Imagine if your “one and only” was one of many? Polyamorous people believe that you can love more than one person (sexually and/or romantically) at a time.
In this week’s Sex Talk Realness, Cosmopolitan speaks with four people about what it’s really like to be polyamorous.
How old are you?
Woman A: Thirty-four.
Woman B: Twenty-five.
Man A: Twenty-nine.
How long have you been polyamorous for?
Woman A: Almost eight years.
Woman B: I don’t necessarily identify as polyamorous. I am open to poly relationships, but do not actively seek them out.
Man A: A year and a half.
What made you want to try polyamory?
Woman A: I have always had difficulties in monogamous relationships. I get bored of people quickly and was a serial dater until I found out dating multiple people at once ethically was an option.
Woman B: When I was in college, I needed to break out of socially constructed norms to really figure out who I was. I had oppressed my gayness without really being aware of it because of my family and community. I used college to begin to break these chains and redefine myself. One of the men just outside my social circle was poly and had a long-distance boyfriend. We hit it off as he helped me through a traumatic college sexual assault and we hit it off. I had always been curious and felt a low commitment romantic relationship could help me, my confidence, and reclaim my body.
Man A: I was entering a relationship with a poly woman with the hopes of monogamy at first, but per her suggestion I read books like The Ethical Slut and More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory and thought ‘hey, I’ll give it a try too’. We both made promises of primary partnership to one another and vows of open communication.
Are you in a polyamorous relationship now?
Woman A: Yes.
Woman B: No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my relationship evolved to be poly in the future. We have discussed what that would look like, what rules we’d have in place, and why it could be desired.
Man A: No.
What does your relationship look like?
Woman A: I am married and have a child with my husband. I have a boyfriend, who I’ve been with for five years, and he along with my husband are the people who I would consult about big life decisions. My husband has a long term girlfriend. We both have had other relationships during our marriage but currently we each have one additional partner. We don’t share partners or date as a couple.
Woman B: My past poly relationship was with a trans man who had a long-distance, long-term relationship with his boyfriend back home. At school, he was looking for companionship, especially since our college had isolated him from his friends and class because of his gender identity. We built a friendship that turned romantic. When we started a relationship romantically, we made ground rules and opened up true communication.
Man A: In my previous poly relationship, she was far more experienced in polyamory than I was, so she kinda became the arbiter of right and wrong. It was pretty simple at first. Communication was everything and it flourished. She was seeing two other men. One of the relationships was serious, the other not as much. I was seeing a couple other women as well, but the consensus was that we were each other’s primary partner. I told her about the people I was seeing and she told me about the people she was seeing.
Do you have any rules you never break in your relationships?
Woman A: My husband and I agreed to only have children with each other. That’s the only big one.
Woman B: Most of our rules revolved around complete honesty. We both were able to do as we wished with whomever, but had to tell the other person before if possible. So, if a crush or tension grew with another person, we would discuss it. It was refreshing to regularly discuss the very normal attractions that happen in an environment like a small college campus. Another rule was his boyfriend was his first priority; I was perfectly happy knowing that there were no long-term expectations.
I also remember we did not text other love interests or partners while we were together. It was important for me to get quality time, so my then-boyfriend would tell his boyfriend beforehand that it was a night for me and the same would happen when his boyfriend came to visit. Clear boundaries are important.
Man A: We had basically three rules. We had were to tell each other whenever we were going on a date with a new person. We should be always checking in with one another as to how things made us feel. And people that we were dating had to know that we were poly and that we already had a primary partner. But it seemed new rules kept popping with each little indiscretion, which was fine because something as difficult as a successful poly relationship requires a certain mailability.
Do your partners interact with each other at all?
Woman A: My husband and my boyfriend consider each other family. I don’t think they’d be friends outside of me but they get along and text each other terrible dad jokes I hate. I text my husband’s girlfriend, primarily for scheduling issues but we get along.
“when you like and respect someone, having other people on your team who like and respect them is refreshing and helpful,”
Woman B: Yes, his boyfriend came to his house with him a couple of times. We would still be intimate when he was around when saying hello and goodbye. It was a little awkward the first time, but we got used to it—and when you like and respect someone, having other people on your team who like and respect them is refreshing and helpful if you can build that rapport.
Man A: I met the guy that she was serious with and he seemed cool, he was totally different from me, which surprisingly made me feel happy. My partner never met anyone I was with.
How do you deal with jealousy?
Woman A: Talking. Lots of talking. I’m not a super jealous person to begin with but when it comes up, talking it out with my partners helps.
Woman B: I mostly experienced jealousy coming from my then-boyfriend’s friends. I believe a couple of them were interested in him and were mad when I came into the picture. We didn’t deal with it and it was a part of the reason we stopped.
Man A: Historically, I am not a jealous person, but when I met the other man that my partner was serious with I thought I might be. He sounded more worldly and more successful. When we met, I was surprised I wasn’t jealous at all. I found he was providing things to her that I never could. I can’t and don’t want to be everything to someone. What made me jealous though was when she started seeing people more casually and bring more people into the fray.
“I can’t and don’t want to be everything to someone.”
What about STIs?
Woman A: Safe sex practices for all concerned and regular tests.
Woman B: It was never an issue, both of them were tested before I entered into the dynamic.
Man A: Our rule was safe sex with everyone else and regular screenings. It did become something I worried about though at the end of our relationship as trust was starting to diminish.
What do you like most about being poly?
Woman A: Having more people to lean on. I had a very high risk pregnancy and was on bedrest for the last several weeks. My husband worked a job that could not be done from home but my boyfriend could, so my boyfriend worked from my house so someone was in the house with me in case I needed medical attention. I lay on my couch and watched Brooklyn 99 while he worked on his laptop and kept my water glass filled. It helped so much and made my husband much less worried knowing someone was there who cared for me.
Woman B: I really appreciated being able to determine the level of commitment I was capable of at the time and having that as okay. I also loved that there was never any marriage or long term talk. Having clear boundaries and expectations put me at ease and enabled me to grow and change. Overall, poly to me was the freedom to follow my gut and heart as well as discover more sides of me I hadn’t seen before.
Man A: I liked the open line of communication. In a lot of ways it was the more communicative and open I’d ever been with someone. I had always struggled with telling my true feelings with prior relationships and that was sometimes their downfall.
What are the hardest parts of being poly?
Woman A: Managing multiple schedules. Seriously. Organizing trips and date nights and time together is a pain!
Woman B: I feel like it works best when you have high self-confidence, self-assurance, and trust those around you, therefore any faltering in confidence or self-assurance is challenging. Also, being honest with your partner about internal thoughts is also hard —it takes time and practice to build strong communication.
Man A: Broadly, I would also have to say the communication. I would get comfortable with how things were and I wouldn’t tell my partner something and vice versa and it would blow up. Personally though, I just got stretched thin. As a partner, I didn’t feel like I was giving anyone their fair shake.
How has being poly changed your sex life?
Woman A: It’s probably improved it. When I am feeling affectionate towards one partner it often bleeds into how I feel about others. And I get to have lots of different kinds of sex that I wouldn’t necessarily with only one partner.
Woman B: Before my poly relationship I was semi-closeted and unsure of my sexual identity. After my poly relationship, I came out as a lesbian. My poly relationship gave me the space to try out new things (and body parts) and feel confident in myself. For me, my poly relationship was intimately tied to the LGBT aspect of the relationship.
Man A: I was definitely having more sex, but it was probably one of the more difficult parts of poly for me. My sexual energy and pleasure resides so fully in my head. If I was thinking at all about one of my other partners I wasn’t going to be enjoying the sex I was having. And then I could not easily transition into another sexual relationship with my other partners. I almost needed a buffer period.
Do your monogamous family and friends know you’re poly? How did they react when they found out?
Woman A: Yes, I had a big dramatic coming out post on Facebook a few years ago after my daughter was born. We decided to come out because we don’t believe in lying to our daughter. I didn’t want my child responsible for keeping her parents’ relationships a secret or accidentally outing her father and I. Most of our friends already knew and were fine. Family-wise, some people took it harder than others and there were some negative reactions but overall it went well and we didn’t lose any friendships or family.
“I didn’t want my child responsible for keeping her parents’ relationships a secret or accidentally outing her father and I.”
Woman B: Yes, people were quite surprised. I think they spent more time processing that I was dating a trans man than the poly aspect because they didn’t understand the identity at all. They didn’t understand why I would want to date someone who is dating someone else and prioritizes them, but they also didn’t know the trauma that had occurred. They also still haven’t accepted the fact that I am gay.
Man A: Oh yeah, everyone knew, I wasn’t shy. There was a feeling from them that was a faze I was going through. Maybe it was. I certainly gleaned a lot from it and take things I liked about it into monogamous relationships now.
When do you tell potential partners that you’re polyamorous?
Woman A: Before any actual date happens.
Woman B: When we discuss dating history, I share my experience and say I am open to it in the future.
Man A: I think the only ethical way to tell someone you are poly is to do it right away. It needs to be part of their whole picture when they are developing their attraction towards you. Otherwise it’s disingenuous.
Can you imagine yourself being monogamous in the future?
Woman A: I am in two relationships right now that I want to be in for the rest of my life, so no. I cannot see myself being monogamous again. All the best parts of monogamy I have with multiple folks now.
“All the best parts of monogamy I have with multiple folks now.”
Woman B: I currently am happily monogamous. I do feel like more of my needs would be met with we were poly because one person cannot fill all of them, but it isn’t something I think about or feel often.
Man A: Yes, I am right now. I guess the better question for me is, ‘Can I imagine myself being poly in the future?’ Right now, no. It’s not that I’m a huge proponent of monogamy, if anything I believe in a polyamory over a lifetime in which I love, I mean really love, several women over the course of my life through the vessel of monogamy.
Do you have any advice for Cosmo readers who might be thinking about becoming polyamorous?
Woman A: Talk. Talk. Talk. Healthy open relationships aren’t done in secrecy. Healthy open relationships require talking and honesty and care, like any other relationship.
Woman B: For anyone interested in entering into a poly relationship, I would do a self-assessment and couple-assessment first to ensure everyone feels comfortable, confident, and everyone is being honest in the current relationship. Sometimes people enter into poly relationships when they are vulnerable, causing bad feelings like jealousy, frustration, and ultimately leads to the collapse of the relationship.
“Healthy open relationships aren’t done in secrecy.”
Ask yourself, have you been open and honest with your partner (or will you be able to be with future partners) about feelings of attraction, jealousy, or any relational problems? Poly relationships, more than mono, are built upon open communication, trust, and honesty. It is essential. I would also do some work to figure how what to do when bad feels come up either together, as a group, or personally depending on the dynamic.
Man A: Be careful, but it can be very rewarding. I’ve never communicated better and it was wonderful meeting all these new beautiful people while still being in a strong committed relationship. But, and this was the case for me, a lot of times I hopped into new relationships hoping they will be the missing piece, but they weren’t. They might be for a time, but the missing piece is always inside me.
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