We are expected to have multiple friends who give us different things, yet this mindset stops short of intimate relationships. Why is it necessarily limited to one partner? Polyamory provides space for more.
I started daydreaming about having multiple partners when I was a teenager, secretly writing stories about a woman who had numerous lovers to choose from for an evening. I sent those stories to my now-husband when we were in high school together; he appreciated what a rebel this writing made me, having done it while growing up in a religious household. We were just hitting our twenties when we started dating, and neither of us had many previous relationships. By the time we were engaged, four years after high school, we both felt we had missed out on the dating experience. Intimate human connection was vital to us, and we wondered what it would be like to be with other people, particularly with the same sex since we are both bisexual. We talked about swinging, since it was the only non-monogamous sex act we had been exposed to, but never acted on it. Three years into the relationship, a co-worker introduced me to the term polyamory and my identity started to come into focus. Being polyamorous is part of who I am in the same way I identify as bisexual; it does not feel like a choice for me.
While an open relationship means individuals in a couple have agreed one or both can have sex with other partners, being polyamorous means having more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship simultaneously, with all parties consenting to the arrangement. Relationships look different for every polycule—a network of people in non-monogamous relationships. Some are completely open, while others are closed groups that only have relationships with each other. Triads all date each other; V relationships have one person dating two partners. It is common to address everyone and their partners as a constellation. The term ‘metamour’ refers to your partner’s partner; some metamours are friends, though some prefer not to become close.
Finally, I had the tools I needed to explore non-monogamy: a precise vocabulary and a willing first partner. From our monogamous standpoint at the time, my coworker felt like a safe option for exploration: he already had a serious partner and wouldn’t try to steal me from my husband. He was also a trusted friend.
My husband and I started seeing people together at first, in the form of threesomes and moresomes. We prioritized safety, met so many wonderful people, learned about our sexualities, and had a lot of fun. I found myself becoming emotionally intimate with some of the people who joined us, and I started to date them more seriously by myself. While my husband was more interested in sex without relationships, he was supportive of me dating other people.
When you date within the swinger and poly community, it is not uncommon for the first hour of conversation to include discussion about your polycule, STI safety questions and recent test results, sexual interests, triggers, and hard limits. The positives are plentiful and, within this community, I am thriving. I am communicating well and building new, positive relationships with lovers.
As a server, I recall many evenings working at the bar, chatting with regulars, and casually mentioning my “boyfriend” in one conversation and my “husband” in another, often to their surprise or confusion. I was very open with everyone in my work environment. They would ask me, perplexed, if I was married, and I would explain that I was polyamorous. It made for great conversation and it was nice not to have to hide my true self. Plus, my partners sometimes visited me at work, which would otherwise lead to awkward situations if someone saw me kiss my girlfriend when they knew I was married to a man. Most patrons and coworkers responded positively to my sexual orientation and identity; they were both respectful and fascinated.
However, interacting with some people when they find out I’m poly can be bittersweet. Some of my family judged me severely and, for this and other reasons, we no longer speak. Other family members struggle to accept this aspect of my life, openly disagreeing, but not disowning me—we simply don’t talk about it. Not talking about it is difficult because it means my other partner can’t join on vacations or family functions and I have to hide that part of my life from my family. At work, some men, when they find out I’m poly, get a look of intrigue on their faces and say, “When can we go out?” This is frustrating to hear because it implies that if I am not monogamous, I must be down to date anyone.
Polyamory is about loving people. In my experience, it feels unfair to ask one person to give me everything I need for the rest of my life. I married my husband because I want to build a life with him, but for me that doesn’t automatically imply other people can’t share that life with us. People need friends, family, and partners—but why is it necessarily limited to one? It is expected that one will have multiple friends who give you different things, yet this mindset stops short of intimate relationships.
While my current situation includes my husband and one partner, at one point I had four partners (the schedule coordination is mandatory!) and was still seeing people casually with my husband. At another time, I wasn’t dating at all. The first two years were very exploratory for me: I dated a lot, casually saw a lot of people both with my husband and alone, and figured out what I wanted from polyamory. Maybe this was my version of dating after high school that I felt was missing—seeing what’s out there and learning what you want. I discovered I wanted a smaller constellation with two to three long-term partners.
Because all partners are consenting, polyamory creates space for a lot of love and support. My husband challenges me intellectually and supports me when life is hard. We play Dungeons & Dragons and enjoy Sunday night drag shows. When my husband is having a rough day with his anxiety and needs care, my other partner can help support me and make sure I’m taken care of, too. They are comforting and adventurous. We go camping and can’t wait for concerts and festivals to begin again. Because of polyamory, I feel complete.
For anyone interested in exploring the topic of polyamory, I recommend researching online and joining communities where you can learn from and discuss with others. My favourite resources currently include: