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Three’s Company: A Newbie’s Guide to Polyamory

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I had just ended a 15 year relationship. We were each other’s best friend, and for the longest time nobody in the world knew me better, could make me laugh in quite the same way, or loved me as much.

It devastated me to let him go, but like the fabled frog in slowly heating water, I hadn’t realised how overwhelmed I was by his dependancy until I was consumed by it.

I tentatively entered the world of dating as a 33 year old newbie with expectations of nothing but cringeworthy failures. What I knew for certain was that I was not prepared to be accountable to, or responsible for someone again in a destructive way. I was intrigued and excited by polyamory in equal measure with no clue where to begin.

As luck would have it, my first ever date was not only polyamorous, but we fell for each other immediately, like a nauseating Disney couple.

So in full knowledge and acceptance that everybody’s poly experiences are entirely unique to them, here are mine thus far.

Get Brave or Go Home

I like to live my life being as open and transparent as possible. I have absolutely no filter, and my closest friends definitely know more intimate details about me than they care to.

Luckily for me, open communication plays a big part in a committed poly relationship. It takes courage to share your vulnerabilities and fears with your partner, but if you’re going to be open to other people, you might as well start by being open with each other first.

There can be waves of bullshit to trawl through in a new relationship – what are their intentions, are they seeing other people, where do they see this going? Here, all relationships are equal to each other.

Polyamory means different things for everyone – open relationship, primary and secondary relationships, non-hierarchical poly where all relationships are equal to each other.
Here’s a super easy, self explanatory diagram to clear things up…

From my experience going on first dates with other polyamorous men, once the obligatory small talk was dispensed with, we straight away wanted to chat poly. To understand what each other’s “situation” was, and where we sat on the poly spectrum. It’s amazing to be able to ask these questions, and have a clear understanding of each other’s expectations right off the bat.

I definitely entered my first poly relationship with a lot of assumptions that proved to be entirely inaccurate. I viewed my life with Michael as entirely separate from his family, even going so far as demanding that he did not communicate with me on Christmas Day because I viewed it as a day for family which I did not have a place in.

On our first night together I waited with an exhausted patience for him to go home with an assumption that sleep overs were a “no go area”. I felt a bit sad that we would never have that beautiful moment of waking up, smiling drowsily at each other, and falling into a warm, wordless embrace, but I accepted it.

I was wrong on both occasions, and many more since. Every relationship has it’s fair share of assumptions to navigate, and boundaries to learn and acknowledge. A polyamorous relationship definitely adds to that, and can only work if you are brave enough to ask the difficult questions, lay your assumptions down to be challenged, voice your concerns, state your boundaries, and listen openly and patiently while they do the same.

It is work. It is constant. And it is wonderful.

Love Rations

Can you truly love more than one person? Yes. Yes you absolutely can.

Love is not cake, you don’t divide it for every person you love. The best analogy I’ve come across is having a second child. Do you now love your first child 50% less? I hope not, or you’re in for a lifetime of tense family Christmas’.

From what I’ve seen of the poly community, it is well suited to people who have a whole lotta love to give.

You know how it is when you’re riding the dizzying dopamine highs of “New Relationship Energy”. You want to spend every waking minute with them, they’re on your mind constantly, you’re that irritating person that brings up their new partner in EVERY, SINGLE. CONVERSATION… “Oh are you eating that soup with a spoon? John was eating this yoghurt last week…”. We get it Susan, now give it a bloody rest!

Now ​imagine that energy doubled – it is exhausting!

A funny thing happens, now you have two people to WhatsApp about it. You see a cute video of a baby elephant sliding down a hill, who you gonna tag? These are real life dilemmas.

My suggestion is NOT to go diving into two relationships straight away. That new relationship energy will yield eventually and you’ll have head space and energy for a second relationship.

Jealousy: 101

Jealousy hasn’t reared its ugly head too much with me. I love seeing my boyfriend Michael and his wife, Dominique’s affection and cuteness with each other. It fills me with joy.

I would definitely struggle if Michael was seeing somebody new and was massively wrapped up in them, and that would be a whole process to work through.

I talk openly with Michael about my dating experiences, and he returns that openness in letting me know when he is struggling with negative emotions around me being with other people. It doesn’t change my decisions or stop me doing anything, but I like to be aware of and sensitive to his feelings and how he is processing them. Mostly he just wants to know where my head’s at, and that I’m being treated well.

The key is knowing yourself incredibly well, and understanding that jealousy is just an extension of your own ego. Someone else is able to give to your partner in a way that you don’t, and that takes some calibration to come to terms with. Maybe they are more creative, funnier, more intelligent, more exciting, more beautiful.

The same is true of your friends. They have people in their lives who give them things that you don’t. So why are we so hell bent on being EVERYTHING to one person? Well, decades of social conditioning for one thing. There’s an unnatural and unhealthy obsession with finding “The One”, your soul mate, your one true love. A big drive for me in exploring polyamory is that I did not want to be everything to one person again. I love being in a warm and loving, committed relationship, but having complete independence as well.

I believe that if you know yourself well, you are emotionally bulletproof. I have a crystal clear understanding of what I’m great at, and what I suck at or have no interest in. It leaves little room for surprises if you are given feedback or insulted. Either their feedback is incorrect, or they’re telling you something you already know and accept about yourself. The same rules apply for jealousy. I don’t feel threatened because Dominique outmatches me in certain areas. They belong to her, and I’m proud of her for it. Like all women, life is just better when we elevate each other instead of obsessively measuring and competing against each other.

Having a Boyfriend /Actively Dating

I let potential dates know straight away that I’m poly so as not to waste anyone’s time, or hurt anyone’s feelings. Their reactions generally fall into 4 categories:

1. An excited assumption that I’m easy (incorrect)
2. Intellectually intrigued but not for them (fair)
3. Prepared to give it a go (cool)
4. I’m poly too (huzzah!)

Whether they’re poly as well, or merely curious, first dates tend to be VERY heavy on poly discussion. If they’re not poly, they have questions. It would be problematic it they didn’t. If they are poly, they’re keen to share experiences and align on what polyamory means to you.

Another reason to wait for the all consuming desire of a new relationship to settle the heck down, before embarking on a second relationship. The need to bring up your new partner every other minute is irritating to your friends. It’s downright weird on a first date!

Hello, I’m in Love with your Husband. Let’s be Friends

Meeting your partner’s parents is nerve-racking. So meeting your partner’s partner/s must be arse-clenchingly terrifying, right?

Maybe I’m just lucky again, but my experience has been enough to give me the warm fuzzies just reflecting on it.Both mine & Dominique’s relationships with Michael are based on Relationship Equity. I prefer using the term relationship equity to equality. It’s semantics, but to me equality is everyone getting exactly the same thing, but equity indicates everyone getting what they need. Our relationships are different, we are different, and we each need different things.

Even before meeting Dom, we had a mutual respect for each other, and support of each other’s relationships with him. At its most ridiculous, there was a lively debate over text over who Michael should watch Black Mirror: Baldersnatch with. It wasn’t a grabby “pick me” debate, but rather a “No, you should watch it with Dom if it’s your thing normally” vs “Nope, please watch it with Charlie. You already made plans to”. It is cute to the point of being unnerving at times.

The level of inclusivity borders on the absurd. She has me round for family taco night, and I respond by inviting her to girl’s night – an age-old female bonding ritual of drinking sparkling rosé and scream singing karaoke at each other.

We are each other’s ally, and it is powerful, and beautiful. I have to give some sympathy to Michael, as he is generally outnumbered by a duo of raw female awesomeness in any disagreement, but he made his bed.

What Will the Neighbours Say?

Not that anybody’s judgement should be a decision maker, but it’s definitely a factor.

I make a point of surrounding myself with the finest examples of humanity. My friends are wonderfully supportive, progressive and conscientious, as well as sharing a wildly inappropriate sense of humour. They knew about my polyamorous desires before I started dating, and have welcomed both Michael and his family into our tribe without question.

They have regular questions, and give acceptance and support, even on areas that they struggle to reconcile with their own relationship ideals.

I love questions, it shows a willingness to understand. So I am always eager to be asked, and answer anything. They don’t hold back in their questions, and mischievous mockery, and I love them for it. My housemate even goes as far as conducting her own poly-research after our chats. At this point she probably knows more about polyamory than I do.

It is more telling when people don’t have questions. It shows a level of discomfort or judgement. And that’s OK. My choices are my own, as are their opinions.

I was most nervous about telling my Mum. I had already told her that I was seeing Michael, and had mentioned dates with someone else. After three weeks or discussing both men, it prompted a “What are you doing with these boys, Charlotte???” response. If you know of a better segue into a “poly discussion” I’d like to hear it.

I knew she would never tell me outright if she was unhappy with my lifestyle choice (that’s not how our family operates), but that she would deploy the British tradition of “go quiet, and change the topic of conversation”.

But yet again, my assumptions were inaccurate. She is quite the woke Baby Boomer, who knew? I explained why I had made the decision, that it was completely transparent and nobody was getting hurt, and that I was happy. My fears of disapproval were unfounded. I had forgotten the first rule of parenting, they just want you to be happy. And she too has welcomed Michael into our family with warmth and acceptance. He joins our weekly FaceTime calls, and it is inclusive and next level adorable.

I expect that my winning streak of positive reactions will end at some point, but people can surprise you in the best ways sometimes.

What’s Next?

So that’s been my journey so far. And in truth, I don’t know what’s next. I love my life at the present, and I love being present within it, and not focusing on the future too much.

I guess I have more people to have the “poly discussion” with, constant relationship navigation and brave discussions, and at some point I’ll re-dip my toe into the treacherous world of dating.

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