Polyamory: A beginners guide

When I was in high school, there was a time I was dating three people at once. All of whom were aware of what was going on, though admittedly I’m not completely sure that the guy in this equation was completely aware that I actually was dating two girls. In his mind, I’m sure, it was merely a fantasy that I was joking about. To think that one of my first relationships was almost completely polyamorous before I was even aware of the phrase is very like me to forget but we’re not on my bad memory right now. It was only during the that ‘For every like I get I’ll give you a random fact about myself’ Twitter game that I realised that I was incredibly attracted to polyamorous relationships over monogamy.

But let’s go back to the basics, yeah? What exactly is polyamory?

polyamory, n.

poly • am • ory

The fact of having simultaneous close romantic relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

Simply put? Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy. It is not cheating. It is not keeping quiet while you’re both cheating. It isn’t fantasizing about sleeping with other people while in a monogamous relationship. Shall I place the emphasis on consensual again? Consensual. It is all parties involved knowing exactly what it is that’s going on. Just as in any monogamous relationship, the best way for it to go well is for honest and open communication to be present at all times.

While I’ve been in plenty of monogamous relationships (and loved it) it’s taken me years to realise that I yearn for and find myself even happier in relationships that aren’t rooted in monogamy. So how does one navigate polyamory? One could very easily say that it can get incredibly complex if you don’t have the best interests of partners as well as your own at heart. Just as monogamous relationships work best when you are honest and kind, so do polyamorous dynamics and relationships.

Why commit to non-monogamy? Doesn’t that just mean you’re cheating or that you love your partner less? Absolutely not. When one thinks of having multiple relationships as diluting the amount of love you have someone, it’s probably best that you look into the values you link to your love and the way you experience. Love isn’t a finite source. It is constantly, growing, changing and evolving. So my being able to love more than one person romantically doesn’t mean I love any of them less than if they were just one person. My love isn’t restricted and bound to one person.

Does this mean that you don’t ever get jealous? Of course not. Plenty of non-monogamous people feel jealousy, as well as loneliness. We still have the same internal questions that come up when we feel hurt or undervalued. How they deal with those emotions is something else. This usually starts with the way people look and navigate how they love people. If your love is intrinsically linked to limiting actions, this definitely may not be what you want.  While many people who are monogamous feel jealous and react in ways that put those emotions and feelings of being undervalued on their partner, the way to work through this is usually with some introspection. Ask yourself why you’re feeling that way, what triggers and how you may need to work through that emotion yourself.

“How can you say love one person when you want to be with others?” This is one the first questions I’m asked when people who don’t quite understand why someone wouldn’t want to be monogamous. I often shake my head at this because it shows me that there are people who have unhealthy ideals of love. More often than not, jealousy and the way you deal with it only takes away from your experiences of love.  The way I think of it often is that of course other people would find the person I like or love attractive. They’ve got taste as good as mine, And on the other hand, being in a relationship does not mean that I cannot feel something just as special with people outside of it. I choose to express my love by allowing and being happy for my loved ones when they make multiple connections

Take a step back and realise that you cannot be someone’s everything. You can come incredibly close and be extremely happy with that, but I feel it’s quite liberating to think that there are things you may not be able to offer your partner that someone else can. When you look at this as positive gain for both you and your partner, you allow yourself the freedom of not always assuming it’s because you’re lacking something.

You can experience love and pleasure in so many ways, and the reason I opt for polyamory in its multiple forms is that I love knowing that there’s so much love to give and receive. There are billions of us and I honestly would never try to limit the way I choose to love to just one person. And in saying that, I don’t mean that those who choose to love one person at a time are any less loving. We all choose to show and receive love in ways that make us most happy and that’s the important part.

Being non-monogamous isn’t all free and limitless and without negative emotion. Of course not, every interaction you have with people can include both positive and negative emotions, how you navigate them is the important part. While there are others who hardly deal with this, there may be times when you may feel jealous, you may feel less special, undervalued and such. And you’re allowed to. Feel it. Work through it. And return to why you’re doing this. If it’s something that no longer brings you happiness, or perhaps the negatives trump the positives, then move on. Perhaps non-monogamy isn’t for you or perhaps non-monogamy with that particular person isn’t for you. Check in constantly with yourself, and then with your partner(s)

What if we just didn’t tell each other what was going on? Bbz. Listen. LISTEN. Is that not how people get into situations where they cheat? Being non-monogamous doesn’t mean you exist without boundaries.

Set your own rules. What may work for one non-monogamous couple may not work for another. If you want to know all the details, then make that clear. If you’d rather know the outline, communicate that too. Set up some limits to put you and your partners at ease. Whether it’s that you’re comfortable with your partners having sex with others, that they can form emotional bonds with others or even that they can grow and fall in love with others while you’re together. It’s really all up to you (and your partners, of course). This cannot work when you’re not on the same page. Allowing one partner

Do you have the time and energy to make this work? Ask yourself that. If you know you struggle with giving your partners the love and attention they need when it’s just you and them, then it’s probably at their (and your) best interest that you don’t try to build and maintain multiple relationships at once. Remember that you still need your me time, and that definitely won’t be possible if you’re dealing with multiple partners who enter a relationship with you with certain expectations and you’re unable to meet them. That’s a stressor on you and them, and unfair to all parties involved.

There is nothing superior about non-monogamous relationships. Being able to build and be happy in such relationships doesn’t make you better at loving people, neither does it make you superior to monogamous people. Each to their own and the key is building love and warmth in dynamic that make you and those involved as happy as possible, monogamous or not.

There are people who are assholes, who are better at manipulating than they are at communicating and those who are cheaters within non-monogamous relationships. Its all about you’re loving and how you’re doing it. Again, the motto is do what makes your heart (and those of your partners) happy.  

For more writing by Tshegofatso, click here or for more on polyamory click here. Here is a podcast The Wildness did on polyamory 101


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Tshegofatso Senne is a Black, queer, feminist writer, speaker and digital content creator. She writes and speaks on issues concerning sexual and reproductive health and pleasure, consent, rape culture, race, intersectional social justice and pop culture. A creator at heart, she is happiest when she’s bringing creativity in service of work that supports structurally marginalised communities. She is the magical founder of Thembekile Stationery and co host of feminist podcast Frank.
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