“I’m [M] still trying to articulate this but, I think I might be polyamorous. I can definitely see myself in an exclusive triad or quad and living with them where we each see each other as equals. A few times in my past, I have had crushes on multiple guys at the same time but never really thought about dating more than one at a time. My life has been a series of throwing off the chains from my upbringing. I have done some research already on being polyamorous and I think I could do it but just haven’t tried it yet as I’m single. But I’m also afraid to try it because what if it fucks up the relationship I was already in?
Essentially, what advice do you guys have so i can think about it more and be more sure whether i am poly or not?”
Dear the Real N7 Inquisitor,
You are asking a lot of big questions. But I think you are asking the wrong kind of questions. Instead of asking yourself if you are polyamorous, you should first ask yourself if you can date polyamorously.
I wrote about this in a previous column about the difference between polyamory as an identity compared to polyamory as a dating orientation or preference. But I think it is first important to deviate away from understanding monogamy as something we humans are hardwired to do, but instead as a relationship model we consciously choose. You say that you have had crushes on multiple people but never acted upon it. Many others – both poly- and monofolks – have experienced that same desire for more than one partner. And just because you are more monogamous-minded doesn’t mean that you won’t have infidelitous relationships. And just because you are more polyamorous-minded doesn’t mean that you’ll pursue ever single sexual/romantic connection whenever you crush on someone else. We are taught from a very early age that commitment means only dedicating yourself faithfully and sexually to one specific partner. As a queer man, one of the walls you have had to breakdown is the heteronormative social conditioning that your partner has to be of the opposite sex. So this mononormative social conditioning that you have to only date one person at a time is the next wall for you to break down.
Let’s first define monogamy as an implicit/explicit agreement that even if you have feelings for others, you’ll establish proper boundaries to remain emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually exclusive to your on partner. It is a relationship model a lot of folks implicitly choose in our modern society because there is a lot of support and history to back up what a healthy monogamous relationship should look like. If that is how monogamy is understood, then it makes sense to define non-monogamy as an explicit and intentional agreement that you will choose to be involved – emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually – with each other regardless of sharing relational privileges. Because monogamy is the common standard, opting into non-monogamy or polyamory is almost always an explicit discussion to have with your partner. Notice the difference in how exclusivity plays a role in each type of relationship structure. Monogamy allows for a very intimate bond between two partners where each can share a lot of vulnerabilities and also be supported by all the common resources such as religious, familiar, and platonic support networks. Non-monogamy allows for a wider expansion and growth of self through developing intimate non-exclusive relationships that all support each other.
It is really important for you – and many others thinking about non-monogamy – to understand that there are a lot of benefits that come with the inherent structure of monogamy as well.
Here are some questions for you to think about before you can date non-monogamously.
Dating non-monogamously – not even just polyamorously – come with its own unique set of challenges. There are logistical challenges, sexual challenges, and emotional challenges that are unique to non-monogamy.
Challenges with logistics is defined as making space for your relationships, directing schedules, and committing to communication. So here is a unique challenge that I’ve faced in my personal experience with polyamory. I commit to a weekly mini check in with each of my partners and also do a monthly deep-dive into each of my relationship with my partners as well. Mini check ins can be as short as twenty minutes but sometimes extend into several hours, depending on the intensity of the discussion. And the monthly deep-dives – I call them RADARs – are almost always several hours long. Some RADARs I’ve had were eight to ten hours long! Scheduling these intentional quality times to commit to dedicated communication can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re not used to communicating so thoroughly with your partner(s). Other logistical challenges you might face can look like figuring out what your week’s plan looks like sometimes a month ahead of time. When I and my partners are dating actively, our respective schedules frequently booked up weeks in advance. So I had to get really good at utilizing calendar apps such as Google Calendars to figure out what I was doing on a week-to-week basis. That too is a skill mostly unique to non-monogamy.
Challenges with sex and intimacy is defined as establishing sexual boundaries and implementing your own safe sex practices. If you read my other column posts, you’ll find that I talk a lot about establishing and enforcing boundaries. It is an unfortunately a very common issue among modern relationships. Figuring out what you are and are not okay with, communicating your expectations, and following through to consequences can be the hardest thing to do for a lot of folks who aren’t normally used to saying “no” or “enough of that”. Non-monogamy also come with its own set of STI testing schedule and plans. A lot of monogamous-minded folks might get tested once or twice early in the relationship, but non-monofolks need to be tested more frequently due to the larger amount of sexual partners we do have. I personally get tested every three months even if no one in my polycule is dating just for the peace of my own mind. And I’ve heard of folks who get tested every month, especially if they’re dating more actively. And folks who only get tested when they get intimate with a new partner. You’ll have to figure out your own schedule for regular STI screenings.
The most challenging aspects of non-monogamy is in the emotional regulation realm. A major part of the emotional labor is in accepting that your partner(s) will connect with and fall in love with others.
You said you are currently single. Non-monogamy will highlight the most insecure parts about yourself and force you to immediately address them. If your plan is to get together with someone who will be open to opening up more down the line, then that is a lot of emotional labor to do to selectively filter for people who also want that same vision as you do. And opening up an existing relationship come with its own unique set of challenges such as managing jealousy, learning to make space for your partner’s or partners’ other relationships to expand into, and redirecting your new relationship energy into old relationships.
I noticed that your username paid homage to Mass Effect. Think about the scene in ME2 where Shepard has to decide whether he should eradicate the rogue Geth sect that rebelled against Shepard or rewrite their programming to embrace and love Shepard instead. Regardless of the Paragon or Renegade option you chose, for Shepard had to do in the physical sense of that decision was a button press. What that decision doesn’t include is the morals and ethics that come with eradicating or brainwashing an entire subsection of an artificially intelligent race. Emotional labor is a lot like that; it is massive undertaking below the surface, and very often go under- or unappreciated. But it is a lot of work. And committing to and following through on managing your jealousy, making space, and redirecting your NRE could feel a lot like meaningless, progress-less work. The difficult part is in continuing to do that emotional labor anyway, even with no recognition.
Closed triads and quads do get a lot of hate in the non-monogamy and polyamory communities, especially online. But I think that some of the reservation and the negativity around closed triads and quads are, unfortunately, fair and warranted. A lot of triad- and quad-seekers are often preexisting couples (specifically, a two-person dyad) who already have a very strict idea of what that relationship dynamic looks like without accounting for anyone else’s feelings. I personally write a lot about seeking autonomy and an sense of agency in your own relationships. And it is impossible to assert your own autonomous values when others already have a strict idea of what that relationship dynamic looks like. Ethics part of ethical non-monogamy implores you to pursue consent-based non-monogamy
In what you’ve shared, I also get the sense that in your own head you have an idea of the kind of a polyamorous triad or quad relationship you would like to have. While that kind of ideal is nice to have, to actually put it into practice would be very unreasonable or require very specific types of people. It is a much more productive way to approach your relationships with mindfulness and broad intention rather than with specific goals in mind.
And let’s talk about those specific goals. There are so many different variations of non-monogamy available. From monogamish, to open relationship, to relationship anarchy, each different variations of non-monogamy are often incompatible with each other. So it is better to have a generic idea of what you’d like to accomplish in your non-monogamous relationship rather than a specific ideas such as “an exclusive triad or quad and living with them where we each see each other as equals.”
Whenever you do decide to date, make clear what your long-term relational landscape looks like.
If your specific goal is to eventually have a fully polyamorous relationship, communicate so with the folks you date long before you go on a first date with them. Dating is already very time-consuming and non-monogamy is a pretty massive dealbreaker for a lot of people. So make that clear upfront as to not waste anyone’s time.
So remember to ask, even before you decide that you can do non-monogamy.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
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