My dear friend,
I want to be one of the first to welcome you to polyamory. No, we’re not a cult, just good neighbors. We’re here with a welcome package of resources, advice on navigating the quirks you might find here and offer a friendly ear. Welcome to the neighborhood, we hope you stay with us a while!
I’ve lived at the corner of Open Heart Drive & Resilience Way for 13 years now. When we first moved into our polyamorous life back in 2004, I only had LiveJournal and a few magazines as resources. I didn’t know about the Ethical Slut or how to sync Google Calendars. But I did know I fell in love so easily with multiple people and I loved multiple people in different ways, I didn’t want this to just be a visit; I wanted to live here. We worked hard at it, but we’ve been in a stable, happy polyamorous marriage for 13 of the 15 years we’ve been married. I’ve been around long enough to have seen the polyamory movement to shift from one of mere awareness to one of acceptance. These are exciting times!
But I’ve also been around long enough to see people leave because they didn’t have the support they needed or they didn’t know to navigate the emotional waves that come with living as polyamorous. I hope I can offer some of the advice I wish I had when I first started, things I’ve had to learn the hard way:
- The first 1-2 years will be challenging: Fulfilling but challenging. Be patient with yourself and your partners. You are de-programming the default heteronormative, mono-romantic mode that has been prepackaged and sold to you by faith, family and media. You’re entering a world of self-actualization and you’re bound to bump up against jealousy, assumptions and the possessiveness. It takes skill to navigate multiple relationships, to balance and prioritize your time and needs. Don’t be discouraged if there are mistakes, you are acquiring a wealth of new skills.
- Rules will change: If you have an existing partner right now you may have created a ton of rules to address how to feel secure with dating outside your core relationship. Just be aware that the rules will change. Not only will you change and grow as people (and as poly daters), but some rules just aren’t practical. The best bet is to view polyamory as something that grows organically in its own time and rate. Not every broken rule is a deal breaker and not every preference is a demand. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to come up with new agreements.
- Get used to being uncomfortable: Poly works when all parties are honest, vulnerable and present for each other. And we always say “communicate!” but we don’t always tell you that the communication sometimes will be painful or uncomfortable. When conflicts arise, you will have to talk beyond the edges of an issue and get to the substance of it. Trust yourself, trust your voice and learn how to listen with compassion. Living outside the default mode always is uncomfortable, but with practice and patience you’ll find your comfort zone will expand to make courageous conversations easier and more satisfying.
- Allow NRE (New Relationship Energy) to shine but not outshine: I still have trouble with this one, but one of the best parts of being polyamorous is that we get to fall in love and it’s beautiful and moving and all encompassing. It’s called New Relationship Energy (NRE). Let it shine, bring that shine home to your nesting partners and let it nurture your relationship. But be aware too that sometimes so much glow be an uncomfortable light for the more established partners who may be feeling a bit neglected. So aim to find balance between basking in the glow and taking care of your loved ones.
- Just say no to the cheating spouse: It doesn’t matter how much their partner just “doesn’t understand” or has cut them off from affection and sex, you’re not doing them or yourself any favors by indulging the lived reality of a cheating spouse. If they care about being poly they must practice having their own courageous conversations, even to be compatible with how you’re living your life. Be their friend, even a flirty friend if your ethics allow it, but just remember, you can’t do it for them.
- Use Jealousy as feedback: Oh the jealousy! Poly people aren’t immune to it. Sometimes we try to deny it even exists. But jealousy is more like an umbrella term for a host of easily identifiable feelings like sadness, anger, fear of abandonment, etc. Be kind to yourself when you’re feeling jealous, examine it compassionately and discuss it with your partner(s). Own your emotions and figure out mutual strategies to help you deal with those tricky emotions as they come up.
- Use Vetoes Sparingly: If you set up your dynamic to have veto power over potential partners, dates, etc., use this power sparingly. It is a lot of power in one set of hands. Not only can the veto easily create ugly power dynamics in otherwise healthy relationships but there is a fundamental unfairness to your other partners who have no choice or say in that decision. Before issuing a veto examine your reasons and whether there’s a less restrictive way to accomplish the goals. Giving up on partners or polyamory isn’t always the best solution even if it seems like the easiest.
As you move forward in your explorations you’ll figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. And we will be here, your friendly poly neighbors, to answer questions, show you our favorite tools and resources and to lend an ear. But in all things, remain true to yourself. You are here for a reason—honor and celebrate that!
With warmest wishes,