I was sixteen years old the first time I got involved in a polyamorous relationship, and I haven’t gone back to monogamy since. One of the things I've noticed, over the years, is that some of the same problems come up over and over again. It doesn't matter who you are or how long you've been at this; there are a few things nearly everyone is susceptible to.
I have a couple of friends whose relationship had always been non-monogamous. They each had a secondary partner—someone they had an affectionate and ongoing relationship with, but not someone they were in love with or were going to become more committed to. That's what one of them thought, anyway; the other pictured their arrangement differently, and was deeply in love with both of her partners. They figured it out in the end, but it was a long, hard journey. Generally speaking, people use "non-monogamy" as a catch-all term for any relationship that isn't monogamous, "polyamory" to describe a form of non-monogamy that involves having more than one ongoing emotional relationship, and "open relationship" when they’re happy with sex outside of the couple but not so much everything else. That’s not enough detail by itself, though—you need to talk about the nuances with your partner so that you both know where you stand.
A dear friend of mine spent a few years in a long-distance relationship with someone who lived in the US, and every time he visited they’d go to a particular milkshake place. She once went there with a group of friends while he was at home, and when she mentioned it to him he found that he absolutely hated the thought of it. All couples have things that are special to them that they wouldn't want to share with anyone else. For some people that’s sex, or a certain level of commitment—but even for those of us who've chosen not to make those things exclusive there are other things that are. It’s important that you figure out what those are, and talk about them openly and honestly.
My first ever relationship was a monogamous one, and that ended when I was sixteen—whereupon I launched full throttle into non-monogamy. I didn't have a primary partner again till I was twenty-two. Toward the end of that long and highly formative period it was almost like I’d forgotten what the differences between primary and secondary relationships were, and I pretty much nuked a relationship that could have been incredible by making demands I really wasn’t entitled to make. His primary partner was understandably uncomfortable, and in the end he broke up with me. Once I had a primary of my own again the differences were thrown into sharp relief. I’m still ashamed of how I behaved back then, because if you’re following the primary/secondary model—which of course not everyone does—it’s hugely important that you’re careful to bear those differences in mind. I’d lost sight of them, and it didn't make anybody happy.
The first time I noticed myself feeling jealous was at a party many years ago. There was a woman there I’d been going out with for well over a year, and I’d intended to spend the night with her—so when she hooked up with someone new, I was pretty upset. I talked it over with a friend, who pointed out that I wasn't upset because she was taking this other woman home—I was upset because she hadn't been psychic enough to guess what I wanted, which was not at all her fault.Jealousy, for me, has always turned out to be something else: my own self-esteem, a worry that we’re not spending enough time together as a couple, a feeling of unease about the other person’s motives. In all of these cases the real problem lies elsewhere, and simply calling it "jealousy" doesn't help to fix it.
When another friend of mine got involved in a polyamorous relationship for the first time, he came to me for advice. “Work on your friendship with her other boyfriend," I said, “Cultivate it, concentrate on it, and give it a solid place in your life.” He wasn't sure how to do that, so he let it take a back burner—and his new relationship floundered a bit. The three of them live together as a family unit now, but it wasn't till my friend made an effort with his metamour that they could do that. There’s nothing quite like a metamour who is also a good friend. Those friendships can be massively valuable if you work on them - but neglecting them can destroy your relationship with your partner.
Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her on her website or @see_abi_write.
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