“I’m standing in your line
I do hope you have the time
I do pick a number too
I do keep a date with you
I’ll take advantage while you hang me out to dry
But I can’t see you every night
Free…”–Nirvana, “About a Girl”
Hey, my kinky polyam peeps! Can you believe we just hit the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of The Bratty Cat??? It’s been a crazy twelve months full of lots of interesting topics, some great feedback from my readers, and I only had to blow up and restart my Facebook page once due to numerous terms of service violations. All in all, I’d call that a success.
This week we have a real treat for you. This has been a topic I’ve been very eager to write about because it’s a frequent topic of discussion in several polyam Facebook groups I’m in, plus it affects me personally, although only tangentially, as you’ll find out as you read on.
The running joke inside the polyam community is that, even though we allow ourselves the freedom to have multiple romantic relationships, it’s difficult, if not next to impossible to find new partners. Because many monogamous folx are reluctant to date a polyam person (and I can totally appreciate why), your local polyam community is often your only dating pool, and some pools are shallower than others. To quote a polyam friend of mine: “If you aren’t your own meta seven-times removed, are you even poly?” I once found myself in what I dubbed “The Circle of Seven”: Seven people that you could place in a circle and each person was dating the person to their left and their right. Basically, we were all our own metas, six-times removed. This closeness in the community isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it helps build strong bonds among its members, but it can be hard for those who want to seek connections outside of the same people they see day in and day out.
I’ve often said that the best relationships I’ve had are the ones I fell into backwards, meaning I didn’t actively go out looking for a partner, rather, we just happened to cross paths at a fortunate time, found we had a connection, and took it from there. For me, at least, I still believe it’s the best way to go, and I could make a strong argument why it’s the best way for most people to go (nothing against dating apps as they serve a purpose, but I think authentic connections can’t be forced). How then, if 90+% of the connections you make every day are with monogamous folx, is a polyam person supposed to open their heart and mind if they have the expectation that their relationship status is a deal-breaker from the get-go?
Fortunately for you, dear reader, we’re going to tackle that exact topic and give you some tips on how to make a mono-polyam relationship work. Before we go any further, of course, the obligatory resource dump:
For today’s post, I have pulled from this blog entry by Rachel Hope at Medium.com, this April 2022 podcast episode from A Touch of Flavor, a polyamory-education focused resource project, similar to what I do, although believe me when I say they are WAY better at it and WAY more organized, as well as a series of interviews I personally conducted with people inside the polyam community.
As referenced above, a mono-polyam relationship is one in which one partner is polyamorous and the other is monogamous. It can arise for numerous reasons, two of the more common being that a polyamorous person simply decides to date a monogamous person (and vice versa), or one partner in an existing monogamous couple wants to explore non-monogamy and the other is reluctant and wants to stay monogamous.
Focusing on the latter of the two scenarios, the polyam partner can have a wide range in motivations for looking to open up the relationship. In some cases, it’s a matter of identity. It could be like Panda and I that, once we both got a taste of nonmonogamy, we realized this was the only way we ever wanted to be. For others it’s more practical. It could be that there’s a fundamental mismatch in sexual desires, or perhaps one partner suffers from a disability that limits the time and energy that they can spend with someone.
As I alluded to earlier in this post, I interviewed several people in the polyam community who are in mono-polyam relationships. “Marie” was one of those people (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Marie is the mono half of her mono-polyam relationship, and she explained to me that, as an introvert, it gives both her and her partner the freedom to explore their personal interests. While to outsiders, that might come off as harsh (Get lost so I can do something that doesn’t involve you), I can absolutely appreciate the sentiment. It’s not only natural, but healthy for couples to spend some free time apart. Some of my happiest memories were Saturdays in the Fall when Panda would be at the Renaissance Faire all day and I would be home, watching football and “World’s Dumbest” while eating Wendy’s. Time apart is time to enjoy those things that we love, but we know our partners don’t appreciate.
“James”, another member of the community that I interviewed who was the “polyam” side of the mono-polyam relationship shared with me that his dynamic worked well because his partner was going through her residency as part of her medical training, so her time was extremely limited. As James was already polyam when they met, his partner didn’t see much of a conflict as she knew she would not be able to devote much time to him anyway.
“Remy” who just so happens to be one of my metas, shared similar statements as James and Marie. Remy, like myself, is an introvert, although I will admit to a much higher degree, and values his private time. While he describes himself as “functionally monogamous”, meaning he’s open to new partners, just doesn’t have the desire to look for any at the moment, the time he spends with our mutual partner is more than enough for him.
When I brought up the question of how feelings of jealousy are addressed, it’s important to note that both Marie (the mono partner in her relationship) and James (the polyam partner in his) get those feelings from time to time. Their responses on how they handle them are pretty standard: Using “I” statements to communicate and own your feelings, hitting the “pause button” for introspection to understand what is driving those feelings, and actively communicating not just their needs, but also their fears to their partners. I say this is important to note because, to outsiders, there is still the misconception that polyam people “don’t get jealous”, and the truth is that we all do, including myself and all of my partners. We’re humans just like everyone else and we experience human emotions. What makes us different is that we tend to be better equipped with the tools to address these feelings in a productive manner.
Another common thread that ran through my interviews that I found quite refreshing was the idea that the monogamous partner had no intention, nor could ever see themselves trying to coax the polyam partner back into a monogamous-only relationship. There’s lots of discussion in the community about whether or not polyamory is a “lifestyle” or an “identity” (for me, it’s the latter, but I can understand why it would be the former for some), and all three mono partners recognized that for the polaym person in their life, it’s an identity, part of who they are, and to ask them to change for their sake would be inherently unfair.
In speaking of matters concerning her polyam status and why she would never change, Penguin, Remy and I’s mutual partner, shared with me concept that I feel is too often overlooked, which is why I want to highlight it here. It’s what I refer to as “Intentionality” and what Penguin calls “Active Decision Making”
To paraphrase Penguin’s words, being polyam requires a level of self-awareness and introspection that monogamous folx don’t necessarily lack, but may not exercise to the same extent as the polyam community. To be in a polyam relationship means that one must quickly become an expert in time management. Being monogamous is easy. You only have one partner to worry about. On top of that, that monogamous relationship is often meant to supercede all other relationships, be it familial or platonic. Polyam people, however, recognize that relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and one is not inherently more important than other. Yes, some relationships may take priority over others, but that’s a function of either practicality (i.e. “Descriptive Hierarcy”), or active choice.
This “active choice” is what Penguin and I refer to as “Intentionality” or “Active Decision Making”. Polyam folx have to be, by nature, a bit rebellious. It requires a willingness to question the status quo and ask why “the default” is in fact. the default. If we think of this concept in terms of The Relationship Escalator, a polyam person must ask themselves questions such as “Why do I have to limit myself to only one partner?”. “Why do my partner and I have to cohabitate?”, “Why is marriage the benchmark by which we define the ‘validity’ of a relationship?”, and “Why do I have to subjugate relationships with family and friends for the sake of my romantic partner?” It all comes down to, if I could borrow a phrase from the “The Matrix”, being “red-pilled”. You begin to ask yourself questions that have always been there, but never even crossed your mind. What was once taken for granted, now becomes questionable, and you begin to doubt yourself because you wonder what had taken you so long to ask those questions in the first place. To me, this new-found freedom in my autonomy became quite intoxicating, and I know that no matter what were to happen, no matter who were to ask, I could never go back.
So, what does one need to know if looking to engage in one of these relationships? The answer to that depends on which side of the relationship you are expecting to land on. If you’re a monogamous person who is looking to date a polyam person, or you have a partner who wants to explore polyamory, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, as unfair as it may sound, as the monogamous half of this relationship, the bulk of the work will be put on your shoulders. A key concept of polyamory, and one that I fully believe monogamy should also embrace, is autonomy. One does not have to accept the behavior of others, and one does need to offer them the autonomy to live their lives as they see fit. If you choose to be in a relationship with a polyamorous person, that comes with an immense amount of baggage that must be unpacked. This includes understanding and actively working to erode practices such as couple’s privilege, romantic ownership, and of course, jealousy as a measurement of affection. Your polyam partner will have to work on these concepts too, however, chances are they have already started this process and will advance much more quickly as they will have a whole new community to support them through it. You, on the other hand, will most likely have only your partner as your key resource, which, if they love you, will do everything in their power to ensure this new dynamic succeeds.
Second, as your partner explores this life with new loves, you too will need to to rekindle an old romance: A romance with yourself. One aspect of myself, as well as Marie and Remy, that has made the transition to a mono-polyam dynamic easier, is this willingness to gain comfort in one’s solidarity. I’m not talking about introversion or a general distaste for socialization, but rather, the acceptance that you as a person are enough, that you do not need someone else to complete you, only to compliment you. It’s said that you will never truly love another until you love yourself, and I am a firm believer that a key element of a strong relationship is knowing that you can stand on your own two feet, with or without your partner. I call it “The Paradox of Polyamory”: The more you seek out connections with other people, the more confident you become in your own self-worth, and the more you realize that those connections enrich your life, but do not dictate it.
For the polyam partner in this dynamic, I’m sure you’re already giddy about a whole new world of possibilities. Congratulations on starting your journey! The road ahead will be long and treacherous, and like the mythical Phoenix, once you pass through the burning flames, you will be reborn into a thing of beauty. Like your monogamous partner, you also have some responsibilities.
First, your monogamous partner will be dealing with a lot of emotions: some of them joyful, most likely most of them not. They have done something not many monogamous people would be willing to do: They’ve decided to stand by your side and take this journey with you. They have put their trust in you and your relationship. You have a responsibility to honor that commitment by providing them love and assurance. The only thing permanent is change, and this is simply another evolution of your relationship. To you, this is exciting. To them, it’s terrifying. Care for them, nurture them, let them know that your love for other people doesn’t diminish the love you have for them.
Second, much like your partner is respecting your autonomy, you must respect theirs. You may feel tempted to coax them into polyam as well, perhaps driven by a sense of guilt that you are partaking in something wonderful and they are not. It’s a common reaction. As Panda is less active with her other partners than I am with mine, more than once I’ve asked “Are you okay with our dynamic” and “Do you feel like you have been given the freedom you need?” Just because someone is free to do something doesn’t mean they are obligated to, and you should respect that. While some monogamous folx will follow their partner into polyam, others won’t, and that needs to be respected.
On a final note, you may need to have the discussion about how your dynamic will be presented to outsiders. Will both of you be “out of the poly closet”? It could be a situation where the mono partner presents the polyam partner to friends and family as their primary or sole partner. Or, the mono person may be viewed as any other partner that the polyam person has, and if that polyam person is still secretive about their identity, may never be present at “traditional” couples gatherings, like family dinners or work events. I can speak from personal experience, as the partner that Penguin has chosen not to present to her family, I understand how someone could feel slighted. Honestly, I hate family parties anyway (I have a hard enough time making small talk with my own parents, let alone someone else’s) so personally, it’s not a big deal. It’s important to remember, as Penguin once told me when I was having difficulty with Foxy introducing their nesting partners to their parents “You don’t get to decide when someone comes out of the closet. You can be angry, and yes it sucks, and it’s not your decision.” And she’s right. It’s an important conversation to have, and you need to respect what your partner decides, and if you’re uncomfortable with their decision, well, that’s what boundaries are for.
Thanks so much for your patience in getting this piece up. The back half of September and October was filled with some amazing trips with both Panda as well as Vixen and the polycule. Also, I have been putting WAY too much effort into my TikTok, so go check that out to see what I’ve been doing instead of putting “pen to paper”.
Until next time, stay kinky, my friends…
–The Bratty Cat