Jane is an adult in the modern age, so she doesn't necessarily believe in "saving yourself for marriage". She doesn't think there's anything wrong with being in romantic relationships and expressing yourself sexually even if that partner turns out to not be The One. She's not a virgin and she doesn't feel "damaged" about that. Sure, she's had some partners in the past who she regretted sleeping with, but she's also regretted some meals she's had and some hair styles she's worn. She doesn't take it as a personal flaw, she just accepts that sometimes she makes poor choices and she tries to learn from her mistakes.
Jane is a monogamist. She had her first boyfriend when she was 16. She was so deeply in love with him. She wrote her first name and his last name in her school notebooks. She tied up her parents' phone line for hours. When that relationship ended in senior year, she was devastated. Then Jane went away to college. She went on a bunch of dates with a bunch of different guys. Not all at the same time, of course. But she'd go on a date or two with a guy, decide that he wasn't right for her, meet another guy, go on a few dates with him, etc. Then she met another guy who turned into a boyfriend for a few years. When that one ended, she decided to focus on her graduate studies and just had friends with benefits for a while.
Jane had a variety of different kinds of relationships before she found someone to marry. And after they got divorced, she had a couple more different relationships before finding the man who would turn out to be The One. Each of her relationships looked different from the others. Some were longer term than others. Some were more emotionally connected than the others. Some were short-term but deeply, intensely connected and some went on for a while but didn't take up too much of her emotional energy or attention. Some relationships were slow and sweet, while some were fiery and passionate fireworks. And, of course, some of them took more conventional pathways - building at the socially acceptable pace, moving in the socially acceptable direction, hitting the various milestones in the socially acceptable timeframe and the socially acceptable order.
The reason why I'm telling the story of Jane is because most people can hear her story, her history with a high school sweetheart followed by a period of experimentation followed by a deep, committed relationship, followed by a more "selfish" phase, followed by another deep, committed relationship ... people can hear that story and they can hear me call her a "monogamist", and no one bats an eye. Within the boundaries of monogamy in a culture that doesn't enforce the literal translation of the term (one marriage, implicitly for life), there is nothing contradictory between someone who ultimately hopes to find a single partner to marry and be sexually and emotionally fidelitous to that partner, and someone who has relationships that don't look exactly like that description. A person can be a monogamous person based on the kind of relationships they desire or prefer, regardless of what their current or past relationships look like.
And yet, 25 years after the term "polyamory" was first put into print, we still debate whether or not someone is polyamorous based on the description of their relationships at the exact moment of the debate. Is someone still polyamorous if they only have one partner? Is someone polyamorous if they have casual sex? Is someone polyamorous if they take their opposite-sex primary partner to sex clubs to hook up with people they meet at those clubs? Is someone polyamorous if they're unpartnered? Is someone polyamorous if they haven't yet been in a poly relationship?
We're still debating whether polyamory is an orientation or a choice. The truth is that it's both and neither. The word "polyamorous" can describe either a person (orientation) or a relationship (choice). Just like the sexual orientation spectrum, people can be to one side of the line or the other, or they can be somewhere in the middle where they can choose to participate or not and still be happy in their relationships.
I'm sick of this debate. Unless someone specifically states that they're non-monogamous, we assume people are monogamous by default almost no matter what their current relationships look like. There's no cognitive dissonance in our collective minds between someone being monogamous and someone having relationship structures that vary. Monogamy encompasses a wide range of things. Even cheaters are still accepted (generally) as being "monogamous". They're probably considered to be fucked up, but still monogamous unless that person has a pattern of cheating or has more than their established partner and one "mistress" or other partner that they're cheating with (more than 2 partners total).
There are several discussions and debates in the poly community that I'd love to never see again. This isn't even one of the more aggravating ones. And I, in particular, like to categorize things and put things into boxes and draw lines around like-things. This is poly, this is not poly. But I'd love to see the end of discussions questioning whether someone can be poly who also happens to like swinging, or who also happens to have a fuckbuddy, or who only happens to have one partner right now. Of course they can. Their swinging relationships might not be poly relationships, but they can still be poly people. Their poly relationships are still poly if the people in those relationships also happen to swing. Poly relationships, because of the etymology of the word, assume some sort of loving connection between the participants. But, in my opinion, part of loving someone is in accepting them for who they are. And if who someone is happens to be a person who also likes casual sex, then I see no problem with someone applying the label "polyamorous" to either themselves or their loving relationships even though that person also has sex-focused relationships, or even if they find themselves polysaturated at one partner.
Sure, I can get behind questioning the validity of using the poly label for a relationship that explicitly forbids the development of emotional connection with anyone other than the one partner in that relationship, or that explicitly forbids any kind of sexual activity outside of the core dyad. But a person in one of those arrangements can still be polyamorous themselves even if they agree to a non-poly relationship. And there is also the question of where those limitations are coming from - a relationship in which one partner has the power or attempts to limit the other partner's behaviour or emotional state in those ways could have its poly label questioned, whereas a relationship where neither partner is limiting the other but they just happen to find themselves in those situations due to their own choices or their own limitations is less up for that kind of questioning. So, if my partner told me that he didn't want me to fall in love with anyone other than him, you could probably question whether or not my relationship was "really poly". But if my partner was totally fine with me loving other people, and I just haven't found anyone else to love right now or I'm too busy with other things to be emotionally available to develop a loving relationship with someone else right now, I don't think that questioning the poly label is appropriate.
So, my point here is that, in many ways polyamory is just like monogamy. We like to reinvent the wheel, for some reason. We keep thinking that we're special snowflakes who are doing these totally different, totally unique things that we need all new rules and structures to deal with, but we really don't for most things. Monogamy covers a very wide spectrum of relationship structures and styles. Healthy monogamy does, anyway. So does polyamory. It can cover closed quads, it can cover open networks, and it can cover a bunch of things in between and to the side. A person can be polyamorous no matter what structure their relationship happens to be, even if that relationship is monogamous in structure. I think it's very valuable to be able to say "this is definitely poly" and "this is definitely not poly". I think it's valuable to be able to define and explain what things are and what they're not. But for the stuff in the middle, I think we need to stop fretting about them and just let them be. If Jane can be a monogamist while she's focusing on her studies and just goes out occasionally with a couple of guys for now, then we can be polys even if sometimes we like to swing or if we have relationships that have a more developed sexuality than emotional connection.
I totally get why a lot of the long-time poly activists and more experienced polys stopped hanging out in poly-centric social circles. After almost two decades of hearing the same fucking debates just because each new generation of newbies thinks that they're the first ones to come up with these questions and they don't want to accept the answers the veterans have already figured out, I now completely understand poly veteran burnout. I just wish there was a primer of some sort that we could just give poly newbies that says "Hi! So you're new to polyamory! We've already had the discussions you're about to start in your new poly groups! Here are all the answers so you don't have to ask us anymore!"
Oh wait, there are primers like that.
This came from a comment I made in the Facebook thread where I posted this same content. It's relevant, so I'm adding it here:
This is a tough one, because so many people are unable to distinguish between categorizing for language and communication vs. boxing people in. We have to be able to say "this is" and "this isn't" so that we can find each other, find ourselves, build solidarity, communicate, and yes, sometimes even "discriminate" (not in the sense of oppressing others, but in the sense of protecting oneself and/or one's community from those who would harm them). But at the same time, we can't get so rigid about those category definitions and labels that we end up being the ones to do the harm. Taxonomy is important, but it's important to remember that taxonomy is also messy.
So, take my previous rant on cheaters calling themselves poly. A poly person can cheat. The *relationship* that includes cheating isn't poly and I think we would be doing harm to the community and the cheating victim to allow cheating under the poly umbrella. But the person participating in cheating can still be poly, depending on how they felt about the cheating.
For example, I believe that the reason why I used to cheat is *because* I am poly. I just didn't know how to go about it. Those were not poly relationships, and the unethical harm I was causing made me seek another way so that I could stop cheating. That sense of ethics, that integrity, is what made me "poly" even while I was fucking up.
There needs to be both "this definitely is but that definitely isn't" as well as "this is somewhere in the middle and you're still welcome in the club".