'A different way of doing things': Polyamory challenges idea that monogamy is always the way to go

When Kayleigh Kazakoff started seriously dating, she held out hope of finding that one perfect partner, but she found that no one could live up to her expectations.

Then, eight years ago, the 33-year-old from Saskatoon was introduced to polyamory. She said it has made her a better partner in every way.

"I'm way less terrible to date. I would expect (my partner) to be my be-all-end-all. That's not fair pressure to put on anyone," Kazakoff said.

"I'm a lot more relaxed now and able to accept my partners for who they are and acknowledge their flaws. I just feel a lot more fulfilled."

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Polyamory is one form of relationships that challenges the traditional assumption that one monogamous partner is ideal for everyone. Instead, polyamory is the practice of having intimate, consensual relationships with more than one partner. It's sometimes referred to as ethical non-monogamy.

At its core, polyamory acknowledges the infinite possibilities of love and meaningful relationships, without the potential guilt of being attracted to or interested in another person.

There is limited information on how many people identify as polyamorous, but the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association estimates conservatively there are 1,100 polyamorous families in Canada. In Saskatchewan, Kazakoff said there's an estimated 300 people in a Facebook group for those who identify as polyamorous, but this number is likely much higher.

Polyamorous relationships can take various forms, including a triad or quad, which is where three or four people are all in a relationship with each other. Triads and quads can be open or closed, meaning they are either exclusive or individuals can have offshoot relationships from there.

I've been jealous as often as any other healthy, monogamous person. - Kayleigh Kazakoff

Kazakoff identifies as solo poly, which means she is open to connections as they come and go, rather than having a primary partner. At one point, she was dating five people. She currently has two partners, one of whom lives in Winnipeg and she's been seeing for five years; the other she has been dating for under a year and is close by.

When she first started dating polyamorously, Kazakoff was in a relationship with someone else who did not want to be monogamous, so she thought she would give it a try.

"Initially I could do polyamory or monogamy and I was fine with either. As I continued exploring it and (learning) about myself, I discovered it's more who I am than a choice I make."

Kazakoff's two partners have met and get along well. When it comes to how much information she shares with each of them, she said it depends on what they're comfortable with.

"For myself, I want to know if something new looks like it's blooming and ideally, a heads up if there's likely to be sex with a new person," she said. "If I know in advance, it's a lot easier for me to be happy for them, whereas if I learn about it afterwards, I tend to get a pang of envy or jealousy."

She said polyamorous people not succumbing to jealousy is one common misconception she hears a lot, but she said it's completely false.

Naomi Zurevinski

"I've been jealous as often as any other healthy, monogamous person. It's just a question of walking through it," she said. "Good polyamorous relationships have more communication, but just like good monogamous relationships will have more communication, too."

Jacq Brasseur, the executive director for the University of Regina Pride Centre, said the idea that jealousy does not exist in polyamorous relationships is one of several misconceptions out there.

"In reality, scheduling isn't going to be easy; holidays aren't going to be easy. I think the other myth has to do with not committing to your partner, and that somehow this is the easy way out," Brasseur said.

"To be successful and to build a loving, supportive partnership in a polyamorous setting involves so much work and I don't think people understand that."

One concept central to polyamory is compersion, which is commonly used to describe the joy one feels when their partner engages with someone else. Brasseur notes it's not quite the opposite of jealousy.

"Compersion can be excitement, or it could be a desire to hear about your partner's other relationships — for example, if you want to hear about a first date they had, because first dates are exciting."

Brasseur added that "as we become less judgemental and more willing to understand that different ways of doing things are OK, I think more people will be open about their polyamory."

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Lindsay Rose is polyamorous and currently has two committed partners. One of her partners is long-term, and she has been dating her other partner for a few months.

Her long-term partner initially introduced her to polyamory, and Rose immediately became interested because of difficulty she'd had in past relationships.

"I've always kind of been a serial dater and very codependent in my relationships," said Rose, who hails from Saskatoon. "I think it was coming from a place of needing someone else to show me how to love myself. Then I found out it was possible for more than one person to love me, and for me to love more than one person, and I wanted to further explore that."

You learn to look deep into yourself with what makes you feel comfortable and stable in a relationship. - Lindsay Rose

She said that one of the major misconceptions about her relationship approach is what polyamory is actually all about.

"I'm sure some people assume that those who are poly have 12 different partners and are always looking to add more, but it's about having the option to develop more than one meaningful relationship," said Rose.

"It's not necessarily about seeking, but more so about having the freedom to explore things as they come up. If a human comes into my life that I enjoy, I'll pursue that relationship."

Rose echoed Kazakoff's sentiment that healthy polyamorous relationships require a lot of self-awareness and often result in personal growth.

"You learn to look deep into yourself with what makes you feel comfortable and stable in a relationship, and through that you become more comfortable with yourself, too," Rose said.

In order to reduce stigma and increase awareness of polyamory, Kazakoff said that comparing polyamory and monogamy does more harm than good.

"I think it's important to have a multitude of healthy relationships, even if they're entirely platonic. I have these connections of varying intensities and I can flirt with friends and not feel guilty about it, but I think they're just different ways of having relationships," she said.

"Polyamory and monogamy can be equally healthy or toxic, and both can be really controlling, too. So neither one is better; it's just a different way of doing things."

CBC News is exploring relationships, dating and sex in Saskatchewan in 2019.