Thursday, 17 January 2013

Understanding Sex and Emotions in Relationships (Part One)

It has been a long time since I have written anything about my polyamory, I think that needs to change now. This is the first post of many I am planning in the coming weeks.

One of the oddest things about polyamory is the way that simple definitions don’t work. When in a monogamous relationship, the assumption is always that we are “just good friends,” “friends with benefits,” “dating,” “serious,” “living together,” “married.” All of these statements are about status. They say little about feelings or sexual connections. One assumes, based upon the status of the couple, what the emotional and physical relationship is, but that is total nonsense. Plenty of married people can’t stand each other, and plenty of “friends with benefits” have at least one party in love with the other. Of course, most monogamous people realize this, especially in an active conversation, but it isn’t the standard passive assumption.

Hardwired poly folk (as opposed to people who find themselves in a poly situation), have a constant awareness and an ongoing internal and external process. We don’t define relationships in the same way as mono people because we actively know, accept, explore, and live with our feelings for other people. We are also far more aware of the changing nature of relationships, probably because we so actively know there are different types of love and different ways of feeling love for people at the same time.

As part of my exploration of my own polyamory I looked at my past relationships and tried to explore them through the idea of love and sex. It was insanely complicated and I don’t think I could ever do it full justice, but I tried.

To begin with, such an exploration needs to recognize different types of love. If you do a Google search for “types of love” you find schematics of four, five, ten, fifteen and no doubt more if you can be bothered. For me, in my own world, I keep it simple with three sorts: Philia, a loving friendship; Eros, a passionate love; Agape, a companionate love (for the Greek scholars out there, many apologies for simplifying and appropriating such complex terms!).

Philia: This is when I love a person and want to spend time with them because they make me laugh, challenge me, entertain me, please me. And I want to do the same for them. It is based on mutual respect, loyalty, and appreciation.

Eros: This is what is often meant by being “in love” with someone. I hate the phrase because it seems so unrealistic, so juvenile, so insignificant. Yet, it is also handy. For me, it is a kind of love that transmutes and becomes something else, perhaps even dissipating completely. I have often confused New Relationship Energy with Eros, with being “in love.”

Agape: This is the kind of lasting love, a love that is ongoing and comfortable. For me, it is the love that gives me inner peace. It is when I can sit on a sofa with someone for hours while we do our own thing and never needing to say a word. It is when I can make dinner with someone and we both know what we need to do without speaking. It is the kind of love that makes me want to take afternoon walks with a person, see the world with them, and never lose them. It is unconditional and rare.

There are, of course, dozens of ways to categorize and analyze my relationships and my sorts of loving experiences, but these are the kinds of love I experience. One of the greatest difficulties is to recognize and acknowledge these feelings to others. How, for example, did I tell my husband that I never experienced Eros for him? Although in the last few months this has truly been developing; such a wonder to develop the most transient sort of love after ten years! From another angle, how many fuck buddies would really understand that I loved them in the sense of Philia, but not even Eros, especially when we were often so much more than fuck buddies? Most would be confused.

Emotions are complex and we need to explore them for our own mental well-being. What, how, and when we share our feelings should also be for our own mental well-being, and only by being honest with ourselves can we develop this concept.

In the second part of this blog post, I will explore the different types of relationships I have had, and, simple it isn’t!


  1. Agape love, the love of God for man, but not always man for man. It is a love that takes you as you are, warts, scars and wounds and loves you right there in that moment as hard as they love you when you are cleaned up and the wounds are dressed and so is your emotional being. Everyone searches for that kind of love, rare to achieve though because we often sell ourselves short of being worthy of it.

  2. I truly enjoyed this post. Often I find myself struggling to define not only different types of love but the various roles people play within my Poly relationships; occasionally to myself but mainly to others.

  3. Fascinating stuff Emily - I had never really thought about it in this way. Very thought provoking indeed. Of course, no one likes to pigeon hole their feelings and emotions - least of all me. However, the very exercise of trying to categorise something so complex and diverse as 'love' makes the head spin but keeps the mind tuned. I am very fortunate in enjoying Philia and Agape (and hankering after Eros :)) in my monogamous relationship with Mrs. C

    Thanks for the insight