How to Succeed With Non-Monogamy
I don’t remember choosing to be monogamous, but I was. I identified as ‘charmingly slutty’, but I was really a cheater. When my boyfriend brought up polyamory, I was excited because I thought it would fix our infidelity issues. I dove right into extra-curricular dating. The following week, I cruised up the I-5 in a convertible with a blonde babe I had met on Craigslist. We were on our way to Stinton Beach to meet her wife. I felt wild and free. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my partner about my drive up the coast because I knew he would be jealous. He found out, we fought for weeks, and the babe and her wife stopped returning my calls. I was missing foundational parts of non-monogamy: Trust and communication.
The Possibilities with Non-Monogamy
It wasn’t until I found my groove in alternative sexual communities that I began to have more pleasurable and honest partnerships. My fellow queers, kinksters, and sex workers taught me about the ins and outs of threesomes, group sex, and making heart connections with multiple people. These sexual adventures helped me examine and shed the conventional expectations of relationships and dating that were not working for me. And I’m not alone, it is estimated that 20% of Americans have practiced non-monogamy at some point in their life. I re-imagined and rewrote the kind of love I wanted to have. This helped me create a framework I base my relationships on: I want to love and be loved in a way that gives us the freedom to suck the marrow out of the bones of life!
It took a lot of self-reflection and trust-building to create this kind of dynamic. I now have an eight-year love and two kids with my primary partner. Our relationship has the flexibility and strength to flourish through having other partners, a divorce, gang-bangs, and talking out complicated jealous feelings. We work hard to support each other’s happiness, including giving the other person autonomy over their own desires.
The path to non-traditional relationships can feel mysterious and complex. If you are thinking about trying non-monogamy, here are a few key tips to help you be honest and communicative with yourself and your partners about what you need to feel happy and secure in a relationship. Then you can start designing a relationship structure that works for you and the people you care about.
Find the Right Words
The language people use to describe non-traditional relationships is constantly evolving, but it’s important to know that there are many ways to do this. Not everyone desires multiple partners, while someone else couldn’t survive without their husband plus two boyfriends. It is important to know your options and have the terminology to help describe what you want. Here are a few of the many ways that you can practice non-monogamy:
- Ethical Non-monogamy: the practice of exchanging romance or love with more than one person
- Polyamory: People who have multiple romantic or sexual relationships simultaneously. Poly folks often have more than one long-term partner.
- Hierarchical relationships: A relationship with a set of “primary partners,” who prioritize each other while also having “secondary” partners and/or other dates.
- Polyfidelity: A relationship between a group of people where all members are equal partners in the relationship, and no one has sex with or dates people outside the group.
- Poly-solo: having multiple committed or causal relationships without a hierarchy or a primary partner.
- Open relationships: A couple open to new romantic or sexual partners.
- Casual dating or casual sex: When people casually date and have sex with multiple people, with everyone knowing that it’s happening.
- Threesomes: A couple brings in a third person to have sex for one night or regularly.
- Monogamish: A couple that’s mostly monogamous but might occasionally have sex with other people in certain situations.
Dare to Dream Big!
From an early age, we’ve been programmed about love and sexuality. If monogamy is not working, now is the time to create a love life that works for you, not against you. Start by fantasizing – ask yourself, “What is my ideal situation?”. Give yourself absolute permission to answer this question honestly. Forget phrases like, “I’m supposed to…”, “I’m expected to…”, and replace them with “I want….”, “I need…”, “I deserve….”
Let go of the guilt or shame you may have around doing something different or unexpected. Remember that we all deserve a dreamy love life. Once you start to identify what you want, write it down. This will be helpful when you begin to share it with other people. It’s ok for your wants and needs to change with time. That’s one of the beautiful things about non-monogamy; it respects that we are not stagnant beings – as we grow, so do our desires.
How to Communicate Your Desires
A common misconception about non-monogamy is that it is solely based on sex. Ethical non-monogamy is really based on communication, so prepare to do a lot more talking in your relationships. If you’re in a monogamous partnership, hopefully, opening-up has come up at some point. This can be a sensitive or possibly tricky conversation, so try to practice beforehand. Here are a few tips to help the exchange run smooth:
- Invite your partner into a conversation about non-monogamy, rather than simply blurting out, “I want to have sex with other people!”
- Serve what I call a ‘reassurance sandwich.’ Start the conversation out by stating your love and commitment to your partner, and end the conversation with a similar statement of appreciation and devotion.
- Try to use language that you both understand. You may be discovering a world of new poly terminology, but your partner may not be familiar with what “monogamish” means, or it may mean something different to them.
- Use ‘I’ statements,’ like, “I want more sexual adventure in my life” and not, “You are not sexually exciting anymore.” Focus the conversation on your own needs and desires, avoiding causing your partner to feel like they’re not good enough.
- If you are in couples counseling, find out if your therapist is poly-knowledgeable. Inexperienced therapists could hinder this conversation.
- Non-monogamy is rarely a free-for-all. Create clear relationship goals, agreements, and boundaries together.
- Check-in with yourself and each other. If you and your partner have built up trust and good communication, you may be ready to put your new relationship structure into action.
Here’s How to Meet People
You’re probably excited to dive into the non-monog waters and start swimming! Luckily, most polyamorous folks are also looking to meet other like-minded people. I recommend not only seeking out dates but finding your community. I need friends who really understand what I’m going through when I need to talk out, set boundaries, or gush about my partner’s new date. I have an ex-partner with whom I am no longer romantically involved, but we have remained friends. They have excellent polyamory skills and are the first person I call to figure out a sticky poly situation.
So, where to meet these people?
Poly folks love to use dating apps or online groups. It’s very convenient to flag our relationship style on a dating profile from the get-go and not waste time with people we won’t match. Meetups are great. Non-monogamous people love to create community, so a quick Google search could result in a few events at a local coffee shop, bar, or play party.
Once you start creating your own web of poly friends, you may begin to meet more like-minded people in “old-fashion” ways like at a party or through mutual friends. Your dating pool just got smaller, but hopefully, that pool has more people that will vibe with your wants and desires.
Try Out A New Way to Flirt
When you first come out, it can be scary and awkward to tell someone you are crushing on, but this necessary step is better done sooner than later. Here are a few ways to present your new relationship style with ease.
- “I would love to go on a date with you, thanks for asking. I’ve had a crush on you forever! I wanted to check in with you about what you are looking for. I’m non-monogamous, and I am happily primary-partnered and looking for dates, sweeties, and possible partners. I’m very interested in getting to know you, so I’m curious, do you have any experience with poly relationships?
- “Thanks for going on this date with me. You are super hot, and I’m having a lot of fun. I wanted to talk to you about my relationship style. I’m not seeing anyone right now, but I consider myself ‘open,’ which means I’m not looking for either of us to be monogamous. Does that sound like something that could work for you?”
The clearer you are on what you are looking for, the easier it is to share this with others. It may feel like a lot to share upon a first date, but most poly people are used to this type of disclosure and communication at an early stage. If someone is put off by your bravery of letting them know what your heart desires, they probably are not a good fit for you in the first place.
Pro Tip: Bring Your Friends Flowers
Prepare for non-monogamy to change more than your dating life. Polyamory has brought many great sex-scapades into my life, but it has also taught me about intimacy, and intimacy is not always hinged on sex. Some of my most enjoyable relationships exist in a lovely grey area between friendship and romance. I like to bring my friends flowers, just because; I want to hold their hand when we are talking about something important. I love to tell them they look beautiful when they meet me for dinner. Polyamory can create avenues for more sweetness and care in multiple aspects of your life.
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