What the Heck is Polyamory: Part 4 – How (Getting Started)
Published: December 5, 2013 • Updated: June 21, 2016 • by rigel
Since we have many readers who are new to the concept of polyamory, I wanted to answer the question we are constantly asked when teaching about poly, which is “I’m interested, but how do I get started?” I have done my best to both answer the question and condense the answer into a manageable length. Since the majority of our readers are couples this section is written for a member of an established couple who is interested in polyamory. If you are single you have the advantage of being able to select partners who are open to the idea before beginning a relationship with them, so skip 1,4, and 5 below.
- Evaluate – Make sure your current relationship is on solid ground before you even consider opening your relationship up. Poly relationships require an enormous amount of trust and communication, and partners who already have problems in these areas are unlikely to succeed. Trying to bring in a new partner/s to “save” a relationship is unlikely to work and unfair to the people caught in the middle. Don’t forget to consider if you have the time and energy to invest in new relationships.
- Learn – Books like The Ethical Slut or Opening Up are a good place to start. Websites like Loving More have tons of good resources. Your local polyamory groups are a great place to meet people who are experienced in poly and to figure out what styles of relationship you might be interested in. They often have classes on topics like communication and negotiation that can help you in your journey.
- Reflect – Spend some time thinking about what what you want. While your relationships will evolve and your desires may change along the way, it’s important to have an idea of what you are looking for. Are you simply looking for partners for sex or kinky play, or are you interested in multiple romantic partners? Does the idea of having separate partners interest you more then group relationships? If you are kinky how might new relationships fit into your play and/or power dynamics?
- Discuss – Talk to your current partner about what you want. If your partner has no familiarity with open relationships than be prepared to answer some hard questions; including why they are not enough for you or what needs they are not fulfilling. If you are prepared to explain how being able to love multiple people does not constitute a failing on your existing partner’s part you have a much better chance of getting through to them. Analogies such as how a parent can love multiple children at the same time can be helpful. If all else fails sometimes simply letting your partner know that even if they choose not to open the relationship you will still be happy and satisfied with them can make all the difference. Remember that relationships move at the pace of the slowest partner (this goes for kink too).
- If your partner is willing to consider the idea, have them spend some time working on steps 2 and 3.
- Negotiate – Clear boundaries can be the difference between an exciting adventure and a relationship crisis, particularly when first starting to explore. Keep in mind that boundaries can always change, discussing them simply keeps you from being surprised. For a couple I would suggest covering the below topics at a minimum:
- Division of time.
- Sexual limits and sexual health.
- How much you want to know about each other’s relationships.
- If and when you want to meet your partner’s prospective partners.
- If you retain “veto” power over each other’s partners. Whether this is a good (or fair) practice is hotly debated and outside of the scope of this article, but I think it is an important topic to discuss so there is no assumed agreement.
- If you have children at what point you are ok with other partners meeting them, and what you are going to tell the children when you do.
- Meet People – When teaching on polyamory we often get asked “Where do I find polyamorous partners?” I find this a difficult question because we never go out looking or hunting for partners, rather we meet someone we like and things evolve from there. As a generalization we have found the kink and polyamory communities to be a good place to meet more people interested in “open” polyamorous relationships, and the polyamory community and everyday life to be a good place to meet more people who are interested in “closed” polyamorous relationships. If dating sites are your thing OkCupid has a good reputation with the kink and poly communities.
- Use common sense – The same common sense rules that apply when in monogamous relationship are even more applicable when in an open relationship, because your choices affect not just you but your other partners as well. Spend some time getting to know a potential partner before getting too involved. Meet in public the first time, and setup safe calls the first couple of times you meet privately.
- Negotiate again – Yep, now you have to negotiate with your prospective new partner as well. Make sure you are upfront about any agreements you have made with your current partner/s, and make sure that your negotiations with you new partner allows you to honor those existing commitments.
- Bright and shiny – You know when you first start a relationship with someone and you are infatuated with them? That period where they can do no wrong and those habits that will annoy the hell out of you in a few months are still cute? You may have heard it called puppy love or the honeymoon period. Poly people call it New Relationship Energy (NRE) and it happens to us too. Keep in mind that as wonderful as it makes you feel it can cause your existing partner/s to feel neglected or left out. Pay extra attention to how you are dividing your time and go the extra mile to make your existing partner/s feel special.
- Deal with jealousy – I’m going to cram a lengthy topic into a few sentences here:
- Realize it happens, and that’s ok.
- Realize it happens over the silliest things. You may be able to watch your husband screw his girlfriend silly, but where she puts your silverware in the kitchen or him giving her a piece of his sandwich might drive you nuts.
- Try to identify your feelings and what’s causing them. I personally don’t like the word jealousy because I think people often identify a feeling as jealously and don’t dig any deeper to identify the emotion behind it (loss, fear, etc). If my partner is going out for dinner with someone, “I’m jealous” isn’t very helpful. “I’m upset because whenever we have a free night my partner spends it away from me” is a problem that can be worked on.
- Understand that there will always be somebody better then you at everything, (yes, including sex). If you are worried that your partner might leave you because of that, you probably don’t want them around in the first place.
- Learn to self soothe. A cup of hot chocolate. a movie, or a bath are a few things people try to comfort themselves. Find what works for you.
- When all else fails, remember part 1.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – I’m putting this here, but is really is a part of everything on this list and is probably one of the biggest factors to the success any relationship, but especially to poly. Transparency and honesty matter. Communication classes can be helpful, and poly groups are a great resource for this.
- Schedule alone time – Even in a group relationship, it is important for each dyad (couple) to have alone time. Make it happen. If you can find something the two of you enjoy that you other partner/s aren’t interested in, so much the better. I’ve had good luck with running, Call of Duty, and anime.
- Deal with family… – What you tell your family is generally going to depend on a) how involved your family is in your life and b) how involved your partners are in your life. If you have a partner you see every other weekend and relatives you see every couple of months the topic may never get brought up. If you see your family often or have a serious partner, particularly one living with you, you might have some explaining to do (holidays can be rough). No one should have to be the dirty little secret. If you have children and are seriously dating someone they will eventually pick up on it; and at that point you will have some explaining to do unless you want them to think you are doing something wrong. As always, we believe age-appropriate honesty is the best policy.
- …and Life Depending on the type of relationships you have you might have to evaluate things ranging from living arrangements, to shared finances, to child rearing, to powers of attorney. Take the problems and benefits as they come. While they won’t solve the larger problems of poly life shared google calendars are a lifesaver..
- Evolve and repeat as necessary, in no particular order.
It’s been a great experience writing these posts, and the timing of them turned out to be great. Polyamory has been hitting the mainstream media in a big way the last couple of months after the Atlanta Pride Parade, and people need more information than they can get out of a news article.
Want to learn about polyamory and more? Check out our events.