The cool thing is that polyamory (and non-monogamy in general) can be explored in so many different ways.
I recently sat down (well, typed down? We had a computer conversation. Whatever you call that.) with Sam Dylan Finch of Let's Queer Things Up to talk about polyamory.
There is a lot of talk about poly relationships lately, and a lot of misunderstanding, too. I wanted to clear things up, and Sam is open and honest and awesome. And we had way too much fun, which ended with the sending of some ridiculous stickers via Facebook messenger — as all professional interviews should.
Let’s talk about sex…er, love…er, BOTH!
Polyamory basics: WHAT?
SDF: Polyamory is the desire and/or pursuit of multiple intimate relationships simultaneously — they could be romantic, sexual, or both, and it requires the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It’s also super-awesome, in case you were wondering.
(I mention “desire” here because some polyamorous people may opt to be in monogamous relationships, or may choose to have one partner for a time, but their identity as polyamorous doesn’t just disappear. And it’s also important to note that these relationships could be sexual or romantic — asexual and aromantic people exist, meaning they don’t experience sexual or romantic desire respectively.)
OK SO. Multiple relationships. You know everyone is going to ask Whhhhy? Why not just monogamy? Why not the age old standard two people deal? What's wrong with that?
SDF: Every polyamorous person will answer this differently. For me, being polyamorous is really like any other aspect of myself — it’s just a part of me. I have the capacity to love more than one person, the capacity to connect with more than one person. So why not let that happen? Why not open up and see what my relationships become on their own, instead of placing restrictions on them? As long as everyone is consenting and we’re all communicating, I think the better question is, why not?
I did monogamy for a long time, and while I wasn’t unhappy per se, I did wonder why I’d just fallen into this structure — why I’d never questioned it, and why I was convinced that monogamy was going to make my relationship safer or more secure. I was cheated on. I was hurt. And those relationships ended, like most relationships do. Monogamy didn’t protect me from getting hurt — it only limited the connections and intimacy I could’ve been having and, instead, confined that to one person. It was just another arrangement, not inherently better or worse, and I became really curious about what other arrangements were out there and how they might impact my happiness.
How does one approach the idea of poly with a current (monogamous) partner?
SDF: An important thing to realize is that you can’t change your partner. It’s also important to realize that not every person who is monogamous will be open to polyamory or other forms of non-monogamy. And that’s their prerogative.
But you can always open up a conversation about your desires and curiosities — and you should! They might surprise you.
I’m actually married to a really rad human who initially was unsure of the idea of polyamory. We had a lot of conversations about it. I let them set the pace, we discussed all the boundaries, and we revisited this again and again and again — because we were constantly evaluating how we felt, learning new things about ourselves, and testing the waters.
The cool thing is that polyamory (and non-monogamy in general) can be explored in so many different ways. Folks immediately assume that this is a zero-sum game — you’re either sleeping around with everyone and there are no boundaries at all, or it’s monogamy in the strictest sense.
But for us, it started out really slowly, feeling it out, maybe going on a date with someone or just talking to other people online. Sometimes we hit the brakes, didn’t pursue anything at all, and just talked about our feelings (did I mention there’s a lot of talking and a lot of feelings? Heads up, this is a huge part of polyamory!).
The big questions you should be asking yourselves: What am I comfortable with? What am I uncomfortable with? What are the hard limits, meaning there’s no chance in hell I'd be pushing this boundary, and what are the soft limits, meaning I’d be open to try a particular thing once to see how it feels?
The cool thing is that sometimes, when we explore the soft limits (respecting each other, communicating, and being open about how we feel), the boundaries of the relationship expand outward as needed. Often times you’ll realize that it wasn’t as scary as you thought it would be.
The tl;dr version? Start slowly. Hit the brakes as needed. Talk about EVERYTHING. And don’t push the hard limits.
OK, but what about The Jealousies?
This happens to literally everyone. EVERYONE. Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous one, we all deal with insecurities from time to time.
I’ve always seen polyamory as an opportunity to confront some of the uglier aspects of myself. Monogamy let me avoid some of my deep-seated fears of being abandoned, or being unworthy of my partner — it was like a security blanket, assuring me that they were mine and just mine, and that I was the best because they chose me and only me.
Which sounds really creepy when I say it, but it’s true: monogamy created this illusion of safety. It allowed me to coast through my relationships as a really insecure person that constructed my worth based entirely on how my partner felt about me at that time.
It’s true, there’s jealousy to deal with when you start exploring non-monogamy, and it varies from person to person. But what really helped me was to realize that the jealousy was an opportunity to do some important work — to do a lot of deeper reflection on my sense of worth, to tackle my insecurities and confront my fears, and to learn how to communicate openly and honestly about how they affect me to ensure that my relationships are as healthy as they can be.
Avoiding those issues doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. And while I can only speak for myself, I’m actually glad for the jealousy and glad for the insecurity. Because, over time, I was given the opportunity to actually work through it.
It’s like polyamory showed up and was like, “Yo, it’s time to grow up and work through your shit instead of pretending that everything is totally fine.”
I had to re-frame what it means to be “safe” and “secure” in a relationship. I had to realize that we don’t need to control someone in order to feel safe, and that we can be whole and worthwhile as human beings on our own, full stop, without defining ourselves based on somebody else’s affections and validation.
It’s not always easy. But it’s definitely been worth it.
(SO THERE. *flips a table*)
Do you have a primary partner, and if so, what if they object to a new partner? Then what?
My spouse, R, is my primary partner! They have yet to object to a new partner. But I’ve always said to them that it’s of the utmost importance to me that I respect their boundaries. If they had a legitimate concern about a new partner, we would definitely talk about it and arrive at a compromise that makes sense for us. Consent is vital for polyamory to work, and it wouldn’t be consent if I ignored their objections and did whatever I wanted just because I could — that’s a violation of their trust in me.
OK, this is GOOD. Let’s get serious. I am SO INSECURE. I feel like poly would freak me out. What does poly give you than monogamy wouldn’t?*
*Pretty sure this is a good question but I am tipsyyyyyy
SDF: OMG I’m dying lololol.
No, but seriously. vodka cranberry.
SDF: OK I’m SO JELLY.
There’s this moment early on that always sticks out in my mind. My spouse, R, and I are dating the same person, who we’ll call Matt. We’ve gotten back from a really beautiful hike. Matt leans over to brush some hair out of R’s face. They’re both smiling at each other. They’re both so happy.
And I’m ecstatic, because these two people that I adore are so happy, and I get to share this moment with them.
I also think about what it’s like to hug them both. If you can imagine a time when your partner held you, and you felt so, so cared for, imagine those butterflies doubling in number because TWO people that you love are wrapping you up in the best damn embrace.
Polyamory gives me beautiful and intimate moments with people I otherwise wouldn’t be “allowed” to connect with. Polyamory gives me more love, more nurturing, more space, more support in my life. I think that’s really wonderful.
Polyamory also gives me permission to just be authentic with each and every person, letting whatever connection we have blossom into whatever it’s meant to be. Polyamory has been really liberating for me — I don’t feel like I have to suppress my feelings or desires.
And honestly? It’s also kind of logistically great, too. Like, I was sick this past week. I had one partner cooking for me and one partner to drive me to the doctor, I mean...imagine if you could just divvy up all the partner-ly responsibilities. Very convenient. Haha.
That gets into one of the real benefits I’ve noticed: one partner can’t necessarily meet all of your needs. We only have so much bandwidth as human beings. So building our own communities, our own families, our own beautiful webs of human connection to ensure that everyone is fulfilled and happy and cared for…it’s kind of cool to me; it’s a really rad idea.
Which is not to say that monogamy is inferior or that we can’t build that community if we’re in monogamous relationships. I just mean that, for me, polyamory has allowed a certain kind of community and intimacy to blossom in my life that I was never open to before.
I was habitually relying on my one partner to meet all of my needs, instead of opening up my heart and building a really strong support network. Polyamory challenged me to stop putting all my eggs in one basket, and really invest in more than just one person. That’s a healthy and awesome thing that anyone, monogamous or polyamorous, can do.
I feel really happy, can you tell? I’m just really happy. That’s what’s important at the end of the day.
I’m going to need a minute to digest all of that. You’re really challenging some serious social constructs here. It’s heavy and awesome. And I adore you. I have to say, you’re causing me to really be introspective about my own self-worth, which is scary and awesome. This is really about self-reliance in a deeper way, not defining your existence by your relationships. This is the stuff of advanced therapy sessions. HOW ARE YOU SO INSIGHTFUL? Most of the 40-year-olds I know can’t even get past OMG YOU ARE CHEATING.
Who knew polyamory could inspire folks to do this kind of introspection? And I fucking love you. FYI.
Final thoughts: THIS WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO JOURNALISM THIS MONTH, AT LEAST.