Because it can be kind of confusing, even for the people involved.
Even though there are those who are judgmental on both sides of the swinger vs. polyamorous fence, I think there is a lot of overlap between the two and personally feel perfectly happy keeping a foot in both worlds.
That said, I do understand why there is some confusion between the two because it isn’t always clear when something is poly and when it’s ‘play.’
There are various types of swingers living the ‘swinger lifestyle.’
Then there are swingers who prefer their sex come along with friendship. Maybe they like to be friends first and foremost. Maybe they like to have sex first and foremost and consider friendship with sexual partners secondary. In either case, these swingers are slipping down the slope towards starting to behave like poly people whether they want to embrace that term or not.
There are also levels of friendships. Some people really just acquaintances, some are besties, some are f*ck buddies, and some are closer than family. You may hang out constantly if the sex is great or if they are just fun people.
But at what point does “like” become “love”?
I love my good vanilla friends and would be there for then for anything. That love still isn’t the same as it is with my partners, but then I’m not having sex with them. So at what point does that type of love cross the line?
On one hand, it doesn’t matter.
As long as you are with swingers with a common understanding of how this game works then it is fine to have strong bonds with the people you swing with. Even if it’s unspoken, experienced people know the deal — you can be good friends … but only up to a point. For many, if you cross the line and are seen you as a threat to a primary relationship, you are likely to be dumped, cut off from sex and friendship and never spoken to again.
Maybe that sounds rough, but that’s the way it goes.
Then there are the pure polyamory people.
Some of them argue that any close intimate relationship falls under polyamory, even if there is no sex. By this view, people who you are good friends with would count as a polyamorous relationship. And if you cuddle or have sex with them, then it is definitely a relationship, and since you have multiples then it is considered polyamory.
Trouble can ensue if you cross poly-leaning people with swingers — especially if said swingers are also poly.
If poly people are crossed with regular swingers, they will learn the ropes, even if it is the hard way. And if poly-leaning people start hanging out with swingers who like friends with benefits and have a history of being poly, they sometimes assume that what is going on is also poly.
Assuming is always an especially bad thing in both swinging and poly, as everything needs to be based on clear communication.
So my answer to the question, “When is it poly?” is this:
It is poly when all parties involved have clearly communicated and mutually agreed it’s poly. It’s poly when you discuss the nature of the relationship and the level of commitment. Without that, you may very likely be mistaking a good swinging friendship for a polyamorous relationship.
Here is a partial list of things that may be viewed as crossing the line for those who are strictly swinger or may confuse you into thinking you’re in a poly relationship when the other person doesn’t see it that way at all.
You may not agree with that last one, but some people use if a lot more freely than others.
Some will say it in the heat of the moment.
Some will say it to people they still just view as friends.
So if you want a poly relationship and are playing with swingers, use your BEST communication skills to ensure everyone shares the same view of what each relationship is about.