People have often asked if I think they could be poly. Over time, I eventually distilled my thoughts into the following: I’m not one of those people who think polyamory is inherently superior to monogamy, and I also think there are some prerequisites to being successfully poly. “Poly” is a pretty broad spectrum. It means a lot of things to different people. So for our purposes here, I’m going to define poly as a relationship in which all the people involved are aware that the romantic / sexual relationship involves more than two people, and have in some way consented to that – so this should apply to “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationships, polyfidelity, network poly, mono-poly, swinging, etc.
Here is my list of prerequisites.
1) – All people involved have to seriously want it to work and approach the situation in good faith. That means no one is pretending to explore poly so they can throw up their hands later and say, “Oh, see, I did my best but it didn’t work.” No one can really wish that they could just be monogamous in peace. It won’t work. It will only wind up making you very sad. This means that, in addition to really knowing your partner, you must know yourself – that your reasons for consenting to think about this in the first place honestly include that you want it.
2) – You have to be honest about you feel, first of all with yourself. You also have to be prepared to tell people about it in an appropriate way and at a reasonable time. That means, at least for awhile, you have to put up with a lot of “I feel…” conversations. Needless drama and lack of progress around these issues is a good sign that condition #1 may not have actually been fulfilled.
3) – You have to make sure that everyone’s needs get met. Poly means there are more people to take care of, but also more people to do it. Excessive neediness, again, is a sign that prerequisite #1 was not actually fulfilled. Sit down and think long and hard about what you need to feel secure.
When my husband and I were not long married, I began a relationship that made him feel threatened, because I was getting things from it he couldn’t give me. Half a dozen times or so over the course of about a year, he called me and said, “I really need you to come home and be with me right now.” And I did, every time. He didn’t ask unless he really needed it, and I came every time he did ask, because of prerequisites #2 and #1 – he was being honest with himself and me about what he needed, and we both approached the situation in good faith. He hasn’t asked in several years, I suppose because I demonstrated to him that I would be there for him. I did not consider half a dozen times excessive.
4) – A great indicator of potential success at poly is the ability to feel compersion. For those who don’t know, compersion is the happy “D’aaaaww!” feeling you get when you see your partner with someone else. It’s vicarious happiness, like a contact high. If you can’t feel compersion, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” version of poly is probably your best bet. In my experience, compersion is a great inoculation against emotions that fall under the jealousy umbrella – see #5 below.
5) – Think carefully about any emotion you label “jealousy.” I think there are at least four things that are commonly labeled jealousy. I’d call them actual jealousy (“I don’t want you to have it, I want it for myself instead and exclusively”), envy (“I see that you have that and I wish I could have that”), insecurity (“I’m worried that you might take it away from me”), and protective / controlling impulses (“I’m worried I won’t be able to protect /control it if you have it”). The differences might seem nitpicky to you, but they speak volumes about how successful you’re apt to be at poly. If you experience actual jealousy with anything like regularity, forget about it. No. You won’t be good at poly. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t do it.
The other kinds of jealousy can be dealt with. Envy can be dealt with by evaluating whether you can get what you want (or a substitute for it), and then pursuing it. Realize that someone else having what you want is not an obstacle to you having it too in most cases. Love isn’t a finite resource, like oil or sugar (although time is!) It doesn’t really get used up. Insecurity can be dealt with by talking over exactly what someone’s fears are and figuring out how to address them. Protective and controlling impulses have to be carefully evaluated and then judged to be reasonable or not, depending on the situation. I’d say more often than not, they are not reasonable; however, there are legitimate circumstances in which someone does actually need protection or direction.
Also, oddly enough, possessiveness and polyamory can sometimes work together, because there’s such a thing as collective ownership and that can be fun when it’s done right! By and large, though, try to give your partners the benefit of some space to breathe. Trust that they are adults and will work things out for themselves.
Thinking about emotions that fit under the jealousy umbrella is an important strategy for dealing with internal and interpersonal conflicts that inevitably arise in polyamorous relationships. Anita Wagner has a series of short videos that address these topics; she dissects “jealousy” in a somewhat different fashion than I have. She has some strategies for dealing with jealousy as well.
6) – If you are worried about losing your partner to someone else, ask yourself, “Do I love my partner?” If the answer is yes, then you should want the very best for your partner’s happiness. Have the courage to accept that no matter what it means for your relationship – or your relationship style. You will be rewarded by wonderful loving people all around you, no matter which model you eventually choose. Making relationship choices based on fear, instead of love, does not yield consistently good results.
Justice has been in the scene for over a decade as a player, a community organizer, a party host, a presenter, and an educator. She is a pansexual switch, a power player, and a singletail top. She works with PEPLove.