Just when you think you have it all sorted out, along comes a barrage of new terms and definitions and labels.
“Did you know that we practice parallel polyamory?” I told my lover over coffee last weekend.
“Say what?” she asked, winking. “I thought it was called ‘scissoring.’” Katie is always joking around!
What I meant was, Katie’s husband—her metamour—and I don’t sleep together, or even really know each other, more than to nod and say hi.
I also engage in “kitchen table polyamory” with a lover and his girlfriend and her boyfriend. In fact, all of us have been lovers in some combination, sometimes all at once—but we aren’t a polycule. Old fashioned lingo that is becoming popular again might say we are “swingers,” but we would never call ourselves swingers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
If you’re like me, you’re not too concerned about the ways that people try to box you in and figure you out, whether from inside or outside the polyamory community. I go with my own flow and don’t like to get too political. For example, I don’t have a primary partner but when I do, I don’t tend to call it that. And when I don’t, I don’t think in terms of “solo polyamory.”
The whole point of poly life for me was freedom to live and love without getting caught up in someone else’s definitions and dictation of rules and constraints.
However, I can also see the utility of the growing glossary of polyamory. The very vocabulary that, to me, can feel limiting, actually helps us navigate and negotiate what we want and explain or communicate with each other and with those we love who don’t practice or understand polyamory. Having language to describe concepts, however clunky or awkward it might seem during its evolution, helps with all the sorting.
What is Parallel Polyamory?
Parallel polyamory is kind of the default setting of polyamory.
It simply means that you and your lovers have separate relationships that don’t overlap one another. You aren’t dating your lovers’ other partners, and you don’t have close friendships with them.
Let’s say you start dating Theresa, who is married and polyamorous. Since you met in poly circles, you know she isn’t “cheating” and doesn’t have to hide her involvement with you.
Lately, you drop her off at home and have said “howdy” to her husband who was mowing the lawn the last time you pulled in. You swapped a bit of small talk about sports and the weather, but have no plans to mingle over dinner plans or at poly mixers.
Theresa doesn’t know Sabrina, either. She knows you are longtime lovers with a woman by that name but has never met her and doesn’t plan to. She and Sabrina will not be lovers, even if they chance to meet, because of their involvement with you.
This is parallel polyamory. It simply means that the relationships you and your lovers have with others is parallel to yours, but is not intertwined.
Kitchen table polyamory is when all of you are comfortable mixing over morning coffee in your pajamas.
Types of Parallel Polyamory
Arguably, there are as many “types” of polyamory, parallel or otherwise, as there are singles, couples, throuples, and polycules.
To simplify here though we will refer to the two main categories, or motivations, of parallel poly life. They are intentional parallel polyamory and circumstantial parallel polyamory.
Intentional Parallel Polyamory
Intentional poly is when the relationships run parallel because that is how you intend it to be. Many poly people believe in the right to privacy, to separate relationships without interference. They prefer not to date metamours or have meaningful friendships with them. They want to keep things separate and have boundaries and rules that support those intentions.
There are many reasons behind intentional polyamory. One is the belief that someone’s relationship has nothing to do with you or your relationship. It can be important to prioritize autonomy and privacy. Getting things too mixed up gets complicated, or maybe it’s just no one else’s business. My relationship with X is not your relationship. I want you to be friendly if you meet, but not become besties or lovers.
For some, polyamory is not just about having more than one lover, but about independence. Too much mixing and mingling is too much management. Intentional parallel polyamory prioritizes privacy and boundaries.
Circumstantial Parallel Polyamory
Circumstantial parallel polyamory is when that’s just the way it is. You may be open to friendship with your wife’s boyfriend, but he lives in Oregon and you seldom accompany her when she travels there for business.
Maybe you’ve intended to get cozy with your lover’s other lovers and have drinks, but health restrictions have made that take a backseat.
Maybe you are all open to the kitchen table scenario but just haven’t had the time to cultivate the relationships yet, and never do get around to it.
The Pros and Cons of Parallel Polyamory
One of the biggest reasons that people practice parallel polyamory is very simple—we aren’t dating your spouse or lover, we are dating YOU. Not everyone feels the need to build a polycule, commune, or community. We have lovers, and we don’t need to have an array of new friendships and relationships every time we date someone new. Whether those relationships would be beneficial or burdensome is immaterial.
On the other hand, those who reject parallel polyamory and want more intimate involvement and “networking” aren’t wrong, either. There is nothing wrong with building an interconnected community. Especially when relationships are super close and long-term, building intertwined relationships can feel natural and preferable to living separate and parallel existences.
Think of it this way—lots of people are intimate and have thriving relationships with their in-laws, and others don’t, either choosing to keep a distance intentionally, or circumstance making it best that way. It’s no different when it comes to parallel polyamory. The choice is yours.
Would you describe your relationships as parallel polyamory?