Polyamory means a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the great things about poly is the way it can be easily adapted to suit the needs of the people involved, and I honor the varieties of polyamorous experience and those who are working, in whatever way is comfortable for them, towards establishing more loving and open relationships built on honesty and trust.
But since there is so much variety in the poly community, and I want to be clear about my own personal approach to polyamory.
First off, a little myth busting, again pointing out that this is how it works for us, and that you might find it works differently in other poly contexts. This is not so much to force my definition of poly onto others, but more to be clear about my definitions so that I don't find myself continually needing to clarify within blog posts.
POLY =/= OPEN MARRIAGE=/= SWINGING
When I think of swinging, I think of partner swapping. I tend to think of swinging as a "you do my partner, I'll do yours" arrangement. This is not something that holds particular appeal to me, although I'm sure it might work for others, and I can maybe conceive of a kind of situation in which it might not be a terrifying proposal for me (maybe where there was already romantic attraction or defined intimacy roles). But for now, not my thing.
I think of open marriage as a defined agreement to ethical non-monogamy in which partners are free to have sexual relationships with persons other than the primary with the primary's consent and knowledge.
Polyamory, however, is the "practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved." While some polyamorous people may be swingers, and some swingers may be polyamorous, the two are not synonymous. Swinging is a sexual act or practice; polyamory is an emotional and relational practice. While polyamorous relationships are definitely open in the sense of being non-monogamous, not all open relationships are polyamorous. Polyamory is the practice of spending time with, cuddling, loving, supporting, and nurturing more than one partner at a time-- all the things that people in loving monogamous and primary relationships do, but remaining open to the possibility or practice of doing those things with more than one partner. It's the whole friendship-dating-love thing, including physical contact appropriate for each of those kinds of relationships, but with the possibility of establishing more than one partnership. And, surprisingly, not all polyamorous relationships are even sexual (See "non-sexual significant other": Inn Between Poly Terms Defined).
And the driving force for most polyamorous people isn't more sex or more sex partners-- it's more love and more loving relationships. More loving relationships of course can mean more complexity, and part of polyamory is the continual work on self that creates space for healthy relationship with others.
MOTIVATIONS AND INTENT
I've heard some of our poly friends talk about how wonderful polyamory is because you can get things from other partners that perhaps your primary partner can't give you. For me, this isn't a big deal. I don't feel a need for other partners. I am happy with my primary relationship and don't feel like it's lacking anything, and if that were to be the only relationship I knew I'd have forever, no more poly, I'd be okay with that. But I have noticed already that when we are out there on the poly scene, we both feel sexier and more attractive, and it shows in how we relate to each other.
We aren't experiencing any void in our lives that needs to be filled. We aren't seeking a "third" for our relationship, or someone to play a part in sexual fantasies. We aren't actively seeking partners, although we're actively open to the idea. If someone comes along into our lives who one of us cares for, comes to know well, and loves, then we are open to the idea of one or both of us having a relationship with that person, provided we both feel safe with that person. What do we mean by safe? Things like... Will this partner respect our already-existing relationship and not go all cowboy on us? Is this partner going to be comfortable with our lifestyle and social makeup? How well does this partner get along with the other partner(s)? Is there potential for romantic relationship (or at least a close friendship) between the hub's partners? The answers to these questions, to the extent that they can be discerned in advance, can set the tone for whether or not adding a new relationship can be a good idea.
As for me and my husband, we are both in the non-hetero camp, falling somewhere on the spectrum of orientation self-definitions. We aren't actively looking, but we're actively open. That means that while we aren't out trolling for dates, we are continuing to build friendships, particularly with poly friends, and if one of them develops into something more, that would be lovely. In the ideal, polyfidelity appeals to us, or perhaps the idea of living in a loving closed triad or quad. But if someone comes along for whom that isn't an option (a gay man or straight woman in my husband's life, or a lesbian or straight man in mine), we might be open to exploring that as well, even though it isn't our ideal. It all just depends on the circumstances, just like all relationships.
My husband and I agree that perhaps the most beautiful thing that has come into our lives due to discussions of polyamory (discussions which started in earnest well over a decade before we decided to do anything about it) has been the increase in close, intimate, loving friendships, even with our non-poly friends. There's none of this "Oh, I can only be a certain kind of friend to this person, or else I'm cheating on my partner." We are both free to fully love and care for our friends, and that is a rare, special gift in this culture.
One of the other really amazing things that we've discovered in the poly community is clear, direct, non-offensive communication. If we develop an interest in a friend, we tell them upfront. If they are likewise interested, we talk about it and figure out what to do. If they aren't, they say so, and things move on, no harm intended or perceived. We haven't experienced any "OMG, I can't say what I'm thinking... Let's just see what happens." There is a clear communication-- "You tried to kiss me/my partner last night. What was that about?" And it isn't meant in an accusing or angry way-- just clarifying intentions. In order to make poly work, there has to be clear communication on all parts. And if you express an interest in someone and they aren't interested in return, no biggie. Life goes on, friendships still intact and no offense taken.
COMPERSION AND JEALOUSY
"Don't you get jealous?" Ummmm... Yes, sometimes. It isn't that poly people feel no jealousy, but that you work through it in a different way.
And, if you ever hear poly people talk about compersion, what they're referring to is the phenomenon in which one poly partner actually feels joy and thankfulness that his or her partner finds joy in another relationship. It's kind of hard to describe until you've experienced it, but it's when your partner's joy from the other relationship fills you with love and joy for them.
Metamour is the term for your partner's other partner. Different people have different expectations of how that relationship looks between the two people who share a partner. From what I've learned so far, it works best when that person is at least your friend, because how else can you trust someone with your partner?