SFU sociologist studies polyamory among queer women

Can love only happen between two people? Not necessarily, and there are many individuals who live in polyamorous relationships to prove that. The first question those of us who don’t practice polyamory usually ask is: how do you deal with jealousy?

While completing her PhD in the department of sociology at SFU, Dr. Jillian Deri wanted to explore this question and understand more about how polyamorous couples navigate jealousy. Her research on the subject led to the creation of the book Love’s Refraction: Jealousy and Compersion in Queer Women’s Polyamorous Relationships, which was written with the intention of appealing to anyone who is interested in polyamory, emotions, and love.

Deri explained to The Peak that those who practice polyamory “want love and emotional connections, and sexual connections with multiple people where everyone knows about it.” This is distinct from consensual non-monogamy, where there is usually one main partner with sexual explorations outside of the relationship, and from cheating where sexual explorations outside of the relationship are unknown and not consensual.

“Hookup culture, to me that’s a form of non-monogamy, and should be valued as a way of doing relationships too.” – Dr. Jillian Deri, PhD, department of sociology

Whereas jealousy is certainly an aspect of polyamorous relationships — and to an extent, arguably all relationships — polyamorous relationships also aim to achieve compersion. Deri describes compersion as the opposite of jealousy: it refers to the positive feelings one has about their partner’s experiences in other relationships. “When a friend does really well you feel happy for them, and [compersion is about] translating that joy into a romantic context,” Deri explained.

For the book, Deri chose to focus on queer, lesbian, and bisexual women because they tend to be understudied. She also wanted to investigate whether there was a unique culture among polyamorous queer women that differs from heterosexual polyamorous relationships. She accomplished this by interviewing queer women in polyamorous relationships to learn what the community was doing to achieve compersion.

Deri found that “there is a culture to it, and there is potentially different dynamics between queer culture and heterodynamics.” This is partly shown in the different challenges faced by women in these relationships. In queer communities, there tends to be more overlap between partners since the dating pool is smaller than it is for heterosexuals. Therefore, there is an increased likelihood of, for example, knowing your ex’s new lover.

This unique experience in the community brings about accountability and care because there is an increased likelihood of coming across one another again.

When asked whether polygamy or monogamy are a result of human nature or socialization, Deri explained that it is likely a combination of both. “Some people feel much more at ease with open relationships, [and] some people feel more at ease with monogamous relationships. Just like how some people might be more inclined to be queer, [some] straight, some bi, I think we might have a bit of an orientation towards monogamy, or open [relationships], or polyamory.”

While it might seem that open relationships have become more common in recent years, Deri notes that it’s difficult to tell what percentage of the population pursues polyamorous relationships. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be in different styles of relationships can be tough to define.

“It’s hard to know where to draw the line,” Deri said. “Hookup culture, to me that’s a form of non-monogamy, and should be valued as a way of doing relationships too.” Among millennials, it is also very common to have multiple partners with the intention of eventually ending up in a monogamous relationship, she noted.

There is a spectrum of ways to be in a polyamorous relationship, and with increased access to information it is easier than ever for individuals to learn how to pursue such a relationship successfully.