We get a lot of new members in POSH every week, and we’re always glad to see new faces. When new members introduce themselves in our introductions thread, though, we often see something like
“I’m new to the lifestyle.”
A lot of these people really want to grow and learn, but even then, the word “lifestyle” can be a problem for many polyamorists. If you post this, there’s a good chance you’ll get a gentle reminder (or, now, a link to this article).
What’s wrong with saying “lifestyle”?
It’s all about these two issues*:
1. “The Lifestyle” is a term for swinging.
2. “Lifestyle” implies that polyamory is a choice.
The Lifestyle or The LS
Without getting too in-depth, in swinging, a couple seeks out other couples (or sometimes singles) for group sex or swapping partners. Just like polyamory, it’s a completely ethical form of nonmonogamy, and it’s not uncommon for many people to do both. The main difference is that polyamory involves romantic or emotional intimacy while swinging is sexual.
Since the swinger community is especially stigmatized, they’ve used codewords for a very long time. The best known codeword is calling swinging “the lifestyle” or “the LS.” Swingers typically go to “lifestyle clubs” or “LS clubs,” and people using social media to interact with the swinger community often add “LS” to their profile names. So, when you say “lifestyle” in the communities for ethical nonmonogamy, that’s what people think of.
They’re often confused with each other, but polyamory is not swinging and vice versa. For many polyamorists, being confused with swingers is a major problem, partially because it makes it even harder to practice polyamory in a world that already doesn’t understand us, and partially because many of us have no interest in swinging in the same way that a gay man has no interest in sex with a bunch of women or someone who’s deathly allergic to bees isn’t going to build an apiary. It’s just not us.
Remember, quite a few POSH members are swingers (and any swinger who practices or wants to learn about polyamory is welcome!), but POSH is not a swinger group, and posts about swinging usually aren’t going to work well. If your main interest is in sex or casual connections, POSH might not be the right fit for you.
Polyamory isn’t a Choice
The problem isn’t just about swinging, though. The word “lifestyle” can cause problems in other ways too.
In the Merriam-Webster dictionary*, a lifestyle is defined as
The typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.
A lifestyle isn’t something you’re born with as part of your identity, but for many polyamorous people, polyamory isn’t a choice. For a lot of us, life would be a whole lot easier if we were monogamous!
Many polyamorous people do view it as a choice, and that’s valid too, but a large number of POSH members identify their polyamory as an orientation, a relationship orientation, in the same way that gay or straight are sexual orientations. It’s something we can’t change about ourselves. While viewing it as a choice or an orientation are both valid, both need to be respected, and that means avoiding language that invalidates one even if you’re part of the other group.
So, calling it a “lifestyle” can be dismissive and invalidating of many of our relationships. (For what it’s worth, we usually hear people using “lifestyle” when they practice hierarchy and view only one of their relationships as serious or important, while the majority of long-term polyamorists think differently.) For most LGBT people and organizations, “homosexual lifestyle” is a slur, and many of us in polyamory view “polyamorous lifestyle” the same way.
Going back to that definition up there, calling it a lifestyle can also imply that there’s only one way of doing it, when really no two polyamorous people practice it in quite the same way. There are no rules or requirements other than that you’re open to romantic or emotionally intimate relationships with more than one person at a time and that you’re committed to being ethical and making sure everyone consents to the situation.
Say This Instead
So all of that’s why we encourage saying things like these instead of “lifestyle”:
“New to the poly community”
“Hoping to learn more”
“I actually read the rules!”
“The ways I can bring polyamory into my life”
“Finding our whether I’m polyamorous”
Welcome to POSH!
If you’re new to the poly community and joining POSH, welcome! Polyamory includes a lot of terminology and a lot of concepts that don’t always mesh with what mainstream society tells us, and for many of us this is a serious part of who we are. We’re always happy to help you learn, though, and we hope you’ll stick with it!
* Not to be confused with a bad case of the OEDs.