I'm polyamorous, but have two young kids - how do I introduce them to it?

Hello Zinnia, I am so glad I found your page and your precious advice. I have been contemplating a polyamorous lifestyle for a many years now, but it did not work out with my husband for many reasons and we split one year ago. Now I have a partner whom I deeply love and who wants the same things, plus it is a long distance relationship, so we have plenty of freedom and space for ourselves and for seeing other people if we want to. I have been dating occasionally, but now there is a second man in my life who could be also long term. I'm okay with being in love with two people, the problem is I have two young children. They are good friends with boyfriend 1, and boyfriend 2 wants to meet them because it would mean spending more time with me but I am worried that the children will be upset and confused (their father is in a traditional, monogamous relationship). What do you think is the best course to introduce kids (8 and 6 year old) to a mother's poly lifestyle? Thank you!

I am also a polyamorous parent in a unique co-parenting situation! Welcome to the club! 

To be perfectly honest, in my experience, the issue isn’t kids, it’s other adults. Kids that young don’t have a lot of preconceived biases about stuff like this and don't get that confused or messed up. If Chardwick helps with their math homework and Alyxandre brings over remote control drones, they're cool. Having more committed, loving adults in kids' lives is never a bad thing. If they sleep over, or they both kiss Mom, that's something kids just take for granted.

If they have been exposed to stuff like "it's always cheating and bad to kiss other people" or "true love is only one person," that's a bunch of shallow assumptions they just absorbed from the world, and can be gently discussed at an age-appropriate level. You can talk about how they have more than one friend at school, or can learn from both their schoolteacher and their piano tutor. You can acknowledge that "sometimes people do say that, but that's not what I think. I think that if everyone is happy and okay with it, then it's fine. What do you think makes a relationship loving?"

In my experience, having a Serious Sit Down Talk about things tends to confuse kids even more. Just introducing them to my partners and letting things progress organically and answering questions as they come up tends to work better for me. But you know your kids and your family, so this might not be the case for you. You can say something like "Alyxandre is my boyfriend, just like Chardwick is. We make each other happy and we like to hang out together. Because he cares about me, he also wants to get to know you!" You'll also want to talk with both partners about how they want to be introduced to the kids, what concerns and boundaries they have, what your expectations are about how they behave, etc.

You may run into complications, however, if your husband finds it "inappropriate." Lots of people think that polyamory is about sex, not relationships, and therefore, you'd be exposing your children to something "sexual" (just like how it would be deeply inappropriate for a couple to act out a BDSM dynamic in front of children). This is not true, but depending on where you live, he could make things difficult for you in terms of custody or create drama between you and the kids' grandparents and other extended family. So you'll need to work that out with him - how he feels about you having partners around kids, how he wants it explained to them, etc. That would be the #1 pond in which you need to make sure your ducks are in a row.

Depending on how deeply involved your partners are in your lives, you may also have to do some advocacy or educational work to shield them from other adults having questions or judgments. If both of them are at soccer games, picking them up from school - basically, if both partners are doing some parenting - then your family will need a simple way to refer to them and their relationship to the kids ("who's picking you up?" "my mom's second boyfriend" - not ideal). If they'll both be at Christmas with your parents, you'll want to do your best to keep adult judgments from affecting the kids. 

Good luck! I'm parenting with 3 partners and an extended support network; I can't imagine how mono couples do it! 

reverse signal boost? for polyamorous art

If the person who wants to make art about polyamorous characters feels comfortable sharing their blog, I would love to see the art!

Consider this an open call - if you make art, writing, or other creative work about polyamory, send it my way and I'll boost it! Bonus points if you send a little note about choices you made, influences you used, etc. to be realistic, sensitive, and positive about polyamorous representation! 

My husband and I want to find a woman to try a threesome with

I have been fantasizing about women a lot lately and my husband thinks we should try to find a third. I've done 'some' things with women but not fully been with. I'm nervous about the idea but also really want to give it a go...

If you and your husband both want to try this, it sounds like something worth trying out together! Remember that a "third" would not be a sex toy for you two to use to figure stuff out and have new experiences together - she is a person with needs and feelings as well. Not many bi/pan/lesbian women wake up thinking "boy, I'd sure love to be a compliant, useful sex being to help a woman and her husband do what they want together!" But a lot of people are interested in a sexy experience with some hot, fun, responsible, attentive, giving people. 

Consider starting out with fantasies - watch MFF porn together or read erotica and talk about it. Write or talk out sexy fantasies about a threesome. Use that as a springboard to talk about what you really want (a one-night threesome? a frequent sexual partner? a dating relationship?) and how you want it (how involved will your husband be - watching? participating? hearing about it afterwards? what is negotiable on this?) so you have a clearer idea.

 Then check out the resources here - really, thoughtfully, read and discuss them. Get your business on lock, then be respectful, responsible, and patient. And best of luck!

Can I be polyamorous if I've never been in a polyamorous relationship?

Can I be and call myself polyamorous even when I have never been in this type of relationship before?

Of course. Few people ask whether they can assume they would be happy in a monogamous marriage before trying one out. Little kids daydreaming about a wedding/marriage are never told "you haven't tried it, you don't know." Little boys assuming they like girls are not scolded because they have never been in a straight relationship before. You know best who you are. As in all things, stay open to experimentation; don't get locked into an identity that stops you from growing or living intentionally. But the answer to your question is yes. Check my FAQ on this here.

Some FAQ-answerable questions

I'm polyamorous but I don't really have anybody to talk with about it. Can you recommend a safe space online?

I personally identify as pans polyam, however I’m in a mono hetero relationship. Kinda looking for (if possible) people in like-situations who would be interested in chatting. I guess I need somebody to talk to who understands my situation.

Some are listed in the "Forums & Communities" section of this FAQ page. There are also a number of discord servers for polyamorous people, but you'll need to Google "polyamory discord" to find the ones that have active invite links. 

Hey, I have a question about polyamory and am looking for resources about it. Is it OK if I message you privately about it?

Unfortunately, I cannot do private chats or messages. Please see my page on that here. All questions here are anonymized, and you can always check my FAQ or search my blog.

Do you think that polyamory is a part of you that you're born with, much like your sexual orientation? Because I think it is. I feel like I was born this way, I have always been this way and I won't ever be able to change it because it's so ingrained in me, much like my gender and sexual orientation.

For some people, yes. You can see my FAQ page on that here.

I've been exploring my sexuality with my wife's involvement - does that make me polyamorous?

So after months of discussion and searching, my wife this week found a guy we both liked. I met him alone exploring my sexuality whilst my wife watched (and directed a little too) by video cam. It feels amazing and liberating to explore my bisexuality and being totally accepted by my soul mate. Does this make me polyamorous?

My friend, only you can determine which labels best fit you. If identifying as polyamorous helps you live more deeply and happily into these feelings and experiences, great! If not, that's fine! You seem to have found something that works for you, so worry more about enjoying it and making it as healthy and awesome as possible, and less about exactly what words apply to it. Check out my FAQ on this here.

Why isn't polyamory included in LGBTQ?

Hey there i have a question and im sorry if these comes off ignorant, or selfish or anything but im rly confused. why is poly not accepted in lgbtq. im bi and poly and i feel like there needs to be a safe space for poly ppl. poly ppl are oppressed. ppl have told me poly ppl arent queer bc some of us are cis het and its a choice to be poly. but for my it isnt a choice. and ace people are in lgbtq even tho some of them are cis/het. i just dont get it. we deserve a safe space rigt?

Polyamory is not generally included in the LGBTQ umbrella because it's not a sexuality (who you're attracted to) or a gender identity (who you are). It's more about how you date. So many people feel that it isn't an "identity," but a behavior, practice, or lifestyle. However, for a lot of polyamorous people, polyamory is experienced as an identity - it's who we are, not just how we date. So there is tension there. You can see my FAQ page on this issue here.

There is also a conversation about queerness and its history and community. Some people feel that since polyamory has never been historically marginalized, it is missing a critical component of LGBTQ-ness. Other people believe (incorrectly) that polyamory is an invention of the past few decades, and that it is primarily white, cis, hetero, wealthy people who are privileged enough to play around with sexuality in this way. This can make people feel that people are imposing on the LGBTQ community who don't share a history or current experience of oppression that bonds the LGBTQ community.

However, polyamorous people do face issues around health insurance, hospital visitation, child custody, workplace protections, family rejection, etc. We just don't have a long history of institutionalized abuses, for a variety of reasons. So defining LGBTQ as "people who are marginalized due to their sexuality/relationships/gender identity" would include polyamorous people, unless you narrow the definition to "specifically targeted in a historic pattern of specific types of violence," which to me is a strange way to define a community or an identity.

I personally believe that polyamory is not inherently queer, but that polyamory can be queered. To me, "queerness" is about "queering" institutions like gender identity, relationships, gender roles, marriage, monogamy, sex, etc. Polyamory as a way of being can be an intentional, self-aware critique and "queering" of capitalistically-imposed gender and relationship roles, the institution of marriage, and the "ideology of family" that upholds oppressive political, social, and economic systems. 

It is fair, I think, to both accept that polyamory is not inherently queer, and a polyamorous relationship does not automatically grant a person a place in a community of people primarily bonded over LGBTQ issues - and that polyamorous people do need, and deserve, a community that is inclusive and can address their struggles. There is a time and a place to 'stay in your lane' and a time and a place to expand the umbrella. This is a very sensitive issue for a lot of people, and not everyone shares my opinions. It's important to honor existing community norms, be sensitive to painful areas for other people, and it's also important to advocate for ourselves and think critically and intentionally about what that Q means to us.

Can I be polyamorous if I want multiple committed, long-term relationships that are not sexual?

Can you be polyamorous if you're asexual? Because I've been sort of fantasizing about living with 2-4 friends and we'd own a house that we couldn't afford independently ever since I was a kid. (I was even okay with them marrying and having kids with their spouses as long as we could afford it.) It sounds silly doesn't it. Some of my friends, well, I love them like family; I don't want to lose them to the tides of the sea or the gusts of the wind.

It does not sound silly at all! It is bizarre and frustrating, but very true, that our society assigns a lot more weight and privilege to romantic/sexual relationships than to other ones. There are active steps you can take to cement commitment in a romantic/sexual relationship that are not available outside of those relationships. So relationships, commitments, and even love that is not romantic/sexual can feel a lot more precarious. It takes an active 'breakup' to end a romantic/sexual relationship; friendships can 'drift apart' more passively. And this can feel maddeningly insecure!

If identifying as polyamorous feels right to you, and helps you establish the reality and future that you want, then it's a perfectly acceptable and helpful identity to claim. You may also want to look into relationship anarchy, which captures a wider breadth of thought around this idea that each relationship should be defined by its own terms and needs, not socially pre-determined levels of seriousness. There are some people I like to date and have sex with who I might not want to live with or raise kids with. There are some people I don't feel romantic/sexual attraction to, but love deeply and want to share a life with! Relationship anarchy makes room and language to validate and think about relationships in this new way. Another concept you may find helpful to look into is queerplatonic

But in the end, whatever words you choose are secondary. "Chosen family" or "life partners" or "deep friendship" or whatever - having the right words is just a tool to allow you to do the real work of building these relationships. Be open with the people you want to create a life with. Talk about what commitment means to you, how you see your future together, your concerns about what might threaten the friendship, what you do and don't want from the relationship. Whether or not you identify as polyamorous is less important than whether or not you have the words to let you talk about who you are and what you want.

Is my relationship polyamorous if my partners haven't met?

Am I in a polyamorous relationship if I’m seeing two people who do not know each other? But know of each other like they know I’m seeing other people?

Yes, that's polyamorous as long as they know about each other and are freely consenting to the arrangement. Your partners do not need to be connected romantically or otherwise for your relationship to be polyamorous. This arrangement is most frequently referred to as V or "Vee" polyamory.

My wife is trying to date, but people are inconsiderate about polyamory

My wife and I are poly, but it seems like the girls she meets just want to flirt with her because their partners aren't giving them enough attention. The minute she makes them feel sexy enough they drop her like yesterday's trash. I'm so angry for her because this is just crushing her self-esteem. I wish people didn't see poly as just flirty fun and ignore the real person with real feelings involved.

I'm so sorry that you and your wife are having this experience. It is true that people in the dating scene sometimes have misunderstandings of polyamory that lead to real hurt for people trying to date polyamorously.

It might be time for your wife to consider where, and how, she's meeting these women. If she keeps getting hurt, it's okay to withdraw, spend time with people who are healthy and safe for her, and take steps to protect herself from this ongoing pain.

She might have better luck with an online dating profile that is very explicit about her expectations and needs as a married polyamorous person, or checking out polyamorous meetups, websites, and other communities. If it's something she's interested in, the kink/bdsm scene tends to be very poly-adjacent as well. 

Am I polyamorous if I'm only interested in two people?

Am I poly if I’m only interested in two specific people? I’m interested in a relationship with them, but the thought of being in a non-monogamous relationship with anyone else just feels wrong.

Of course! I answered a nearly identical question here. To quote from that answer:

Monogamous people don't think "hm, I can't see myself in a monogamous person with my hairdresser or my coworker - maybe I'm not really mono!" Straight men don't think "oh no, there are women out there who I don't want to date - do I count as a straight man?"

Of course you only want to date the people you want to date. Of course you can only see yourself being polyamorous with the people you want to date polyamorously. That's totally fine. You're in love with the people you're in love with - and it happens to be multiple people - so you're polyamorous. It doesn't matter how you feel about anyone else! 

I want to make art about polyamorous characters and want to know which symbols are best to use

Hi! I've recently been inspired to draw a cute piece of part for Pride Month that has the 3 main characters of The Phantom of the Opera in it. I wanted to put a flag on the inside of the Phantom's cape. I believe it would be more appropriate to use the Polyamorous flag rather than the Polysexual flag, but I don't know whether or not to use pi or the infinity heart. Can you help clear the air some? I just want to get it absolutely perfect the first time 💕

You are correct that polyamory is more appropriate here - polysexual means something different and is about sexual orientation, not relationship styles. 

The pi symbol and the infinity heart are both used to represent polyamory, and neither is "wrong" or "inappropriate." There isn't really much baggage to either symbol.

I prefer the infinity heart, personally, but that's just a personal preference. Some people also like the infinity heart as a symbol of "eternal love" and you may see it associated with things that aren't polyamory; but there are also people with pi-symbol jewelry and tattoos that aren't polyamorous but really into math or something. 

It's good to be sensitive when you're using words and symbols associated with certain groups of people! There are definitely certain symbols with multiple meanings, co-optation, discourse pits, etc. but fortunately, both polyamory symbols are pretty much free of any such issues. 

Would love to see the finished piece once you're done!

I'm polyamorous, but the people around me are jerks about it.

I’m very new to polyamory, but I do wish to continue with it. I feel very comfortable with it. But most people around me don’t accept it and think it’s bad. How do I deal with it?

There's not a ton you can do to change other people's minds -  trying to explain and educate people and convince them to be okay with polyamory can be exhausting and ineffective.

Come up with some prepared responses to the things you hear most often, and collect some resources and brief explanations for people who are more interested than combative.

Let go of people's opinions that really don't matter - some random coworker, that person one pew over in church, the cousin you see four times a year. You don't need anyone's 'acceptance' to be who you are and live your life. 

Check out polyamory-friendly online spaces for some support and positivity. Keep yourself safe and set clear, strong boundaries around how people treat and talk to you. If you lose some friendships or family relationships, that's worth it for your own health.

You might also want to think longer term about who the "people around you" are. If you're living with family who are being judgmental, make plans to move out. If you're surrounded by a social circle that's acting like jerks about this, start reaching out into polyamory-friendly circles (and polyamory-adjacent circles, like kink/bdsm). If it's the demographics of your general area that are causing the problem, think about choices you might have to make in the future to keep yourself happy and healthy.

A few short questions

Is it fine if I use a link to your FAQ as a reference for some people who are asking about polyamory?

Of course! Please always feel free to link my blog and any of my resources. 

My husband and I are trying to start a triad but we don't really know many people in our area, how would you suggest meeting local polyamorous people?

Check out my FAQ on this!

I feel like I may be polyamorous, but I don't think I know what it exactly means and how I could be it?

Here is my FAQ page on this!

I want a polyamorous arrangement, but my girlfriend does not.

I have always known that I'm polyamorous, and I want to try an arrangement with my girlfriend but she cant stand the thought of me being with other people, sexually or emotionally. I've tried to explain my intentions, and that me seeing others will never lead me to not loving her, but she refuses to give it a go. We've been at a loss for quite some time now. Any thoughts?

My thoughts are that you are, as you put it, "at a loss." She "can't stand the thought" of it and "refuses to give it a go." There are no magic words you can say to change her mind about that. For some people, polyamory is just not a healthy and fulfilling choice.

If a polyamorous arrangement is critical for you, then this relationship won't work out. Couples run into 'dealbreakers' all the time - one wants kids, the other doesn't; one wants to move to Iceland and become a goat farmer, the other doesn't. 

 

Two people I like told me they also like me, and I don't know what to do

I have 2 crushes which are both female and bi. I identify as pansexual and newly poly (pronouns are she/her). A few days ago they made a group chat and told me that they liked each other but they also like me. They then told me that they might be poly as well. I don't know what to do! Should I tell them I'm poly as well? That I want to be in a relationship?

Oh my goodness this one is so easy! YES! Two people you have crushes on told you that they both like you! This is the opposite of a problem! What reason could there possibly be not to tell them that you also like them, and would also like to try a polyamorous arrangement?

Since you three are all pretty new to identifying as polyamorous, it would be wise to have some serious heart-to-hearts about what you want, how you envision things going, etc. Maybe in the group chat, or maybe face to face, whatever works best for you! Best of luck, and enjoy this new foray into wlw polyamory!

My partner is only okay with me dating women, but can't explain why.

I have a poly relationship with my bf. First he said I could date women but not men (I am pan). Because then he would be jealous. Now I like a man and told my bf, we fought. I don't get it? Why would he be jealous of men and not women I asked him and he doesn't know. Do you have any idea?

First off, if your partner doesn't know how to talk about what's going on in their head, it's okay to ask them to do more introspective self-work. "I have this feeling that I'm going to ask you to act on, but I can't explain what it means or where it's coming from" is a non-starter as far as I'm concerned. This is what I mean when I'm always recommending introspection and self-work. Sitting with your thoughts and feelings, examining their contours, finding words for them - this is a requirement for healthy polyamory. If you're going to act as if your feelings are facts and let them dictate the terms of your reality and your relationships, you should have a solid understanding of what they mean and where they're coming from.

Your partner is asking for something called a One Penis Policy, or OPP. This is common in relationships where the 'primary' couple is a man and a woman, and the woman identifies as bi or pan. Men tend to be more jealous of, and feel more threatened by, other men. It often comes from internalized ideas that penis-in-vagina sex is "real" sex, and therefore two women having sex is somehow less "real," and therefore less threatening. It also comes from assumptions about partnerships, where "the man" is the one in control or in possession of "the woman." Therefore, another woman wouldn't be a threat, but another man would. 

Even if your partner isn't overtly sexist or possessive, these assumptions are super common in our culture and worm their way into the way we think about reality. To most people, i's not an opinion or a worldview, it's just "how things are."

You and your partner should do some reading about OPPs (also called One Dick Rules, or ODRs) in polyamory. You can start here and here. Encourage him to find words for his feelings and start thinking about how he can explain them to you and work out how to manage them in the contect of your polyamorous relationship.

Of course, no one is obligated to, and many people are not able to, research and rationalize themselves out of their fears and feelings. Your partner may choose to just hold to this rule, citing his discomfort. He has the right to choose not to try and 'get over' his feelings, and he may try his hardest and still find it impossible. You can only control your choices: whether you want to stay in a relationship with these terms. 

My partner has a dissociative disorder. Does that make our relationship polyamorous?

I thought I was in a mono relationship, but my girlfriend is a system (she says she doesn't have DID but it's pretty close to it). I suppose if I'm dating everyone in her system it's polyamory. What can I do to make this relationship work?

I'm not an expert on multiplicity, but I do trauma work so I know more about it than the average singlet. For readers who may be confused: DID is "dissociative identity disorder" and is part of a category of dissociative disorders. They are caused by severe trauma early in life that prevents a person's identity from cohering. This creates multiple "alters," or different personalities, within one person, which developed in order to cope with the trauma. Other symptoms include memory issues, time loss, trauma flashbacks, and feeling 'detached' or 'unreal.' Someone with DID or OSDD may refer to themselves as a "system" or "multiple."

To my knowledge, dating someone who is a system does not necessarily mean you're dating all of their alters. Some of them may be too young, not interested in dating, or not interested in dating you.

The best thing to do is to talk to your girlfriend about this. What does she need to make this work? What is her best-case scenario? Are there alters she's especially concerned about, or who she wants you to develop specific relationships with? If so, how does she want you to do this? What are her triggers? What does she want you to do if she switches during an intimate moment? How can you support her through the experiences and symptoms of having a dissociative disorder?

Multiplicity is pretty serious and arises from major trauma, so if your girlfriend is not already working with a therapist well versed in dissociative disorders and trauma, please encourage her to see one or offer to help her find one. If she is already working with someone, ask her whether she'd like you to connect with her therapist to help support you and better understand what she needs from you as a partner.

Check out more resources here:

I'm dating two people, but I also want them to date each other

My husband and I are poly. We've been together since HS and we talked about it a lot before deciding to try and meet people. Well, I met this wonderful girl and I have been dating her for a while. My husband likes her as a friend, and she likes him as a friends as well. However, I'd really like our relationship to include all of us, like we're all in a relationship with each other. Do you have any advice or tips on how to bring it up with the both of them without it coming off weird?

You can't 'want' two people into a relationship. It's fine for you to have a best-case scenario, a daydream, a fantasy, a wish - but two people will either have feelings for each other, or they won't. Just because it's ideal for you doesn't mean it can happen, will happen, or is the best for everyone else.

It's fine to bring it up as a hypothetical, saying something like "Hey Jeremeth, you seem to get along well with Clotilda - would you ever be interested in dating her too?" And then again with Clotilda. Bring it up when you two are alone, so no one feels pressured or awkward.

If they don't seem interested, it's best to drop it. Your desires don't really factor in here - they're two individual people who can want what they want. Don't make it sound like a suggestion or a request. It's not their obligation to try and conjure feelings for another person just because that would make you happiest.

Think through why you want this and whether you can meet those needs and desires another way. Recognize and honor the intimacy they already have as friends, and ask yourself what's missing from that that you're wanting. If it's physical intimacy, consider finding someone interested in a threesome. If it's deeper, more investment in the relationship, continue including her, doing things together the three of you - but recognize that you may not be able to get everything you want from this person and this relationship, if it turns out that they're both not interested in this arrangement.

I'm in a messy situation with two people I've been dating

[Zinnia's note: the original letter writer used an anonymizing system that really confused me, so I've swapped to my own pseudonyms.] I have a 2.5 yrs LDR (Zeus) & a shorter relationship (Hera). Zeus & me decided to try being poly. When I got into a relationship with Hera, Zeus made me break it off. Hera & I still saw each other socially with Zeus's knowledge. Hera broke things off twice because they couldn't handle me being in another relationship. After discussion & research they said they were okay with it. Hera & I put the dating label on it again with Zeus's knowledge. Zeus then gave me a choice: Zeus or Hera. Zeus is okay with an open relationship and a polyamorous relationship later. While Hera says they are okay with all aspects of being poly. Advice?

The person who taught me how to be polyamorous had a motto: "If someone is trying to make you choose, choose the one who isn't." 

It does not sound like Zeus wants to be in a polyamorous relationship. When you started seeing Hera, they "made you" break it off. Then, when you and Hera decided to start dating again, again Zeus made it clear that they didn't want to be in a relationship with you while you're also dating Hera.

Perhaps Zeus is okay with an "open relationship," but it sounds like you two have different levels of comfort and sets of boundaries about what that means. My advice is to identify exactly what Zeus wants in a relationship. Then, identify whether that's something you can provide. If it's not, end the relationship.

Then you need to decide if you want to date Hera. Because the choice isn't a binary between Zeus or Hera; you can decide to date neither! If Hera has needs you can't meet or can't meet your needs - if there's too much baggage hanging around from this mess, if you saw red flags in their choice to continue disrupting your friendship over the fact that you wouldn't date them - don't date them either. If you do, make sure you go in with a clear understanding of the terms of the relationship and ensure that you're both operating with the same definition of "polyamorous relationship."