Nonmonogamy comes with some well publicized high-risk areas. There are plenty of articles out there about overcoming insecurity and dealing with jealousy. Careful thought has been put into handling STI and pregnancy risks. And communication! I swear if I read one more article about how important honest, open communication is in poly relationships* I’m going to snap and start maniacally disclosing All The Things to random people in the streets.
But there are other things that change. Little things. Polyamory affects aspects of life that don’t seem to have anything to do with relationships at all.
1. You will never again just share a story even tangentially related to your partners with monogamous friends.
It’s no longer possible. If they think you’re monogamous, you omit details and use creative phrasing to keep the relationship ambiguous. If you’re out, every conversation involving any of your partners becomes a conversation about their opinions and/or befuddlement about polyamory itself. I’ve been spending the night at Z and the Techie’s place a night or two a week. Sometimes a classmate will ask if I can print or bring something from home. “No, sorry, I’m not there” demands an explanation. Out or not, there’ll be questions about whether Spouse freaks out when I stay the night elsewhere.
2. The amount of time you spend doing dishes increases exponentially with each additional partner.
Spouse and I don’t live with any other partners. But Polly Pocket comes for dinner maybe twice a week, and I cook at the Techie and Z’s place twice a week, and one morning I realized that they think Monster energy drinks are breakfast so suddenly I have a massive waffle making project on my hands…on and on and on. I run the dishwasher every two days and still scrub a sink load of dishes by hand almost daily and I swear I have no idea how we use so many forks so quickly.
3. 97% of movies and TV shows will make you roll your eyes.
The other 3% have no hint of a romantic subplot***. The rest of them? You’ll be mumbling under your breath about the obvious solution to the love triangles and sexual tension. You’ll practically scream at films like Pirate Radio when our protagonist is crushed (crushed!) that the woman he falls in love-at-first-sight with has sex with someone else. She’s ruined. Purity culture! You’ll want to love Lost Girl, but you can’t because the succubus protagonist’s (literally suicidal) choice to be monogamous because that’s what good people do drives way too much of the plot.
4. If you think adapting to one person’s schedule is hard…
…try syncing your calendar with three partners, who may each have a number of other partners whose schedules need to be taken into account as well. And if your partners aren’t on similar sleep schedules? Learn to love caffeine pills. Spouse and I wake up at or before 0700 on weekdays. When I spend the night at Z and the Techie’s place, we may not collapse into bed until dawn or later. If I stay at their place on a weeknight, nevermind even attempting sleep; I’ll just write a few emails or read on the phone until it’s time to get ready for class or work.
5. The relationship webs get seriously tangled.
Incestuous is the wrong word, but it sort of conveys the right idea. Poly networks form and break multiple connections among the same handful of people. It makes sense. Unless you live somewhere with a large, dynamic, easy-to-find poly community, partners of partners are going to be the simplest way to meet other nonmonogamous folks. Once you start trying to describe those networks, it feels a little like a stand-up routine about a family reunion in Alabama**. For example: I’m seeing my Spouse’s girlfriend’s ex. I’m also seeing his girlfriend. No, not Spouse’s girlfriend, her ex-whom-I’m-seeing’s girlfriend. Oh, and she’s casual play partners with one of my play partners. No, not that “she,” the other one. Actually, nevermind; it might be easier if I drew a chart. (I did draw a chart. it’s in my about page.)
6. People expect you to be jealous
Even when you’re not.
Polly Pocket is young. She is tiny and bubbly and pretty and sweet. My female friends think this is the worst thing ever. “She’s so pretty! Aren’t you worried?”
“What if Spouse thinks she’s prettier than you?”
The way they talk, it sounds like they’re only nonmonogamous so they can reaffirm that their primary partners like them best. I hope I’m wrong about that, because the idea is disgusting and they are my friends. But the conversation inevitably acts like one has to be jealous or disdainful of metamours. Nonsense.
7. “So…do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/six or more cats?” or “Are you taken?”
People try to assess availability to a relationship by asking whether you’re already in one. This should annoy monogamous people; even if being in one relationship precludes forming another, the question implies a sort of ownership****. I have a spouse, a girlfriend, and a lover. I don’t have time for another relationship, not really, but it’s nothing to do with having been claimed.
8. That sense of control? Gone.
The idea that you control your partner or they control you has to go. You don’t give permission to do things and you don’t need permission to make your own plans. You’re not “letting” each other do things, you’re acting autonomously. And dear god is it wonderful.
Now, I realize many poly relationships do have rules and a higher degree of control than mine. And there are constraints to some degree; if I have plans with someone I have a responsibility to keep them. If I’m not going to be home it’s only fair to give Spouse advance notice so he knows to make his own dinner plan or that he should expect to be spending the night alone. There’s a lot of communication that has to happen for that giving up of control to run smoothly and not make anyone miserable. But I said we weren’t going to talk about communication in this post, so we’ll leave it at that.
9. Being friends with exes becomes normal.
Because poly is rarely on the standard assumed relationship escalator, expectations and norms surrounding the life course of a relationship can be very different for poly folk. Permanence is not necessarily expected nor necessarily a sign of relationship success. If you’re already thinking about relationships differently, it’s a lot easier to realize that the end of a relationship doesn’t have to mean that one of you is a terrible person. Maybe scheduling was too complicated, or an incompatibility arose, or one of you just didn’t feel a sexual or romantic connection anymore. Granted, not all poly people can be friends with exes. Sometimes breakups still are because one or both parties did something monstrous and ending contact is for the best. And of course some monogamous folks can stay friends with exes, which is great. The point is that it’s far less likely to cause major strife in continuing or future relationships to remain friends with an ex than it is for monogamous folks to do the same. It’s rather a relief.
10. Meal planning and grocery shopping can become almost comically complex.
I keep kosher(ish) and have allergies to a couple of quite common foods. Spouse doesn’t eat onions and tries to limit dairy. Polly Pocket is easily overwhelmed by new flavors, and I’m beginning to form the impression that she’s been exposed to approximately nothing before. The Techie doesn’t care for dinners without meat, and is used to cooking robust American meals with ingredients I can’t have. Z doesn’t care for bread. When I make a grocery list for my weekly trip I take all these things into account as well as who’s eating with whom on what night, what I already have in the pantry, and what the Techie and Z are likely to have on hand. My grocery list starts with a giant chart of meals.
*Monogamous people, by contrast, need communicate only in the three days around the new moon, and then only by means of interpretive dance.
**In fairness to Alabama, the only time I’ve been hit on at a family reunion was in Texas.
*** Reason #843 that the Gregory Peck/Richard Basehart Moby Dick is one of the finest films I know.
****Reason #579 that normative cis het monogamous relationships are a form of power exchange that’s maybe less than completely consensual. I’m not knocking negotiated D/s, I’m talking about assumptions of power and control brought to relationships because they’re normative and never challenged or discussed by their participants.