I’m not poly but my bf is: navigating polyamory, big feelings & cultural expectations
Let’s start by stating the obvious: polyamory can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Exploring multiple, concurrent, intersecting romantic relationships in a culture that is still geared towards centring monogamy can be overwhelming, isolating, and leave us feeling very vulnerable. It can also be exhilarating, fulfilling, and give us space to learn, unlearn, or re-learn aspects of our own selves.
When poly folks have their diverse sexual, intimate, and romantic needs met by multiple partners, it can free them from the notion that one partner provides us with everything we need. Just ask me. The majority of my relationships have been open but recently, my partner and I found ourselves in a thruple. We eventually broke up with our “third”, and soon after he and my partner got back together. The thruple was definitely over – but now my boyfriend and my ex are together, while my boyfriend and I continue our life together. If you think that was hard to read, try living it.
To be clear, polyamory refers to “the practice of having many lovers, where everyone involved is aware and consenting of partners simultaneously having multiple romantic and sexual relationships.” (This definition comes directly from Jessica Ferns incredible book, Polysecure). Polyamory is just one aspect in the broader world of consensual non-monogamy. So, when we’re specifically discussing polyamory, we’re not talking about other types of consensual non-monogamy such as open relationships, being “monogamish”, or swinging. These tend to be romantically exclusive relationships between two people in a primary partnership who fuck other people on the side (either together, separately, or in organised group sex settings).
If you’re like me, and have arrived at polyamory via open relationships, the transition can make a lot of sense but also present a whole new set of complex challenges.
If you’re like me, and have arrived at polyamory via open relationships, the transition can make a lot of sense but also present a whole new set of complex challenges. It’s one thing to feel secure or unthreatened by your primary partner fucking someone else, whether it’s a one-off or a regular fuckbuddy. It’s another thing altogether to experience the person you see as your primary partner falling in love with someone else, while they’re simultaneously in love with you. At the same time, your partner feeling love for their other partner(s) is a beautiful thing to experience. It can enrich your own connection, as they grow and change as a person who has been touched by the deep, intimate love of this other partner￼. When I’m feeling secure about being in a poly relationship, that’s absolutely how I see it.
However, If polyamory feels more challenging than rewarding – you’re not alone. A lot of folks come to realise and better understand their attachment styles or issues when exploring polyamory (and other forms of consensual non-monogamy). When my partner fell in love with someone else, I was able to come to terms with a lot of my attachment insecurities. Even though we are very secure in our love for each other, I still experienced injuries when faced with (or at the thought of) their other love. Part of that was clouded by circumstance, as this wasn’t just a new love, this was a love between the three of us that moved to be between three people in two separate relationships.
It helps to frame poly living as a different type of hard work, compared to monogamous relationships. Because every relationship takes conscious effort.
Fundamentally, a lot of my injuries were self-inflicted. I had to learn to acknowledge when ego and insecurity got in the way of being a kind and open lover (and learn to be a lot easier on myself). Feeling challenged by polyamory doesn’t mean it isn’t for you, far from it. It might mean you (with the support of your partners) have some ongoing work to do. But it helps to frame poly living as a different type of hard work, compared to monogamous relationships. Because every relationship takes conscious effort.
While there may be little difference between how queer people and heterosexual people experience polyamory personally (in terms of joy and growth, or jealousy and insecurity), it’s helpful to acknowledge that the social experiences of it may differ wildly. For queer people, there can be an unnamed, externally-felt pressure to be okay with, or even great at, consensual non-monogamy. Typically, queer people are more likely to explore sex and/or relationships outside their primary partnership. Experiencing complex attachment issues, or simply not wishing to engage in polyamory, can make you feel as though you’re “bad” at being queer (you’re not, by the way!). Those feelings can manifest in a sense of shame, which limits your ability to discuss how polyamory is affecting you and your relationships.
Conversely, polyamorous heterosexual people (including some bi/pan folks in relationships that socially read as heterosexual) can feel as if they are re-inventing the wheel by engaging in consensual non-monogamy. Heteronormativity’s cultural dominance means that it is somehow still seen as radical, revolutionary, or at least “a bit naughty” when a heterosexual couple comes out as poly. This can lead to a sense that what you and your partners are doing is somehow dirty, or wrong, which makes it harder to speak openly about with your support networks.