Polyamory: two writers discuss mono vs poly relationships

Image by the lovely Stuart F Taylor

I sleep with a few different guys, but I’d never use the word ‘polyamory’ to describe what I do. This is mainly because my selfish brain struggles with the idea of engaging in an actual relationship with multiple boys rather than just shagging them, twatting about and then going for beer and pizza.

Ever in search of the truth about these matters, and a bit of filthy gossip, I asked someone who actually is polyamorous to come along and disagree with me.

Below is my pathetic rambling, and her embarrassingly good response. As ever, feel free to disagree vociferously with either of us, or tell us deliciously sordid things about your own sex life in the comments.

Here’s why I’m not polyamorous

As far as I understand it, poly means you love more than one person – you exist within a group that can have often very complex emotional attachments between multiple people. And that, my friends, sounds bloody hard.

OK, on the up-side, you get to have not just sex but also all the nice relationship-y stuff with more than one person. But on the down-side, you have to invest into each of those people the same amount of time that monogamous people invest in their one-on-one commitments.

It’s difficult enough finding one person to love, let alone two, or three, or sixty-seven. And it’s hard enough keeping one person happy without having to worry that the time you’re spending with number 1 is time you should really be spending with number 2, helping number 3 redraft his CV, or shopping for a present for number 4 because it’s his birthday next week and you want to do something special.

I’m not polyamorous. I’m a slag

Despite people explaining my general sluttery to me by saying “oh, OK, so you’re poly”, it took me a while to figure out that I’m actually not. I am very fond of all of my regular boys, and I’m very grateful to the odd few who are willing to furnish me with one-night stands or occasional play. But I don’t love them all – I don’t have relationships with them all.

To call what I do ‘poly’ is probably deeply offensive to polyamorous people, who take the ‘amorous’ bit seriously and treat their partners like they’re special. Give me a stable full of boys: willing boys, kind boys, beautiful, funny, hot boys of all different shapes, sizes and inclinations. But don’t make me remember their fucking birthdays.

Polyamory is usually a two-way street

If I were in a poly relationship I’d become rapidly unstuck – the agreement is such that if I can shag other people, and hang out with other boys, then so can my boys. I have to care for them and make them feel special, and give them attention, and love them like they’re precious. I then have to let these special, precious, hot-fucking things bugger off every now and then and bestow their hotness on people who aren’t me. I categorically hate this.

I think what I’m saying is that polyamory requires you to a) have emotions and then b) rigidly control them. Which is not only not easy but, I’d argue, an incredibly difficult thing to ask of fallible human beings.

Guest post from LB: Why I am poly

The single most common response when I tell people that I’m poly is “where do you find the time?”

It’s a reasonable assumption when the word for that relationship style literally means “many loves”. To most monogamous people, being poly means that you’re having  serious loving relationships like they do, but lots of them, all at once.

But the truth is – and you might want to sit down for this – I don’t love everyone I’m fucking equally. I don’t love some of them at all. If I had to love everyone equally and spend as much time and emotional energy on all of them, just to get in their pants, I’d be too exhausted to do anything once I was there.

I can’t claim poly is simpler than monogamy; I’m not the Official Polyamory Ambassador to the Court of St Monogamous, for one thing. But it isn’t necessarily more complex – and complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Polyamory doesn’t make relationships complex; people do

Poly doesn’t have a monopoly on relationship complexity, or on drama. Everyone knows complex, high-drama monogamous relationships.

Some of the common features of poly relationships actively reduce drama and complexity. There’s generally more, and more honest, communication, and people are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own needs. When you don’t suspect your girlfriend is interested in someone else, you know she is and you agreed it was OK, the basis for a lot of drama vanishes.

Yes, arranging your diary so you can see all the people you’d like to as often as you’d like is hard – but that’s true for everyone who’s busy. With poly, you just have to remember to pack your toothbrush, some lube and enough clean underwear.

Poly means ‘many options’

Not all relationships are the same, and ‘relationship’ can mean any number of things. But when you’re monogamous your options are (usually) limited.

Monogamous people might have a sexually and emotionally intense fling which  combusts after a month; then a long-term committed romantic relationship; then a matey series of no-strings-attached hook-ups. Poly people can have all of those relationships at the same time – and more unusual relationships too.

Once your relationships aren’t predetermined by societal norms, suddenly everything’s up for negotiation. So, tweak until you get it right: how often will you see each other? Will you fuck, or just do kinky shit? Are you emotionally exclusive or sexually exclusive, or both? What does ‘sexually exclusive’ even mean to the two of you?

If you’re monogamous and your partner hates eating greasy pizza naked while playing first person shooters; is totally disinterested in S/M or anal; or never wants to move in together, you can either suck it up or try to find a new partner that meets all your needs.

You don’t have to make that choice when you’re poly. Because you don’t have to rely on one relationship to meet all your needs, you have a better chance of getting all these needs met – and you don’t have to give up on a perfectly good relationship because it’s not ‘perfect’.

We need to talk about our relationship

This might be where polyamory really gets its reputation for complexity. Talking about relationships stops being just a good idea and starts being a bloody necessity when you’re involved with more than one person.

Guesswork in relationships is about as successful as it is when you’re trying to get someone off. Talking honestly about what you want, what your partner(s) want(s), and where that crosses over makes it far less likely that anyone will end up hurt or not getting what they need.

I’ll happily sacrifice a little time, some self-examination and some talking to get a range of romantic/sexual/kinky, serious/casual/one-off relationships that meet all my needs. Surely that’s better than a simple life spent missing out on half the things you want?


Edited to add: check out this fab resource on exploring relationship styles for yourself.


  • Quietlycreepsin says:

    I think the thing that stands out, that marks you as not naturally Poly, is

    “I then have to let these special, precious, hot-fucking things bugger off every now and then and bestow their hotness on people who aren’t me. I categorically hate this.”

    Its the ‘hate this’ bit – the run up is, well, a good description of poly *for some people*.

    I am poly (hate the label, but its good shorthand so…). I just am, its like breathing, and the thing that marks it for me is that I am actively joyful when those I love/care for/am inordinately fond of find other people they feel likewise about. Yes I’d love to be a sole focus for their love/friendship/desire but I’d never impose that on anyone and its imposition on me (in light of above) would mean I walked. Yes that would hurt, but I seriously hope that I’d have weeded them out long before we became that close.

    It means that when not getting to sleep with an intimate just isn’t going to happen its mitigated by them being a friend (which is still a relationship, just not a penetrative one). Because I still care for them and would see them settled in heart, mind and body before I’d lose their friendship. Which is where I shut up, because I’m posting this anon and it could get messy …

    side note – There is a ‘fancy’ word for it = Compersion.
    … I try not to use it but its a useful shorthand even though I don’t (personally) go for the entirity of its wikipedia definition…

    • girlonthenet says:

      I think it’s definitely the ‘actively joyful’ bit I struggle with. Yes, I’m actively joyful when some of my boys find partners, or other people that they really like, but only if they’re guys with whom I’m friends rather than in a relationship with.

      As soon as I start actually having feelings for guys, the idea of them sleeping with other people becomes way harder, and I actively detest it. Not that I’d ever say “you can’t sleep with other people”, because I realise that would make me a hypocrite. But in practise it does mean I am a massive arsehole, who holds different boys to different standards, and myself in a different category entirely.

      I think I just tend to see poly people (because they’re more comfortable using the term, therefore seem more comfortable with the openness generally) as slightly more mature than me, in that they’ve managed to hold all of these different people to the same standards, and made it work to the benefit of everyone.

  • Caramella says:

    I, too, am a bit uncomfortable with the ‘poly’ label. I generally label myself as ‘open’ – I have my primary partner, and some casual relationships. Yes, I often have dates with the secondary guys – we go out for a meal or a few drinks, and follow it up with sex, but I’d be hard pressed to call it anything approximating a relationship. In that situation, fuckbuddies or friends with benefits might be a more apt description. Perhaps it’s simplest to call people in our relationship non-monogamous? I’m struggling to find a good term!

  • Swinger says:

    I think there are at least 3 different things being discussed.

    Firstly, there’s polyamory. As I understand it, that’s a loving relationship involving more than 2 people – it’s not necessarily about sex (although that’s clearly a part of it). My assumption – and it is just an assumption – is that there has to be a high degree of fidelity between the 3 (or more) people involved. It’s a faithful relationship, but involving more people than the conventional “couple”.

    Secondly there’s swinging. This is more familiar to many people – the idea of an “open” relationship, swapping partners etc. But it’s purely sexual. From my experience the best swinging happens when you’re friends with the couple (or person) who joins you, but it doesn’t need to be love. There’s no intention of fidelity between the group of people – it’s just some fun. I’ll come back to talking about jealousy and swinging.

    And thirdly, there’s just being a single who has lots of fuck buddies. Which is fine, and many people do it. I think everyone involved needs to be grown up about what’s happening, or it doesn’t work. It’s far too easy for one person to form an attachment, and bugger up the whole thing. We’ve all had that horrible week or two when a fuck-buddy or one-night-stand gets a bit clingy. But as long as everyone knows what the score is, and nobody is being decieved, screwing around is normal and fun!

    The only time any jealousy happened when I and my ex were swinging was when single people got involved. It’s easy with a couple, because I was doing things, and so was she. But when she had sex with a single guy (sometimes without me being around) it led to problems. Similarly when I had sex with a single woman. Swinging – at least for us – was something we did together. But if you go off on your own, even with permission, it stops being something you share. And that (for us at least) was a problem.

    For me, swinging happened because we separated sex from love. In a traditional relationship, sex and love are bound together. Whereas we loved each other, but sex was something that didn’t affect our love. It was a sport.

    I think (guessing) polyamory retains the “sex and love” connection, but brings more people in. In that respect it’s a traditional “sex and love” relationship, but with bigger numbers.

    And screwing around is just sex!

    Just my opinion.

    • girlonthenet says:

      Agree with you on the swinging/single people thing. I’ve done both (i.e. had sex with people in a couple, and gone off to fuck singles when in a couple) and the latter certainly caused more drama from my point of view.

      Not necessarily for the boy at the time, who found the idea of me fucking other guys quite hot, but certainly for me it was almost impossible to think of him having an actual date with another girl, and fuck another girl when I wasn’t there. Genuinely made me shudder and feel ill.

      I am wondering if this kind of (let’s be honest) irrational jealousy is stronger in some than others. I know many people who are happy to let even their most beloved partners play around without batting an eyelid, whereas I think I fall into a far less rational group of people who, on discovering that their partner has fucked/is fucking someone else, smiles through gritted teeth then wants to punch the world to pieces.

  • Chaz says:

    I never categorised my relationships, but after learning the word “polyamorous” and its meaning, I realised this described the majority of my relationships.

    It’s not that I can’t be monogamous – I can, and have been in the past – but I have no desire to live with anyone, much less marry them and have kids with them, and I don’t agree with cheating. In my view, if you’re unhappy in your relationship and nothing will fix it, end it rather than having an affair. I think that’s much less hurtful all round, from what I’ve been told by those on both sides of an affair or breakdown of a marriage.

    The thing I like about polyamory is that everything is above board and out in the open. You go into a new relationship knowing that you’re not exclusive and that you are both free to see other people. My main stipulations are that condoms are always used and you always disclose if you’re seeing someone else. That way everyone stays safe and nobody’s going behind anyone else’s back.

    I’ve fallen in love with my “friends with benefits” in the past, but I was never jealous of their other partners, only the time I didn’t get to spend with them because they were seeing someone else. Scheduling can be difficult, depending on how many people you’re seeing at one time. I once had 7 partners on the go (all of whom knew about the others), but fitting them all in was tricky and I’ve found that 2 or 3 is most manageable. Seven is pushing it a bit!

    I would also mention that polyamory isn’t the same as engaging in threesomes or orgies – group sex and polyamory don’t necessarily go hand in hand. It certainly doesn’t for me, but this has been raised as an issue when I’ve explained it to guys in the past. Some people don’t get the distinction. But when I’m with someone, I’m *with* them, I don’t want any other distractions. They have all of my attention, because that’s the way I like it. Group sex holds no appeal for me. But I’m sure there are other poly people out there who do engage in group sex, just as there are couples who swing, it’s all a matter of personal taste.

    I don’t think polyamory is for everyone. If you are the sexually jealous type, then it’s probably not for you. If you can’t stand the thought of someone else fucking your man (or woman), then it’s best not to go there. Not everyone can separate sex and love, or other emotions. I don’t know that there’s a “trick” to this, I think you’re either sexually jealous or you’re not. It’s that simple (in my opinion).

  • LB says:

    I hear you on the poly/group sex confusion. A really common misconception about poly I encounter is that you have lots of sex partners, and you all fuck at together.

    Jealousy: I don’t actually think you have to be jealousy-proof to be poly. Loads of poly people experience jealousy – but the difference is in how they handle it.
    For monogamous people, often the response is to ask/tell/demand that their partner stop doing the thing that makes them jealous, or rant to their friends about what an arse their partner is. Whereas poly people are much more likely to look on jealousy as a symptom, and try to work out the underlying cause: am I not seeing this partner enough? Am I not getting certain things I need from this relationship? Am I personally feeling insecure because of an unrelated reason?
    This is one of the aspects of poly that really delights me, even though I don’t actually tend to have any problems with jealousy.

    • girlonthenet says:

      Hmmm… not convinced on your jealousy explanations, LB. Although all of these could be reasons (insecurity in particular), in my experience as a psychotically jealous harpy, it’s almost always just a gut reaction – difficult to explain and impossible to pick apart, jealousy is usually just a possessive rage. And that’s really crappy.

      Having said that, I think if people can get over it, or can manage that jealousy so that rather than being destructive it actually becomes a productive thing (i.e. making people appreciate their partner more when they *are* together, etc) it can be amazing. I also think jealousy is quite flattering. I love it when a guy’s so into me that he wants me all to himself. He rarely gets it, of course, but for some guys I’ll be more than willing to drop dates, or block out full weekends in my diary, because I know it’ll make them happy.

      • LB says:

        Late reply – sorry.

        I’m totally the opposite: jealousy is one of the few qualities that almost entirely rules someone out for me. It’s so linked in my mind to regarding another person as a possession, or someone to whom you have some sort of exclusive right. I know this idea underlies a lot of relationships, but it is (no exaggeration) abhorrant to me.

        I do see what you mean about jealousy being a gut reaction. A useful analogy for jealousy is anger or pain. You can feel both of these in your gut, as an overwhelming force – but you’d still be interested in the ‘why’. Pain — because arm being pressed — because have been sleeping on arm for 6 hours. Anger — because friend cancelled on me again — because make me feel like they don’t give a shit about me. I suppose I think jealousy should be treated the same: jealous — because X — because Y (where X is usually “someone did something” and Y is “and this made me feel something bad, or prodded at me where I’m crazy about something else”)

  • Some of us definitely suffer more from jealousy and insecurity than others GODDAMNIT. All sorts of painful shit has come up for me since my partner and I opened up our relationship. It’s messy and difficult but I think it forces you to grow as a person. If you’re not totally bored with the subject by now, read my blog.

  • Phillip says:

    “Genuinely made me shudder and feel ill.” I thought I had it covered. The agreement was that there would be no expectations beyond the physical. I walked carefully to the back house. Carefully because it was dark and the skunks loved avocados! Many had ripened and fallen to the ground. When I got to the door, I paused and discovered that she was with someone else. ‘I shuddered and felt ill’. I tippy toed out of the back yard so as not to be discovered. How could I have not known that I had fallen back into love with my same old used to be?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.