Openly having several romantic partners at once may seem impossible for more traditional folks, but such an outlook on relationships is becoming increasingly popular in Athens.
Home to Athens Polyamory, the Classic City has a solid polyamorous population that continues to grow.
“[The polyamorous scene in Athens is] small and growing rapidly,” said Eli Gaultney. “It wasn’t something I’d ever heard of five years ago, and these days nearly every person I talk to has at least heard of it. At UGA, I think a lot of people are polyamorous, or at least ethically non-monogamous, without realizing there’s a word for it.”
Roughly a year ago, several Athens citizens formed a Meetup group called Athens Polyamory and began having meetings on the first Saturday of every month.
Gaultney helps run Athens Polyamory and graduated from the University of Georgia with a mathematics degree.
Polyamory is based on the idea that romantic relationships need not require exclusivity to be meaningful.
Seeing love as a positive and generally unlimited resource, polyamorous people see nothing wrong with sharing their love with multiple partners.
“It’s not solely about sex — we want romance,” Gaultney said.
By definition, polyamory should be consensual to all parties involved and is often egalitarian in nature. As opposed to some other forms of non-monogamy, polyamorous relationships are generally based on pleasing everyone involved.
“I think that one of the biggest things people don’t realize is that there’s so many different ways to do polyamory, and it can be different for each person or group of people,” said Sarah McManus, another organizer of Athens Polyamory. “So it’s more based on figuring out what works in an ethical way than having a specific set of rules.”
More than just a place to meet with like-minded people, Athens Polyamory sessions often involve lectures or discussions on ways to solve issues important to the polyamorous community.
“We usually meet up at restaurants and talk about things like how people negotiate agreements with their partners,” McManus said. “Or sometimes we bring in speakers to talk about things like nonviolent communication.
Past speakers have included Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, a researcher on polyamory in families, and Alexandra Tyler, a licensed master social worker and therapist who focuses on individuals in socially marginalized groups such as the polyamorous.
Athens Polyamory has several dozen regulars, and there are even more people who identify as polyamorous in or around Athens on dating services such as OkCupid. The group’s Facebook page has close to 100 likes.
“I’d estimate one out of five women or men I’m matched with say they are polyamorous,” Gaultney said. “With both websites and face-to-face connections, I’d guess there are far more polyamorous people in Athens than anyone realizes.”
Although living in the South can definitely be a mixed bag for those with nontraditional relationship ideas, parts of Georgia seem fairly accepting of polyamorous people. Athens and Atlanta both serve as havens for more liberal thought, and polyamory is growing in prevalence in both cities.
“Atlanta actually, surprisingly, has a really big poly community. They organize, I think, the largest conference in the Southeast,” McManus said. “They have an Atlanta poly weekend in the summer with several hundred attendees.”
Despite the general acceptance of polyamory by Athenians, some Athens Polyamory members don’t feel comfortable declaring their relationship philosophy openly.
“I haven’t personally received any kind of backlash, but some people really don’t feel that they can be really out about their relationship style,” McManus said. “That might be from job concerns, or some folks have said that some of the programs at UGA are more conservative and they’re worried about a backlash there.”
In spite of these possible issues, many polyamorous folks will continue their relationships. Either in public or private, those who value polyamory are unlikely to be stopped by the views of others.
“People don’t typically live this lifestyle because of its ease. We just think the fulfillment it provides justifies all the legwork,” Gaultney said. “After all, there’s so much love to share.”