Candlelit tables for two. Marriage licenses with two lines. Artsy salt-and-pepper shakers locked in an embrace. Even while our society has made incredible strides in the legalization of same-sex marriage, the idea that a relationship could include more than two people has remained a taboo—even when one in five Americans claim that they have been in a relationship with more than one person.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in April 2016, 21 percent of people have had a nonmonogamous relationship—one in which “all partners agree that each may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners.” The data, pulled from 8,718 respondents in the annual Singles in America survey, is clear: Polyamory—having more than one sexual or romantic partner, with all partners agreeing to the arrangement—is a common type of relationship.
But even though it may be common, that doesn’t mean it’s easily understood. That’s partially because each polyamorous relationship is unique. Unlike an open relationship, where partners may have an agreement to have sex with people outside the relationship but remain committed to loving only each other, polyamorous people are often committed to loving multiple partners.
While some polyamorous relationships consist of a group of people who all have relationships with each other—considered a “closed” polyamorous relationship—others have partners who may or may not know the other people the partners are involved in. And while some individuals consider polyamory a core part of their sexual identity and identify as “polyamorous,” others may become involved in polyamorous relationships, but not necessarily consider it a core part of how they identify.
Relationships, too, can vary. Some polyamorous individuals see all their partners as equal; others may have a “primary” partner who they may live with, split bills with, or consider their emotional anchor, and then have secondary people they date and commit to, according to terms laid out between the individual and his or her primary.
But one thing is consistent: Polyamory is all about respect, open communication, and the ability to live love on terms that work for the people involved in the relationship. Here, three polyamorous individuals explain how it works for them, and clear up some common misconceptions people may have about the lifestyle.
Kitty Stryker, 33
Married with a boyfriend
Kitty Stryker (right) with her wife, Jetta.
Courtesy of Kitty Stryker
Since she was a teenager, Stryker identified as polyamorous—and has practiced it throughout various relationships. “When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend who had a boyfriend, and the three of us would hang out and I was like, this is nice. Why should I have to choose?” says Stryker. Now, Stryker is married to a trans woman, whom she has been with for the past four years, and has had a boyfriend for one year. While her wife and her boyfriend are not partners, Stryker says that they are all friends. “It’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s essential that everyone get along. It avoids a lot of clashing when everyone can directly communicate.”
- What is polyamory and how does it work?
- What is a polyamorous relationship?
- How does a polyamorous relationship work?
- Shape Created with Sketch. The cartoons that perfectly sum up relationships
- How is polyamory different from an open relationship?
- Who enters into a polyamorous relationship?
- What Does A Polyamory Relationship Mean?
- What Is It Like To Be In A Polyamorous Relationship?
- Types Of Polyamorous Relationships
- Advantages Of Polyamorous Relationships
- Disadvantages Of Polyamorous Relationships
- 1. Polyamorous relationships are not always socially accepted
- 2. Jealousy
- 3. Balancing several partners
- Most people think that learning is the key to self-development.
- If You Want To ‘Transform’ And Are Ready To Accelerate Your Own Personal Growth, Then Join Vishen Lakhiani’s Latest FREE Masterclass, Where You’ll Learn:
- Vishen Lakhiani Shares The Most Powerful Practices For Driving Transformation.
- What I Learned From a Decade of Polyamory
- There’s no “right” way to be polyamorous
- Google Calendars will save you
- Polyamory will not fix relationship issues
- We don’t always choose metamours
- Polyamorous partners are not immune to jealousy
- Raising kids in a polyamorous family is complicated
- Love is unlimited. Resources are not.
- Compersion is possible
- First of all, what is polyamory exactly?
- Before you take the polyamory plunge…
What is polyamory and how does it work?
People express love in different ways and no relationship is the same, which is why polyamory and the ability to have a relationship with more than one person has become an increasingly common topic of discussion.
However, although most people have heard the term polyamory, not everyone is clear on the meaning or the logistics of how these non-monogamous relationships work.
Polyamory, which is defined as loving more than one person, is often mistakenly considered the same as an open relationship – which is not always the case.
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In reality, polyamorous relationships are unique in that they are comprised of multiple, loving partnerships.
What is a polyamorous relationship?
A polyamorous relationship is a type of non-monogamous relationship that differs from a normative relationship in that multiple people are involved – not just two.
According to New York City relationship expert and author Susan Winter, a polyamorous relationship is often “characterised by a primary couple that openly (and with mutual consent) engage with other romantic partners. These sexual liaisons may be enacted as a couple, or independently.”
However, even polyamorous relationships differ by couples.
Polyamorous relationships involve multiple partners (Stock)
For some people, a polyamorous relationship involves being in a relationship with multiple people, but having one main partner. For others, polyamory is the possibility of being in two completely separate relationships.
“The fundamental philosophy of polyamory is that sexual love shouldn’t be confined to the strictures of monogamy, but expressed freely and fully,” Winter told The Independent. “Another tenant of polyamory is that both individuals know of their partner’s lovers.”
How does a polyamorous relationship work?
Because polyamorous relationships do not follow the mainstream societal construct of a relationship, the logistics are often cause for confusion to outsiders.
For a polyamorous relationship to be successful, everyone involved must be open and honest about what they want and need out of the union.
While the boundaries in polyamory are different from monogamous relationships, they do still exist – whether by defining who can enter into a relationship or putting limits on how much time can be spent with each partner.
Maintaining open communication is integral to a polyamorous relationship so that issues do not arise.
However, jealousy can still manifest – even if you are open with your partner/partners.
Shape Created with Sketch. The cartoons that perfectly sum up relationships
Show all 10 left Created with Sketch. right Created with Sketch. Catana Chetwynd
Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd Catana Chetwynd
Winter told us: “It’s hard enough to get a relationship right with just one partner. Imagine two or more? The more people involved, the more challenging the tides of emotional experience.
“On one hand, polyamory removes the secrecy and betrayal of trust that surrounds an affair,” she said. “On the other hand, managing compersion (finding joy from a loved one’s pleasure in another) is the stumbling block that trips up most polygamists.”
“Polyamory can work if both individuals are completely emotionally and philosophically on board with the concept. Even so, it’s challenging to eradicate the insecurity that sparks jealousy,” Winter said.
How is polyamory different from an open relationship?
Often, polyamory is considered the same as an open relationship – however, that is not necessarily the case, although both are considered non-monogamous.
In polyamorous relationships, it is not completely about sex, whereas an open relationship is typically defined as having outside sexual relationships that do not form into relationships.
With polyamory, the point is to have multiple relationships – as love and emotional connections are the driving forces.
Who enters into a polyamorous relationship?
Anyone can become involved in a polyamorous relationship as long as the knowledge of what doing so entails is understood.
While polyamorous people do tend to be more open, it does not mean that they are automatically involved in sex with multiple people, or that their sexual preferences are fluid.
Actress Tilda Swinton has revealed her and her husband are polyamorous (Getty)
To enter into a polyamorous relationship, one must be open about their needs and wants.
Although polyamory means being loved or loving multiple people, “it takes supreme trust, communication and intentional clarity,” according to Winter.
This article was originally published in November 2018.
Have you ever heard of polyamorous relationships or polyamory? Would you ever give such a relationship a try? Or do you believe that people should only be in monogamous relationships?
Dan Savage, the writer of the famous column Savage Love, states that there is no “correct” type of love and relationship. People should look inside themselves and determine what type of relationship is right for them.
Besides the many misconceptions about polyamorous relationships, there are also some things we get wrong about love and relationships in general.
There are pros and cons to every type of relationship. ]
So, what exactly are polyamorous relationships? And, how can you know if polyamory is right for you?
What Does A Polyamory Relationship Mean?
Polyamory is the practice of engaging in multiple intimate relationships with the consent of all the people involved. Many people compare polyamory to cheating or swinging. But, in reality, polyamory is quite different.
Cheating means breaking the rules. If your partner doesn’t agree with including other people in your relationship, then you are cheating.
In a polyamorous relationship, everyone knows about and agrees to the involvement of other people in the relationship. And, even if it may not seem so, there are rules in a polyamorous relationships as well.
On the other hand, the focus of swinging is mostly on having recreational intercourse with other people. In polyamorous relationships, the focus is on developing bonds to and building a romantic relationship with more than one person at the same time.
Being aware of how polyamory works can help you understand that relationships do not come in “one size fits all.”
What is an open relationship?
Some people believe that open and polyamorous relationships are one and the same, because both are non-monogamous. But, there is one key difference between these two types of relationships.
An open relationship is a relationship between two people who agree to have sexual but not romantic relationships with other people. Each couple defines their rules of “openness” in their relationship. Dan Savage is in an open relationship with his partner, and he states that the key to having a successful open relationship lies in communication.
There are several different styles of open relationships:
- Multi-partner relationships – include three or more partners, and a sexual relationship does not occur between all of the involved persons.
- Hybrid relationships – include one monogamous and one non-monogamous partner.
- Swinging – singles or partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with other people as a recreational activity.
Therefore, polyamorous relationships and open relationships should are not the same thing.
The common misconception is that a polyamorous relationship, just like an open relationship, includes one couple who have some fun on the side. However, polyamory means loving more than one person.
A person in a polyamorous relationship is committed to more than one partner with no hierarchy. On the other hand, there is a hierarchy and a core couple at the heart of every open relationship.
What Is It Like To Be In A Polyamorous Relationship?
Polyamorous relationships work differently for everyone. Just like regular relationships.
There is no strict set of rules you have to follow. Polyamorous relationships are all about how you (and your partners) want it to work.
Therefore, as is the case with any other relationship, discussion and mutual understanding are key.
Do polyamorous relationships last?
The answer to this question entirely depends on you and your partners.
As mentioned, polyamorous relationships are based on mutual love, understanding, respect, and discussion. It’s all up to the persons involved and how they feel about their relationship.
There are no preset rules or regulations. Whether or not a polyamorous relationship lasts is at the discretion of those involved.
Are polyamorous relationships illegal?
Loving more than one person or having multiple relationships at a time is not illegal. You can be in a relationship with whomever you like and love whomever you want.
But, there is a catch. When it comes to marriage, most countries do not recognize anything apart from monogamous marriage between two people only.
So, if you are in a committed relationship with more than one person, it may not be recognized by your country’s government.
Types Of Polyamorous Relationships
There are several different combinations that can occur in polyamorous relationships. They can be range from simple ones that include only three people, or complex ones that include group marriage with secondary partners outside the marriage.
You need to decide what type of relationship you want and share this with your partners. If your partners are looking for a long-term relationship and you want something casual, conflicts may arise. In a polyamorous relationship, everyone should be on the same page and agree to have another partner.
Here are the different types of polyamorous relationships:
- “V” type – one person is the center of the relationship. Two people have a romantic relationship with that central person, but they don’t have a romantic relationship with each other.
- Triad – includes three people in a committed relationship with each other.
- Quad – includes four persons who are in a romantic relationship together. Not all partners have to be involved with each other. For example, Josh and Jessica may date Bob and Betty. Jessica and Betty are bisexual and involved with each other, whereas Josh and Bob are not. However, all four of them may participate in group intercourse.
- Full Quad – includes four bisexual people who are in a romantic relationship and date everyone within the group.
- Group marriage – any polyamorous combination which includes partners agreeing to a life commitment to each other. All partners are considered primaries.
- Polycule – a very complex polyamorous relationship which involves primaries and secondaries. People in this type of relationship do not have to be linked to all of the others involved in the relationship. This type of relationship can include a group marriage between people who have secondary partners in another polyamorous relationship. For example, Betty is in a committed relationship with Josh and Jessica. John and Jessica are married, but Jessica has another boyfriend on the side named Bob. Such a polyamorous relationship can be as large as the partners want it to be.
Advantages Of Polyamorous Relationships
Now it’s time to explore the pros and cons of polyamory. Just like a monogamous relationship has its advantages and disadvantages, so does a polyamorous relationship.
Here are some of the advantages of polyamory.
1. Ability to have multiple partners
When you are in a polyamorous relationship, you can love as many people as you want to. You will never have to worry about breaking someone’s heart just because you want to be in a relationship with more than one person. In addition, having multiple partners will reward you with many new experiences.
2. No cheating
If you are in a polyamorous relationship, you can be intimate with more than one person and not feel guilty about it. However, you still need to discuss boundaries with all involved partners. Even if you are in a polyamorous relationship, that doesn’t mean you can sleep with whomever you want.
3. Greater support network
There is nothing better than being supported by the person you are in love with. Now, imagine how amazing that support will be if it comes from more than one partner. Being in polyamorous relationships creates a stronger support network, both physical and emotional. For example, your partner may provide emotional support for your problems at work, or physical support when you get the flu.
The main polyamory theory is that the more you are loved, the more you will be able to accept love. In turn, this will also make you a better support system for other people.
4. More adventures
If you are intimate with more than one person, then you are very likely to experience a variety of adventures. By adventures, we do not necessarily mean sexual adventures (although they are essential as well), but also life adventures. You will be close to more than one person and each person will probably have different interests and traits.
Disadvantages Of Polyamorous Relationships
Unfortunately, being in a polyamorous relationship has some downsides as well.
Here are the most common disadvantages of polyamorous relationships.
Monogamy is the most popular relationship type. Some people believe that you should only be intimate with one person at a time. Your friends and family might not accept your decision to be involved with more than one person at the same time. Being in a polyamorous relationship is unacceptable in some societies and religions, and it might be quite challenging to withstand the judgment of people around you.
Polyamory does not mean that there won’t be any jealousy. If you’re in a “V” type relationship and one of your partners is monogamous, there is a high chance that they will also be jealous. You should always have deep conversations with all of your partners and try to come up with ways to deal with jealousy. Also, jealousy might occur if all people in the relationship are polygamous. This doesn’t mean that you are “bad at polyamory.” It simply means that you are human.
3. Balancing several partners
Polyamory creates a bigger support network, but it also means that you will be faced with dealing with the lives of several people at once. In addition, one of the toughest challenges of polyamorous relationships is balancing the schedules and needs of different partners. One partner may need more attention than the other, and you must find a solution in which no one gets hurt. If you notice that one of your partners is unhappy, try out one of these tips that will energize your love relationships.
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What is your stand on polyamory? Share your thoughts and emotions in the comments below!
I laughed in his face when my then-boyfriend asked me to move in with him — and his wife. I had only learned about polyamory four months prior, and while things had been going great as I dipped my toe in the ethically nonmonogamous pool, the thought of moving in with him and his wife of eight years seemed like a disastrous idea.
Still, after some convincing, I said yes. I was 25, in love, and figured I had nothing to lose, besides the potential for a broken heart.
Eight months later, we broke up amicably when I decided to move to New York City. But in that short time, I learned more about myself, my needs, and my communication style than I had in any previous relationship. It changed the way I think about all my current relationships, regardless of whether they are polyamorous (in a romantic relationship with more than one person), open (sexual relationships with others while in a committed, romantic relationship with one person), or monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive to a single person). I’m what’s now being called ambiamorous — someone who’s open to the idea of all types of relationships, depending on what works best for me and my partner(s).
By practicing polyamory, I learned how to advocate for myself and how to set boundaries. Prior to being polyamorous, I was a partner-pleaser. I’d try to do everything I could for the person I was with, and when they didn’t reciprocate, I’d become frustrated. This type of martyr complex simply isn’t cute; it just builds up resentment. Being polyamorous forced me to adequately address what I want out of a relationship and also taught me not to feel shame asking for it.
Madison McCullough is a therapist listed on Manhattan Alternative, a network of psychiatric and therapeutic resources for kink, poly, and LGBTQ folks. “More often in monogamous relationships, people expect their partners to know what they want or need implicitly,” says McCullough. “ also more likely to fall into routines that leave less room to acknowledge and adjust for when wants and needs change. People in poly relationships are often navigating these types of conversations much more frequently, which can benefit them in any kind of relationship.”
McCullough also speaks to another way polyamory teaches healthy relationship skills: Certain topics need to be brought up consistently, especially as things in the relationship change. Prior to being polyamorous, I never told a partner, “This will be an ongoing conversation. When something changes in our relationship or one of us starts feeling a certain way about this, let’s talk about this again.” Before polyamory, I would typically have just one conversation with a partner about an issue we were struggling with, and then we would never resurface it. Ongoing conversations take into account that your needs and wants will change as a relationship evolves. This is true for all types of relationships — even platonic ones with family, friends, and coworkers.
Recognizing the difference between your own needs and wants, and balancing those with what your partner asks for is a particularly challenging, but necessary, part of poly relationships, explains Melissa Johnson, a licensed psychologist and director of Brooklyn’s Groundwork Therapy Psychological Services.
Johnson helps her polyamorous clients learn “when and how to compromise, what one can give up without resentment, and how to accept that one’s needs may not always align with partner’s needs.”
Wants between partners might not always match, whereas needs, for the most part, really should be met. “Teaching individuals to be more direct with the root of each need increases the likelihood of it being met and thus maximizes the satisfaction and fulfillment in their relationships,” says Johnson.
Johnson also teaches her clients alternatives if they are unable to meet a partner’s specific desires, including ways to say “no” without rejecting or shutting their partner down. “For example, you can say ‘I’m not able to meet you after work today, but is there another way I can make you feel wanted?,’” she says.
(Photo: iStock/Leo Tapel)
Until six months ago, 28-year-old Maryëva Pelletier didn’t look very favourably on polyamorous relationships. “I had a false impression that polyamorous people are having orgies and aren’t loyal,” she says. “I always thought that a relationship was supposed to be monogamous.”
Then she met Vincent Sumah, 36, and his 25-year-old partner, Amethyst Blanchette, on the dating app Happn, and three days later, they all met for coffee. The Montreal-based couple, who co-parent three kids, were looking to add a third partner to their relationship. Their multiple attempts over the last five years to find their other soul mate were unsuccessful, but with Pelletier, something clicked.
“For me, it was never only about sex. I wanted something deeper and long-term,” says Sumah. “At first, Maryëva wasn’t into poly stuff, but she was so amazing that I still wanted to meet her as a friend. She fell for both of us, and the feeling was mutual.”
Pelletier says her compatibility with the couple plus her curious nature sparked her willingness to try polyamory. “I told them I want to know and understand everything, it has to make sense to me,” says Pelletier. “There was a lot of information to process… maybe because I have a very fiery personality, I jumped into it.”
The closed nature of the relationship—meaning they don’t see others outside of the three of them—made the transition easier for Pelletier. “It feels right, now that I’m in a triad with these two wonderful people,” she says. “Maybe that’s why all my past relationships messed up in the end. I don’t think we’re meant to be only monogamous.”
(Vincent Sumah, Maryëva Pelletier and Amethyst Blanchette. Photo: Courtesy of the partners.)
What is polyamory and how many Canadians practise it?
While Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier’s relationship may seem unconventional to some, their polyamorous lifestyle may be less fringe than you think. Polyamory—the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at a time—is gaining traction. While Statistics Canada doesn’t track the number of Canadians who are polyamorous, a recent U.S. study found that around 21 percent of participants said they had been in a non-monogamous relationship, defined as “any relationship in which all partners agree that each may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners,” at least once in their lives.
And when the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family at the University of Calgary recently conducted a polyamory survey to gain insights into the community, it discovered that attitudes towards polyamory in Canada are changing, too.
According to the report, nearly 70 percent of the surveyed polyamorists from across the country said that they are currently involved in a polyamorous relationship, and out of those who are not, 40 percent said they had been in the last five years. Furthermore, 75 percent of polyamorous respondents were between the ages of 25 and 44—hello millennials!—and nearly 60 percent were female. The majority of those surveyed also said that in their view, the number of people who identify as polyamorous is increasing, as is the number of people openly involved in polyamorous relationships.
But it’s important to understand what polyamory is—and isn’t. Polyamory is very different than polygamy, which is the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time, typically a wife, and is usually rooted in religious beliefs. (Think TLC’s reality show Sister Wives.) Different still, is an open relationship, which is one that is not sexually monogamous, but is often more about the freedom to have different casual, sexual partners outside a relationship. Even though some use the term “open relationship” as a synonym for “polyamory,” those interviewed for this story argued that polyamory is about loving multiple people, not just sleeping with them.
What does a polyamorous relationship look like?
Polyamorous relationships can take different forms. A “triad” (also a “throuple”) is a relationship composed of three people—like Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier’s arrangement—and it’s just one possible formation. People can also have multiple partners that are not involved with each other, which is the case for Alaina Partridge.
Partridge, a 30-year-old queer mother from Winnipeg, is romantically or sexually involved with several partners who are not in relationships with each other; she is the common thread. She has been with her male live-in (or “nesting”) partner for five years, and has been seeing her female partner for about a year. On top of these relationships, she also has two ongoing friends-with-benefits relationships. None of her partners are involved with each other, but some have other partners of their own.
(Alaina Partridge. Courtesy of: Alaina Partridge)
“My current live-in partner would ideally have a ‘One Penis Policy,’ or OPP,” says Partridge. “An OPP is where I can be with all the girls I please, but only one penis, which is his.”
With several relationships at once, Partridge says being open and honest with her partners is vital. “I’m a pretty good communicator—I really try to be,” she says. “But it’s not always easy finding partners that are also very good at it.”
What is easy, however, is picking her plus-one to an event. “It’s kind of like if you have five friends and one of them likes golfing, and one of them likes dancing,” she explains. “You don’t take the golfing friend dancing.”
But polyamory is not just about having different partners to spend time with. For Partridge, she says it’s more of a sexual orientation, and she doesn’t believe she will ever only want monogamy again. “I remember always thinking monogamy was so stupid,” she says. “I just didn’t realize there was a better option for me at the time.”
Do poly relationships *actually* work?
Thirty-four-year-old Conor McMillen and 30-year-old Brittany Taylor also found themselves feeling confined and wanting more in previous relationships. The Texas-based pair were each in long-term, monogamous relationships before they met each other at the Woodstock Fruit Festival in upstate New York in August of 2013, and decided to explore non-monogamy together. (McMillen was with his previous partner for 12 years and Taylor was in a six-year marriage.)
“It wasn’t like I said, ‘I’m going to do polyamory,’ it was more like, ‘I want to have freedom in my life, and I want to have relationships that are really honest,’” says McMillen. “In retrospect, I can see that there were parts of myself that got lost and I didn’t want to lose those anymore.”
Now, the couple runs a life-coaching business, promoting authentic “badass” and sex-positive relationships. They also have a YouTube channel and lead relationship workshops all over the world.
“Jealousy is the number one thing we get questions about, the number one struggle for people,” says McMillen. “Instead of feeling like jealousy is something we have to deal with, we invite people to see it as an opportunity to get closer to themselves,” adds Taylor, arguing that feelings of envy can actually make poly relationships stronger.
“It can be a great opportunity to get closer to those we love,” she says. “ support one another throughout jealous feelings, recognizing that although actions may trigger one another, you are not doing something to one another.”
Another thing McMillen and Taylor says people are intrigued by? The sexual aspects of poly relationships. “I think there’s a misconception that if you’re with one partner, that’s commitment and anything else means you’re not committed,” says Taylor. “What I see are people who are interested in real communication and sharing more of their hearts with each other,” adds McMillen. “Not necessarily more of their genitalia.”
Toronto-based sex and relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly understands this mentality. The host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast says that more millennials are becoming interested in non-monogamous relationship options. For many people in poly relationships, she says, the desire to be with more than one partner is actually realistic.
“Younger couples have seen their parents divorce or remain in unhappy relationships, and they realize that there isn’t one way to make a relationship work,” she explains. “Monogamy as a default often fails. It’s not that polyamory is the answer, but it’s one of many potential alternatives. It works for some people.” But, she adds, “Polyamory is not a solution to a failing relationship.”
When polyamory doesn’t work
Michel Reyes* (name changed for privacy) knows this firsthand. After one month of dating, the 23-year-old Winnipegger found out his partner was polyamorous. Reyes had no prior experience with polyamory, but felt strongly enough about the guy he was dating that he willing to try to understand it.
“It was a bit of a mind f-ck,” he says, remembering the moment he was first introduced to one of his boyfriend’s partners he wasn’t previously aware of. “I didn’t know there was more than one partner. I thought it was just one because he only told me about one. I just remember thinking, What did I get myself into?”
When Reyes realized seeing multiple people wasn’t for him, he suggested trying monogamy, but his partner wasn’t interested. “He said if you could have multiple people making you happy at once… why wouldn’t you?” says Reyes. “I guess I could have dated whomever I wanted, but I didn’t want to date anyone else. I was head over heels for him.”
But when all parties are on the same page, polyamory can work. Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier recently created an Instagram account to prove it.
“We thought it would be a good idea to share our family life with others,” says Blanchette. “Maybe it will give people an opportunity to be more informed about polyamory and show them that it can work to be polyamorous.”
“As long as you’re more than two people and love the others, it can work,” adds Sumah. “I think people assume you have to have many partners, but is also polyamory.”
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What I Learned From a Decade of Polyamory
Polyamory may sound sexy on Saturday night. But on Tuesday morning, you still have multiple relationships to maintain with multiple humans with multiple real-life feelings. Polyamorous relationships can be astonishingly fulfilling, exciting, and fun. But they’re also incredibly challenging. There’s no one-size-fits-all for figuring out whom — and how — to love.
After 10 years in various poly relationships, I’ve learned a lot of things; many of which would have made a big difference in how I approached this lifestyle if I’d known them when I was still a poly newbie.
There’s no “right” way to be polyamorous
There are as many different configurations for polyamorous relationships as there are people on the planet. People who are new to polyamory often want to know what the rules are. They want to feel secure that they are doing it “right.”
The truth? The only steadfast rules of poly are the same rules that apply to any relationship… no matter if you have two or five partners. Ethical polyamory includes transparent communication, authenticity of self, and an openness to others’ wants and needs. Beyond that, polyamory is completely customizable according to your comfort and experience. The key is to share your needs and fears with your partners, and be honest about your intentions and behavior.
As long as you’re being ethical, there’s no wrong — or right — way to have a polyamorous relationship.
Google Calendars will save you
There’s an inside joke that the only people who actually use Google Calendars are polyamorists. Splitting time between multiple partners can be a bit like keeping several plates spinning at once. Google Calendars can be shared with multiple people and help everyone communicate and stay on the same page.
If you’re a poly couple, planning your dates away from your primary partner on the same night can help ward off lonely feelings or worrying about the partner left home. Just offering to share a calendar with a partner can help assure them you’re genuine in your desire to maintain open communication and honesty — which can go a long way in establishing trust in your polyamorous relationships.
Polyamory will not fix relationship issues
If you’re having difficulty being ethical in your monogamous relationships, polyamory is not the solution to your romantic woes. Yes, it’s possible to cheat in a polyamorous relationship. This may sound obvious, but all of your partners have to be aware that they are dating someone polyamorous for the relationship to be polyamorous. Otherwise, you’re cheating.
Likewise, adding a partner to the mix is not likely to “spice up” your relationship if someone isn’t getting their needs met. People are not need-filling machines. It takes a lot of communication, self-reflection, and emotional maturity to maintain romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners.
We don’t always choose metamours
In polyamory, the person your partner is dating besides you is referred to as a “metamour,” or the love of your love. It’s really a wonderful situation when everyone can hang out and play Cards Against Humanity together. You may not be attracted to your partner’s metamour, but accepting him or her as your partner’s partner and maintaining a cordial — if not friendly — relationship makes everything a lot less sticky.
I love being friendly with metamours, but there have been a couple of times in my experience when I had to ask myself, “How can someone I love, love someone like her? We’re so different!” Part of the joy of polyamory is, for some people, variety. That means you might always like the person that your partner dates. But it takes a lot of stamina and emotional maturity to smile and be polite with someone that you don’t have friendly feelings toward.
Some partners negotiate “veto rights,” where partners agree not to date anyone their partner “vetoes.” Other poly people don’t appreciate these kinds of restrictions. Either way has its pros and cons. Regardless of how you choose to manage your metamours, it’s something to discuss with your partners well before the situation presents itself, when everyone is feeling secure, and there is no New Relationship Energy to contend with.
Polyamorous partners are not immune to jealousy
In 10 years of polyamory, I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “Oh I could never be polyamorous. I’m too jealous.” There’s a myth that polyamorous people don’t ever experience jealousy. I wish!
Jealousy is the only emotion that we are allowed to use to excuse all kinds of reprehensible behavior. But the truth is that jealousy is a cover for deep, often intense insecurity and fear. And, I ought to point out, all of this is perfectly normal — and prevalent — for most people. The best way I have found to deal with my own jealousy is to spend time with the person I’m jealous of. They are usually way less threatening and monstrous than I make them out to be in my head.
You won’t always be cured of these insecurities, but over time you develop coping and communication skills that help you get through those difficult moments of self-doubt.
Raising kids in a polyamorous family is complicated
Many of us still believe in this concept that it takes a village to raise a child. And nowadays many of us are well adjusted to the idea of multiple sets of parents providing care for children. In some demographics, more than half of children have step-parents, and split their time between households. Our culture is quickly returning to more communal living, and more step-parenting. So the concept of multi-partner parenting is not entirely new.
The benefit of polyamorous parenting is that children get more one-on-one time with parents, which aids in healthy emotional and social development. And according to some recent studies, children in polyamorous families spend less time in daycare, and have a wider variety of interests and hobbies just from having more people in the household.
The drawback is obviously the occasionally fluid nature of relationships in polyamory. Children can feel some negative emotions when a polycule breaks up and certain parental figures are no longer around. Of course, this also happens in monogamous relationships, evidenced by more single-parent households than ever before.
Love is unlimited. Resources are not.
You may be able to love five different people at once, but that doesn’t mean you have enough resources to maintain that many relationships successfully. There are only 160 hours in each week, and each partner requires time and affection to maintain healthy connections. Don’t forget about the actual costs of dating. All those dinners and movie nights can add up fast. So while your love for all these people may be sincere, you have to balance those romantic feelings with what is practical in the real world.
After looking at the cost/benefit analysis of all your romantic entanglements, you might find in the end that fewer is better.
Compersion is possible
Compersion is the feeling of joy someone gets when they witness their love being well loved by another. It’s the opposite of jealousy. It’s the kind of emotion that fills your heart to the brim and overflows love into a relationship. It’s not easy to reach — more like trying to experience nirvana.
But when you arrive at compersion, there’s almost nothing better. It happens when everyone in the relationship has their needs for time, affection, and attention met; and when everyone is confident that his or her relationship is secure. It happens suddenly. The first time it happened to me, I watched my boyfriend kiss my girlfriend, and the look of peace and contentment on their faces brought me to tears.
I was so thrilled that the people I love loved each other that I couldn’t contain my own joy. I haven’t felt that emotion in every polyamorous relationship I’ve been in, but the times I have felt compersion make it all worth it, and then some.
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Erin Kennedy is a sex educator specializing in alternative sexualities… in addition to her own experience spending 10 years exploring polyamory and 14 in BDSM communities. You can you follow her snarky commentary on her website, Facebook, and Twitter: @erinstwitsexual.
Last year, Scarlet Johansson very boldly told Playboy: “I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person.” While the actress also noted, “I might be skewered for that,” she’s certainly not the only person in the world to criticize monogamy. Plenty of new relationship forms are becoming popular, including one that’s been getting a lot of buzz: polyamory.
But are some humans really not meant to be monogamous? And how do you know if you’re one of them?
First of all, what is polyamory exactly?
On their most basic level, polyamorous relationships are intimate relationships that involve more than two people, says Matt Lundquist, L.C.S.W., a relationship therapist in New York.
Polyamory: having intimate, loving relationships with multiple people.
But there’s a wide range of what polyamory can look like in practice. “A polyamorous relationship might include three or more relatively equal partners in an ongoing romantic emotional relationship either sharing a home or dating,” he explains. “Or there are also relationships where one or both partners have a more casual relationship ‘on the side.’”
This requires a lot of negotiating to prevent anyone getting hurt. “Thoughtful polyamorous relationships often come with rules and agreements ironed out early on,” Lundquist explains.
FYI, polyamorous relationships aren’t the same thing as open relationships. It’s also different than polygamy, says Gin Love Thomson, Ph.D., a relationship expert and self-help memoirist. The latter is “usually related to religion and is a male-dominated concept of the man having several wives,” she explains. “Polyamory, on the other hand, is not gender-exclusive.”
Before you take the polyamory plunge…
Every solid polyamorous relationship starts with taking a good, hard look at what you want and what’s going to make you happy. To help you decide if a polyamorous relationship is right for you and your partner, start by asking these seven questions:
1. How jealous are you?
Can you really handle seeing your partner date other people? “This is the most obvious question but also the most important and the hardest to answer,” says Lundquist. “Even when a given partner doesn’t want to be jealous or possessive, monogamy is so heavily ingrained in our culture some people just can’t get there.”
To a certain degree, it’s hard to know how you’ll really feel about your partner having another relationship until you dip your toe in the water, Lundquist says. But taking an honest look at how you’ve dealt with jealousy-inducing situations in the past can give you some important insight, he says.
There are a few specific questions you can ask yourself to test this: How did it feel that time you ran into your partner’s ex at a party? Do you find yourself getting uncomfortable when your partner keeps bringing up how much fun they have with their favorite coworker? Do you feel irritated when you see the bartender flirting with your partner? “I think life tests our jealous plenty,” Lundquist says. “We just don’t always look at the evidence honestly.”
2. Is this something you both want?
“Often, one partner is more into the idea of experimenting with the polyamorous lifestyle than the other,” explains Thompson. If that’s the case, it can cause a problematic power imbalance.
“The slightly hesitant partner, who is often participating to satisfy their partner and keep from losing them altogether, suffers,” she says. “As does the relationship.” If you’re looking to polyamory as a last resort or as a way to keep your partner from cheating, these are major red flags.
3. What is your (and your partner’s) motivation?
There are a few common goals that signal the arrangement might be a positive experience for you and your partner.
One major one: feeling limited by monogamy, says Lundquist. If you and your partner both feel that your monogamous relationship isn’t quite meeting your needs for closeness and intimacy (and that no monogamous relationship really could), it might be a signal that polyamory is a better fit for you.
A good motivation might also be as simple as “wanting more love and intimacy in your life, and wanting to see your partner be happy,” Lundquist says.
4. How secure do you feel in your current relationship?
“Sharing a partner creates shifts in the dynamic of trust and intimacy,” says Thompson.
That can be a slippery slope—especially if your relationship isn’t that solid to begin with. “Thoughtful polyamory takes more maturity and a stronger relationship from the start because the issues of jealousy and trust can be so difficult to navigate,” Lundquist says.
Figuring out how secure your relationship is isn’t an exact science, says Lundquist, but there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you test it. Are you and your partner good at resolving fights? Can you easily get on the same page about issues and goals for the relationship? Do you feel secure and not anxious about your partner’s love and commitment?
“It’s about looking at the evidence with sober eyes,” says Lundquist, adding it can also be helpful to talk these questions through with a therapist since someone outside the relationship may be able to spot potential issues more easily .
If the answer to a lot of these questions is no, it might mean your relationship is lacking the foundation necessary for polyamory.
5. What groundrules do you want to establish?
As Lundquist points out, polyamorous relationships require a lot more negotiating, so you should be prepared to talk out new challenges as they come up. “Once things get going, you might find yourself surprised that you aren’t always on the same page with your partner,” he says.
The best way to stave off these potential conflicts is to set up some guidelines with your partner on the front end. Before starting any new relationships, talk through the logistics: What behaviors are okay? Is anyone off limits? Will you spend time together as a group and meet your partner’s partners?
“Even for couples who’ve bought into the idea of a polyamorous relationship, being able to say, for example, ‘I’d like to skip lunch with your sister so I can go on a date’ can be pretty awkward—not to mention disappointing,” Lundquist says. Before going poly, make a specific list with your partner of which behaviors are okay and which ones aren’t—including how many details you’ll give each other about other relationships or dates.
6. How will trying polyamory affect your future together?
Is polyamory going to be a forever thing? “Discuss with your partner whether you intend to shift gears when you have a kid or at another life event in the future,” says Lundquist.
It’s also a good idea to talk about how you’ll handle it if polyamory no longer feels like it’s working for one of you. “Check-ins are an important part of this type of relationship,” says Lundquist. “Some couples use a therapist for this or even a friend who’s more experienced with poly relationships.” Put a standing date on the calendar (these can be as often as bi-weekly or more spaced out every month or so—whatever you feel most comfortable with) where you both know the explicit purpose is to talk about how the relationship is going, which can help remove any awkwardness around bringing it up.
The most important thing, he says, is that each of you feels comfortable expressing when you’re not cool with something. If you don’t feel like you can bring it up when something’s not working for you in the relationship, that problem is only going to get bigger the deeper you get into polyamory.
There’s no exact science to answering these questions, but if exploring them makes you or your partner uncomfortable in any way, polyamory may not be the right fit for your curent relationship—or you.
Macaela Mackenzie Macaela Mackenzie is a freelance journalist specializing in health, culture, and tech, and she regularly contributes to outlets like Prevention, Women’s Health, Shape, Allure, Men’s Health, the John Hopkins Health Review, and more.