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People in monogamous relationships often misunderstand what polyamory means. It describes a sexual or romantic relationship between more than two people at once — and it’s not how the media portrays it at all.

We spoke to a range of polyam folks who provided clarity on what it means to be polyamorous, and what others often get wrong about it.

polyamorous people holding hands headerShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Maya Chastain

Interviews have been edited for brevity.

Corinne, 28

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

There’s a common misconception that polyamory means an open relationship — however, that is simply one way to be non-monogamous.

An open relationship is when two people are in a romantic relationship and allowed to have external sexual relationships, with no emotional connection. There is no one way to be non-monogamous.

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

Get really clear on what creates a sense of romantic safety for yourself. That will allow you to design relationships that feel supportive and fulfilling.

Communicate early on about why you desire non-monogamy, what your boundaries are, how much you want to talk about other partners, and how to process difficult emotions like jealousy.

When you first begin a journey of exploring non-monogamy, I think it’s so important to have support outside of your romantic relationships from people who understand non-monogamy. Whether it’s a mentor, friend, or therapist — someone who can understand the nuances will be incredibly helpful.

What are some resources you find helpful?

Zines: Chill Polyamory, Love Without Emergency, and Linked
Podcasts:Queen City” and “Multiamory

Does being polyamorous imply a fear of commitment?

When explaining non-monogamy to people who are struggling to understand the possibility for commitment, I’d ask, “Do you think that parents who are expecting their second or third child are any less loving and supportive to their first?” Parents are no less committed to raising their first child than their second, or third, etc.

I’m not afraid of committing to one person — I’m incredibly in love and committed to my nesting partner. I’m also committed to my other partners. Time management is key.

Franklin, 50

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

Polyamory, while not for everyone, offers an opportunity for individuals to explore and refine their sense of loving support and intimacy by not placing the entire burden to do all and be all on one individual. Additionally, it transforms how we look at love and how close we assume we can be with different individuals in our lives.

So, I do not develop any specific kind of emotional dependency on any one person, but rather find loving support from different people.

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

Be honest with yourself and others about explicitly what you feel. Whether it’s about sex, feelings, timing, or space, be honest from the outset. Being deceptive or dishonest will ultimately cause the relationships to fall apart. Hiding your feelings also will lead to resentment over time. Give things time.

What are some resources you find helpful?

I’ve read a lot of articles and books on this, but to be honest, you are free to create whatever you feel best meets your needs. Books can help you start the conversation, but you really have to start with what you feel comfortable doing and ease into things in a way that allows emotional honesty to evolve.

Is polyamory meaningless sex without attachment?

Definitely not. The emotional attachments are real and can be quite profound. There’s a lot more intimate involvement than just sex in many polyamorous relationships. Again, I draw a distinction between casual sex buddies and people who allow themselves to share an emotional involvement in their romantic relationships.

Lulu, 30

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

We’re not having wild sex parties, or hooking up with everyone we meet. I will speak solely for myself here, but I am the same as many others… I care about the world and other people, I recycle and vote on Election Day, I go to work and bust my ass, I treat myself to good coffee and solo weekend trips, and I somehow manage to kill all of my house plants.

All of that to say I’m no different, as a human, than someone that is monogamous, asexual, open, polyam, etc.

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

Do it for the right reasons. I cannot overstate that enough. If you are considering it because you are with someone and deep down you know something is missing or you’re trying to fix something (as I was), it just won’t work.

It has brought a significant amount of value to my life, and I have beautiful memories that I wouldn’t trade. But it can and will shine a spotlight on things you (or your partner) want to keep in the dark. If you’re on the receiving end of a polyamorous request, make sure the decision is yours and yours alone.

What are some resources you find helpful?

First and foremost, your “primary partner” (if you call it that) is your best resource. Outside of that… call me old-fashioned, but I read books. The ones I found most helpful are Opening Up, The Ethical Slut, and More Than Two. I also Googled every article I could find on open relationships, jealousy, insecurity, communication, and compromise.

Is there jealousy?

Of course there is. WE’RE STILL HUMANS. With insecurities and doubts. The difference, I’ve found, is that people who are open to the idea of multiple partners typically are open to self-reflection, open to communication, willing to compromise, etc.

Jealousy still exists, but it’s an opportunity to look within and figure out the root of it. Jealousy is often fear. Fear of being unloved, unworthy, abandoned, not good enough. Taking a look inside yourself, rather than at someone else, is the best way to work through jealousy.

Mark, 27

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

That it’s a legitimate option!

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

Communication is key, and being polyam doesn’t mean you will be/have to be polyam forever and ever, amen.

What are some resources you find helpful?

Being part of the queer community helps. Feeld is a really good app for this kind of stuff for het/homocurious people!

Is there a higher chance of STIs?

People need to be safe, but they need the chance to explore their sexualities in their own ways. All abstinence of sex is “safer” from STIs. But not exploring your sexuality (body, mind, and energy) in fear of picking up an STI is a sad life, in my opinion.

Dee, 25

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

I guess I want people to know that polyamory is not “consensual cheating” (yes, this is a real phrase one of my family members used to describe my relationships). Polyamory is a way of describing a relationship style and helps me explain/signify what kind of relationships I’m interested in developing.

I don’t want a “one and only.” I’m not interested in reducing all my needs and desires and whims to a single person. I want to form communities to fulfill all parts of me.

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

Set aside time to communicate through all the messiness. People are messy, and the more of them you involve, the more time you are going to have to spend making sure everyone is on the same page.

Also, communication doesn’t always solve your problems. The transformation of a relationship into a different kind of relationship is not a sign of failure.

What are some resources you find helpful?

I love Instagram accounts that talk about polyamory and some of the other intersections of sex and dating in our lives. Some that come to mind are @chillpolyamory, @daemonumx, and @salty.world.

What are the benefits of committing to more than one person?

Society has taught us that unless we are fully fulfilled by one person, there must be something wrong. This puts so much pressure to be everything for each other, instead of practicing negotiating what we can and can’t do. I love being empowered to fulfill my needs through many types of relationships! Some committed and some less so.

Olivia, 30

What do you want people to know about being polyamorous?

The lifestyle is very customizable. There are a multitude of relationship styles that can come from having multiple partners. Communication is key. And I don’t mean just talking about what you want. It’s a lot of listening, stating intentions, and processing emotions with each partner to ensure everyone is heard and valued equally.

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

The root of emotional upset tied to cheating is more focused on deceit and betrayal of trust. Once you open your relationships up, boundaries need to be discussed and those boundaries need to be honored.

In monogamous relationships the base boundary is no physical or emotional intimacy with anyone outside of the relationship. This can work for some people, but restraining a person’s intimacy can be stifling and detrimental to your relationship.

What are some resources you find helpful?

Read The Ethical Slut, especially if you’re straight or queerious. Also, join discussion groups online!

Is it about the thrill?

Sure, for some people, juggling multiple relationships and hiding those relationships from others is a thrill. This is not ethical polyamory, and I would never keep my relationships secret from the people I’m dating.

Francesca, 21

What do want people to know about being polyamorous?

In my experience, polyamory is a principle that doesn’t put a limit on human emotion. I know that I feel immense love for people in lots of ways, and for me, being polyamorous means I never have to be scared of feeling and of expressing my love for people. I never have to repress my emotions for the sake of societal expectations. It’s a great relief!

Do you have some words of advice for people considering polyamory?

You don’t need to feel guilty for wondering and for wanting. People have probably been polyam since the beginning of civilization — there just haven’t been appropriate terms until quite recently.

What are some resources you find helpful?

Shrimpteeth on Instagram has some great advice and graphics for polyam people!

Do poly people have different morals than monogamous people?

I would say the exact opposite! I have incredibly strong morals, and one of those is that I refuse to be limited to only showing affection to one person even if I might feel it for multiple people.

Polyam people can have similar boundaries, values, and expectations to those in monogamous relationships. It’s all about sharing an important part of yourself with other people — so be sure to look after your own well-being in the process.

Whether you’re new to polyamory or in need of support, there’s a range of resources available to help.