Is polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?

Guest post by Kevin Patterson
Is polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?
Infinite Love polyamory pendant necklace from Odyssey Craftworks
My husband recently told me that he is thinking more and more about a polyamorous lifestyle. He told me that he feels he needs to come out of the closet as poly.

Aside from all of the considerations for the relationship itself (I saw you already address that well here and here), I’m more interested in what being poly actually means as we learn more about it.

Does he mean that he thinks it is an inherent part of his personality that can’t be denied or is it a lifestyle choice alone? I guess I’m just not sure what “coming out of the poly closet” actually means.

Any help? – F

Hi, F! There’s a lot to process in your relationship right now, so I’m glad you saw those previous posts about how to handle those changes, if there are to be any. But the flip side of it truly is so interesting. I know there is a way of thinking that being poly can be something along the lines of “I’m just not wired for monogamy,” and is, in fact, a way of BEING instead of just a way of LIVING.

I am no expert on this so I reached out to Kevin Patterson, a married man in Philly who lives a polyamorous lifestyle with his wife Antoinette. They were even featured on to give voice to modern polyamory. Kevin has written a book called Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities. Kevin was also inspired to start Poly Role Models, an interview series for people describing their experiences with polyamory.

Is polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?
Kevin Patterson

Even though there is no consensus at present from psychological or medical communities on whether polyamory is a specific orientation, a biological inclination, or a behavioral relationship preference, we can seek some help from the community itself.

Here’s what Kevin shared with us…


Polyamory as an orientation and polyamory as a practice can play out in two completely different ways. A lot of people embrace polyamory as an identity. They don’t feel it’s something they can switch on or off. They feel unsatisfied or restrained by monogamy. While they may develop strong emotional bonds for people outside of their current relationship, it doesn’t change how they feel about those within it. Often it’s something that’s felt throughout life but without the language or modeling to properly describe it. Polyamory as an orientation in itself requires is a bit of self-awareness.

But polyamory as a practice requires honesty and an ethical approach with each partner or prospective partners. It requires intention to maintain multiple relationships. And there’s the rub! First time polyamorists often aren’t polyamorists at all. Sometimes, they are just conflicted monogamists who are looking for a way to keep one foot on the dock as they measure the distance before jumping to the next boat. Hopefully, this isn’t the case here. But a good way to proceed safely for those involved is to research. We’re at an unprecedented time of advanced resources about polyamory. There are so many books, articles, online forums, and real-life community meetups. You can move forward slowly and take in as much information as you can to avoid common pitfalls. And trust me…there are tons of them. Either way, it can be an easy ride or a damn deadly one. But it’s really all about the people involved and their willingness to work for it.

More resources on polyamory:

Comments on Is polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?

  1. I really like what Kevin has to say in response here. From my own perspective in my partnership that has been polyamorous for the last two years, I feel like it’s an undeniable part of my identity just as clear as knowing that I’m queer. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I finally had the framework of polyamory in front of me providing an alternative to monogamy that actually felt like me. On the flipside, I think my partner experiences polyamory much more as a way he’s choosing to live his life with me. The good news here is that both of us have embraced these different perspectives individually and together quite successfully. Orientation or lifestyle choice, polyamory really encourages you to embrace each other’s differences with a ton of love and respect. It has (and does) take a lot of communication and compassion, but the longer we’re in it, the more we feel able to celebrate how polyamory has enriched both of our lives in different ways!

  2. My poly-ness feels a lot like my bi-ness. I am happy and healthy in a poly relationship, but just like I can date/be in love with a man or a woman (or a non-binary person), I can chose to participate in a poly relationship, or in a monogomous relationship. But I also respect that poly people have a spectrum the same way that attraction to genders is along a spectrum. I think it’s different for different people.

Join the Conversation