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Are You Polyamorous?

The public discussion of polyamory has exploded in the past five years. Media coverage as diverse as New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Vice have done in-depth articles on everything from what is polyamory to a profile on a 20-member polycule.

It makes sense to me that there is a huge spike in interest in non-monogamous relationships in the past few years. I am a Gen X kid. We were the first generation to see a bunch of our parents’ divorce. By the time the Millennials came into being, divorce was both common and destigmatized in many parts of the western world. This meant a bunch of us grew up knowing that for many adults, monogamous marriage which lasts a lifetime didn’t work.

Add to this the repeated financial disasters and the fact the most of us in the Xennial, Millennial, and newer generations cannot (and probably will never) afford homes, pay off student debt, and can’t support children or a household on one or two adult incomes and non-monogamy makes a lot of sense.

Cool. However, not all of us are built for a complex, 20-person polycule. Relationship orientations are like sexual and gender orientations in that they are a spectrum. If we put a successful, life-long monogamous relationship on one end and relationship anarchy on the other, the vast majority of us fall somewhere in-between. This means complex polyamorous relationships won’t work for a bunch of us the same way monogamous heterosexual marriage doesn’t work for a bunch of us.

Am I Polyamorous?

This is a question I get from listeners and students. There is not a one-size fits all answer. Things to consider when questioning a relationship orientation:

-          What type of time commitment do I enjoy with a partner?

-          What are my feelings about sexual monogamy?

-          How do I want to structure financial relationships with significant others?

-          Do I find value in having an exclusive relationship?

-          Do I have the time to manage other partnerships?

Often, people consider non-monogamy after encountering specific situations. First, they try dating and can’t find “the one” so the start to look for “the several.”

People in a currently monogamous relationship want to try opening up their relationship for a variety of reasons. This can be because they both feel they have more to offer and want to “spread the love” so to speak. It can be because one or both are sexually unsatisfied. It can be prompted by someone cheating. Or any of dozens of other common reasons.

It may stem from a political and philosophical aversion to heteronormative relationship rules.

Whatever the reason for considering non-monogamy, its important to ask yourself the above questions. And be honest with yourself. It can be hard to recognize that you may or may not have the orientation you see as “preferable.” This can be someone wanting to be oriented to open relationships or from someone hesitant to try non-monogamy.

I like to tell folks that polyamory is for people who want to fuck like gay men, schedule like soccer mom, and process emotions like a lesbian. Nonmonogamy isn’t for the feint of heart. To do it well takes a lot of work.

[P]olyamory is for people who want to fuck like gay men, schedule like soccer mom, and process emotions like a lesbian.

Time Commitment

Being honest with yourself about the time and emotional bandwidth you have available is critical in a non-monogamy journey. Two partners mean more texting, more listening, more dates, more sex, and more time in general. This will compete with work, familial, social, and other obligations. The more partners, the more time commitment and emotional bandwidth needed.

Stealing a term from Lee Harrington, this time commitment often results in “couch-ogamy””  people who would be okay having an open relationship but time and energy demands means they would rather Netflix and chill with each other than try and find a new partner. This is more than reasonable for most of us.

Resource Sharing

I’ve been openly queer for nearly four decades now. Queer folks share resources. When I worked in AIDS groups in the 1980s and 1990s, we rehomed unused medication after someone passed. We pass along the same $20 between folks as they need it. We feed and house each other. Sometimes this happens with previous romantic partners, sometimes romance develops.

Depending on how you feel about sharing resources and the expectations to do so can shape your experience in non-monogamy. Some people are comfortable “loaning” a partner money with no expectation that it will ever be repaid. Other people keep track and want things to balance financially. Be honest about this with yourself.

Sexual Fidelity

Sex means different things to people. For some, it is a sign of a greater emotional bond. For some, it can be transactional. For others, it is just a physical release. Your personal feelings about sexual connection will shape your feelings about sexual fidelity.

For people who have been comfortably monogamous, it can be difficult to open a relationship to other sexual partners. Jealousy is normal and should be talked about without shame.

Sometimes life interferes with the ability to satisfy a partner’s sexual needs. For example, a long illness or chronic pain can make a person unable to enjoy sex. The ill partner will offer to open the relationship in order for the healthy partner to meet their sexual needs.  Depending on each partner’s feelings about sexual fidelity this may create awkward feelings.


This is all to say that there is a lot of personal exploration you should consider before opening or closing a relationship. With the persistent media coverage of polyamory it may see like “everyone is doing it” or that this type of relationship is necessary to continue dating in today’s world.

Just like monogamy isn’t for everyone, polyamory isn’t either. Most of us are monogamish. We are okay with certain types of openness in a relationship but not others. Figuring out the big questions (time, sex, resource sharing) can help provide a guide to the boundaries of an open relationship for you.

Statistically, most of us will fall in the spectrum of openness. The more clear you are about your limits and expectations, the more successful your relationships will become.



Looking for some help answering these questions? Check out my “Relationship Orientation Questions” worksheet in the Resources section.

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