Things to Consider Before Trying Polyamory

The year is now 2019, and polyamory, otherwise known as, consensual non-monogamy, has grown immensely in popularity, with people seemingly swinging or welcoming other partners into their bedroom with an incredible frequency. Polyamory, for those that aren’t yet aware, is a relationship dynamic that allows the intimate, sexual, and/or romantic aspect to be shared among multiple partners, for instance, when a married couple decides they’ll allow one another to pursue other romantic partners to fulfill newly developed desires they hadn’t previously had when they got married. Are you new to the poly life or perhaps just considering it? Maybe you’ve even already attempted poly or are in a poly relationship now and wondering how you could make it better. Whatever your circumstance, here are the things I’ve discovered that are essential considerations before just “winging” it, which can sometimes have less than happy endings.

While the increase in popularity has been dramatic over the past decade or so, it wasn’t always this way, and polyamory was relegated to a very select few people who were, like me, seemingly tucked away in obscurity. My last monogamous relationship was in 2005 and it seems like at that point in time, polyamory was hardly even discussed — I didn’t even know the definition of what I was doing when I explored poly in 2006; in short, I didn’t know there was even a word for it. Cut forward to 2019, and it’s been a decade of several relationships, most of them long-term and there have been both a lot of challenges and heartache, as well as a lot of unbelievably rewarding experiences along the way. From my experiences and observations, if you’re considering poly or a partner has brought it up in your relationship, here are the most important things to consider before you take the plunge.

Limits: Your personal limits are an extremely important aspect to every relationship, as it is our respective boundaries within the relationship which we use to maintain our independence, our individuality, and assure that our comforts are maximized as individual people who’ve fused into a commitment with another individual person. When some people hear of polyamory, the first thing that comes to their minds is something like a massive ancient Roman orgy party with Caligula, with everyone doing what they want without a care, under the moonlight and drunk on wine while they celebrate with Bacchus. But this isn’t actually the reality of poly life, for better or for worse, the reality is that for a successful life trying your hand at poly, it’s smart to set out your limits first, so that way you don’t end up diving into something head-first that makes you — or your partner — extremely uncomfortable once you’re on the inside. I personally couldn’t do a “limitless” version of poly, it’s simply too risky for my personal composition, but there are a lot of people out there who might enjoy such a thing…so what would your limits be? What would your limits be for yourself and what would they be for your partner, as the two may vary? Are those limits something that can be agreed upon by yourself and your partner? These are the kinds of questions you want to approach as honestly as possible.

Double Standards: Our culture tells us frequently and almost unquestioningly that double standards are a bad thing, but are they really always bad? I actually beg to differ that they are and think that fairness is overrated; and poly relationships have been the things that have taught me that double standards aren’t always bad. Sometimes, when it comes to establishing limits, double standards are just the sensible option, so I wouldn’t suggest to shy away from them in the name of a fairness that would leave all parties unhappy or unfulfilled. Personally, I love doing the dishes. I consider doing the dishes to be almost a therapy in and of itself, but my current partner isn’t so fond of doing the dishes, to say the least, but she enjoys cooking much more than I (okay, I’ll admit it, she’s a much better cook, too), so the sensible compromise to maximize the happiness of everyone involved is clear: if she cooks, I’ll clean the dishes. I draw this analogy because the sexual dynamics of every individual are quite unique in their makeup, so while something might be perfectly okay with you, they aren’t okay with your partner, and that’s fine — what matters is security, comfort, and happiness, not a tit-for-tat fairness.

Security: This is another massive factor I often tell people who come to me asking about the poly life to consider, as your personal security or lack thereof going into a poly life will definitely play out in a more pronounced way. I would suggest to be completely secure in yourself and your sexuality before venturing down this path and not do it out of obligation or because a partner demanded it of you. If you feel like you’re worried about losing your partner before poly, that fear is likely to be magnified when that fear is personified in the face of someone they might actually run off with. How would you feel about your partner walking out of the front door to go on a dinner date with another person? Do you think you’d spend the next few hours with a million different scenes playing in your head of all the different things that could go wrong or how they may not be that into you anymore? Or, like me, do you wish them well in a full belief that your contribution to the relationship is invaluable and irreplaceable, hoping they have a great time and appreciating the fact that you have the flexibility to give your partner such space and freedom? Only you can answer these questions for yourself.

Comfort: Comfort is another big factor to be taken into the equation, which plays a big roll in how the poly aspect plays out. Some people have a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy for their relationships, they see others on the side and it’s a completely unspoken thing, but for those that don’t have this dynamic, for a poly relationship to be successful all parties involved have to be comfortable with one another — even the parties who aren’t sexually active together. Would you be comfortable with someone you didn’t like sleeping with your partner? I’d venture to say that most people probably wouldn’t be, so the comfort and affinity of all parties is essential to maintaining a happy dynamic.

Time: Time is another crucial factor, even for those already involved in the poly life, as our modern, technologically advanced, work-driven society demands so much of it from us, the practical aspect of time can play a big roll in the success or failure of a poly dynamic. The important things to consider here are exactly how many partners you intend to branch out to and what the needs of your current partner and yourself are. Do you need a lot of affection and attention from your partner? If so, a free-for-all could get quite dangerous if your partner is highly successful on the dating field and their time gets stretched out across many people. Or perhaps the inverse happens and you’re successful while your partner isn’t, as you end up biting off a lot more than you can chew, which seems fun at first, until that fun turns into a lot of work. For my dynamic, I’ve found that 2 serious and consistent partners is the maximum that my lifestyle can handle, before I become spread too thin and can’t give my partners enough dedication, focus, attention, and time to keep up with their needs. We live in a busy world and it should be taken into consideration how you will manage your time with each respective party as you bring new people into the mix. My current relationship has 3 consistent, ongoing parties. I know if we tried to branch out and have more than 3 involved, time constraints alone would see to it that we couldn’t maintain a balance to make sure everyone’s physical and emotional needs were met, which is the literal opposite goal of a relationship, right?

On a closing note, polyamory has been extremely good to me, nothing shy of amazing, really, but a good balance, caringness, willingness to listen and compromise, and other traits which make a relationship the enjoyable experience it can be, rather than the absolute nightmare it can also be, is extremely rare to find in one person — let alone trying to find those same traits we value in many people. Basically, I’d be hesitant if you don’t have total confidence that you’re sexually and emotionally, totally indispensable to your partner. If you don’t FEEL this way, like they won’t be able to replace you no matter what, I’d advise against it, cause it will always haunt you. If you can manage it, its the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I could literally never do a 2-party relationship again — it takes a lot of work on yourself to get there, before you can master yourself and your emotions and become comfortable enough with yourself to make poly the rich, rewarding experience it is…but the work is worth it, to me. For me, it’s definitely worth it.

Copyright: Joe Duncan for Medium; 2019