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CULTURE | 13-02-2020 17:51

Love in the time of polyamory

Polyamorous, and other non-traditional relationships, are coming to the fore in Latin America, as subject matter for books, series and articles.

The term does not appear in the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy and the stories of those who practice it are not told in typical Valentine's Day movies.

However, polyamory is today subject matter for books, series, and tabletop discussions across Latin America, challenging the traditional reign of monogamy in the region.

For many, romantic love as a couple is no longer the only legitimate bond, and although this is nothing new, there are more and more people who dare to live and expose their alternative relationships.

Polyamory, defined as the affective-sexual relations of more than two people; relational anarchy, which refuses to pigeonhole the bonds of love into categories, and open relationships, forms of "free love," are more honest and consensual, according to those who practise them.

"It is not a war against monogamy, but against the mono norm, which is the imposition of that mandate," says Deb Barreiro, 29, an activist with Amor Libre Argentina.  

Since her adolescence she has chosen polyamory as "a form of relationship in which the ownership of the other is not presupposed."

Deb has had a relationship with Gabriel López, 39, since 2012; May, 36, began dating Gabriel some time later, and for about six months now they have formed a "triangle" of polyamorous relationships, which they define as open and "dynamic."

New spectrum

Non-traditional relationships are challenged to "break down mandates and build values that serve other needs," Deb describes. But success means stripping away what has been acquired.

For Julio César Jerez, a 40-year-old Mexican, crossing the barriers of romantic love and monogamy means "leaving aside its harmful characteristics.”

The first, he says, is "believing that we are incomplete people until we find the other half.” The other form "identifies that loving and sexual exclusivity represents true love.”

Putting that aside helps exclude "negative" emotions such as jealousy, points Jerez, who had relationships with married women who prioritised their marriages, which is called hierarchical polyamory.

May says she was "sick with jealousy" but overcame it by engaging in "transparent" relationships.  

Break-ups also carry prejudices from outside, as some people reduce these ties to sexuality. "Polyamory is thought to be a game that only consists of 'polysex'," says Jerez, who talks about more than just sharing a bed.

The spectrum of non-monogamous relationships includes even those built without sex. Such a path is the choice of Federico Franco, a "relational anarchist", who refuses to label or list his relationships. 

This 28-year-old Argentine explains that, without being celibate, he bases his affectionate relationships on more than sexual attraction, without limiting them in number or sex.

End of love ?

So are we witnessing the beginning of the end of traditional love?

"I don't think we are close to the end of monogamy," says Tamara Tenenbaum, 30, the Argentine writer and author of The End of Love.  "What we are seeing is the end of the couple as the only way of life.”

Tenenbaum is one of the voices that assure that the normal models are mutating, although it is a difficult phenomenon to set in context and size up, since neither censuses nor surveys account for polyamory or other forms.

The clearest indications, however, can be found in a boom in terms of publications, series, films and books. On Netflix, You, Me and Her’ tells the story of a couple who fall in love with a third party, and Wanderlust shows off the inner workings of an open marriage. 

And there's more. The subject is also being discussed on social networks and media. 

"There's a taboo that's being broken at the same time, and that's why all these conversations come up," indicates Tenenbaum, who believes there is a generational gap on the topic.

Although today's transgressors are not of a defined age, the millennials, born between 1981 and 1990, who have grown up in more liberal and open environments, show particular interest in the new relationships. 

"But the older they get, the more taboo they become, which is funny because these are generations where infidelity is very normal," says Tenembaun, who nevertheless draws a line between curiosity and action among the young.

Peruvian writer Gabriela Wiener agrees. "I see a lot of trends, curiosity and attempts, but there is still a gap between theory and practice," she points.

Wiener, 45, who has two children, two partners – Jaime and Rocio – and a five-metre bed, tells of her experience in the play Qué locura enamorarme yo de ti, which has recently been shown in Peru and now in Madrid. 

The show it is not always well received, but apart from a critical group, there is clearly an audience of those willing to transcend the traditional restrictions of love.

The Peruvian chronicler attributes the change to the more recent feminist movement. 

"The nucleus of couples is one of the focal points of gender violence, which is why there is talk of the toxicity of romantic love and the search for new forms of love," she analyses.

For Tenenbaum, non-monogamous relationships can be "liberating" for women: "Men's infidelity was historically authorised: in traditional monogamy they had a monogamous partner and other ties outside.”

Challenging reality

Polyamorous relationships have no legal protection. But there are those who have challenged that reality.

In 2017, Manuel Bermúdez, Víctor Prada and John Rodríguez formed Colombia's first polyamorous union in Medellín, or the unprecedented "constitution of a patrimonial regime of Trieja." 

Thus, they obtained rights similar to those of married people, for whom they fought before the courts.

The union was initially to be a four-way path, but one of its members passed away. 

A court ruling that allowed them to become creditors of their pension motivated them to constitute the legal union.

"By getting married we put our intimate life in public, in an act that resonated worldwide, because we are not a hidden family, we are a polyamorous family that goes out into the street hand in hand," says Victor.

In Latin America there have been no similar cases, and many prefer to keep their preferences intimate, or, comfortable outside the system, rule out the legal struggle. 

For everyone, the legal triangle has set a precedent.

In one way or another, they say, and in any of its forms, love struggles to triumph.

by Luján Scarpinelli & María Paz Salas, Agence France-Presse

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