What it’s like to be in a polyamorous relationship

“Monogamous people need to talk to one another about how to design their relationship just as much as polyamorous people do. Unfortunately, they don’t.” Arnelle Paterson interviews Zoe Platek about polyamorous relationships…

Zoe Platek, 40, lives with her partner, Damon, in “a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn, New York.”

“Polygamy means “many wives” and is gender specific; it refers to one man with multiple wives. Polyamory means “many loves” and is not gender specific, it refers to multiple romantic, sexual, or love relationships held by a person of any gender.

Before identifying as polyamorous, I thought that polyamory attracted a lot of sex addicts and that people must get really jealous. Now when I look at my perspective when I was ignorant of polyamory, I see that there is a lot of fear that is programmed into that perspective.

When I began to date people, as a teenager, I noticed that when I had a crush on a new guy, my feelings for the guy I had currently didn’t disappear. I noted that I was capable of holding emotions for two people at once. I talked to my boyfriend at the time and we decided to have an open relationship.

It just wasn’t a big deal for me, really, it’s just the way I am. There was no big reveal or coming out scene.

I don’t hang around intolerant people who haven’t been exposed to many ways of living or aren’t well-travelled or progressive – and I never have. I know that there are people out there for whom different ways of having a relationship are unfamiliar and scary, but I’ve never had anyone react negatively.

The worst reaction people have is ignorance.

My Jewish mom’s reaction was the best:

Me: “Mom, you’re just going to get used to me having more than one boyfriend.”

Mom: “Well. It’s better than none.”

When it comes to polyamorous relationships, every relationship has its own rules, set by the people within the relationship. The only rules that might not apply in a monogamous relationship are things like “use protection when you have sex with someone else” – which shouldn’t apply in a monogamous relationship.

Then again, statistics say differently. Statistics say that 2/3 of monogamous relationships contain infidelity.

As far as I know, there are no written rules for any relationships, monogamous or polyamorous. I think monogamous relationships are more likely to assume a set of unspoken rules and pathways (dating -> dating exclusively -> meet family -> move in together -> get married -> buy house -> have kids) – but this assumption isn’t a rule. It’s bogus! Monogamous people need to talk to one another about how to design their relationship just as much as polyamorous people do. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Meeting polyamorous partners

There are polyamorous meet-ups here in the US, but I have never been to one. I meet partners through my daily life or on dating sites or apps. Most dating sites and apps now have settings for polyamorous people. In fact, we’re some of the biggest users of dating apps.

We’re all just humans, using communication to figure it out. In my relationships I maintain complete transparency, and I discuss other partners with my partners as I would if I were discussing them with my friends until someone tells me there’s something that they would rather not hear about.

The pros of a polyamorous relationship

Honesty and Communication: Massive increase in my communication skills. Polyamorous people are often forced to learn what is the honest truth for them. Many people don’t know how they actual feel or what they actually want at the core. Polyamorous people are more likely to know what it is that they want from relationships, or what their emotional needs are. We do a lot of emotional processing work around communication, feelings, and making sure that everyone’s needs are met. Imagine how all those advanced communication skills translate over into my career. It’s an amazing benefit.

Abundance mentality: Monogamy has partners as a scarce resource – you can only have one of them. Polyamory has partners as an abundant resource – you can have as many as you choose. This radically shifts mentality around options in life. Polyamorous people don’t “settle” as much. We don’t get stuck in relationships that don’t work for us as much. Relationships tend to end for us not when we realize that they aren’t “the one” (because we don’t have that), but when the relationship doesn’t make sense anymore. We see that there are other options because we are exposed to them more often. I notice that the more people I am dating, the more picky I am about whether or not I choose to sleep with or have a relationship with one.

Compersion: Don’t know what this word means? Look it up! There’s an actual physical, visceral emotion that polyamorous people feel that monogamous people don’t (at least not in the same context). It’s the warm, gooey feeling you get when you partner comes back from their other partner sexually satisfied. I feel really sorry for monogamous people who never get to awaken this emotion, especially if the only emotions they feel around their partner receiving pleasure from another person are jealousy, discomfort, insecurity, and anger. That just sucks! No one wants to feel that way.

There are a lot of resources within the polyamorous community for looking at negative emotions such as jealousy (which isn’t actually an emotion… it usually breaks down into fear, hurt, anger, loss of control, insecurity).

The cons of a polyamorous relationship

Time management: The actual limiter on love is time. We’re all capable of infinite love (those of you with more than one child, do you love one more than the other? When the second one was born were you like “sorry, no, I already love one, all my love is used up”), but we don’t have infinite time. It’s a difficult learning curve to allocate the right amount of time to one’s partners, and oneself. But the calendar is my best friend. I’ve developed advanced time management skills.

Just communicate, communicate, communicate. I mean, it’s the same in a monogamous relationship – what do you do when one person wants one thing and the other wants another? You talk it out. Hopefully.

There was a when I began to look at the stories we tell about love and romance and sex and realized that there’s something very toxic woven in. Hollywood, Disney, sit-coms – they all seem to contain these stories about relationships that involve a lot of lying and pretending and heartbreak and not very much communication. It’s tempting as a polyamorous person to lump this dysfunction in with monogamy – but I actually think monogamy is a fine way to be, and can be quite beautiful.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with monogamy in and of itself, as long as it involves the same level of honesty and communication as polyamory. What I see far too often is monogamous relationships that do not involve this, and that makes me sad. I also think that a lot of polyamorous people grow up seeing no positive representation of polyamory, and do not have that as a viable option in their world. Therefore they push themselves into monogamy and in my opinion this is just as damaging and hurtful as when a gay person pretends to be straight. Many divorces, domestic violence, broken families, and unwanted children result from the lying and cheating that happens as a result of failed monogamy.

Monogamy as an informed choice aligned with the way that someone really feels: wonderful. Monogamy unexamined just because it’s what society says we should do: not great.

My last thought on monogamy is that it’s not natural. Biologically, there’s solid proof that humans are polyamorous (sperm competition being one irrefutable point). I think monogamy is a wonderful and romantic idea, but the history of the institution is unfortunate. Monogamous marriage developed as a way for men to handle ownership of property, including the woman that came with the property he owned. The relationship structure itself is reminiscent of a time before female empowerment, and seems “old-fashioned” and “politically incorrect” to me.

Somewhere in our history as humans, we shifted from tribal, polyamorous creatures to single-family, monogamous creatures. I think that both of these structures are equally great – but the propaganda that goes along with either side to try to convince people to be one or the other is not great. I think it should be just fine for people to practice whatever kinds of relationships that they can find other consenting adults to practice with them.

I’ve been in a monogamous relationship before. If that’s what a partner and I chose then that’s what I’d do, but probably not if that was going to be a “forever” thing, probably only for a period of time.

Jealousy comes out of fear and insecurity, not out of monogamy

I cannot imagine never falling in love again. Never having a first kiss again. Never having a stranger put that skip in my step. It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. That’s the biggest plus currently about polyamory for me. I can look down into my future with someone that I’m deeply, truly, madly in love with and want to grow old with – and that doesn’t mean that I will never get to fall in love with anyone else. That I’ll never get to go through that awkward phase or have that crush feeling. I would say it’s like having my cake and eating it too – but it takes work, it’s not just “yay, I have it all!”.

There are no kids for me, but my polyamorous friends with children do great. The kids get more role models and a broader way of relating modelled to them. I think even if one is monogamous, bringing kids up in a group setting rather than a nuclear family encourages healthier development for the children. I’m pretty sure there’s some good research on the success and happiness of kids that grow up in poly households.

I’m not too excited about the legal institution of marriage, but I think all consensual relationships (gay, straight, mono, poly) should be looked at equally in the eyes of the law.

I’m more interested, however, in seeing a transformation in the way that the media represents stories of relationships of all kinds. Why are we relating if not to share our honest emotions with one another? Why all the games, tricks and lies?

One misconception people have is that all polyamorous people have a high sex drive or are promiscuous. That’s not true. There are even asexual polyamorous people! It’s sometimes not about sex at all, sometimes only about sex, and sometimes sex is just a part of it (the same way it is with monogamous people).

Another common misconception is that jealousy has to exist. That one gets to me, actually, that so many people think that jealousy around one’s partner having multiple partners is a natural emotion that has to be overcome.

From where I sit, it’s the opposite. That emotion was culturally trained into people, especially women, at a deep level. The fact that women stereotypically feel this more deeply than men again points to monogamy as an ownership structure – finding a man to take care of her and keeping him focused on her was recently the only option that a woman had for survival outside of prostitution. The depths of fear, insecurity and anger around the emotion we describe as “jealousy” are, to me, the worst lie associated with monogamy. I say “associated with” because one can be monogamous without having negative emotions around one’s partners desires for love and sex outside the relationship. Jealousy comes out of fear and insecurity, not out of monogamy.”

Main images from Designspiration