10/03/2012 04:06 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

In a Word: Defining 'Poly' and 'Non-Monogamy'

Please don't define me.

It's an overriding theme for people to use stereotypical definitions for labels. No wonder the anti-label camp stands strong. And no group is innocent of doing it. It's a genuinely widespread problem in the mainstream and in the leather, poly, and LGBT communities to which I belong.

I have had a shift in labels, lifestyle, and who I am lately.

While discussing what polyamory is with a commenter on my last blog, I realized that there really isn't a reason to place a definition on it. However, there is a need for open-mindedness about other people's relationship dynamics.

This isn't the first time that people have felt that "poly" needs a definition, and it's probably not the last time, and the fact that I am using "monogamy"/"non-monogamy" more to describe myself, rather than using "poly," takes us back to the same conclusion: "Well, that's still poly!"

"Poly" could be defined as permissive cheating, group dating, separate relationships, everything that has to do with sex and reasons to have sex with everyone, the idea that "oh, you are in that cult religion," and my definition: equal opportunity.

Any way that anyone defines it, it's still creating a new definition for someone else. Nothing is wrong with that; actually, it's human nature, and as long as it's not being used as a measuring stick for the community, define away. I have my own definitions. In fact, my definition of what a relationship is "supposed" to be has changed in the past seven years. When I started dating and being in relationships, I was a late bloomer; my definition was that my partner would be everything and anything to me. I've struggled in the past with new relationship energy very early on, before a relationship even realistically exists.

But what really is polyamory or monogamy/non-monogamy? I've even used the words back and forth; I am really in a transition of finding the right footing, and it's a scary place. It's all in perception and definition. It's an age-old question about time: What time is it really? Time is a man-made idea used to define "night" and "day." But if someone had decided that when it was dark out, that would be called "day," and when it was light, that would be called "night," we'd still probably go with it. It's like any fad, this fad being a realistic idea; it could even be justified to the point that it's like Beanie Babies or digital pets (I'm showing my age and I know it): "It's cool, man."

Both sides of the equation, polyamory vs. monogamy/non-monogamy, could potentially entail having at least three "partners" in the relationship. The definitions get blurry when you go into the nitty-gritty details. Do you feel that sexual attraction is part of the equation with any partner, or is it possible to have a partner who is not sexual with you? Platonic relationships can have as much fulfillment as a sexual, romantic relationship. Would it be considered polyamory, monogamy/non-monogamy, or just a friendship? I have a friend whom I call my "poly buddy." We were trying to get a popular kink social networking site to make a relationship status to represent ours accurately. However, the question that came up was what the different is between a poly buddy and a friend. The difference is how one defines it. To anyone looking in, it could be labeled "good platonic friends who are drinking buddies and share intimate hugs with each other."

Do I do that with all my friends? No. Very few have seen me as drunk as he's seen me. Would other people do that with friends? Yes. I know a few who are that close with their friends in general and do not need a "cone" of "poly buddy" placed in front of a person to label the situation. I don't push the cone onto anyone, either.

When we get down to it, there is big difference between polyamory and monogamy/non-monogamy, and almost none at all, depending on whom you talk to. For me, polyamory is having multiple partners who are sexual, who all share some form of equality in relationships, even if primary or secondary roles are placed on individuals. These individuals can either be connected to each other, everyone having some form of intimate sexual relationship, or they can see each other separately but are aware that their partner has other partners. There is nothing wrong with having separate relationships. It's not "cheating" or leaving someone out; it's simply how the anatomy works.

Monogamy/non-monogamy is having one intimate, romantically inclined partner while maybe (or maybe not) having platonic relationships in either a kinky form, a cuddle-buddy form, or, for me, as friends with whom I am close.

For others, monogamy/non-monogamy may entail having more than one sexual partner. A person could have a spouse and, on the weekends, someone whom they see as a lover. It may be closed; they may want to keep it that way, and that's fine. Is the addition automatically pushing them into a polyamorous lifestyle? No. They could simply be happy in an open relationship.

What it comes down to, and what I feel like needs repeating in any community, is to keep an open mind and avoid placing definitions on others outside your own life.