By Taylor Ervin, RedEye
9:33 AM CST, February 14, 2012
Rivanna Jihan won't be celebrating Valentine's Day this year, but that's not because she doesn't have a significant other to spend it with. In fact, she has more than one.
The 33-year-old school teacher from Chicago's South Side identifies as polyamorous, a practice where individuals maintain multiple intimate romantic relationship at a time and where all parties involved are open and honest. And all that love has her convinced that Valentine's Day is just like any other day.
"I'm of the mind set that you show love for the people you love everyday," Jihan said.
Which means that when she catches her boyfriend checking out a cute girl at the supermarket, she doesn't slap him or shoot him an angry glance. Instead, she kinda likes it.
"Jealousy doesn't make any sense to me. I can't really wrap my head around it." Jihan said "I can wrap my head around being insecure, or being afraid, or being angry or these other sort of singular emotions, but the idea of jealousy, which is sort of a conglomerate of emotions, it doesn't work for me because when my partner is interested in someone else, I encourage that."
According to Ph.D sexologist Leanna Wolfe, Jihan's feelings are not unique. Members of polyamorous relationships often operate under an idea called compersion, which is essentially the polar opposite of jealousy.
"It's a state of empathetic happiness practiced by poly-people who have loving feelings towards one partner engaging other people erotically or romantically," Wolfe said.
Because most long-term monogamous relationships battle with a least a little infidelity at some point, polyamorous people choose to circumvent all the lies and the cheating and just thrust everything out into the open.
For Jihan, though, polyamory is not something that she chose; it's something that just happened. As far back as she can remember Jihan has always found herself falling in love with multiple people at the same time.
"That was always the big question for me," Jihan said "Why is it that if I'm in love with you I can't also love someone else or why is it that if I tell you that I love someone else it means that I love you less or that I can't love you anymore."
Jihan seems to have found the answer to those questions, because she currently shares her love with a lot of people. She has three children and two romantic partners. Her primary partner, who has a secondary partner of his own, is a man who she has been seeing for over a year and has become an essential part of the family. Her secondary partner has only been around for a few months, and the children's father is Jihan's ex-husband, who she was in an open marriage with for seven years until he decided he wanted to be monogamous and ended the marriage.
All of this openness and free love does come at price, though. Managing multiple relationships plus kids and a full-time job means time becomes a very precious resource.
"The more partners you add to this equation the less time there is," Jihan said. "Love might be infinite, but time is not."
She must be prudent about the distribution of her time by planning nights specifically devoted to each of her commitments catering to kids, friends, both partners and if she's lucky, squeezing in a bit of "me" time.
But be careful not to confuse Jihan and her partners with swingers, who are in the non-monogamy game strictly for the sex. Polyamorous relationships contain a level of romantic intimacy that extends beyond the purely sex-driven partner sharing of swingers.
According to Kevin [who wished to keep his last name anonymous], organizer of the Polyamory Under-40 Meetup Group and co-organizer of the Chicago Polaymory Meetup Group, the groups get a lot of attention from people who are just looking to hook-up or snag some guilt-free sex, but that's not what the group is about. The group is focused primarily on building relationships.
"Our group is open to all who are poly and poly friendly," says a disclaimer on the Chicago Polaymory Meetup Group's website, "but this is not a hook-up group. It is not dedicated per se to other manifestations of non-monogamy and human sexuality such as swinging and recreational sex."
Jihan has run into similar problems in her personal life when potential partners approach her with a skewed idea of what it means to be polyamorous. When she would introduce herself as being in an open relationship, it invited a lot of dishonest people who were looking to cheat on their wives and girlfriends.
"So I just switched to saying I'm polyamorous, which begs a description," Jihan said. "Then I have to explain what it means and there's still like a 50 to 90 percent chance that they interpret it as being 'open' and they can say 'oh that means you're gonna sleep with me and my wife doesn't know.'"
So communication becomes extremely important. Not everyone understands what it means to have an open or polyamorous relationship and not everyone is willing to accept that lifestyle. Clear guidelines need to be set up and boundaries established, so that all parties get what they are looking for.
Communication is also important in maintaining relationships that already exist. When seeing multiple partners who may also be seeing multiple other partners, things get complicated quickly.
"You ask a lot of questions," Jihan said. "Communication is important in any relationship but it's kind of exponentially more important with every person that you ad. It's hard to communicate. Which trips up a lot of people that want to [be polyamorous]."
Getting to a place where all of your relationships work harmoniously can be difficult, but for the first time Jihan has finally reached a place with her primary partner where communication is easy and her secondary relationships mesh well.
"This is definitely the most open relationship I've ever had and one where I don't have to explain myself," Jihan said. "He already understands. I say, 'hey I met someone' and he's like, 'hey that's great! Go have fun!'"
Fed up with monogamy and looking to get in on the fun too? Make up for your lack luster Valentine's Day and check out the Chicago Polyamorous Meet-Up group's combination Valentine's Day/Mardi Gras party Friday, Feb. 17.
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