From polygamy to polyamory, we explore the ups, downs, ins and outs of having multiple partners.
During this period of quarantine, one major source of entertainment was Netflix’s Tiger King, which centered around kooky zookeeper Joe Exotic. Joe is a controversial figure because of his alleged animal abuse and scheme to have his rival Carole Baskin murdered. Among other eccentricities, he was also portrayed as seeming to practice polygamy.
Polygamy, the act of being married to multiple spouses at one time, is banned on the federal level in the United States. In polygamous relationships, the spouses know about each other and tend to function as one big family, like in the HBO series Big Love. (In Tiger King, Exotic is depicted as marrying zoo employees John Finlay and Travis Maldonado in a 2014 ceremony, though it’s uncertain how official or legal the three-way union was.)
While polygamy is prohibited by law in the U.S. and many parts of the world, polyamory—the practice of having multiple open romantic relationships at a time—is legal and, it seems, thriving. Jenny Yuen, a journalist in Toronto and author of Polyamorous: Living and Loving More, explains the difference between the two practices—in addition to their different legal statuses.
“Polyamory core principals involve multiple consensual loving relationships built on trust, honesty, respect, transparency and open communication.”Jenny Yuen
“Polygamy tends to be rooted in patriarchy, commonly practiced by Mormon and Muslim religions. Hinduism and Judaism have also practiced polygamy. Generally, it involves a hierarchy of one man and multiple wives,” Yuen notes. “Polyamory core principals involve multiple consensual loving relationships built on trust, honesty, respect, transparency and open communication.”
Dedeker Winston, a relationship coach and author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory: Everything You Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love, further explains that polyamory can take numerous forms, with varying numbers of partners and different degrees of commitment. For instance, in her own polyamorous relationship, she has two partners, and everyone is allowed to date and seek out other lovers.