I'm all too familiar with the perils of modern dating. It's exhausting, frustrating, and at times a little excruciating. Between dating apps and social media, communication and genuine connection can be hard to foster. I've scanned Tinder and Bumble for prospects, went on dates ranging from pretty great to OMFG-get-me-out-of-here, and even matched with some familiar faces from my college campus (sometimes it got pretty awkward). Each of these situations taught me some important learning lessons, but none more than my entrance into the world of polyamory.
After unexpectedly reconnecting with an acquaintance and now my current partner (the love of my effing life, to clarify), I came to discover that he was polyamorous with two committed romantic partners. This came as a surprise to me, especially because I hadn't met anyone who was poly, much less learned about it at length. Polyamory is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved." Many polyamorous people would refuse that definition, because their relationships are not only sexual in nature. Speaking from experience, I can confirm that plenty of poly relationships are committed partnerships founded on love and deep connection.
My partner and I are monogamous now, although we can still be considered "closed" poly because he has another long-distance partner: my "metamour," the poly term for your partner's other partners. My metamour is incredible, and I could not be more thankful to have him in our lives. Now that everything feels more stable in my love life, it's much easier to consider all the lessons polyamory taught me — both the good and the difficult.
1. Communication Is Everything
In monogamous relationships, there are a variety of ways in which a partner could "cheat." In polyamory, I believe the most prevalent way to cheat would be to lie or keep secrets. This is why communication is imperative; without it, someone is going to get hurt. Having experienced polyamory now, I will always take with me the value of communication. Without voicing and sharing your thoughts/feelings/desires/needs, not only will you be unhappy and unfulfilled but your partner will also continue to be at a disadvantage because they don't know how to be a better partner for you. Omitting and lying are dangerous in any relationship, because those secrets are probably going to come out at some point and it almost always ends in disaster. Just talk to each other!
2. You Don't Need to Be Their Everything
Repeat after me: My partner can care about people other than me. Crazy, right? In polyamory, both you and your partner can have romantic and sexual relationships with other partners, and although this isn't the case in monogamy, your partner can (and should!) have healthy platonic relationships with people other than you. No, seriously: you should not be the only important person in your partner's life. If you're expecting your partner to refrain from spending time and fostering friendships with other people, both men and women, then it's probably time to check in with yourself. You might be holding feelings of insecurity inside that need to be addressed, and you're not alone — I felt it, too. In polyamory, if you allow that insecurity to fester without processing and talking to your partner about it, you won't be able to function when they're dating other people. Honestly, this was one of the most difficult aspects of being poly that I experienced, but it made me a more self-assured person once I started the inner work to fight it . . . and it also helps that my partner is phenomenal in working those issues out with me.
3. Your Partner's Happiness Should Be Your Happiness
Believe it or not, this was also one of the harder lessons for me to learn. Not because I'm not madly in love with my partner (I'm crazy about him), but "compersion" can be difficult to learn and practice for those new to non-monogamy. Compersion, simply, is the poly term for being happy when and because your partner is happy. Their happiness is your happiness because you love them and want to see them thrive — in polyamory, that can sometimes be influenced by their connections with multiple people. Of course, my newness to the poly lifestyle made this idea particularly difficult for me because in my previous dating history I was used to being the one and only. Now, suddenly, the man I started dating is giddy about some other woman? That isn't easy to digest. But as my relationship progressed and I settled into compersion, I realized that it's applicable to every relationship, monogamous ones included. I've known many women who can't stand certain things their partners are interested in or friendships their partners might have, and it usually causes a big strain in the relationship. If you're making the choice to actively oppose something that makes your partner genuinely happy (provided that it doesn't truly harm your connection), then it might be time to reevaluate your intentions. Compersion includes a level of selflessness that only comes from loving someone unconditionally. Remove the unnecessary conditions and you're much more likely to find the happiness stemming from knowing that your partner is happy, too.
After many months and lots of experiences both great and difficult, my partner and I had a long discussion about the future and decided to become monogamous together. The decision wasn't made lightly, but it has been the best one for us because polyamory led to some complicated and tricky situations for both of us more often than not. Although ultimately I did end up discovering that polyamory didn't work for me, I have taken a lot of different qualities of the lifestyle with me into monogamy. The transition from a polyamorous relationship into monogamy was hard for my partner and I initially, but using those concepts is helping to ease so much discomfort, has made me feel more secure, and overall increases my capacity to love my partner more selflessly. While the lifestyle isn't for everyone, anyone can take these lessons and make their relationships deeper, more loving, and more fulfilling.