primarily affect Quinn.
When decisions primarily affect Quinn and one of Quinn's partners jointly, then Quinn and that partner make joint decisions while the other person does not get to have equal or greater power to affect those decisions that do not primarily affect that other person. If the decision affects Quinn and one partner primarly but also affects the other partner partly, then Quinn and the first partner make the joint decision but the other partner gets to participate in the discussion because the other partner is partly affected by the decision. Quinn may have more responsibilities with Jordan than Quinn has with Charlie because Quinn lives with Jordan, but Charlie and Quinn have equal decision-making power about their relationship and Jordan does not have equal decision-making power about Charlie's and Quinn's relationship, whereas Charlie and Jordan have equal decision-making power about their relationship and Charlie does not have equal decision-making power about Quinn's and Jordan's relationship. Each person has equal partner to their partner in the relationship, not to their metamour. This is what makes it "egalitarian". See also: Non-Hierarchical Polyamory. Contrast: Hierarchy, Rules Based Relationships
Commentary: Some believe there are not necessarily two distinct styles of polyamory, those of Free Agent and Family-Oriented. But rather there is a continuum with Free Agent on one end and Family-Oriented on the other. Most people fall somewhere in the middle to one side or the other, with extreme examples of Free Agent resembling casual sex partners or friends with benefits where the partners have no contact and possibly even no knowledge of each other (but an acknowledgement of an open relationship or no sexual committment) and no say or influence on the Free Agent's daily life or important life decisions; and extreme examples of Family-Oriented resembling Polyfidelitous relationships where any new partner of anyone in the Polyfidelitous group automatically has an equal relationship with all other members of the group and the word or preference of someone within the group carries equal or greater weight on an individual's decisions than the individual's preferences themselves. Some people are capable of having relationships of varying degrees of emotional intimacy and may slide along the continuum at different times with different relationships.
As of the turn of the millenia, "Free Agent" is gradually losing common usage among poly circles and being replaced by "Solo Poly". See related: relationship anarchy.
FWB is not limited to the poly community. Monogamous people and those of other relationship styles may also engage in FWB relationships for the convenience of sexual activity without the obligations or emotional entanglement of more traditionally structured romantic relationships. Monogamous people in particular find FWB relationships very convenient when one has other time or attention obligations, such as a very busy work schedule, where they may want physical or sexual contact with another person but not have the time or emotional energy to devote to a more emotionally intimate relationship, or when they are not currently involved with anyone they consider to be The One but would like to maintain an active sex life in the meantime while they continue to search or wait for The One.
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