People...there are a lot of things that I’m not well suited for. Generally these are limited to places that require pants, and occupations that require me to be quiet for extended periods of time. Some things aren’t so easy to recognise though. For instance, I spent my childhood dreaming of becoming a sex worker - but when the time came that I could legally ply the trade, I realised that I would be utterly rubbish at it. I was terrified of other people and I had all the assertiveness of a soggy lettuce leaf. Learning what does and doesn’t work for us is a crucial part of life. It’s how we mould our lives into the shape we want them to be.
Polyamory has been experiencing something of a ‘moment’ recently, and a lot of people are starting to consider it as an alternative to monogamy - which is great! But there’s also been a bit of misinformation and misrepresentation about what exactly polyamory might entail. Some people forget that it isn’t about ‘lots of sex’ but is actually about ‘lots of love’. With that in mind, here are the things that I’ve found usually end up being deal breakers for people who try polyamory without being fully informed first.
You don’t actually want to try it
If you actively don’t want to do something, there’s a strong chance you’re not going to enjoy it. (Obviously the exception here is food. Like, I was totally resistant to white buttered bread covered in sprinkles initially, but now I recognise that fairy bread is the greatest thing our nation has ever produced.)
Like fairy bread, some people feel polyamory is something that they ‘should’ try so they can see what it’s all about, or that if they don’t give it a go then they’re not being truly open minded. But unlike fairy bread, polyamory doesn’t actually say anything about you as a person. If you don’t want to try it, it doesn’t mean you’re not woke, it doesn’t mean you’re not adventurous, it doesn’t mean you’re not cool. Forcing yourself to try it if you’re not down for it is just going to result in a bad time for you and anyone you date.
Alternatively, if you’re keen to try it, but you’re struggling with your feelings about it, that’s a different issue. Polyamory involves a lot of thinking about how we feel about ourselves internally and how we feel about ourselves in relation to others. If you’re thinking about polyam but it’s bringing up anxiety or fear, there’s probably some underlying feelings sitting in your brain that you need to bring into the light.
Some people’s concerns come from a fear of being abandoned by a primary partner. “What if X leaves me for someone better.” For others it’s about the fear of comparison to metamours (other people your partners are dating). “What if my partner dates someone who is better in bed than me?” And for others still it’s the fear of stepping outside the realm of ‘social acceptability’. Not being able to tell their family or their friends what’s happening in their lives for fear of judgement.
Everyone’s concerns are different though, so take the time to sit and think about what yours might be. Write a list of your concerns, and talk them through with empathetic friends. If you are afraid of losing your primary partner, explore that. If you’re afraid of not measuring up to metamours have a look at where that’s coming from. And if giving these issues the time and openness of conversation doesn’t make you feel any better - don’t do it. Polyamory is just one relationship style in a vast array of different options. You don’t have to try it if you’re not comfortable with it.
But if, after thinking and talking about it, you realise that you do want to try and you’re just a bit nervous about it, that’s different. You just need to build up your confidence and find some safe spaces to unpack your fears. Check out your local polyam munches, or polyam meetups in your area. Most people in the community will be more than happy to talk to you if you explain that you’re looking to learn more about it, without diving straight into it.
You’re doing it for someone else
You’re in an established relationship and all of a sudden your partner is saying they’d like to try being polyamorous. It can be confronting as hell, and it can wrong foot even the most open minded of people.
If you have a partner who has issued you an ultimatum (eg. open relationship or no relationship), it’s time to run for the door. Ultimatums are not a healthy way for two grown people to decide how they will live their shared lives. Polyamory, like any relationship, cannot be done in an ethical or healthy way if someone is forced or coerced into it. If you’re in a position where you’re scared of losing the person you love, but you’re not sure you’re ready or interested in polyam, you’re not going to be enjoying the experience of being with other people. You’re going to be stressed, anxious, jealous and worried. That’s not okay for the other people you’re trying to date and it’s certainly not okay for you.
However, if your partner comes to you and says that it’s something they’ve been thinking about and would you consider thinking about it as well, that’s a different story. That’s about conversation, negotiation, exploring your boundaries, discussing what needs you would like met by each other, and what you would like to find in additional partners. As long as both people understand that the ‘thinking about it’ phase can last for months, with regular check-in conversations rather than decision deadlines. Challenging social norms like monogamy, and opening ourselves up to emotional experiences that we have no reference point for (like watching our partner fall in love with someone else) is something that requires a lot of time and consideration. It shouldn’t be rushed.
You’ve never experimented with any other kind of ethical non-monogamy
Look, this is a controversial opinion, but polyamory shouldn’t be your jumping off point. Polyamory is something that, ideally, you should work up to. If you’re in an established sexual relationship you should think about experimenting with sleeping with other people first. This could mean finding someone on Adult Match Maker. Or one of you having a night out with some friends and hooking up with a random stranger.
Polyamory is about emotions, not (just) sex. It’s about being able to form multiple emotional attachments to people. But for many of us, sex is inherently tied to emotion. It’s why a lot of the knee-jerk reactions to polyam are about the sex part. “Oh my god, letting my spouse just bang someone else?!”
It makes it much easier to cope with the emotional attachments if you can first get to a place where the idea of your partner fucking other people doesn’t freak you the hell out. Try a swinger’s night, or a sex club, or one night stands, etc. Dip your toe in the sexually open waters before dipping your heart in.
You don’t want to think about other people
This sounds like I’m baiting you. I mean, who would admit that they don’t want to think about other people? Here’s the thing though; we all like to think that we’re considerate, that we’re kind, that we think of other people and their needs. But the truth is, a lot of us aren’t like that. A lot of us think of other people in terms of whether or not they like us, whether or not we’re coming across as cool, whether or not we made a dickhead of ourselves in front of them. While others spend their time thinking about whether or not they left a room having made someone feel good about themselves, wondering if the friend who had that recent health test is doing okay and has their test results back yet, or thinking about how they should organise to take their celiac mate to that new gluten free restaurant.
Neither version is inherently right or wrong, both have their advantages and limitations. We’re all different. You’re not a bad person if you don’t regularly think about other people’s lives or feelings when you’re not around them.
But it’s really important to remember that polyamory is about other people. It’s not about you getting your rocks off with as many people as you can (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not polyamory). Polyam is about forming emotional connections with people. It’s about meeting other people’s needs as much as it is about having your own needs met. And to meet other people’s needs you need to think about them. A lot.
If you’re currently rubbish at doing this, but you want to get better at it, that’s okay. You just need to communicate that to prospective partners and establish a safe space for addressing ways you can improve. But if you’re pretty content with prioritising your own needs and don’t relish the thought of having to change, maybe consider a different form of consensual non-monogamy.
Time management is not your thing
Love is infinite. Time is not. If polyamory were to release a summer blockbuster movie, that would be the tagline.
The underlying philosophy of polyamory is that we don’t need to limit ourselves to one romantic partner in our lives at a time, because we have the capacity to be in love with multiple people. However, while we might have the capacity to love other people, that doesn’t mean we have the time in our lives for them. And unfortunately, as great as love is, it doesn’t go very far if you’re constantly rescheduling dates or having to cancel at the last minute.
If you’re thinking about polyamory and your goal is to have multiple partners, take a moment to look at your average week. Think about how often you would like to regularly catch up with a romantic partner. Are you a date-night-once-a-fortnight kinda person, or are you a three-nights-a-week-and-one-weekend-day kinda person? Because depending on your expectations for romantic partners, you might find that your schedule would already limit you to just one person.
If you do have time for multiple partners, don’t forget that you will need to make your availability work with theirs, and possibly with your metamours as well. So if you’re not super great at managing your time, scheduling shit into calendars, or communicating your availability - that’s something you’re gonna need to work on if you want your relationships to work.
You’re not into communication
Not everyone loves talking about their feelings. Or being transparent about what they want. And that’s okay. But if you want to do polyamory, you’re gonna need to get good at that shit. Because polyamory (like all relationships) is only as good as the communication you give.
Communication is what helps us build trust, and trust in polyam spaces is absolutely crucial. People practicing polyamory are already working outside the framework of what’s considered ‘socially acceptable’. This means they’re already operating in a vulnerable space, a space filled with a lot of judgement and not a whole lot of support (compared with people in monogamous relationships). People in vulnerable spaces need to be able to build trust with each other. And if they feel like the person they’re dating isn’t communicating with them it becomes really fucking hard to build that trust.
Polyamorous relationships require so much more communication than a monogamous relationship, because there’s so much more going on. You need to discuss expectations around each relationship you’re in, as well as each partner’s expectations regarding your other relationships. Some people will want to know who else you’re dating, have the chance to meet them and hang out. Others will only want to know where you are, but won’t be interested in hearing any of the details. All of this needs to be discussed, otherwise you risk stumbling into conversations that hurt people, or cutting people off from information they need in order to feel safe.
Some people you date will be ‘out’ with their polyamory, others won’t be and will have boundaries around what they’re comfortable with you sharing, either with your other partners, or with friends, on social media, etc. Not communicating about this can literally ruin lives, resulting in people being fired or disowned by family members and friends.
You need to be able to talk openly and honestly about sexual health and safe sex practices. You need to be able to talk about when each of you was last tested, who you’ve been with and what your risk factors are. If you’re in a relationship that could result in pregnancy, you need to be able to discuss what your expectations are in the event of an unplanned pregnancy with each partner that it’s a risk factor for.
This is all just the tip of the polyam communication iceberg. You need to be able to clearly communicate your own expectations and boundaries with each person you’re dating, and be able to actively listen to each of your partner’s expectations and boundaries. So if you’re not interested in doing the open and honest talking thing (a lot), you might want to consider a different form of consensual non-monogamy.
Polyamory is one way of practicing consensual non-monogamy. If you’ve read through the list above and thought “Ugh, I know monogamy isn’t my thing, but none of that sounds super appealing either” that’s okay! It just means that you need to keep looking to find the right fit for you. Polyam is a lot to do with feelings, communication, and making time for other people and the payoff is getting to share your life with multiple people who care deeply about you. If that’s what you’re after, then don’t be afraid to try it. The only way to truly know is to try. But just remember that the people that you’re ‘trying’ it with are real people. And if you’re not willing to put in the work, they’re the ones that are going to get hurt. So be transparent about where you’re at, what you’re after and what you’re capable of offering.