Pros of polyamory: yes, three people CAN be in a loving relationship
Loving relationships involving more than two partners are becoming increasingly common as awareness of polyamory grows.
Being "poly" is defined as having more than one close romantic relationship at the same time, with everyone involved consenting. Polyamory is not polygamy, not swinging and not having affairs.
Instead, polyamory offered more intimacy and honesty with a variety of people than monogamy did, said women and men from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who embrace this style of relationship.
Sam*, 44, from Durban has been dating two men, one for seven years, the other for four. "I live with one partner and the other lives close by and is at our home frequently for dinner or just to hang out. I go to his home twice a week for dates.
"My two teenage children live with me, and they adore both of my partners. They get lots of support and care from them, and have extra adults to drive them, advise them, tutor them or just generally give hugs when needed," she said.
"Both of my partners have had other shorter-term relationships in the time we've been together. We all three expect to be in our current relationship configuration for many years to come, and we make medium- and long-term life plans together, including plans for family holidays with all five of us."
People tend to sensationalise having multiple partners. Polyamory does not mean sex every day. We still have to go to work and wash the dishesJai'prakash Sewram
Polyamory is focused on building deep relationships, according to its advocates.
Johannesburg actor and web developer Jai'prakash Sewram, 40, said: "People tend to sensationalise having multiple partners. Polyamory does not mean sex every day. We still have to go to work and wash the dishes. We still get headaches. But if I get sick, I could have two or three people looking after me."
He said some partners would schedule time together while others lived under one roof. "I know a family on the coast with four adults looking after two children in one household. They have multiple incomes and there are always babysitters."
Married couples with children who shift into polyamory suggest it benefits the whole family. After nine years of marriage, Erich Viedge and his wife got involved with others and their family of five is stronger now, he said. Viedge, his wife and his girlfriend, his girlfriend's husband and their children were happy to braai together. "I am a much better husband and dad now."
Polyamory is a type of "ethical consensual non-monogamy". It differs from "open relationships" in which partners accept casual sex, because polyamory is about loving more than one person at a time.
This is what prompted 35-year-old Jodi* from Cape Town and her partner of 10 years to open up their relationship three years ago.
She said: "I hated the fact that meeting someone else and feeling a spark of connection always had to be dampened by negative emotions like jealousy, betrayal, breach of trust and, above all, by guilt.
"I'm into the idea of being open to see where any connection you have with another individual may go - whether friendship, romance, intellectual, sexual etcetera ... Contrary to what many people assume about non-monogamous people, the idea of shagging around wasn't super-appealing to me, but the idea of being free to explore new connections was."
Polyamory had been growing slowly but steadily in South Africa over the past 10 years and was increasingly diverse, said psychosexual consultant Avri Spilka, who used to run the ZAPoly support group.
HOLAAfrica! blog editor Kagure Mugo posted: "Some of the most effective instances of polyamory involve queer brown women."
Researchers like Spilka think "some people are wired to have multiple partners".
Franklin Veaux, co-author of the book and website More Than Two, told the Sunday Times that polyamory was an increasingly popular choice for relationships. "More and more people are becoming aware of polyamory, and some people are realising it's a good fit for them."
Younger people in South Africa were experimenting with it, said Sewram.
Social media has made it easier for poly-inclined people to meet. One woman from Johannesburg said: "With Tinder and OkCupid, you can put upfront on your profile you are non-monogamous."
Polyamory has no one-size-fits-all model. A 38-year-old from Johannesburg said she had had relationships with men and women but liked her independence and was more of a "solo" poly.
KITCHEN TABLE PHILOSOPHY
Family groups or "pods", triads (three partners all involved with each other) and parallel relationships (men and women not involved with each other's partners) are popular arrangements.
Underlying this is the "kitchen table philosophy", whereby everyone gets on well enough to sit around the table. To reach this understanding, poly relationships require extra sensitivity towards all partners, self-awareness and 100% honest communication.
Stresses found in any relationship, such as jealousy, take a real commitment to resolve among multiple partners. Veaux said: "The downside of polyamory is that you have more than two people involved in your relationship. That is both a blessing and a source of stress."
Polyamory was not a fix for broken relationships and definitely not for people with commitment problems, he said.
"Just the opposite, in fact; people who can't commit to one person sure as hell can't make a lasting commitment to two."
*Not their real names.