Is cheating possible in a polyamorous relationship?

Is cheating only a thing monogamous people experience or does it happen in polyamory too? Does it mostly depend on if any boundaries are set or like the dynamic of the relationship?

Cheating can happen in any relationship, if you define cheating as “violating the established terms of the relationship.” You are correct that the more “boundaries” that are set, the higher the likelihood of “cheating” becomes. If someone decides that their partner is allowed to have sex with other people and that’s not cheating, but if they “catch feelings” or use specific words or have sex without getting permission first or do a specific sex act, then that counts as cheating, then they’re certainly at risk of being cheated on in that context.

Polyamory changes the definition and boundaries of “cheating,” for sure. Simply having a sexual-romantic relationship with someone else doesn’t necessarily meet the threshold for cheating, which can really simplify things. But every polyamorous individual might feel threatened by different things, so it’s important to be clear and honest about what you would consider “cheating.” One thing polyamory forces us to do is actually name and claim our individual needs - monogamy lets you rest on a lot of cultural assumptions about what is and isn’t ‘allowed’ within the bounds of a relationship. (It is possible to do this intentional work in a monogamous relationship, but more optional.)

Also, for a lot of polyamorous people, “cheating” is a useless concept, but “dealbreakers” and “violations” are more meaningful. There are certainly behaviors my partners could engage in that would lead me to immediately end the relationship and to consider them ‘unfaithful’ to me as a person and to our relationship: violence, lying, manipulation, cruelty, etc. All the connotations of ‘cheating’ - a violation of trust, a betrayal of the fundamental connection that forms the relationship, a requirement for immediate changes to the relationship - are definitely present, but it has nothing to do with a specific sexual-romantic behavior.

My partner goes to sex parties with his other partner, and it bothers me.

I never had a relationship before. Now I have a boyfriend for a year and we are on a non-monogamous relationship. He has another girlfriend. I don't get jealous very often, but they really like going to group sex parties. I never tried going to this kind of event, and I don't really feel like it, mostly because I think I am demisexual. But I always feel really bad when he talks about going to such parties. I tried talking about it with him, and he always asks what exactly bothers me about it. But I don't know how to answer. I just feel very bad and sad, and get mad with myself for feeling like that and not knowing WHY I feel this way.

I can’t figure out for you why this bothers you, but I can suggest some time alone to think about this, and journal about it if writing things down helps you. “Bad” and “sad” are pretty vague feelings - can you do more to identify how you feel? Left out? Confused? Disappointed? Jealous? Annoyed? The more precise words you can find, the more you’ll be able to understand and address those feelings.

On a personal note, I have a theory - I don’t know you, so I’m projecting and assuming a lot, but here goes. I am a horrible dancer, I don’t enjoy dancing, I have a learning disability that prevents me from understanding musical rhythm, I’m not very coordinated - I don’t dance. One of my partners is very musical and athletic, and he does like to dance. For a while, he was dating someone who was also a dancer. They’d go out dancing together, and through her he got connected to the dance community in our area and learned a lot and had a lot of cool experiences.

This bothered me a little bit! He was out there having experiences that I couldn’t share, with someone who offered him something I couldn’t. And it wasn’t exactly jealousy, because it wasn’t like I wanted to be out dancing with him. I certainly did not! I didn’t necessarily feel threatened by her, since we were very comfortably polyamorous and I didn’t think he’d leave me for her so he could pursue a 100% dance lifestyle or something. But I did feel…kinda bad…because feelings aren’t always simple and rational!

An important thing to note here is that thinking through it all didn’t turn off my icky feelings. Not all feelings can be completely rationalized away. What they did was help me choose how to respond or act on them. Not everything is totally comfortable. We are all capable of experiencing unpleasant feelings without dying. My boyfriend is not obligated to never ever do anything that causes me to have a feeling I don’t like. It may be that this just isn’t a thrillingly joyful thing for you, but just like going to work on Monday mornings, it’s something you can experience without it ruining your life.

So it’s possible that what bothers you about this is that it’s something you don’t see the appeal in, and can’t join in. It’s something he’s sharing with another person that you just can’t share with him. Shared experiences are the foundation of any relationship, so that can be a really tricky, difficult feeling. What I did with those feelings was mostly challenge and reframe them. What I like about polyamory is that my partners can seek out experiences that don’t require me; I would much rather him be out dancing with other people than pestering me to go dancing with him and being annoyed and resentful when my unwillingness robbed him of an experience. You would probably prefer him to go do these sex parties with someone else and then spend his time with you appreciating what you two do have in common, rather than being disappointed and bothering you about it. It also means that when I am into something that he isn’t, I’m free to pursue that experience with other people. It goes both ways, and I benefit from both!

It is possible that you just feel kinda icky about the whole thing in ways that you can’t entirely smooth over with self-work and re-framing. It is totally okay to ask your partner to keep the details of these parties to himself. If he wants to go out to a sex party with his other partner, he can let you know ahead of time that he has plans with them, and you can plan to spend the night doing something you enjoy. And when he gets back, he can find something to talk about besides the specifics of the party. He doesn’t have to hide or lie, but he could also be sensitive and discreet. That’s a completely reasonable balance for a couple to strike. You don’t have to set forth an entire psychosocial treatise on why it bothers you for your partner to agree to this, and if he demands that you explain or prove it completely, he’s not being healthy or fair.

My partner and I had a threesome, I felt horrible about it, and now I don't like being around his other partner

My boyfriend has another girlfriend. They are together for 1 year longer than me and him. I met her really early in our relationship, and I am mostly ok with her. But he really wants us to be close friends. And she wants it too. But I feel like I just... can't? I don't feel like we are even friends and you can't really make a friendship happen by force. We had sex, the three of us, and I had a very serious mental breakdown afterwards. I felt used and violated, jealous and guilty. They did not force me to do this, but I did it against my will because I wanted to please him. I wanted it to work with her. But now I am afraid of getting near her again. How do you make a relationship work if you can't be friends with your partner's partner?

There are two things going on here; I’ll address the easier one first.

Of course it’s fine if you don’t particularly want to be close with your partner’s partner! It’s okay for your boyfriend and his girlfriend to have a fantasy preference for everyone to be a cozy, friendly little polycule - but you aren’t obligated to meet those expectations. My partners sometimes date people I don’t really click with, and that’s totally fine. We just don’t hang out all three of us. If they are around, I’m polite, but I don’t need to spend all night at their hip, chatting it up like bffs. It’s disappointing when things don’t work out perfectly, but it’s also entirely survivable and fine. If your boyfriend keeps pressuring you to get closer to her, it’s okay to shrug that off and say “nothing against Merolda, I have no personal problems with her, but I’m just not interested in spending tons of time with her or trying to become close friends.” Then gently ask him to drop the issue.

The bigger issue here is why you don’t like being around her. It sounds like the threesome you had was pretty troubling for you, and you may even be having a trauma response to something your mind experienced as a sexual encounter “against your will.” It’s not her fault that being around her makes you feel afraid, but it’s also not fair to you to keep living with this fear. Please be honest with your boyfriend that you have a lot of painful and uncomfortable feelings around the threesome. They’re not his fault, but he can help you work through them. Take time to process that experience with yourself. What do you need in order to heal? What self-work do you need to do to prevent yourself from going along with the pressure of something like that again? Is there something your boyfriend needs to change to help you feel less pressured and more safe in this relationship? Don’t do this work with the goal of getting to be okay around her to make everyone happy - do this because you deserve healing, and because you can protect your future self from future problems like this.

I came out as polyamorous. Then my partner did too. I'm not okay with that.

I came out as polyamorous in 2017, but I had known I'm polyam for awhile without knowing the term for it. My partner of 3 yrs now wants to see if they're polyam even though they've never felt like they are, and they only said this after they conveyed to me that they had a problem with me seeing someone else. What I'm saying is that it doesn't seem genuine to me and seems more like a way to get back at me. I'm really uncomfortable with them trying to figure out if they're polyam, & idk what to do.

If your relationship is in a state that you believe your partner would be dishonest with you in order to “get back at you,” you should leave the relationship. Seriously. That is just not a healthy dynamic. At all. If I took a partner out to eat, and he hated the food, and then next week he insisted on going to a restaurant he knew I’d dislike, I would leave that person. Not over the restaurant, but over the pettiness and the manipulation.

But it’s possible that your partner isn’t the type who does underhanded things to “get back at you.” It’s possible that you’ve misread the situation entirely, and the way it “seems” to you is a reflection of your own fears and confusion, and not an observation of the reality. Most people don’t undertake entire explorations of identity and potentially new relationships as an underhanded way - it’s actually a lot of work to make your behaviors all about other people and to live with such ulterior motives.

It’s a lot more likely that your partner has been introduced to the concept of polyamory and is growing more curious. It’s not clear whether you’re actively practicing polyamory, or just ‘came out’ with the polyamorous identification; but it is clear that your partner said at the time that they didn’t want you dating someone else. Either way, your partner may think that exploring polyamory themselves is a way to strengthen or protect the relationship. They may be trying it out, seeing how okay they’d feel, testing it out. This may be their way of supporting you, of trying to help themselves feel less threatened by your polyamory by demonstrating to themselves that they can be polyamorous too and still like you and want to be with you.

Best thing you can do is ask them. Mention that they seemed not-okay with polyamory as a concept when you brought it up 2 years ago, and ask them what changed. You may be surprised! A lot has changed since 2017. Your partner may have been doing internal self-work to get to a new place. Or, your partner may feel that the relationship is threatened and that they needed to reassure you of their okay-ness with polyamory. There’s probably something going on for them that goes beyond ‘getting back at you.’ Give them a chance to talk that out, and to let go of the assumptions you’re making from a place of hurt.

And ask yourself where that hurt and discomfort is coming from. Why are you uncomfortable with them exploring polyamory? Didn’t you do exactly that? Wouldn’t their explorations make it more likely that you two can have a polyamorous relationship? What’s the downside? Is it that you don’t want them to date someone else? Why not? Is it that you were the one with the ‘special’ identity, and now they’re exploring polyamory too, and you’re no longer the sole voice on that topic? Part of being polyamorous is examining our own internal assumptions and confusions. You’ve jumped to a lot of conclusions about your partner’s motives because of something going on with you, not them.

And if, after all this, it really does seem like your partner is acting out of spite or vengeance or something, leave them immediately. But I’d bet half this blog’s ad revenue* that there’s something else going on.

*which is nothing, by the way. But I do have a Patreon.

I'm not sure whether certain feelings and desires mean I'm polyamorous, or just

How can I tell the difference between wanting a poly relationship or falling out of love with someone while falling in love with another person but not wanting to let the first one go? I want to be 100% sure if I do decided to every try polyamory and I would honestly love your advice.

It’s relatively common for people in monogamous relationships to use a new relationship as a way or a reason to leave a current relationship. (Taylor Swift documented this phenomenon the 2018 sociological study “Getaway Car.”) This, while common, is neither healthy nor wise. So you’re smart to be wary of that impulse in your own life.

Unfortunately, something that’s also not healthy or wise is waiting to be “100% sure” before you make any decision. Very few things in life come with 100% certainty, and usually things that have to do with love and human relationships have a lot of uncertainty. You can never truly predict how something will work out; you will never know for sure whether something is the right call. I like to believe that this is largely because in most situations there is no objective 'right call; your life and your universe will align around whatever choice you make and things will proceed from that point.

Check my page on figuring out whether you are polyamorous, and do a lot of daydreaming and thinking about your best-case-scenario and worst-case-scenario. What do you think, and hope, it would be like to date both people? What thoughts and feelings come up when you ask yourself whether you’re falling out of love with your current partner? What does “falling in love” or “falling out of love” mean to you?

Remember also that even if you were 100% sure that you wanted to polyamorously date both people, that wouldn’t guarantee that you could. You’d still need buy-in from two other people. If your current partner wasn’t okay with you polyamorously dating both people, would you stay in that relationship? If the other person didn’t want to date you, would you still be interested in polyamory in general, or are you mostly just wanting to date this other person?

My partner is interested in polyamory, but I am not - what does that mean for our future?

My partner mentioned potentially being polygamous but I don't feel comfortable with any third person. I want to support them but I'm too possessive to share. I haven't really told them how I feel about this yet though. How do I properly tell them and would that ruin the relationship? Is it necessary for a long term relationship to have multiple partners? Or is it more something they wouldn't mind either way? I'm uneducated and scared help.

First off, you’re going to have more luck with the term “polyamorous” than “polygamous” when it comes to Google searches and reaching out for support.

I have no idea whether telling your partner this information would “ruin the relationship,” because I’m not psychic and I don’t know your partner. If they want to be in a relationship where polyamory is at least an option on the table or where their partner is willing to entertain the possibility, and you tell them that it’s absolutely not, then they might act on that information and leave the relationship. You didn’t “ruin” anything, you just worked with your partner to figure out whether continuing the relationship is going to be the best call. If they were just vaguely curious about it, and happy to drop the issue permanently after hearing that you are not at all interested, then that’s another story. I can’t predict that with any accuracy.

Of course having multiple partners is not necessary for a long term relationship in general; lots of people have happy, healthy, long-term monogamous relationships. I’m sure you know a few! But the issue isn’t whether it’s necessary for everyone; the question is whether it’s necessary for your partner. If you are a person who can only see themselves in a long-term relationship with someone who would never consider polyamory, and your partner feels differently, this specific relationship might not be sustainable long-term. But that’s okay! That’s why relationships start out as short, so you can figure out whether you want to keep them going! You and your partner are doing everything right, by identifying your thoughts and feelings, then being honest with yourselves. The next step is to be honest with each other, then act on that honest information, not withhold it for fear of what it might mean.

I want to break up with my partner, but we live together and he has nowhere else to live

I’m a monogamous person who entered a polyamorous relationship thinking, mistakenly, I was polyamorous. My partner and I ended up moving in together. Now, I am miserable, and in constant crisis. I don’t want to be in this relationship or stay roommates after a breakup- but I am the sole breadwinner and asking him to leave would mean he would be homeless (he is disabled). I feel like I should find a mutual friend who would take him in before breaking up, is that ethical or heartless?

I am strongly of the opinion that if your partner is enough of an adult with personal agency to date, they are enough of an adult with personal agency to break up with. It is not your responsibility to find someone to “take him in” before breaking up. He’s not entitled to a relationship that comes with a live-in carer or financier. You should let him know that you want to break up and stop living together, and give him a reasonable amount of time to find his own living arrangements (that might be 30 days, 3 months, whatever is reasonable in your area and his life.)

But you need to hold to that timeline. Make it very clear that it is a hard deadline and non-negotiable. If you need help holding this boundary, enlist the help of a neutral third-party. If he chooses to bury his head in the sand and refuse to look for new roommates or explore other options, it’s not your job to do that for him. Many of us have situations that require us to find new living arrangements on a specific timeline, and most of us manage. If you want to help him with that, not out of a sense of ethical obligation but as a friend who cares about him, feel free; but it’s ultimately his responsibility, not yours. If he really is at risk of becoming homeless, he can connect with local services that help disabled adults or reach out to whoever he lived with before moving in with you.

You may also want to speak with a local lawyer about tenancy law in the area - hopefully it won’t come to that, but it’s good to know everyone’s rules and rights about asking someone to leave your home.

A question ostensibly about polyamory, but really about abuse

My bf & I are open. it was fine until he met someone online & bought plane tickets to see her a month later the same week. It caused some issues because it felt impulsive and I knew almost nothing until it was all planned. it took 3 weeks of me asking before he agreed to let me message hi to her & it was only after a fight where he got physical w/me & felt bad. I felt better after like saying hi to her. Before he left he said he wanted us to be mono when he comes back. Red flags? Or I’m not poly ready?

Let me break this down a bit:

1.) You wanted your partner to do something that he did not want to do
2.) You and your partner got into a fight where he got physical with you
3.) Because of his guilt around the physical abuse, he agreed to do the thing

This is not a healthy relationship dynamic and you need to leave this relationship immediately. Counting on the cycle of abuse to get things done or manage conflict is dangerous. Your problem is not with polyamory, your problem is with an abusive relationship. Check this page for resources that can help you leave safely.


The couple I'm dating got pregnant, and I'm not sure how I feel about this

The married couple I have been seeing for a 6 months is now pregnant and I (F) am struggling to adjust to the thought of this. I feel as though they just expect me to be okay with this and I’m not sure what to do or how to feel because I am not too excited about this.

So, there’s a fine line between “couple’s privilege” and recognizing that in general, newer relationships tend to just carry less weight than more established ones. This is true in monogamy as well. If I had been dating someone for 6 months, and I got a cool job offer out of state, I’d probably just tell them the news, be sad that the timing didn’t work out. But if I had been dating someone for 3 years and we lived together, then it would be a decision I’d talk with them about before applying, and discuss seriously with them what to do about the offer. It’s not about hierarchy or privilege, it’s just about how relationships tend to work.

If they’ve been planning on starting a family for a while, and also out there dating, it would have been prudent for them to share that information with you up front. It sounds like this information felt more abrupt to you, which is going to be painful and startling. It can feel rough when people bring you something like this from a position of “we’re informing you, not consulting you.” But that’s where they are right now - prioritizing their desire to have a baby over any preferences of yours. So now you have that information, and you can act on it.

Your next step would likely be to gather more information: do they hope that you will enthusiastically co-parent, forming a household of 3 parents who share childcare duties equally? Is that something you would want? Or are they planning to ‘cocoon’ a bit with the baby, expecting you to work around their new-parent needs and schedule, taking more of an auntie or family friend role? Is that something you would be okay with? Figure out what they’re offering, then figure out whether you’re willing and able to take that offer.

It might be that this new relationship just won’t survive this major lifestyle change, and that the timing of y’all meeting just didn’t line up with their family planning. Sometimes that happens, and it sucks. If you don’t want to date a couple with a new baby, and they want to have a new baby, then that’s that. Don’t try to fake feelings that you don’t have, or suppress feelings that you do. They have a right to set the terms of their lives; you have a right to participate at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

Can I get some help with a presentation I'm doing on polyamory?

I'm doing a presentation on healthy polyamorous relationships, as it's so hard to find good role models and information in the media. Would it be possible for you to take a look at my presentation.

I really can’t do one-off things like this; as cool as that sounds, if I start looking at people’s presentations and giving individual feedback, soon I’ll be reading everyone’s fics and giving private advice and it would be unmanageable. It’s precisely because I’d love to that I can’t let myself. I am, however, happy to do media requests, interviews, etc. (With some exceptions.)

However, comments are open over on the main site, so hopefully if you pop over there, you can find some readers willing to help you out!

I can see myself happy in a polyamorous or monogamous relationship; what does that mean?

I feel that, with the right communication and people, I could be happy in both a monogamous relationship and a polyamorous relationship. I haven’t heard of people like this before, is this valid or am I confused?

Friends. Readers. Comrades. We have to cool it with the “is this valid” nonsense. What does that mean? Does it mean “is this identity respected by the person I am talking to” or does it mean “is this experience a common thing that many people share” or does it mean “is what I’m doing hurtful or unhealthy to me or anyone else” - because those are all very different questions that I’ve all seen the term “valid” used as shorthand for. Does it apply to identities, or individuals, or behaviors, or choices? How is “validity” determined?

It doesn’t mean anything and it’s not a helpful concept because now we have all these people running around worried about whether or not they or their identities or their choices are “valid.” And why are y’all asking me? I’m not the Eternal Arbiter Of Validity. What would you do if I told you it wasn’t valid? Stop feeling that way? Ignore me?

Sweetheart. Letter writer. Friend. You are fine. Just because you haven’t heard of people feeling this way doesn’t mean it’s not common, and even if it wasn’t common, it wouldn’t make you wrong or confused, just unique. It is completely possible to be happy in more than one relationship configuration, depending on the circumstances or the people or the communication styles involved. I live in California but would probably be happy living in Colorado or Baltimore. I work as a writer but would also be happy working as a teacher. It’s okay not to have one rigid determiner of your identity in this, or any other, aspect of your life.

You can identify as polyamorish, monogamish, poly-mono, ambiamorous, polyflexible, or you could leave be any attempt at pinning this down and just move through life being you, and meeting the people you meet, and dating the people you date, and making wise and responsible choices, and you’ll end up in the relationship(s) that work(s) for you. Check out this lovely article at Poly.Land.

I want to date two men, but we think it would be best if we added a second woman to make it all work

My roommate and I both ended up developing strong feelings for each other but I do still love my husband. They both have agreed to try to find a female to add and expand our relationship so that we could all four be a couple together. They aren't bi so they only have sex with me and they would with the other female. Basically it would be a four-way couple emotionally but not sexually. How do we find someone?

I’m assuming that your roommate is a man, and you’re a woman. It sounds like you want to date your male roommate but stay married to your husband. Doing so does not require a fourth person to be involved, in any way. If your roommate is interested in being involved ‘emotionally but not sexually’ with your husband, he can have that close, positive metamour relationship without a fourth person.

It sounds like you three have determined that the only way you can be with your roommate is if you set up a “four-way couple” so everything is ‘even’ or ‘equal.’ But adding extra people to a situation just to mitigate other people’s emotional concerns doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense. You will not find someone to fill that role, for two reasons:

1.) Finding someone who is emotionally and sexually interested in all three people, and who is interested in joining an already established relationship situation, and is proximally and personally compatible with everything you have going on, is impossible. It’s just logistically, mathematically, socially, not a thing you’re going to be able to make happen.

2.) What you’re asking for is unfair and inappropriate as a relationship proposition. Essentially you want to use “a female” to balance the scales, realize a fantasy, and/or mitigate whatever fears or concerns you three have. You want to plug in the perfect thing to fill a very specific need - and that’s how we treat objects, not people. An individual person, with her own feelings, relationships, desires, needs, and interests, is not going to work like a folded up piece of cardboard wedged under a wobbly table leg to stabilize it.

You three need to figure out why you’re so committed to this “four way couple,” and do some emotional strategizing and problem-solving based on what you three can do and provide, without planning on a magical, unknown fourth person to show up and save the day. Some questions to guide the conversation:

Why wouldn’t V-shaped polyamory (where you date your husband and your roommate, and they are friendly but not dating each other) work? What problems are you trying to use another woman’s presence, sexuality, and emotional labor to solve? How can you solve those problems in another way?

How would you feel if your roommate or husband dated another woman, but she was not also dating you or the other man? How would you feel if you were approached by three people with a prescriptive offer for who you’d be having sex with and how everything would work? What would happen if it didn’t work out?

What kinds of narratives are you relying on to assume that this closed, four-way couple is the only way this could work? What kind of feelings or security are you expecting a four-way couple arrangement to provide? What led you to believe that arrangement would provide those? Could you get those from another arrangement?

Check here for more resources on people established relationships trying to ‘add’ partners.

Some quick FAQ-able questions

I'm writing a young adult novel centered around a romance that will eventually form a polyam triad or a V. I really want to do the polyamorous community justice in these characters, but I'm only just discovering polyamory for myself, and I'm worried I could create something unintentionally harmful. Could you give some advice on the best way to write polyamorous literature please? One of my characters is experienced in polyamory but single, and the others have no experience. Thank you so much

I answer a similar question here!

Hey whenever you get this could you follow me back please... Theres alot of different things I would like to talk about/need advice on because I'm new to a poly relationship...

I’m sorry, but I can’t. You can read more about my policy here.

How does one know if they're poly or not at heart, mind and soul?

Check my FAQ page on this here!

Is it possible to be in a healthy happy poly relationship?

I got two letters almost back to back that have the same answer, so I’m answering them together.

I'm polyamorous, or at least I identify as such. Is it possible to be in a relationship that is safe and true? For the sake of being brief- my last two relationships I used the term "open relationship" but my exes turned jealous and abusive. Before then I was seen as a slut and a cheater. Is it possible to be in a healthy happy poly relationship?

***

My polyamorous relationship recently ended for reasons relating to polyamory-- someone wasn't ready to face potential consequences of a world that doesn't approve, and felt unable to provide emotional support for two people. Polyamory is still a part of my identity, but I'm now having doubts about that. I guess I just want to hear someone say that just because this relationship didn't work, doesn't mean polyamory is invalidated.

…yes. You’re literally talking to someone who has been in healthy, happy polyamorous relationships for the past 10 years. Of course it’s possible.

I’ve seen tons and tons of relationships go sour for reasons related to monogamy - someone was jealous, someone was possessive, someone’s close friendships threatened their partner, someone cheated, and of course all the nonsense that people now call “micro-cheating” or “emotional affairs.”

All throughout human history, we see chaos and suffering in the name of monogamy. Othello murdered Desdemona. Menelaus went to war for Helen. Hamilton trashed his personal and political life over Maria Reynolds. Look at all the drama forming the premise of all the Bachelor shows. Bill Clinton cheated, got impeached, and Hillary’s decision to stick by him is considered a stain on her, and Monica Lewinsky’s life was destroyed, and it was just A Whole Thing. Monogamy, and the issues and culture surrounding it, tends to cause lots of Whole Things.

And yet, no one ever looks at the wreckage of monogamous relationships and asks “Is it possible to be in a happy healthy monogamous relationship? Does monogamy even work?” Those bad experiences and breakdowns are treated as one-offs, or failings of the individuals involved and their choices, never an indictment of monogamy. Polyamory, and all other relationships, are like sobriety: it works if you work it. Polyamory can be healthy if the people involved are making healthy choices. Polyamory can be unhealthy if the people involved are making unhealthy choices. Same goes for monogamy.

My husband and I would like a partner for me, is that polyamory?

My husband and I would like a partner for me, someone I can only be emotionally and maybe romantically involved with and he wants to watch but not be involved with her. Is this also considered polyamory or not?

It’s hard to answer your actual question. Some people would consider this polyamory, inasmuch as unicorn hunting is generally included under the umbrella of polyamory, as annoying as that is. But it doesn’t matter whether a certain word applies to what you want to do - what matters is that it’s not a healthy perspective or a wise thing to do.

People are not sex toys. Look at the language: “my husband and I would like” - it sounds like you want to be with another woman as a way to ‘spice up’ your existing relationship with your husband. That’s not fair to her. Imagine hearing that someone wants to be with you not because they like you, because they are attracted to you, because they are interested in a new relationship - but because their husband thinks it would be fun, and he wants to watch.

If what you really want is something for you and your husband to enjoy together, consider shopping for a new sex toy together, buying a new porn subscription together, or writing erotica together. If what you really want is a complete, sexual-emotional-romantic relationship with another woman, then seek that relationship the way you’d seek any other relationship. Don’t fetishize or objectify the woman or the relationship. Check my resources here.

I brought up polyamory with my partner, and she acted very unsafe

I've spent a long time considering if I'm polyam and I believe I am. It makes sense to me. However I've been in a monogamous (F/F) relationship for 6 years. We live together. She understands polyamory, but does not want it for us. When I tried to bring up my self-discovery, she became verbally abusive toward me, threatened to leave me, and insinuated she would probably hurt or kill herself. I'm afraid of destroying our life together over my feelings, but I also want to be true to myself.

Leave this relationship. Someone who becomes “verbally abusive” and threatens to hurt themselves as a way to control your behavior and feelings is not safe or healthy to be with. I know when you’ve been together for so long and you live together and have built a life together, it’s really hard to consider leaving, but when your partner acts like that, it’s time to hit the emergency eject button.

IF this was completely out of character for her - IF she has never, ever acted like that - it might be worthwhile to try and have one more conversation where you explain, very seriously, that you are now really scared for her, and for you, and for your relationship. That what she said was absolutely not okay. That you would like to get some therapy together - not with the goal of getting you a ‘free pass’ to date polyamorously, but to address whatever underlying issues caused a vulnerable, difficult conversation to turn dangerous.

But if she responds with anything other than “oh my God, I can’t believe I acted like that, I’m so sorry, it was not okay - I still feel strongly about the polyamory thing, but I need to find a way to have strong feelings without becoming threatening and abusive” - you need to leave. This is not about polyamory, this is about you being with a person who is currently unsafe.

My partner has a list of rules we have to follow to make sure his other relationship is always prioritized

I’m dating a married man. He has a list of rules that he follow with his wife to ensure they both get what the need but also have a stronger relationship with each other. I feel like some of the rules make it so I’m forced to be an outsider and quite frankly I’m feeling neglected. How long into this is it okay to ask if we can negotiate? Or is it never okay?

There is no rule that says “new partners must uncomplainingly accept all terms and conditions until a period of 6 months dating has passed, and then they are allowed to negotiate between 1 (one) and 3 (three) terms and/or conditions. After a period of one year, if said parties have continued in their dating relationship, they are considered ‘Serious’ and, as such, all other terms and/or conditions may be negotiated.”

If you’re in a relationship where your partner has specific rules designed explicitly to make sure his other relationship always stays stronger than yours, and you don’t like that, your best bet is probably to leave that relationship. You are free to try to bring them up and ask your partner for some flexibility - you don’t need to wait a certain period of time until it’s okay to ask. But if he says no, it’s not because there’s some Polyam Law that says you’re not entitled to that discussion. It’s because he doesn’t want to.

I know that some people are totally cool being a secondary, or a casual partner, but for most people, being shut out by a partner’s couple privilege and being limited by a bunch of rules, especially when these limits are indefinite and not just early-stage caution, is not healthy. If a relationship makes you feel neglected and excluded, it’s not a relationship you should stay in.

Can I identify as polyamorous if I don't want more than one relationship?

I personally identify as polyamorous, but I have a lot of worry over whether other polyam people would accept that label for me because I don't want to be in another relationship besides my primary one. I do want to pursue romantic feelings and have done in the past, and recently I've been thinking about the possibility of dating other people casually besides my boyfriend, but is it okay to identify as polyamorous if you don't desire more than one relationship?

You can identify however you want, and other people don’t really need to be okay with it. It is totally okay to only want one “relationship” but be open to “casually date” other people. If that is polyamory to you, that’s fine! You could also identify as monogamish, polyflexible, or “in an open relationship.”

However, some polyamorous people are not super into the idea of dating someone who already has a primary relationship and doesn’t want another relationship, but only wants a fling or something casual. Other people are okay having a low-stakes, casual fling - but then if one person or both people develop stronger feelings, it can get complicated. It’s important that you are really up front with everyone about the primacy of your current relationship and what you can and can’t offer to potential dates.

If you’re not out there in the polyamorous community or dating world, not seeking casual flings, not trying to date anyone - then it really doesn’t matter what you call yourself. You can privately identify as polyamorous to recognize the fact that you could, someday, maybe see yourself casually getting with another person. But the point of language is to help us be clear and honest with each other as well as ourselves, so just identifying as “polyamorous” without qualifiers or caveats could cause some pain, since it usually implies a willingness to pursue other relationships - something you don’t include in your personal polyamorous relationship.

It’s not about whether other people agree that you’re allowed to use a term - it’s about whether your use of that term is helpful, accurate, and healthy for everyone involved. If you use the identifier “polyamorous” alongside clear and honest delineation of your boundaries and limits, that’s one thing. Some people might hear your limits and qualifiers and say “that’s not really polyamory,” and they’re entitled to their opinion, but they can’t take the word away from you. Make sure that you really know why you want to use that term, what it means to you, and do your best to listen openly if other people try to explain that something you’re doing is causing problems for them or their community.

How did Zinnia get into polyamory?

If it's too personal, feel free not to answer, but how did you start your polyamorous relationship? I imagine it may have been awkward given the emphasis on monogamy in society.

I’m pretty much always happy to talk about myself!

I am pretty sure that I was ‘wired’ to be polyamorous from a young age. I used to read Archie comics and saw that Archie was dating Betty and Veronica, and that even though they were written as competitors, Betty and Veronica had an interesting connection because they both liked the same boy. I saw that at my school, you didn’t have the option to “date” - once you were “going out,” you were expected to be entirely monogamous, and there was much fussing and to-do about people “cheating.” This really confused and bothered me, and I didn’t understand why we no longer had a phase between “single” and “going steady.” My first boyfriend in high school was incredibly possessive, to the point of getting upset with me for having close male friends, and I had zero empathy or understanding, even as my peers seemed to see jealousy as normal.

We broke up when I was 16, and then I started dating another guy - let’s call him Yves - when I was 17 and a senior in high school. He was pretty great, but I already had plans to go to college on the other side of the country and I did not want to deal with all the drama, so I was determined that we would just be a “fling.” I had no idea that there was an option where we stayed together, but I didn’t have to worry about “cheating” with all the cool new college boys I’d be meeting. So we broke up when I graduated but since it was an artificial breakup and we still really liked each other, we decided to stay in touch. But he was a high school senior and I was a college freshman - two populations not known for their emotional literacy, communication skills, or time management - and we fell out of touch.

Then I met Diogenes, a college classmate of mine. We liked each other and wanted to date - but he told me that he had another partner, someone who lived in New York, and that it was called polyamory, and everything was above-board, and if I was okay dating someone who already had a partner, he’d love to date me. He lent me a copy of The Ethical Slut.

It was like a light went on in my world, illuminating things that had always been there but I never knew how to see them. I loved the concept from the start. I devoured the book and jumped headfirst into a relationship with Diogenes. I adored him and the rest of his polycule. And, I realized this meant I could get back together with Yves. We reconnected (thanks to a mutual friend who was tired of hearing both of us moan about missing the other) and I explained polyamory to him. He was willing to try it. So, for the 4 years I was in college, I was dating Yves, and also free to date other people.

Though we are no longer together, Diogenes still holds a very special place in my heart. I learned a lot from him, and I still miss him. I dated a handful of other people in college. Some were horrible relationships that I learned a lot from; some were fun sexy flings; some were really sweet college romances. Through it all, I continued to develop my polyamorous identity, build relationship skills, cultivate a personal list of dealbreakers and red flags, and learn who I was and what I needed. My college was a kooky, quirky, tiny liberal arts college that made for a very safe bubble to experiment and grow.

I told my family about it, and they were mostly confused and dismissive, but generally chill about it. My brother was nasty and judgmental, but that’s his problem. The Christian group at my college was tolerant, but not super accepting. It took us a lot longer to come out to Yves’s family, but that went well too. Yves also dated other girls in college, and I liked all of them. He liked most of my partners too. We hated being long distance, but we loved each other, and being polyamorous took a lot of pressure off our relationship.

When I graduated and moved back across the country to be with Yves, we talked about whether we wanted to stay polyamorous - was it just something we did to make it through the 4 years of college, or was it who we were? We came easily to the conclusion that it was part of our relationship that was happy, healthy, and didn’t need to change. We lived together and both continued to date other people, and get up to all sorts of polyamorous hijinks and shenanigans. We are still together - it will be 11 years next month. (Hi Yves!)

So, that’s my story! It’s kind of a “best case scenario,” and I don’t want people to compare themselves to it. I was always well-wired for polyamory, and never dealt with jealousy or possessiveness. I’m naturally inclined toward compersion. I was very lucky to have a ‘training wheels’ relationship with Diogenes where I was able to learn a lot about healthy (and unhealthy) polyamory, and to be able to experiment and explore in a community that was open and accepting. I didn’t grow up with a lot of internalized sexual shame. This is not true for most people! There are many, many ways to be polyamorous - and many ways to become polyamorous.

Hopefully this can serve as an example not of how all our lives should have gone, but of how we can be gracious, giving leaders for the next generation of polyamorous folk - how can we cultivate communities and narratives that give other people a chance to discover, experiment, and grow in healthy, safe ways?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

If you’re a Christmas celebrating person, have a merry, merry day! Polyamory Advice is off for the day. Be good to yourselves and be good to each other! As your Christmas gift to me, please ignore and avoid any family members who can’t be nice. <3