This session introduces relationships that are ethically non-monogamous or polyamorous. These terms refer to having consensual romantic relationships with more than one person at the same time. Participants will develop knowledge about polyamory and gain skills to discuss ethical non-monogamous relationships—their children’s or their own—from a perspective grounded in Unitarian Universalist faith. Parents and caregivers who are, themselves, ethically non-monogamous may gain new ways to support their children.
Polyamory may be a new topic for some participants. Facilitators should prepare for some pushback from parents/caregivers about the morality of non-monogamous choices or the prevalence of ethical non-monogamy in your community or society in general.
- Chalice and lighter or LED candle
- Computer with Internet access, and a projector
- Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
- Journals or paper, and pencils/pens
- Handout 12.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources (Word, 1 page)
- Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. Update the links as needed, adding local resources you wish to recommend.
You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan to visit recommended websites during the session (this will extend your meeting time), and/or copy the handout to distribute in the session.
- Preview the short video from BuzzFeed, “Ask a Polyamorous Person,” (YouTube, 3:16) where young adults informally answer frequently asked questions.
- Preview the NBC television news segment, “One Big, Happy Polyamorous Family” (YouTube, 6:06).
- Post the group’s covenant.
- Optional: Write the Focused Check-In prompt and Reflection questions on newsprint; post the Focused Check-in prompt.
Opening (5 minutes)
Welcome participants. Say that today’s topic will help us locate touchstones in our experiences, our feelings, and our faith to address ethical non-monogamy and polyamory in our families, communities, and wider society.
Say that the definition of polyamory that we will use in today’s session comes from the website, Loving More:
Polyamory refers to romantic love with more than one person, honestly, ethically, and with the full knowledge and consent of all concerned. Polyamory often involves multiple long-term committed relationships, either separately or together, but it can also come in many different forms.
Invite a participant to light a chalice while you share this reading from Dr. Elisabeth Sheff in Stories From the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families.
Earth would be such a better place every second of every day if we could just show up with an attitude of generosity and gratitude, and acceptance for one another.
Focused Check-In (10 minutes)
Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead the participants to take a deep breath together. Then, invite brief introductions if new participants have joined the group. Quickly review the covenant and invite any questions.
Then, ask everyone to reflect on, and then share their name and a brief answer to this question: “When I think about my child and about ethical non-monogamy, or polyamory, in my life or in my theirs, I wonder _________.”
Invite participants to respond, as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants think about the question, and between participant responses. Make sure each person has an opportunity to speak, or to pass.
Spotlight (35 minutes)
Say, in these words or your own:
Polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy are not at all new in human life, yet, in the 21st century U.S. culture they have emerged as a cultural phenomenon, perhaps more widespread than previously assumed, against a mainstream background of monogamy as a dominant norm. Today, many nontraditional, non-monogamous ways of structuring relationships have risen to awareness, largely thanks to social media, which is prone to sensationalize them.
Invite the group to brainstorm some alternatives to sexually and/or romantically monogamous relationships. Prompt with these, as needed:
- “no labels” dating culture among youth and young adults
- polyamorous households of adults raising children together
- “open marriage”
Say that Unitarian Universalism has many families that identify as polyamorous and ethically non-monogamous, as well as a national affinity group, UUs for Polyamory Awareness. Point out that Unitarian Universalism as a religion has no rule that promotes monogamous relationships nor does it judge or prohibit non-monogamous or polyamorous choices. Further, the Principles that anchor Unitarian Universalism are well suited to help UUs create non-monogamous relationships in faith.
Say that while we learn more about polyamory in this session, we will also explore what ethical non-monogamy might be like when built upon UU Principles and values, such as respect for each partner’s inherent worth and dignity; commitment to truth and ongoing learning and growth; affirmation that everyone should have a say in matters that concern them; and respect for the interconnections between ourselves, others, and life on our planet.
Invite the group to hear from some young adults in the short video from BuzzFeed, “Ask a Polyamorous Person” (YouTube, 3:16). Play the video.
Next, share this television news segment on a polyamorous group of adults who all take part in caregiving for a child, “One Big, Happy Polyamorous Family” (YouTube, 6:06).
Invite the group to share a minute or two of silence while each participant gathers their responses to the two video clips. Then, ask people to use their journal. Suggest they note any thoughts, feelings, or issues and at least one question that has come up.
Call the group together and invite sharing. Invite participants to share their question as well as thought/feeling responses.
Allow all who wish to share reactions and/or questions to do so. Ask participants to refrain from addressing one another’s questions until everyone has had a chance to contribute.
After all who wish to have spoken, affirm the questions that have been raised. Make the point that, in both of the videos, people who practice polyamory were willing to answer common questions that others may have. Invite the group to encourage one another in exploration, brainstorm ways to learn more, and explore resources on the handout you have provided (or will provide) for this session.
Now, say you will share a reading from a blog post at the Scarleteen website in which a youth author describes their polyamorous relationships. Read the following excerpt:
Hi everybody! I'm seventeen, and I'm totally head over heels for two different people.
According to this society's values, that's a problem. Most people in a similar situation would be thinking about choosing between two options: this partner, or that partner--because if you're not monogamous, you're either cheating or you're a slut. I'm here to tell you, It ain't necessarily so!
I identify as polyamorous, meaning capable of and willing to have multiple romantic and sexual partners.
I met one of my romantic partners, who I'll refer to as A for convenience, for the first time in person at a summer camp about a year ago (though we'd been talking on the internet for a few months already, and developed a tentative crush on each other.) She lives over a thousand miles away, so I wasn't really expecting to have an enduring commitment, especially since I don't tend to stay in contact with people unless I see them in person on a regular basis. But as the week went on, I found myself more and more drawn to her, and the feeling was mutual. We managed to stay in contact through sheer force of will (although the internet definitely helped).
She's actually the person I learned about polyamory from in the first place; she is, and since I fell for her I was naturally curious about that aspect of her life. So I talked to her about it a little, and did heaps of Google searches, and I decided that while I felt fine about her having other partners, I didn't think I could sustain multiple romantic relationships (though as you can see, that changed pretty fast.)
My other current partner, referred to as D, is someone I've known for about five years now, and I've always thought he was a really nifty human being. About six months ago I realized I had a ginormous crush on him, and trying to ignore it wasn't working. After struggling with it for a while (I was also going through some major re-re-re-questioning of my sexual orientation at the time, which didn't help) I decided that I would tell him--and proceeded to do so in the most confused, garbled way I could have, to the point that he didn't even know I was trying to tell him I liked him. Fortunately, we're a lot better at communication now.
Both of my partners met a few months ago when A came to visit me. Neither of them was at all sure what to expect, and D was so nervous he ran away when he unexpectedly saw us together for the first time, but--to make a long story short--they ended up falling in love with each other as well, which I thought was totally cool (and kind of hilarious.) We call each other girlfriend and boyfriend for convenience, although D and I have talked about not really liking many of the societal connotations of those words. When all of us are together, we're most often found in a giggling cuddle puddle on any comfortable horizontal surface, and the question "Who gets to be middle this time?" is often heard. The technical term in the poly world for three people all committed to each other is "triad"; we half-jokingly call ourselves "the hive", short for hive mind.
Offer the group a moment to gather their responses to the reading. Then, invite participants to answer either of these two questions:
- If this young person were your child, what might you celebrate for them?
- If they were your child, what might be a worry you’d feel for them?
Allow each volunteer to answer without interruption. When all who wish to have spoken, invite a second round of responses. Participants who haven’t spoken may now wish to do so. If you have time, invite participants who have answered one question to answer the other.
Now say you would like to offer some vocabulary that has emerged over the past couple of decades from research and popular discourse on ethical non-monogamy and polyamory. Share these terms and definitions from Polyamorous Vocabulary for Beginners on the website, Hypatia from Space:
Compersion: A feeling of joy about the happiness of one’s partner’s relationships with other people. Compersion is considered the opposite of jealousy.
Metamours: The partners of my partners.
New Relationship Energy (NRE): A powerful sense of excitement and excitement, common at the beginning of a new relationship, lasting from a few months to a few years. NRE is exhilarating for the people experiencing it, but often scary for the partners who see their loved ones completely swept away by a new person.
Polycule: Made from the word “molecule”...the group formed by oneself, our partners, and our metamours.
Unicorn: A bisexual woman ready to enter a triad with an existing couple. This name has emerged because so many couples...realize that women who are willing to play this role are very rare if not impossible to find. The word centaur has been proposed as a male equivalent.
Vee: A polyamorous arrangement involving three people where one person is in a relationship with two partners who are not involved with each other.
Say that these terms, and others, have emerged in part because people in intentional polyamorous relationships have needed them for essential, honest communication. Note that in websites, books, and interviews—such as the video clips shared in this session—polyamorous people stress the importance of explicit and complete communication among all of the partners who are romantically and sexually connected.
Say that some researchers suggest that people in monogamous relationships can benefit from the communication practices of the ethically non-monogamous. Share this quote, from a report on their consensual non-monogamy research by Amy Moors, William Chopik, Robin Edelstein, and Terri Conley.
We are not advocating that everyone should abandon the monogamous relationships that have worked well for a very long time. At the very least, we suggest that even if people do not want to open up their romantic relationship to others, they should thoughtfully examine their own goals, desires, and boundaries regarding monogamy. For instance, scientists have recently argued that people are expecting more from their romantic partners, yet investing less time in their relationships—which may ultimately explain high divorce rates (Finkel, Hui, Carswell, & Larson, 2014). Accordingly, we think it’s important for those in monogamous relationships to periodically discuss monogamy agreements (e.g., what is considered emotional or physical infidelity); these conversations could thwart conflict associated with perceived infidelity.
Reflection (25 minutes)
Invite the group to take a deep breath together (if this is the group’s usual practice for beginning reflection). Then ask the group to reflect on the video clips, the readings, and their conversation thus far. Say you will read the Reflection questions, allow time for reflection and journaling, and then invite responses. Suggest that, as you read the questions, participants make note of the question or questions that speak particularly to them.
Post the Reflection questions, and slowly read them aloud:
- How do you, or would you, want to communicate about non-monogamy with your child? What is important to share with them, considering what you know, what you think you know, and what you know you don’t know?
- What is important to share, based on the age of your child and the presence (that you know of) of polyamorous relationships in your life or theirs?
- In what ways do the UU Principles speak to you about ethical non-monogamy or a polyamorous way of life?
- What personal values, experiences, or assumptions are challenged by ideas and practices of monogamy, ethical non-monogamy, or polyamory? How might these get in your way as you approach these topics with your child?
Give no more than two minutes for silent reflection. Then, invite volunteers to speak, one at a time, as they are moved, without cross-talk or discussion. Remind participants to respond to the question or questions that speak most deeply to them. Keep track of time so you can ensure each person has time to speak if they wish.
Taking It Home (10 minutes)
Say that today’s Taking It Home activity invites the group to focus on the conversations they wish to have with their children about ethical non-monogamy. Invite the group to form pairs or triads and consider these questions. Suggest that each person take up to two minutes to respond uninterrupted to the first question, and then take two minutes each to respond to the second.
- What conversations can you have now with your child to help ensure that they will look to you as a resource, whether they embark on a non-monogamous relationship or need to understand non-monogamous relationships they observe among peers or adults in their lives?
- What resources and support do you need to help your child who is considering non-monogamy? To support them as they live into a consensually non-monogamous situation?
Regather the group. Invite participants to find their paper and writing implement and answer this next question on paper:
- What promise can you make now for something you will do, between now and our next meeting, to foster clear and healthy communication with your child about ethical non-monogamous relationships?
Closing (5 minutes)
Offer these words from Anya Light’s blog site, The Rhetoric and Composition of Polyamory:
[C]ompersion offers the notion that love is infinite, unbounded—and wonderfully available to us in many varying forms. Many poly people agree that the only truly limited resource is time, not love.
Then, share these closing words from the UUA Worship Web. The author is Rev. M Barclay of “enfleshed, a Christian-adjacent religious consortium providing spiritual nourishment for collective liberation.”
Love cannot be bought or sold; it does not make a profit.
Love does not hide from truth.
Love dives deep.
Love takes on flesh.
Love is queer.
Love is platonic.
Love is erotic.
Love is asexual.
Love confronts evil.
Love delights in pleasure.
Love touches and weeps and flirts and feeds and creates.
Love is risky.
Love challenges systemic evil in all its forms.
Love is simple but not easy.
Love is collective.
Love rises up.
Love holds accountable.
Love pays reparations.
Love tells its story.
Love embraces everyone, every creature, every creation.
It knows us intimately. It holds us collectively.
Love transcends every boundary that seeks to confine it.
It will not tolerate violence in its name.
It does no harm.
It only sets free.
Extinguish the chalice. Thank the group for their participation. If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 12.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources, for parents/caregivers to take home.