These narratives are a snapshot, not a complete picture. But they help to provide contours to a narrative that’s too often blunted.
The idea of dating someone who is polyamorous had never crossed my mind until recently, when I met a polyamorous man on a dating website who asked me out for coffee. As a monogamous woman, I was curious about what it’d be like to date someone polyamorous.
Unfortunately, the date didn’t end well. It was cut short as he got into a car and left with one of his other partners, leaving me awkwardly sitting in the coffee shop, wondering what had just happened.
The experience got me wondering: What do successful relationships between monogamous and polyamorous people look like?
It’s an important question to explore — because even as interest in consensual non-monogamy rises, stigmas and misconceptions persist. A study last year found that polyamorous people see their relationships as less socially accepted than monogamous relationships, leading them to hide their love, and that people hold limited views on what polyamory encompasses.
Perhaps the most persistent myth is that polyamorous people can’t possibly be satisfied with their unconventional relationships — and yet the same study also found that polyamorous respondents were highly satisfied with their love life. (It’s also not uncommon for polyamorous — or polyam — people to be stereotyped as hypersexual cheaters prone to irresponsible promiscuity. Not true either.)
Stigmatization becomes even more complicated when applied to polyamorous people in relationships with those who are monogamous. How do partners navigate these distinct approaches to relationships? What are the parameters around communication? How does jealousy manifest?
In an attempt to demystify polyam-monogamous relationships — and to defy stereotypes surrounding them — I decided to interview seven people who are either polyam and in a current or past relationship with one or more monogamous people, or monogamous and in a current or past relationship with someone who is polyam. Keep in mind that experiences are always diverse, and these narratives are a snapshot, not a complete picture. But they help to provide contours to a narrative that’s too often blunted.
Keaira met her husband, Carl, while in college, and they have been together for seven years. They are both polyamorous, and each have another partner who is monogamous. Keaira entered into a relationship with her second partner, Quincy, eight months after graduating college and starting her first job, and they have been together for three years. “We prefer being labeled as partners but occasionally use boyfriend/girlfriend,” she tells The Establishment.
“Quincy is older and has two daughters who just started college this fall. Even though he’s still living with his legal wife, he is very much divorced from her in everything but writing, but she doesn’t know about our relationship — it’s very complex. We have discussed whether he’d like to date other people someday and he has said no, so he’s monogamous.”
Earlier this year, Carl started dating a woman named Gina, who is aware that Carl is polyamorous, and that he is legally married to Keaira. Gina has expressed no interest in dating other people, as she is also monogamous.
“I think the challenges Carl and I have in our relationships with monogamous people have been different, and even more different from other people’s relationships because of the weird dynamic we have. For me, with Quincy, I have worried about balancing time, which is probably a common challenge. Figuring out how to spend time with Quincy while not taking away time from Carl, and vice versa, has been difficult. Quincy and I work in the same city, though I’ve moved from another company, so we’re able to commute together, go for lunch together, and spend time together after work — walking, drinking, or just hanging out.”
‘I have worried about balancing time, which is probably a common challenge.’
Keaira says it has gotten easier since Quincy’s daughters went off to college because now they can hang out after work more often, and longer than before, or even sneak in some weekend visits to each other. Keaira says that in the past she tried not to talk too much about Quincy to Carl, but that this has been changing as Carl and Quincy are starting to become friends on their own.
The biggest challenge ahead in her relationship with Quincy, Keaira says, will be dealing with the moment when he’s ready to tell his kids about their relationship. “They know I’m a person in their father’s life, but they also know I’m married — how do you go from that, to ‘oh and by the way I’m also dating her’?; It’s going to be difficult but it’s a very far off bridge right now.”
Keaira’s advice to those who are in a polyamorous-monogamous relationship is to communicate with each of your partners, and yourself, a lot.
“Carl and I do monthly ‘summit’ meetings where we sit down to a nice meal and assess how we’re doing, where we struggled this month, where we did well, and what we’re looking forward to next month.” Keaira says this was very crucial early on in their relationship, because neither of them ever imagined being polyam until she met Quincy, “and suddenly we had a new life we were figuring out that was both exciting and scary, because we didn’t want to fuck up what we already had together.” She says that being open and honest is critical.
Keaira’s advice to those who are curious about being in these types of relationships is to learn not to fear jealousy.
“Jealousy can be harder for the monogamous partner, and although I haven’t experienced much jealousy in my relationship with Quincy, it’s still something I try to be sensitive about. I try to respect boundaries and feelings, and check in to make sure [he’s ok]. That being said, Carl, Quincy, and I are actually at a point where the three of us are starting to hang out as a group, and Carl and Quincy are forming their own friendship, so this caution for me is passing.”
Keaira hopes that someday, she can openly talk about being in her relationships, as it’s hard for her now to have to edit herself as she talks to others, so as to not reveal that she is polyam.
“Being open about this has been difficult for me, because I’m very introverted and have social anxiety, so sometimes — even though my Twitter is set to private — I struggle to tweet about my partners. But when I do, people see how happy we all are, how happy we make each other — and well, that’s a hard thing to argue with. So it keeps me going in hopes that someday I can be publicly open about it.”
Gio is a 43-year old polyamorous man who is currently in a relationship with a monogamous woman. “My experiences are quite varied going between monogamous and polyamorous relationships,” he tells The Establishment. Gio was married at 19 in a traditional monogamous relationship, which ended in divorce 16 years later due to his spouse cheating on him. Gio would go on to have a brief monogamous relationship afterward that also ended in cheating. “During this span of my life, jealousy ruled my mind. The thought of my significant other sleeping with someone else drove me insane.” It was after his second breakup and a series of sexual explorations that he began to realize he could care for someone and they could care for him, regardless of who was sleeping with whom.
Following that realization, Gio began exploring polyamory, and found that the jealousy stemming from his years of bad relationships began to subside. When he met his current partner, she decided to try polyamory too — but after eight months, it became clear to Gio that it wasn’t something she actually wanted. Since then, Gio and his partner have decided to remain monogamous with each other, and they have now been together exclusively for four years.
When asked to address stereotypes about polyamory, Gio says, “Many people think polyam is just an excuse to cheat, when it’s not. It’s about having the ability to care for multiple people, and sex is just one aspect of it.”
Gio also notes that polyamorous relationships aren’t immune from cheating. Infidelity can happen if established rules and agreements are defied. For example, if a partner who says they’re monogamous starts discretely seeing someone else, that could be considered cheating. “Polyam, by definition, doesn’t mean a free for all, and having sex with whomever you want,” Gio points out. “There are still people involved who deserve respect and being treated right.”
Kari is a 41-year-old monogamous woman from Dallas — as she puts it, “the dirty south, where homosexuality, or anything abnormal, is wrong.” Kari met her husband 10 years ago, and they went on to have five children together.
Kari’s husband, who had been married and divorced twice before, had long felt that no one woman could satisfy him. “We talked,” Kari says, “and then we came across Big Love and Sister Wives, and we discussed that if he weren’t ‘cheating,’ but doing something with consent, he may feel like he is being himself.” Kari acknowledges that there were hard years of jealousy and fighting after her husband started dating other women — but she says it was also exciting to figure out how to handle their unique relationship while also having kids.
Recently, Kari’s husband ended a short-term relationship with a monogamous woman who Kari says “wanted him all to herself.” Since then, she and her husband came across a woman who made the relationship dynamic more inclusive for all of them.
‘We discussed that if he weren’t cheating, but doing something with consent, he may feel like he is being himself.’
“It really changed the relationship. There was some jealousy at first, sure, and insecurities, but now we are talking about her moving in and we have equal amounts of time with my husband, and arranging schedules is always a priority.”
Kari says that society thinks you only have a certain amount of love to give, or that someone must inevitably feel left out. “I want people to learn that it’s like child-rearing; it’s endless love and different kinds of love.”
Jim is a 54-year-old polyamorous man. He has been together with his monogamous spouse for a little over six months now. “My wife and I began to explore being polyam in the summer of 2016,” he says. “We’ve been married for four and a half years, and began dipping our toes in the water without a definite idea of where things would lead us.”
Jim met his other partner, Erica, on the dating website Plenty of Fish. He contacted her and says what followed was a pretty typical sequence (exchanging emails, a first date, platonic activities such as hiking), which led to the relationship that they have now. Jim says he did the whole online dating thing after his first marriage ended 11 years ago, and that things progressed with Erica in the same way they did when he was single.
“I suppose if I had one thing I’d want to shout from the rooftops about society’s view of polyamory it would be this: Cheating is the worst! I have been utterly amazed at how so many people apparently are more tolerant of infidelity than of consensual non-monogamy (another term for polyamory).”
Jim says the most telling example of this was an exchange of messages he had with a woman named Ashley. After he initially contacted her, he says “she went off on me for being in an open relationship, saying I wasn’t being honest with myself and my wife, since if we had an open relationship, it meant we weren’t really in love with each other and we should just go ahead and get a divorce. When I pointed out that she was on a website looking to cheat on her husband, she said something along the lines of, ‘Well, at least I’m keeping my marriage together.’ How do you argue with that form of microaggression?”
The stigma associated with consensual non-monogamy is mind blowing, Jim says. “A very good friend of mine, who is much more on the ‘swinging’ end of the spectrum, says the same thing. She and her husband have had an open relationship for almost 20 years and she says there’s always been a lot of pressure to keep it hidden.”
With Erica, Jim says she wishes she could take him to social events and introduce him to her friends, but he feels like there is no way they could do that without harming both of their reputations.
Jim believes it all boils down to this: “How in the world is honesty, i.e. in my case being open with my wife and Erica, worse than dishonesty, i.e. cheating? Like I said, it blows my mind.”
Rachel is a 41-year-old monogamous woman who has been in a relationship with her polyam partner for a couple of months now. She tells The Establishment, “I have always been monogamous. I’m 41 and he is 47 and married. I had never heard of polyamory until I met him.”
Rachel and her partner first met at a book club discussion that her partner organized.
“There’s a book called The Arrangement, about an open marriage, which was read and discussed. He and his wife expressed to the group that they had an open marriage for the past few years, and then I saw him on OkCupid. I was originally on there to delete my account after bad dating experiences when I noticed a message from him.”
Rachel was initially skeptical, but interested in becoming friends and understanding what exactly polyamory was. Since then, she says, “it is the best and healthiest relationship I have probably ever been in. The challenge for me is still being alone for holidays, not being part of a family, and no sleepovers or vacations.”
Rachel says she is becoming friends with his wife and things may change over time. “I am happy getting to know them both.”
Izzy is 25, queer, polyamorous, and genderfluid. She has been keenly aware of how integral her polyamory is to her identity since she was 18, but she often allowed herself to remain in relationships with monogamous partners who were not understanding.
She’s been dating her current partner, Veronica, who’s monogamous, for just over two years, after meeting on Tinder while both studying in the U.K. Izzy says they actually recognized each other from their flight over from the U.S. and were glad to get a second chance to meet.
“At the time, I was sustaining a long-distance relationship with the first polyamorous partner I had ever been with, Jen. I was very upfront with Veronica about the situation, and about my feelings regarding polyamory, and was nearly certain by the end of our first date that she had no intention to pursue anything with me.”
But over the course of the following months, Izzy and Veronica grew closer. “She surprised me with her willingness to learn about my life, and about my other partner, Jen. She reached out and tired to make connections with Jen, in an effort to support me and respect her.”
‘She surprised me with her willingness to learn about my life.’
Unfortunately, Izzy says, despite the fact that Jen was polyamorous, she became very possessive and hostile. “That first year with Veronica, I was put in a challenging position of trying to balance my love for two people who wouldn’t get along, and I regret being as patient with Jen as I had been. Veronica and I were left very emotionally raw by Jen’s harmful behavior, and we mutually decided we should focus on healing and finding stability in our dynamic, before I sought out any new partners.”
When Izzy started a new relationship, Veronica decided to take the opportunity to explore how comfortable she felt being in multiple relationships. Izzy says they ended up in a brief summer fling of a triad that helped Veronica realize that there were some aspects of polyamory that appealed to her, but mostly that she was monogamous. As of now, Izzy casually sees other people while maintaining a loving and supportive relationship with Veronica.
“I hope that society starts to understand polyamory as a way for people to express their love as fully as possible. Too often, I see the misconception that polyamory means you are greedy and dishonest. I would say that accepting my polyamorous nature brought honest communication to the forefront of my relationships. I often see the misconception that there is something inherently enlightened about being polyamorous, or that jealousy doesn’t exist in polyamorous relationships. There is no inherent conflict in polyamory and monogamy; they are two ways of living that can even coincide with each other in healthy ways. Jealousy will happen in any type of relationship. Confronting that jealousy and the underlying causes is what allows us to move past it.”
As a transgender woman, I understand first hand what it’s like to be othered — to be seen as something different, and to confront a lack of understanding that often goes unchecked. I hope the people who were willing to come forward with their stories can serve as a lesson — that even with relationships that feel foreign to us, there is genuine and honest love.