Cheating and polyamory: Know the difference

  • 2 min to read

People have always cheated on their romantic partners, and people have always tried to find excuses for it. One harmful excuse seems to be creeping up more often recently. That excuse is that it’s not cheating if the person is polyamorous.

Someone who is polyamorous is open to having more than one romantic or sexual partner at one time. Several people who are polyamorous could form a relationship where, to put it simply, more than two people are dating each other. An article on advocate.com states that a polyamorous relationship is also known as “consensual non-monogamy.” The key word there being consensual.

This might come as a shock to some people, but cheating is never consensual. That’s what makes it cheating.

Having a partner on the side without everyone involved knowing about it isn’t a polyamorous relationship, even if the person dating multiple people is polyamorous. Still, this seems to be a common excuse, especially on social media. People will go searching for help after they’ve been cheated on by their polyamorous partner, and it makes the entire polyamorous community look bad as a result.

I really shouldn’t have to tell people not to cheat on their partners. Honestly, even if I did, it’s not like it’d change anything. Someone who’s already cheating or thinking about cheating is a little too far gone for a newspaper article to change their mind.

What is worth talking about, though, is how to do a polyamorous relationship right.

I’ll give cheaters the benefit of the doubt and say that, sometimes, people don’t know they’re cheating. If they’re polyamorous, they might be assuming what they’re doing is OK until it blows up. Do I believe that’s the case with every situation like this? No, of course not. Some people cheat just to cheat and know full well what they’re doing. Do I think that there might be cases of this happening at some point, somewhere? Well, it’s not impossible.

Ask any polyamorous person and most will say the same thing: These sorts of relationships are all about communication. That’s what makes them vastly different from cheating. If someone’s cheating, they’re probably trying to avoid communicating as much as possible.

The website morethantwo.com provides my favorite explanation of this:

“Polyamory is defined by informed consent of all the participants. Without it, it [isn’t] poly. If you can’t invite your lover over to Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of your family because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing, it probably [isn’t] poly.”

If fundamental aspects of a relationship are being hidden, it’s cheating. Moreover, it’s going to hurt people. Being poly is about love and trust.

Cheating and polyamory: Know the difference

This doesn’t stop people from demonizing it. According to a Vice article about polyamory, where the — obviously monogamous — author talks about our apparent, “jealousy that comes along with that rabid desire for multiple partners.” I’m honestly too amused to be hurt by this.

It’s really not that hard to respect people whose relationships differ from the norm. If that proves to be too difficult for some people, it’s even easier to hold negative comments in and talk about them privately. Even easier than that, though, is to not cheat in a relationship, especially under the guise of polyamory.

If someone wants a polyamorous relationship, they’d better talk with their partner about it. And if they get a no, then they need to respect that no or leave to find someone they’re more comfortable with. It’s common sense.