My Top Advice For New Polyamorous People
I don't usually do lists, but there are a few things that I encounter over and over again working with people new to polyamory, both those opening out of couples and people who are attracted to the idea while in a single status, that I think are worth saying out loud. Here are my Top Ten pieces of advice for newly polyam people.
1) You absolutely have to list that you're nonmonogamous on your dating apps.
If you don't think you're "ready" to indicate that you're nonmonogamous or polyamorous on a dating app or a profile on a website that you're polyamorous, you aren't ready to make one. Start out by reading some more about polyamory and maybe going to local meetups and chatting with folks and making polyam friends, and THEN make a profile after that when you're more comfortable. You don't get to pretend to be monogamous and then pull a bait and switch on someone after they've become emotionally attached to you. Unless you were already in a long term relationship with someone when you learned about the concept of polyamory, or you met in person so there's no way to have indicated, it shouldn't be a surprise to them. (If you meet in person, drop it into an early conversation - "my girlfriend and her husband enjoyed that movie!")
2) If you're a couple, you should date separately. It might be uncomfortable at first.
While it's perfectly fine to end up in organic triads or quads (you meet someone or someones that you really click with and start a relationship) ONLY seeking group arrangements, especially only seeking group arrangements with a single person when you're a couple, can lead to power imbalances and avoid doing a lot of the emotional work to deconstruct couple's privilege and possible codependence that is part of the point of getting into polyamorous relationships. It leaves you unprepared for the future when you do date separately; and it makes it look like you might be Unicorn Hunters, even if you don't intend to be. At the same time, in group relationships, you have to be each others' partners and metamours (the partner of your partner) simultaneously, and deal with fulfilling those different dynamics at the same time as navigating jealousy and/or compersion. Simplify your life and just be each others' partners.
Take the time to try and date separately and face the discomfort of the first few dates where someone is home alone (or home with the kids) while the other is on a date; the wibbly feeling of "will something about this person be better than me?"; and of needing to reassure each other and come back together. It makes your relationship stronger and better-equipped. As I mentioned above it lets you just be partners to your partners and metamours to your metamours - which can let you develop friendships with your metas without the pressure of having to develop romantic relationships with them at all, much less at the same speed as your partner doing so. An N is a lot simpler polycule to manage than a "unicorn quad" where everyone is involved; and a V simpler than a delta triad.
3) Jealousy still happens. Use it as a learning moment.
Polyamorous people are not immune from jealousy. In an ideal world, we use it as a moment to pause and figure out what's going on inside ourselves or our relationships and solve the issue at hand if there is one - or to go "Oh this is just brain weasels, carry on," and try to address our anxiety or self-esteem with self-care. Jealousy is like a check engine light. We have to figure out what it's reflecting before we can do anything about it, and also, it's not something we should beat ourselves up for feeling. Monogamous relationships sometimes do this odd thing in praise of jealousy, almost holding it up as a virtue - we love so much that our jealousy is uncontrollable - and this leads to the "I'm just too jealous, I could never do polyamory" responses from people we have not asked to be polyamorous. The thing to remember is that jealousy is not a fixed state. It's a passing emotion like all our other emotions. We can feel it in our bodies and let it go; or we can see what other emotions are making it up or circumstances are leading to it, address them, and then let it go. It is not a sin against polyamory or a virtue of monogamy to feel it more often - but how we interact with our partners and metamours about our feelings does matter.
4) Compersion is not mandatory - it's a nice fringe benefit when it happens.
Compersion is a very polyamorous word. It means the warm fuzzy feeling we can get when we're happy for a partner's interactions with their other partners. This second-hand joy and positive empathy for their interactions with their other partners is sometimes presented as the opposite of jealousy, or the pinnacle of polyamorous emotional experience. It is neither of those things, nor is it mandatory. It's nice when it happens; and it's more likely to happen when you're in a secure relationship and a well-resourced place yourself (so, meeting your own needs or delegating them among your relata in a sustainable way) - but it doesn't mean you don't love your partner enough or aren't good enough at polyamory if you aren't rolling in compersion at all times.
5) Polyamory can be expensive.
Polyamory can be something that people do as a political/social stance that is anti-nuclear-family, anti-capitalist, anti-normative, etc - but it can also just be a way that people do relationships, and either way, it can be expensive to deviate from norms. Especially for solopolyamorous people who choose to live alone, costs can add up (check on your solopolyam partners if they're often or always hosting for dates). There are obvious things like multiple partners meaning multiple birthday, anniversary and holiday gifts. But also:
keeping more and different groceries around for partners with food allergies or different diets;
the electric and water costs (or effort and laundromat costs) of doing extra laundry for sheets between partners (and/or having extra sheets as sets wear out from extra washes, or folks like the distinction of having their own etc);
renting or buying a larger space so that partners can have their own rooms or so there's a guest room to bring partners over in and thereby increasing rent & utilities;
extra cash for more dates out because not all dates will be nights in (and even if they are, those groceries we mentioned);
paying babysitters if you have kids and want to go out at the same time;
the cost of buying food or drink at meetups where "what you buy from the venue" is the cost and keeps the event running; or a cover charge for the meetup if it's ticketed instead.
6) It's helpful to read and think about what you want, but don't get married to buzzwords.
There are a lot of great terms to use and learn as shorthand for how you actually currently do polyamory within a given polycule - kitchen table, parallel, etc. But don't get so caught up in learning them all or deciding that one "is what you're doing" that you throw connections away over someone's reaction to a term. At the same time, think about what you actually want your connections to look like. Do you hope your partners will all be able to hang out at least occasionally? Be up front about that because it may be an incompatibility with someone and it's good to find that out early. Not every polyamorous person we're attracted to is going to be someone we should date.
7) Meeting people at community events is great - when you can make it to them.
This could have been my top piece of advice. In many communities outside of large cities polyam meetups have big overlap with the kink community, as a word of warning, but they have their own events - and it's fun to go to them and meet people, if they fit in your schedule. As a parent of young kids who tries really hard to have a life there have been literal years where I made it to one polyamorous meetup event a year because between the kids, their activities, the event being a half hour away, my energy level, and the rest of the week, it just wasn't doable. But when it is? They're really good. (I'm taking my own advice and helping run a new local one that is on my schedule to guarantee I actually see other humans with some consistency, if you're in Connecticut email email@example.com and I'll send you the event listing.) Getting to know people and make polyamorous friends (mostly these aren't dating things, they're hang out and chat things) builds a level of community I think is really helpful. It's how I met my best friend - at a polyamorous families meetup in a park.
8) You can be polyamorous and a parent - it's a different experience, though.
That thing I said up there about my schedule having been terrible sometimes where I referenced my kids? That's a polyamorous parenting reality. If you and your co-parent(s) are kind to each other, careful, and good at scheduling, you can manage dating while also maintaining a couple relationships - but lots of parents of young kids have a lower polysaturation level than parents of older kids or non-parents. I like to say my kids count as a partner for the purpose of determining how much bandwidth I have for dating. It's a matter of both energy and pure time. Parents generally also change their relationship statuses a little more slowly - or at least take their time in Introducing You To The Kids.
Non-parents (as someone who has been polyam in both states, I feel able to comment) have a little more freedom to make Big Polyam Moves - to throw themselves into NRE, move fast, (not worry about if doing so will then impact kids who will ask about you if it crashes and burns) and Ms. Frizzle it ("Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!") to their hearts' content.
9) Don't make big life decisions under the influence of NRE (New Relationship Energy).
New Relationship Energy is the fun cocktail of brain chemicals that creates a honeymoon period at the beginning of your relationship. Those times where you just want to write their name on your notebook like it's seventh grade and triple text them and can't stop thinking about them? NRE. The rush of "this is the truest love I have ever experienced" with someone who is still basically a stranger to you on dates 2-6? NRE. Some people feel it for a few weeks, some for a few months, some about a year. It is the rose colored glasses that some people chase because for them it is like a high; and some of us avoid or get nervous about because it feels jittery and out of control like a bad anxiety day, but with love.
Don't make big life decisions while you're in this phase. Don't move in together. Don't get their name tattooed on you. Don't buy them the most expensive thing you've ever bought anyone. Don't decide it's the best time to have a baby. Don't sign contracts, marriage licenses included. Wait and if you still want to six months later, do any or all of these things.
10) You can build your relationships to whatever shape and size you and each partner want - but these are real relationships with real people so keep an eye on your emotional bandwidth.
Just remember that even if you care about someone a lot, you might not have enough time to give them the relationship they want, need or expect from you right now. Talk about expectations, don't assume them. Talk about whether you think you'll have space for the relationship to grow or if that's all the room you're going to have going forward. If you're both on the same page, it's all ok. Don't sneak up on each other with glass ceilings to relationships.
Check out the podcast at readyforpolyamory.fireside.fm and the newest merch at www.readyforpolyamory.com/shop because you, too, are a snack who deserves drinkware saying so. I'll see you Thursday with the last podcast episode of the season.