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7 people on what it’s really like to be polyamorous

I’ve always been somebody who loves love. 

Everything about it, really. The magical and the mundane: staying up all night talking for the first time, picking what movie to watch, or texting a loved one that I’m on my way to their house after a long day of work. I love learning what makes someone’s mind tick, and I crave real and honest intimacy with the people I am platonically and romantically involved with. I give it to everyone I allow in my life; I make time for the people I love. 

What do I hate about love? Monogamy. For most of my adult life, I’ve been practicing ethical nonmonogamy, or polyamory, which is an umbrella term for people who choose to be romantically involved with more than one person. The Latin translation for polyamory literally means “many loves”.  That’s really it – just many loves. The rest of that identity is defined by the person who lives it.

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Even though we live in 2021, there is still a stigma against polyamory both as a practice and towards people who choose to let go of monogamy altogether. There’s an outdated and pervasive notion that people who are polyamorous are just people who cheat openly on their primary partner, but that’s just not true, hence the “ethical” part of ethical nonmonogamy.  It’s a personal choice – and it’s a valid one.  

The stigma against it less pervasive than it used to be five or six years ago, but whenever a celebrity or famous person comes out as polyamorous, it rocks the news cycle.

For example, today, Willow Smith told the world, and her family, that she is polyamorous on an episode of Red Table Talk,  and I’m seeing it all over the internet. “With polyamory, I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you,” she says on the show. “Not just stepping into monogamy because that’s what everyone around you says is the right thing to do.”

And she’s right – polyamory is fundamentally about setting rules and boundaries that work for you and your partner(s). Like any other platonic or romantic relationship, the most important thing is to be clear and communicative with the people you’re involved with about your expectations and the reality of a situation.  It seems counterintuitive, but you can still cheat in a polyamorous relationship if your behavior crosses pre-established boundaries that you have with someone.

Polyamorous people want and need love just like you do and everyone else does. For the most part, polyamorous relationships function in a traditional sense: dinner and movies and sex and sleepovers; courtship and anticipation; casual flings, occasional one-night stands, but also partners whom you spend months and years with.

Polyamorous people get married and have committed relationships in the same way monogamous people choose to spend their lives with one person. I cannot emphasize this enough: healthy polyamorous and healthy monogamous relationships are identical in every way other than monogamy or lack thereof. Some people want a yard and wedding rings, and some people want five lovers/entanglements, and a yard, and a wedding ring (or none of the above).

It can be casual or a commitment. Polyamorous relationships can be emotional or purely physical. There are no rules other than honoring your word and not lying. 

I am lucky in the sense that I am not the only polyamorous person I know in my life: so I asked my fellow polyamorous friends what has and hasn’t worked for them specifically in their own experiences. Everyone I asked had something different to say– but almost every one said something like this: “Why are you asking me this? It’s not different than what does and doesn’t work in a monogamous relationship. Just be honest.” 

Here are some other tips – names omitted upon request.

“Make sure you’re having open conversations about and are practicing safe sex with your intimate partners. It can be awkward at times but it’s always important to keep you and your partner(s)’ health in mind in the moment.” – P

“Always tell people straight away (or as soon as it becomes necessary) about your preferred relationship style and expectations. Don’t stay with someone who wants you to become monogamous or convince someone who doesn’t want to be poly to be polyamorous.” – G

“No lying.” – K 

“Treat everyone’s feelings as if they are something you can’t afford to replace.” – L

“I would want people to know that (polyamorous) relationships aren’t inherently hierarchical in structure – I don’t have a ‘favorite’ person in my mind when I think about relationships. Everyone is equally important to me and I treat them with the same care as I would any intimate relationship.” – A

“Sometimes I get jealous but I know it’s just something that I need to work out with myself and my own expectations of what love is like. I just have to name the feeling and be open about it. That’s it. ” – C