Polyamory is the practice of multiple consenting relationships. Whether you’re opening up an existing relationship or dating someone (or someones) new, this relationship style requires some groundwork. Here are four steps to help you approach polyamory in a healthy, happy way.
1. Meet other poly people
Monogamy is considered the default in Australia, so it’s often difficult to find other non-monogamous people when you’re first starting out. Try attending a polyamory-specific social group such as Brisbane Poly People, which holds meetings, dinners and movie nights. If you’re not in Brisbane, there are poly groups in most Australian cities such as Melbourne’s PolyVic. One thing to remember when attending a poly meeting is that it’s not a pickup joint! Put your chat-up lines away and focus on getting to know other like-minded people. If you happen to meet someone you like, take it slowly and respect their boundaries (more on that soon!). If you’re the kind of human who prefers online communication, there are poly people on various dating websites. One popular example is OKCupid, which allows you to search for other people in non-monogamous relationships.
2. Communicate heaps!
Communication means discussing what you want in your polyamorous relationships, and also making sure you leave room in conversations for your partner/s to discuss the same. Many people find this tricky because growing up we’re taught that if someone loves us enough they should intuitively know what we want and need. Unless your sweetheart is Severus Snape they’re probably not a mind reader, so you’ll need to tell them things.
What you communicate about will differ depending on who you’re talking with. If you’ve just started dating someone, you might discuss boundaries and potential jealousy triggers. If you’re living with a partner, you could chat about who gets the house on date nights and what check-ins you need to keep your relationship healthy.
3. Ask for consent
In the simplest terms, consent is asking someone before you do something. For example, maybe you’ve set a boundary with your live-in partner to seek consent before bringing a date home. Consent is especially important when it comes to intimacy and sex. Ask before touching someone, ask before doing something to another person’s body and discuss one another’s boundaries.
Consent is also important when it comes to the disclosure of information. Not everyone wants to be ‘out’ as poly to everyone. Therefore it’s a good idea to check in with your partner/s before you launch into an in-depth discussion of polyamory at Friday night drinks with your co-workers.
4. Tackle jealousy and revel in compersion
Jealousy sucks. It super sucks. And for a lot of people, polyamory brings up uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Rather than simply labelling a feeling as ‘jealousy’ and assuming the challenge of overcoming it is insurmountable, it’s important to take a look at why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Take a look at the root of the problem and figure out how you might be able to make yourself feel more comfortable. For example, maybe your partner has started a new relationship and they’re spending a lot of time with their new datemate. You’re jealous and worried your partner will leave you. It comes back to communication. Tell your partner you need reassurance in your relationship or allocate some time to spend together so you can reconnect with one another.
Sound simple? Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it will take more than a quick fix or it might take you a while to pinpoint the source of your angst. That’s OK. Give yourself permission to feel bad and to take your time. There’s no shame in having a good cry or treating yourself to a massage because you feel like crap. Just make sure you keep communicating with your partner/s, even if it’s just to tell them you’re still jealous but you’re working on it.
By now you might be thinking, “I’m not sure this poly gig is for me!” but let me reassure you, it’s not all about tough feelings! Have you heard of compersion? This word is sometimes described as the ‘opposite’ of jealousy and is the concept of feeling happiness when someone else experiences happiness. When my partner and his girlfriend celebrate their anniversary I can be giddy for days because seeing them happy brings me joy! To some people compersion seems logical, while to others it might seem damn near impossible. Remember that polyamory is a different experience for everybody and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel compersion.
Keen to learn more about polyamory? Check out the More than Two website, and books such as ‘The Ethical Slut’ by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, and ‘Opening Up’ by Tristan Taormino.