What Is Polyfidelity?

3 seated figures photographed from behind
Image by Jalal othman / CC BY

Hi Page, 

I’m a woman who is currently in a relationship with two other women. I never planned for this to happen. My girlfriend and I had been together for a few years when a friend of hers confessed an attraction. I’m not proud of it, but at first I was pretty salty about it. I expected the worst, that this outsider was basically coming in and trying to break up my relationship with my girlfriend. 

Imagine my surprise when I fell in love with the friend, too, and not only that, but she liked me back. 

I’d never even considered polyamory to be something I was curious about or wanted to try. And all of a sudden, I was in a relationship with two women at the same time. 

It’s been a little over a year that the three of us have been seeing one another and overall it’s been great… well, except for one thing. And that’s why I’m writing to you. 

At first, we just kept to ourselves about it. Thank you for your blog though and for the Poly Land book – both helped me a lot in the early days.

We didn’t tell anybody at all that we were in an open relationship. But it started to get really weird and lonely, so I took your advice about going to meetups and finding discussion groups to try to make some polyamorous friends. For the most part, people were really nice, and I don’t blame you for this, Page, but I did run into a person at one event who really, really bothered me. 

I wanted to run by you what they said to me and get your take. They told me that me and my partners aren’t really polyamorous because our relationship is closed to new partners. They said that closed relationships are always exploitative and unfair. And that if I were really poly, our relationship would be open to new partners. 

I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to say. I just kind of walked away. Later, I realized I probably could have explained more, told them that our relationship is closed right now, but that it’s something all three of us agreed on. And it’s just for now at least, I don’t know what the future holds. 

After all, I didn’t think I’d ever be non-monogamous this way, and here I am. But for now it’s what the three of us all want. IF that changes, we could open. Who knows.

Anyway, are they right? Does this mean we’re not polyamorous? Thanks!

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Oh dear. Well, I’m glad you wrote in. Because I don’t agree with the person who said that to you. At all.

While there are many definitions of polyamory, it’s not at all difficult to find one that absolutely applies to your situation. Here’s one:

 the practice of participating simultaneously in more than one serious romantic or sexual relationship with the knowledge and consent of all partners

And another:

the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time.

And yet another:

the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved

If you look at all three of these definitions, you’ll note that there’s no mention of whether or not those multiple relationships are open or closed to new partners.

In fact, there’s actually a term for the specific type of polyamory you seem to be practicing.

It’s called polyfidelity.

What Is Polyfidelity?

Polyfidelity is a style of polyamory in which multiple people are committed to one another and are not open to new partners.

It’s a perfectly valid way to structure relationship systems — and so long as everyone who is in a polyfidelitous setup consents to the arrangement, it’s not exploitative at all. It’s basically just what everyone involved wants. I’ve known some polyfidelitous triads (three-person relationships where all members are involved with one another). They seem roughly just as happy and stable and healthy as the open triads I know.

I’ve also seen what you allude to in your letter, situations where a triad might be closed for a bit and then open later to new partners (and vice versa), depending on what’s going on in everybody’s lives and what everyone wants at any given moment.

It happens. Sometimes things change, and you will open a closed thing or vice versa. Just in case you or any other readers need it in the (near or distant) future, here’s an article on best practices for negotiating relationship agreements as well as an article about renegotiating existing ones.

But bottom line: You are polyamorous. More specifically, you’re polyfidelitous. And while it might not be for everyone, polyfidelity is a valid relationship structure that isn’t inherently exploitative or unfair, provided it’s what everyone involved wants.

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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