How to Not Suck at Polyamory

I have been in a transparent, honest relationship for almost 4 years and frequently encounter the same questions and comments.

  • Don’t you get jealous?
  • Don’t you get lonely?
  • What if he/she falls in love with someone else?
  • Was this his/her idea or yours?
  • I could NEVER do that. If my boyfriend was texting someone else, I’d freak.
  • Do you have a lot of threesomes?

A more “mainstream” title for my partner and I could be “polyamorous” or “in an open relationship”. . For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the term “polyamory” for this article though I shy away from these terms in general because they have such judgments attached to them, usually with people jumping to the assumption that we just fuck random people all the time.

Yes – sometimes polyamory does mean sexual intimacy with others. However, brace yourself for this surprise  – sometimes  it doesn’t.  As a polyamorous person, dating is the same as it is for monogamy-seeking single people: you meet someone, you are attracted to them, and you “date” to get to know each other better. Sometimes this means your initial attraction develops into a physical connection, sometimes it doesn’t. Since most of us started out in monogamous relationships and then discover poly later, our version of polyamory is generally a direct reflection of our version of monogamy. So if you are quick to have sex with people and are mainly interested in a sexual connection – this is how poly will be for you. If you are slow to open up sexually, if you desire an emotional bond before you can be comfortable sexually – this is how poly will be for you, and so on and so on with every combination in between.

For my partner and I, every now and then one of us will come across someone we’re sexually attracted to. Sometimes we act on it, sometimes we don’t. A lot of times the awkwardness and nervousness of sex with a new person just isn’t worth it. Its fun to talk about and there is indescribably fantastic freedom in knowing that you have permission to act. But 9 times out of 10 – that’s enough. In general, we are interested in deep friendships, love, and emotional intimacy, with a sexual connection being the icing on the cake.

Here are some other examples of polyamory, which have nothing to do with sex, and are things typically not “allowed” in monogamous relationships with anyone other than your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife:

  • Cuddling
  • Kissing
  • Massage
  • Emotional intimacy
  • Spending any kind of quality time together with anyone else unless the other person is your trusted best friend or is of the same sex
  • Hand holding
  • Flirting
  • Hugging (beyond just the two second hello/goodbye bullshit hug)
  • Any kind of extensive communication via phone, skype, text, facebook, etc.

In our society where the majority of us are repressed, afraid to talk about our feelings and comfortable making assumptions instead of asking – any of those activities mentioned above are rarely taken at face value. They are all presumed to be leading somewhere – to sex.  We are so starved for human touch, a connection, and physical intimacy that we frequently make something out of nothing and lump sexual intimacy in the same category as physical and/or emotional intimacy. Or, even worse, we feel guilty for “just” wanting to (insert activity here) for fear that we are now “leading them on” and this keeps us from sharing sweet, simple affection.

Think about this example – parents are affectionate with their children, but at some point they back off. At some point it becomes inappropriate. The parents now only have their significant other to fulfill their need for touch, and the children in turn have to find this physical affection somewhere else. And where is the only socially acceptable place to get it? A boyfriend or a girlfriend. That’s it. That partner you choose is your sole source to fill that undeniable human need. This is setting us all up for failure.

To me, polyamory is all the comforts of monogamy {a committed partner, relationship security, and someone to grow old with} with the bull-shit factor removed – I don’t have to pretend, I don’t have to hide my feelings, and I don’t have to limit myself to loving just one person.

Many people apply extensive rules and constructs to their poly relationships that are from a place of fear and insecurity that exists with two people in reaction mode carrying shit tons of personal baggage unwilling to look at their own personal short comings and triggers.

The foundation of my relationship is deep respect, total trust, and a genuine enjoyment of each other’s company. As such, we essentially have no rules. Poly to us means to love whoever, whenever and however we feel free to. The only “rules” we do practice are in place naturally and organically: respect the others health/safety by practicing safe sex, and be completely transparent about communication and feelings towards other people. In other words, we share all of our thoughts and communication with all of our partners. Not out of a place of obligation, but out of a place of genuine curiosity. This also removes the burden of maintaining separate relationships, and prevents anyone from having to keep any secrets with one person

Here’s some things we practice personally, which result in bring in a drama free, open-love union:

  1. Be your own best friend

It sounds so corny, but it’s true. Get to a place where you really, truly love yourself, are able to spend time alone and genuinely enjoy your own company.

  1. “Happiness is an inside job.”

You hear this all the time, and we all do it. “I’ll be happy when I get a new job/move to a new house/find a boyfriend”. If you’re in a position where a partner will be filling a void then you’re somewhat doomed for codependency from the start. Do whatever you need to do to be a happy, whole person unto yourself and not only will you attract that same type of person, but you will be with that person because you want to be, not because you need to be.

  1. You should be able to get everything from one person

To be emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally fulfilled by just one person is a fatuous concept. It’s not your fault that you believe it, but let it go immediately. Seriously. We are conditioned by society to believe this and inevitably  find ourselves dissatisfied in some way so we blame our partner. We conclude “something is missing”. Maybe we go to marriage counseling or start entertaining thoughts of an affair. It’s unhealthy, frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying. Be open to receiving from all types of friendships and relationships and you will find your heart and spirit more full and content than ever.

  1. If One + One only = Two – then what’s the point?

David Deida introduces the astute concept of 3 stages of relationships. The first stage is characterized by the traditional 1950’s gender roles and sexually differentiated co-dependence and power struggles. Stage two is the “fifty-fifty”, where equality reigns supreme, we have sexually neutralized co-independence and cooperation, and our main aspiration is really just to get along. Stage three is where we finally break free of the more timid and passionless aspects of the second-stage and our partners begin to open us up to the universe more than we could ever open ourselves alone. Which leads me to – if one plus one only equals two……then what IS the point of being in relationship? We must strive to annihilate fear, be vulnerable, and allow ourselves to be opened wide.

  1. Love expands, it doesn’t deplete

One of the most common misconceptions of polyamory is that if you are loving and giving attention to someone else, it will take away from the love you have to give to your other partner (s). Many are overwhelmed at the thought of “maintaining” multiple girlfriends/boyfriends. But think about the way parents love their first child. When they add additional siblings, their love multiplies – it doesn’t divide. This same concept is true for polyamory.

  1. If you love them, let them go

This idea is the hardest for most to wrap their minds around, but it is the answer to “What if he/she falls in love with someone else?” One of the keys for me was getting to a place where, if my partner fell in love and would be happier with someone else – I would never ever want to keep him from that. I want him to be with me because he wants to be, not out of some weird obligation or fear for my well being.  In terms of a polyamorous union, this is sort of a catch 22. If he falls in love with someone else – that’s fine because he doesn’t have to choose, so the likelihood of a separation is slim to none. This is the beauty of open love.

  1. Let go of your attachment to a particular outcome

Even the big ones like “growing old together”. Your commitment must be to each other’s happiness and personal growth. Even though you may picture yourselves together forever, sometimes to love someone in the deepest way is to let them go if that’s what will serve their higher self. Practicing non-attachment also makes seeking and/or entertaining new partners drama free. If you ask someone for their phone number, they may not give it to you. If you share an emotional connection, it might not translate to the physical. Appreciate everything simply for what it is and not for what you expect it to be.

  1. Reactions and feelings of others are not your responsibility

I’m not telling you to go around treating people like shit and not caring, but know what is yours to carry and what is not. As long as you are in your integrity and are existing as your authentic self then the emotional well being or approval of others shouldn’t drive your boat or take up your precious energy. If someone doesn’t approve of your lifestyle, if someone has hurt feelings because you don’t feel the same way about them, if someone feels awkward in your presence or because of your actions, etc. – have compassion, but know when to stop and recognize that it’s their shit, not yours.

  1. Everything is an opportunity for reflection

If you find feelings of jealousy or insecurity popping up, if you don’t like the man/woman your partner is suddenly interested in, if you find yourself needing lots of rules and guidelines, or are feeling anything negative or uncomfortable – look at it. Really look at it. Most of the time we are in reaction mode and are just dealing with the surface issue (it’s not really about the dishes in the sink or the face that she was late again). If you dig deep and take it all the way – you’ll be amazed at what you find and what you can let go of. This can be exhausting though and you must be willing to do it. That’s one of the great things about Poly – you’re always bumping up against old belief systems, finding things that need healthy reprogramming, and making room for the new.

  1. Give toxic people the boot

When treading through socially awkward territory like polyamory, you are sure to push the buttons of mainstream friends and family, and even of people that you thought you knew. They may feel threatened by the freedom of polyamory, and by your new found happiness in opening up your life to more love. Perhaps they wish they could do it themselves and are experiencing jealousy, perhaps they are in an unsatisfactory relationship and can’t find a way out, and perhaps they are simply living in fear of change. Everyone has their own path and discovers life in their own time frame. Surround yourself with non-judgmental, open-minded friends so that you can all be inspired by your dreams and celebrate your differences. Don’t waste too much time on people who are unwilling to support your happiness and curiosity.

Finally! An article that perfectly expresses the beauty of non-traditional relationships (like the one I’m in)

This is one of the best articles I have ever read on this subject of non-traditional relationships: My Two Husbands

Please read the article as it perfectly explains my life, and it inspired this somewhat rant-y blog post.

The author of that article writes so well. Literally every line I was nodding in agreement with and felt almost a sense of relief that someone had articulate so well what is always so hard for me to explain. She says, “Jealousy is born from a fear of losing a partner; if you believe that love and intimacy can be shared, and are not diminished by sharing, then that fear loses a lot of its power. It was liberating for my husband to step outside of the box that saw everyone else as some kind of threat.”…….”we seek to understand why we’re feeling insecure. Rather than saying, “You can’t do this with this other person,” we try to pinpoint what’s missing from our own relationship. We say things like, “I’m having a hard time, and I could really use some quality one-on-one time with you right now.” Being able to ask for what you need — rather than direct negativity at a partner’s other relationship — is vital in a polyamorous relationship. Opening ourselves up in this way was a revelation for my husband and me. We became more connected with each other than we’d been in years.”

I think this is necessary for all relationships, not just polyamourous ones.

She goes on to say: Even people who don’t vilify us still have a great deal of misconception. Aren’t you just “having your cake and eating it too,” they ask me? (we get this all the time and it can feel very hurtful and disrespectful).

 

One example, and this isn’t anything different, it just happens to be one of the most recent ones: A few weeks ago Kris and I were at a restaurant with 3 friends. One of them was a new friend we didn’t know very well. A cute guy walked by and I made a comment about him. The new friend looked surprised, confused, maybe even offended, and asked Kris how this made him feel. This kind of question is always so foreign because this way of being is normal for us, and we forget that it’s not for most other people. We just said something vague about having a different sort of relationship dynamic. She asked what we meant by different. We were both at a loss for words and just said, “Uh….you know…..sort of like an open relationship.” She got “that look” and said, “Oh, ok.”

It’s frustrating because I don’t like labels in general, but especially the term “open relationship”. It’s not correct at all, but for some reason, maybe because it is a term most people have heard before, it seems to be what we say a lot to people who have questions – especially if we don’t have a lot of time to explain, or don’t feel like explaining. “Open relationship” conjures up images of random causal sex with all kinds of different partners. And that’s not what our relationship is like at all.

We went on to explain a little bit more the best we could, but we didn’t do our relationship justice at all. This new friend said the same thing that most people say, “Oh, yeah, well you guys don’t have kids, so…..” We also get, “Oh, yeah well you guys are so young”. I get that logic, but it’s a very condescending thing to say. It makes us sound like two college kids who are just sowing our wild oats. It diminishes our love for and our commitment to each other. I also think it’s something people say  because they are incredibly uncomfortable and afraid of the subject, and throwing the kid card or the age card in the mix immediately separates them from us and gives them a convenient excuse. It’s sort of an interesting defense mechanism because we didn’t ask why they are not in an open/poly/alternative/whatever-you-wanna-call-it relationship. We don’t give a shit. Yet people seem to feel the need to give the reason why they aren’t doing what we’re doing. Also – we’re not that young. This particular woman was only a few years older than Kris (he’ll be 38 next week). We’ve both been married, divorced, single, lived alone and know what we want and who we are as people. This isn’t a phase we’re going through and it’s not because we’re extremist hippies determined to live unconventionally.

We talked about it later that night, about how we might better answer that questions, since we get it all the time and will probably be answering it for the rest of our lives. We decided a better term would be that we’re in an extremely honest relationship, or maybe even using the term polyamory. We aren’t silly enough to think that just because we are committed to each other that some light switch went off and we don’t notice the opposite sex anymore. If a guy walks by and he’s cute – I say it. Kris usually notices cute guys anyway because he knows my taste at this point. The fact that I find someone else attractive has nothing to do with Kris. It doesn’t mean I find him less attractive. If Kris likes someone else and wants to have sex with her – it’s not because he doesn’t want to have sex with me. If I want to cuddle with a friend, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to cuddle with Kris or that I don’t get enough cuddling from Kris.

We operate very genuinely and from right here, right now. Not from past hurts, old baggage, or heartache. Sure, sometimes we have stupid arguments and we are both reacting or being triggered. But we always get to the bottom of it, pick it apart and think of what we’ll do differently next time. And for the most part – we operate from the present, and rarely have disagreements that last longer than two minutes and don’t end well immediately.

I don’t think monogamy is bad, not at all. It clearly works very well for some people. I just look forward to the day when “alternative” relationships aren’t so alternative, and get the same level of respect.