Polyamory comes with a lot of ingrained questions. What does that actually mean? Is it a new way of framing relationships? Is it “consensual” cheating? How do I talk to my partner about it?
I asked three polyamorous people to talk to me a little about their relationships. Rosie and J are a couple living in England who have been together since 2014. Elaine is a married woman living in Las Vegas who has been with her partner for nearly 20 years.
What does polyamory mean to you?
Rosie & J: It’s redefining the limits of consent in our relationship. Some people might think it’s about removing those boundaries, but that’s a misconception. Openness isn’t a lack of communication, it’s a different way of going about it.
Elaine: It’s a broader term for loving and having relationships with more than one person. I say it that way because different people practice non-monogamy differently. They might have a “primary” or “secondary” partner, but that isn’t how it works for us.
When did you first decide to get involved in a polyamorous relationship?
J: Before we got together, we both had a crush on the same girl, and she was in an open relationship. Once Rosie and I started dating, we got to talking about how fun it would be to get with her.
Rosie: The words “polyamorous” or “openness” hadn’t crossed our minds at that point. It was a sexy thing to do with a sexy person. Since then, we’ve had the ups and downs that you find in any relationship, only we’re able to celebrate with and lean on each other through those times.
Elaine: We didn’t call it polyamory at first, in part because we were nervous. Our rule at the beginning was that this was only for sex and not for feelings. But over time it became clear that that wasn’t going to be sustainable, so we decided to call it what it is.
How did you talk about polyamory with your partner at the beginning? What about now?
Rosie: At the beginning it was something fun, and we had a great time. We’re a lot more wary about it now, as we’ve had some bad experiences. That’s not to say we’re strictly monogamous, but like in anything, it makes you more cautious.
Elaine: At the beginning, we were just trying to talk about what would work for our marriage. We took it one step at a time Now, it’s more deliberate thing. As my partner’s new relationship became more serious, we decided we needed to readjust our rules to accommodate this new person in our lives, and my partner’s feelings for her.
How do you introduce a new person into a polyamorous relationship?
Rosie: It’s like any other friendship. You get to know them over time, and once you feel like you might be interested in them, you have to make sure they’re interested back. Find out how they feel about alternative relationship styles over time. I don’t see myself being attracted to someone who isn’t open to polyamory. I talk about my partner every day, so they would have to know about J.
J: I’ve always been honest about my relationship, I don’t hide my partner in any way. If someone didn’t react positively to that, I would lose interest in them. But I can’t emphasize enough how much fun it is to have a crush on someone while you’re in a relationship, or how much fun it is when your partner has a crush on someone!
Elaine: As a stay-at-home mom, I don’t get to meet many people organically. I’ve only ever met people on dating apps, but that can be a good thing too. They know upfront that I’m married. The conversations can be very honest and upfront from the first date.
What’s your advice for people who want to bring up the subject of polyamory with their partner?
Rosie: Start small. Start by saying things like, “She’s really pretty.” It’s important to be open enough with your partner to let them know you fancy someone or think someone is cute. Rather than thinking, “How do tell my partner?” my advice is to instead ask, “Why do I want to do this?” There are a lot of very valid reasons to get involved in polyamory, but there are also a lot of terrible reasons. You need to be honest with yourself and your partner about why you want to do it.
J: Be honest about having crushes on people. It’s natural in a relationship. And talking about your crushes with your partner can be a lot of fun–if only so that you can give them a hard time about it!
Elaine: I have so many! Do some homework first. Read up on polyamory, and find out how other people are doing it. Not to copy them, but it can give you an idea of things you do or don’t want, what to expect, things like that.
Keep in mind that it’s scary at first, and it can make your partner feel insecure. Realize that there may be some initial fear and feelings of inadequacy, and that’s going to happen and it’s very real. Just be as honest as you can about verbalizing what you’re interested in, what that might look like, what needs need to be met.
It’s really cliché, but all the bumps we’ve had were about communication. Remember to tell your partners what’s going on, even little things like who you’re spending time with and when.