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Polyamorous relationships’ rules are confusing 

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Jun 28, 2023

Polyamorous relationships’ rules are confusing 

Have you ever started dialoguing with someone who is in polyamorous relationships and they tell you to read a book instead? If you’re like me, you might not have the time to go to the library and just want to quickly understand what it means to date openly and have more than one partner.

And on behalf of all the nonmonogamous folks who don’t want to re-explain their relationships’ dynamics to every last one of their dating app matches, I am writing this article. Hopefully, we’ll all have more success on a polyamorous dating app after this gets published. 

What makes a polyamorous relationship? 

There are a lot of terms out there, from open relationships to throuples, FWBs, triads, swingers, and more. A lot of finding the right label comes down to a little bit of math and a little bit of vibes. (Wait, vibes, you’re asking…? What about the rules? Don’t worry, we’ll get there!)

Basically, if somebody is practicing polyamory, they are open to having more than one partner. Can they be technically dating nobody or dating one person? Sure.

Is polyamory an orientation or an identity? 

The concept of being “born” polyamorous is a topic that sparks diverse opinions. However, it’s important to note that many individuals who embrace polyamory also identify as “ambiamorous,” meaning they could find happiness in a monogamous relationship as well. 

So, when you encounter someone practicing polyamory, it’s crucial not to assume they’re juggling multiple lovers 24/7. Their lifestyle might actually be more straightforward while still keeping an open mind.

Whether you’re curious about open dating or have recently befriended someone who practices polyamory, venturing into the world of polyamory can be an enriching experience. 

Get ready to meet some of the most open-minded and compassionate individuals you’ve ever come across. Trying to imagine the quality of people you’ll encounter? Think about that remarkable friend who embodies the qualities of an extraordinary partner and friend—now multiply that by two, and you’re starting to glimpse the kind of individuals who are drawn to polyamory.

How does a polyam relationship work? 

In a polyamorous relationship, individuals have the opportunity to form multiple emotional and romantic connections with more than one partner at the same time. Unlike traditional monogamous relationships, where there is typically only one partner, polyamory allows for openness and honesty about having multiple partners. 

The holy trinity for an empowering and fulfilling polyamorous relationship is made up of:

  • Consent
  • Communication
  • A mutual agreement among all parties involved

It’s important to note that polyamory is based on consent, communication, and mutual agreement among all parties involved. This means that everyone in the relationship is aware of and consents to the multiple relationships, and they actively communicate their needs, boundaries, and expectations to maintain a healthy and balanced dynamic.

Polyamorous relationships can take various forms and shapes, as they are based on the preferences and agreements of the individuals involved. Some polyamorous relationships may involve all partners being romantically and sexually involved with each other, forming what is known as a triad or a throuple. Others may have one person who is involved with multiple partners, while the partners themselves may not be romantically or sexually involved with each other.

It’s essential for individuals in a polyamorous relationship to engage in ongoing communication, establish clear boundaries, and practice openness and honesty to ensure that everyone’s needs and emotions are respected and addressed.

Source: Reddit Polyamory Memes

The golden rule of polyamory: Constant communication is key

Now that we’ve established polyamory is pretty complicated and also full of amazing people, how do you get started? Well, most good relationships (including friendships) start with communication. If you’re considering transitioning your monogamous relationship into a polyamorous one, you will be doing a lot of talking. (I hope you like a good amount of honesty.)

It’s good to aim for over-communicating when you start out in polyamory. There will probably be many topics, situations, ideas, and feelings that you haven’t navigated with a partner before. So you will have to establish a shared understanding and rhythm of checking in with each other. 

Don’t assume you’re experiencing the same things as your partners: everybody has a different way of beginning this journey. My friends Ana and Claire opened up their relationship after about 6 months. Ana was totally fine until Claire realized she had feelings for an old best friend. Ana had been dating new people and felt caught off balance by a different power dynamic affecting their relationship. 

Even though they were both going on the same amount of dates, Ana was having more casual encounters, while Claire was falling in love. Ana was happy for Claire but also afraid and unsure of what it meant for her relationship with Claire. Without constant communication, Ana would have been left alone in her fears. By making time to stay in tune & in touch, Claire was able to hear & validate Ana’s new fears about polyamory and their future together. 

What are polyamorous boundaries?

Before delving into the intricacies of polyamorous boundaries, it’s crucial to emphasize the foundational principle that underpins successful polyamorous relationships: constant communication. As we’ve established, polyamory is a complex journey filled with incredible individuals, and effective communication serves as the compass that guides this voyage of exploration and connection. By embracing open and honest dialogue, you pave the way for understanding, empathy, and the establishment of healthy boundaries within the dynamic realm of polyamory.

Great, now for some examples of helpful polyamorous boundaries vs. rules, we’ll be diving into:

  • Good boundary examples
  • Bad boundary (rule) examples
  • False promise of polyamorous rules and “boundaries”
  • Communication boundaries
  • Hierarchical polyamory: primaries rule

Ready to get into it? Let’s do it.

Good boundary example

A good boundary in a polyamorous relationship could be establishing open and honest communication about new romantic connections. This means that partners agree to inform each other when they start seeing someone new, allowing for transparency and maintaining trust within the relationship. It promotes a sense of emotional security and ensures that everyone involved is aware of and consenting to the evolving dynamics.

Bad boundary (rule) example

A bad boundary disguised as a rule in a polyamorous relationship might forbid partners from developing deep emotional connections with anyone other than the primary partner. This rule restricts the emotional autonomy and growth of individuals and can lead to feelings of guilt or suppression. It is based on insecurity and a fear of emotional attachment rather than fostering healthy communication and individual agency.

Good boundary example

A good boundary could involve establishing sexual health guidelines, such as practicing safe sex and regularly getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This ensures the well-being and safety of all partners involved and promotes responsible sexual behavior within the polyamorous dynamic. It demonstrates care, respect, and a commitment to maintaining a physically healthy environment.

Bad boundary (rule) example

A bad boundary disguised as a rule might involve imposing a restriction on the frequency or timing of when partners can spend time with other individuals. This arbitrary limitation disregards the individual needs and desires of each person and can lead to feelings of resentment and control. It reflects a lack of trust and a desire to manipulate or dictate the actions of others rather than fostering a sense of autonomy and mutual respect.

Moving from the discussion of polyamorous boundaries, it’s important to address the false promise that can arise from implementing rigid rules and boundaries in polyamorous relationships. The story of my friends Ro and Trina sheds light on the potential pitfalls of relying solely on rules without considering individual autonomy and trust.

The false promise of polyamorous rules & “boundaries”

My friends Ro and Trina have been married for eight years, with the past six years being polyamorous. Before tying the knot, Ro had experience in the swinger scene, while Trina had been part of a close-knit lesbian community in a small town. Ro’s involvement in the swinger scene led them to establish numerous rules, mainly focused on sexual safety, maintaining relationship hierarchy, and ensuring Ro’s role as a “primary” partner in all aspects. 

Ro had faced instances of deceit regarding safe sex practices in the past, so they hoped that implementing strict rules would safeguard their marriage with Trina. However, Trina felt that Ro’s approach was controlling. She yearned for exploration and felt confident in her ability to do so safely. Trusting Ro’s judgment when it came to dating, she held an optimistic outlook influenced by her experiences with friends in her twenties. 

Source: Reddit Polyamory Memes

Trina didn’t feel the need to police others’ actions, and she was hurt by Ro’s assumption that she would be thoughtless with Ro’s feelings. Trina wanted an opportunity to demonstrate that she could be a supportive partner to multiple people without the need for rigid rules.

Ultimately, we establish rules because we believe they will provide safety. However, we must consider a few essential questions:

  • Do we trust our partners?
  • What are our underlying fears?
  • Are we afraid of not being loved enough?
  • Are we afraid of losing our partners?

If we create rules like “No sleeping over” due to fear of intimacy, we’re essentially expressing our worry that our partner’s love for us will diminish if they love someone else. But why would we want to limit the flow of love? Shouldn’t we embrace the idea that love can be shared and returned? It’s far easier to trust that love will find its way back to us.

Before setting rules, it’s important to examine the underlying cause: What fear are you trying to address with these rules?

Source: The Open Social Discord

Communicating boundaries: How much should you share in a polyamorous relationship? 

Good news: if you’ve been in a relationship before, you have already stumbled upon this question: “How much should I share about my past partners?” Remove the “past,” and you have a perfect question for polyamorous folks. Should you share details about fights, being stood up, receiving a sexy selfie, or having a new sexual experience?

The answer to this question largely depends on the comfort levels of you and your partners. Remember, when you begin dating multiple people, it’s not just about consulting your longest-standing partner. Communication is essential with all the individuals you’re involved with.

Active listening becomes crucial. You might come across boundaries that seem challenging or difficult to comprehend, even as you strive to respect them. It’s important to recognize that people may request boundaries due to their unique history with partners, concerns regarding sexual safety, medical history, or other personal reasons.

And on top of listening, you’re going to have to do a lot of thinking and reflecting. Consider the following things: 

  1. How would I feel if a friend or relative told me this about a partner?
  2. Would my partner’s partner want me to know this?
  3. Are there logistical reasons I should have this information?
  4. Can I be happy for my partner based on what they’re sharing?

It may not be easy to say YES! To number four right away. But most successful polyamorous relationships eventually reach that step. (And you won’t reach that step if you don’t practice telling your partners about each other)

Hierarchical polyamory: primaries rule

Hierarchical polyamory refers to a relationship structure where one partnership is considered primary, ranking above all others. You might have encountered couples using terms like “primary” or seeking a “third” on dating apps, which are examples of hierarchical non-monogamy.

In a hierarchical polyamorous relationship, couples with a primary partner may prioritize spending more time together, sharing a living arrangement, making life decisions jointly, or raising children together. However, it’s important to note that engaging in these activities doesn’t automatically mean a relationship is hierarchical; some couples simply choose to live together (AKA nesting). 

Within a hierarchical dynamic, the primary partner’s feelings are typically given the highest consideration, sometimes resulting in unsavory compromises for secondary partners. Not all individuals you encounter may be willing to adopt the roles of primary, secondary, or other designations.

While some people may navigate hierarchical relationships ethically, others, particularly those with progressive non-monogamous perspectives, may view hierarchies as resembling a caste system and ethically problematic. 

Some of my lovers and friends are actually “relationship anarchists,” approaching their romantic and sexual engagements based on their personal values & politics, avoiding relationships that make them feel like the bottom tier of an MLM.

Don’t try polyamory if…

  • You’re feeling bored and seeking a quick fix.
  • Your monogamous relationship is in need of a “fresh” spark.
  • You’re sexually unsatisfied with your current partner.
  • You’re not fully committed or willing to give your all to your current partner.
  • You’re not deeply and securely in love with your current partner.
  • You struggle with trusting your instincts or being easily manipulated.
  • Your therapist has advised you to remain single for a while.
  • You’re unable to navigate a rigorous safe-sex routine responsibly.
  • You have a history of cheating and believe polyamory will make it easier.
  • You’re using polyamory as a distraction from other personal challenges.
  • You’re not open to investing time and effort into building multiple emotional connections.
  • You’ve struggled with emotional unavailability in the past.
  • Maintaining healthy boundaries and effective communication with others is challenging for you.
  • A partner is pressuring you into exploring polyamory against your true desires.

Source: Reddit

Is polyamory right for your queer relationship?

Understanding the concepts associated with polyamory and being aware of the diverse perspectives will help you navigate encounters with individuals who already have a vision of their ideal relationships. However, as queer individuals, you have the freedom to create and explore your own unique path. Embrace the opportunity to try out different shapes and practices, always starting from a place of trust, abundance, and affection.

Remember, doing new and scary things with the people you love isn’t so bad. So, embark on this journey of self-discovery and connection, and you’ll find what works for your queer relationship.

You may want to try polyamory if…

  • You’re ready and willing to be open and honest with yourself and your partner(s).
  • You’re good about practicing safe sex.
  • You’re comfortable being transparent about your needs and expectations.
  • You know you’re going to be able to work with your partner(s) to make everyone feel safe and comfortable.
  • You’re clear on what your boundaries and limits are.
  • You would be comfortable telling your support network or therapist that you are polyamorous
  • You don’t seek validation from your relationships or partner(s).
  • You accept that not everyone will be open to polyamory, and that’s okay! 
  • You are doing it because you feel secure, and safe — not because you feel pressured.
  • You typically have multiple “crushes” at once.
  • You want to explore this part of your identity, and have been waiting for “permission” or a “sign” (this is it!)

Remember, polyamory requires open communication, respecting boundaries, and personal growth. It’s important to approach it sincerely, with a focus on understanding and respecting the feelings and needs of all involved parties. Jealousy and insecurity may arise, and it’s important to learn healthy ways to deal with these feelings. It’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and learning, adapting to the changing dynamics of your relationships. 

You don’t have to be polyamorous to like these memes, but it sure helps

Don’t get me wrong, being polyamorous is amazing! But it will absolutely complicate your dating life. Because monogamy is still the norm, and if you are serious about polyamory, you’re going to have to let your dating partners make informed decisions. So before you get excited about “tons of new partners,” remember that your dating pool just got smaller.

Source of memes: PolyamPirates – follow them on Twitter

As polyamory has been receiving more mainstream coverage, it’s been rather hit or miss. Unlike the author of this article, the producers of these shows don’t care about good polyam representation. They just want a juicy story.

So remember that we still have to fight for better stories to be told about real polyamorous icons. (And maybe let’s not watch the ones that make polyamory look like a culty side-show)

As you meet more folks who use non monogamous language, you’ll, sadly, probably meet a person here and there who is acting in bad faith. Brush it off. Cheaters gonna cheat, that doesn’t make them polyamorous. 

Maybe someday you’ll understand this next meme. But basically, some people become polysaturated, meaning that while they may be polyamorous, they are literally too busy to date new people. The joy of polyamory in those situations is that your polyam partners will find your crushes adorable, even as you agree that you’re not trying to start a new relationship.

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Taylor Gobar is the indomitable force behind HER's marketing strategy. Hailing from sunny San Diego, CA, Taylor's heart is set on Berlin, a city that pulsates with progressive values and politics. But for now, you'll find them shaking things up in the NYC political scene, passionately pushing for socialist policies in the Lower East Side. And if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Taylor's musical prowess at the city's karaoke bars, where they're known to belt out a tune or two. Because who said revolutionaries can't have a little fun?

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