Should You Explore Polyamory?
Considerations for people interested in exploring non-traditional relationship models
In the last decade, the popularity of TV shows like Big Love and Sister Wives have put polyamory in the public eye, for better or worse. More recently, the topic has come up casually on popular shows like Single Parents and The Magicians. Whether you’re single or in a monogamous relationship, chances are you’ve heard something about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy.
My path to figuring out I was polyamorous was a fairly straight and easy one. I was in a space to be free to explore and had the good fortune to connect with a couple people who pointed me in the right direction. This is not the case for everybody. Some people live for years feeling like there must be something else, or that they’re doing something wrong with them when maybe they just weren’t cut out for traditional relationships.
Life changes and paradigm shifts are not easy, and we’re rarely given a map for how to navigate them. If you’re curious about polyamory or considering whether it’s the right option for you or your relationship, here are some questions to consider at the beginning of your exploration.
What appeals to you about polyamory?
People turn to polyamory for different reasons. Some folks consider polyamory a relationship choice, others (like me) feel that it’s the way they were born, more a relationship orientation. I know that some people practice polyamory in a more intellectual manner, but to me it’s something that feels right and natural deep inside me.
Do you feel naturally drawn to the idea of multiple loving relationships? Intellectually, are you drawn to the concept that one person can’t shoulder the burden of meeting 100% of another person’s needs? Are you looking for an open-hearted community, to meet like-minded people? Are you looking for sexual variety and exploration?
Communication is one of the keys to healthy poly relationships, and it starts before you even open up.
“I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer, but it’s a good idea to evaluate your expectations about which parts of an open relationship you find appealing, and which seem a bit more intimidating. Before you start asking potential romantic partners what they feel and how they practice, it’s good to have some thoughts on your answers to the same questions.
If you’re opening up an existing relationship, ask your partner what their reasons are for considering polyamory. Communication is one of the keys to healthy poly relationships, and it starts before you even open up. Knowing why each of you is interested in doing this is a great place to start when talking about what your journey will look like, and how everyone’s needs will be met.
What does your ideal situation look like?
When you imagine your life in polyamorous relationships, do you imagine cohabitation with more than one person, a kitchen-table style situation where you share meals, experiences, and maybe even a household? Would you like lots of partners that you see on a less frequent basis, or one or two partners you focus on? How much actual physical time do you have to give, and how do you imagine allocating it between new and existing partners?
Think about your expectations for yourself and for your partner, and whether those expectations are the same. Addressing the differences in what you are each imagining for yourselves, for each other, and for you both as a couple is an important step. If expectations don’t match up, figuring out why should happen before you step foot on the path to finding additional partners.
If expectations don’t match up, figuring out why should happen before you step foot on the path to finding additional partners.
This is also a great time to keep an eye out for red flags. If one of the reasons for considering opening up is that you are unhappy or basic needs aren’t being met in your current relationship, it’s probably not a good time to add additional partners. A system built on an unhealthy foundation is never stable.
The umbrella of polyamory covers so many iterations of how people practice it. Figuring out what you’re looking for will also help you once you start meeting and conversing with potential partners and need to vocalize what you’re looking for and see if your desires match.
What are your hopes and fears?
Before you begin the journey of adding one or more people to your romantic life, it’s wise to examine yourself. Polyamory involves a ton of communication, and you’ll find that within communication with your partners you’ll need to learn to listen and communicate with your own heart and mind.
Focusing on the desires, ideals, and hopes you have for an open relationship is very positive and necessary. However, spending some time focusing on your fears and doubts is also important. If you don’t identify and discuss the aspects you’re unsure about, you avoid addressing them, and that’s a recipe for disaster later on.
Opening up to your partner about the fears you have will help you lay groundwork for supporting each other.
Some fears are incredibly common in open relationships, fear of abandonment or being replaced, of how to address jealousy, and a natural, basic fear of what’s unfamiliar are very common. Opening up to your partner about the fears you have will help you lay groundwork for supporting each other when they come up naturally.
One of the biggest advantages I’ve noticed since I figured out that polyamory was my path is that it’s led to a lot of self-examination and self-discovery. I am more comfortable recognizing and addressing my feelings, good or bad, than I was before. I’ve basically conditioned myself to be more aware and up front about everything.
What support and resources do you have?
Delving into a new lifestyle without any support can be brutal, whether it’s a relationship style, a new job, or another major change. When my boyfriend had a serious breakup with his primary partner in the first 6 months of our relationship, I found myself seriously lacking in support from anyone who understood what I was going through.
If you can, try to find some sources of support before you begin the journey. Look into groups on Facebook, especially ones central to your hometown or region. Search online for local discussion groups and check out Fetlife for local sex positive centers or organizations that might have affiliated events for polyamorous community.
Think about who in your life you’ll be able to share your journey with, and whether you’ll be open about your transition or keep things more discreet between you and your partner and a few confidants. Having friends you can confide in is important. If you’re into it, a good, poly-friendly therapist can be extremely helpful.
Other things to think about
Jealousy is one of the most talked about topics in polyamory, which makes it a really great subject to tackle before you set off. You won’t necessarily know how you’re going to react, or where your jealous feelings will come from. But evaluating what’s made you feel jealous in the past (both inside and outside of romantic relationships) will give you at least a small idea of what to expect.
It’s not the most romantic topic, but scheduling actually plays a big part in polyamorous relationships! If you’ve got a partner already, consider whether you’ll consult with each other before making a date, and what the partner at home will want to do during that time. Especially in the beginning, it can be helpful for them to have an activity to do or friend to visit with during your dates. Discuss whether you’ll bring dates to your home, and if so, how you’ll share the space during those times.
Even if you’re not partnered, thinking about how much time you have to give and what your boundaries might be is a great practice to get into early on. Preventing problems before they arise is easier than intervening once they pop up, and making sure that you figure out logistics before making plans is a great way to avoid them altogether.
Especially if you’ve been in a monogamous relationship, it may have been a while since you had a discussion about STI testing, protection, and boundaries. Before you think about having sexual contact with someone outside that relationship, it’s important to address what your expectations are, and find out your partner’s expectations.
If you’re not in a relationship, you’ll still need to figure out your expectations and boundaries about having a partner who’s also having sexual contact with other people. Do you want to use condoms and dental dams for oral sex? How often will you get tested for STIs? Where do you need to be in a relationship before you’d consider stopping using condoms? Safer sex practices take on a new complexity when you start adding partners and partners’ partners to the mix.
When you’re just starting out on this journey, you won’t have all the answers. That is normal, and to be expected! Even people who have been practicing polyamory for years have questions, hopes, dreams, challenges, and insecurities. Building yourself a strong foundation in the beginning means being more comfortable with everything you’ll experience if you decide polyamory is the right choice for you.