When I tell people that I am engaged in a polyamorous relationship, I get a wide variety of reactions. Often I hear "what does that mean?" or "I could never do that." However, perhaps most often, people ask me, "Isn't that just an excuse to cheat?"
Short answer? No.
But I know that will not suffice, so I will now provide the long answer to this ever pervasive question.
At its broadest, polyamory is defined as the state of being romantically or sexually involved with more than one person at the same time. Contrary to popular media portrayal, polyamory is more than just couples looking for the occasional threesome.
Polyamory takes a number of forms. I, for instance, am in a triad, a relationship between three people. In my relationship, all three partners date each other exclusively. Triads can take a number of other forms, however, such as one partner who has two partners who do not see each other, and so on and so forth.
Furthermore, polyamory takes on a number of forms beyond this, to relationships where someone can maintain any number of separate relationships to a group of any size dating each other exclusively. The possibilities for polyamory are numerous, and they cannot be explained in one just one article.
Now that I've explained some of the basics, I will most back to the question of cheating. Cheating is the act of being unfaithful to your significant other through lying and deception. As polyamory involves relationships with multiple people, those who are uninformed often grow confused about how the two differ.
Polyamory maintains a number of tenets that should be followed, among them communication and honesty. The most important of these (at least in my mind) is that all polyamorous relationships must be consensual. This prevents a husband who got caught cheating from claiming he is polyamorous. All parties must understand what polyamory is and they must consent to being involved in such a relationship. Without consent, a relationship cannot be defined as polyamorous.
When a partner cheats on their significant other, they do not ask for their consent. They do not communicate their wish to engage in a relationship outside of their current one, and their partner does not consent to this occurring. As such, polyamorous relationships are not cheating, as all partners (in a perfect world) have consented.
Now, I am not claiming that people in polyamorous relationships cannot cheat. In fact, quite the opposite. In polyamorous relationships, boundaries must be set. In mine, it is that we exclusively date each other. If one of my partners would find someone else they wanted to see and began dating them without talking to us about it, they would cheating. There is an endless multitude of ways this could occur in other polyamorous relationships, so I won't go into all the details. Suffice it to say, however, cheating in polyamorous relationships is possible.
Despite this, polyamorous relationships are not synonymous with cheating. There is, in a healthy polyamorous relationship, consent given by all parties on all fronts. There is no deception or lying. That is how polyamory differs from cheating, and that is why, no, I am not cheating. And for the record, I truly do not appreciate you implying that I am.