What is polyamory? Welldoing.org asked a twenty-something to share about her experience.

How does polyamory work?

Good question. Honest answer is this: lots of planning, trying to be unselfish, lots of communication  - and sometimes it doesn’t work.

How long have you been doing it?

Four years and four months.

So you have a boyfriend..?

Yes. I have a boyfriend. He’s married to his wife. She has a boyfriend. There’re four of us in total. I am in relationship with my boyfriend (J) and I am friends with his wife (L) and her boyfriend (E). At the moment I’m only sleeping with my boyfriend. When I started university I drew people diagrams.

Isn’t that really weird?

Yes. In the sense that it’s quite unusual. Does it feel weird? No.

How did it happen?

I met them both together, and we became friends, things evolved. That’s probably the most standard progression for relationships like mine. Some monogamous couples make the choice to become poly and actively seek out another partner, some start poly from the beginning.

Who comes first?

Brutally honestly? For J, his wife. For E, his girlfriend. In poly many people refer to their partners as primary and secondary, or domestic and non-domestic. I tend to avoid labels because they feel like rankings. But yes, part of the reality of poly is that if you forced your partner to make a list, you wouldn’t be number one on that list.

So why do you do it?

That’s the most common question I get asked. Why are you with your partner? Because they make you laugh, cook you supper, get you a hot water bottle when it’s cold and let you hold the TV remote? Same. For every hardship that comes with being poly there is a benefit.

I’m part of a unit (a poly-pod as they’re affectionately known). We take different things from each other, as the youngest I get a level of parenting from the people in my poly, lots of guidance and helpful advice. We also tend to sit around eating far too much and marvelling at how far a bottle of wine goes between four people (not very.) Much as some people want to have ten children and some want one, I withhold the right to have more than one person in my relationship because I like having a lot of people around. I like the business, the companionship, the laughter and the silliness.

The most honest answer to “why do you do it?” is because most of the time it makes me very, very happy. It’s also really great to be able to have someone who loves you to come home to, but still be able to have the frisson and excitement of new relationships and flirting.

How does it work?

Poly relationships are a bit like long distance relationships in the sense that they require routine and planning. I spend one week night a week with J, and one weekend, Friday through Monday, a month totally alone together. In addition to that we do things as twos, threes and fours in different combinations about once a week. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t any spontaneity, but it does hinge on being handy with a Google calendar. It also suits my lifestyle which involves working 40 hours a week and then trying to cram in socialising with school, university and work friends for drinks, a dance class a week and occasionally even some sleep.

How much of this is about sex?

On some levels yes, it’s a way for all of us to have sex. It’s also a way for all of us to have more friends, more laughter, more arguments, more birthdays, more kissing, more parties and more fun.

What are the rules?

This is definitely an area where I can’t speak for anyone else. In my relationship we have an amount of time that we aim to spend together. We tell each other if we’re planning to, or have slept with someone new, we always use protection and we try to be as nice to each other as possible. If I utterly despised and reviled someone that J was seeing then I would tell him. It would be his choice if he stopped seeing them or not, and it would depend on if my reasons were logical (she murders kittens) or illogical (I think she might be prettier than I am). Most importantly we talk about it. Poly people do a LOT of talking.

Why don’t you have another partner?

Because I haven’t met anyone who I want to be with. I won’t lie, being poly does make things more complicated, and when I meet someone new who I like I don’t always raise it immediately. If I met someone wonderful who I adored who wanted to be monogamous then I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But for now the function of polyamory is to be able to focus on my friends and my work and most importantly myself, whilst still having a relationship. Plus, as I’ve self-indulgently admitted, it’s also a great way to be able to go on a night out and dance all night with someone massively inappropriate without any guilt.

Will you do this forever?

Honestly I have no idea. I want children, and I’m not sure that poly is the best way to raise children (if I’ve got fifteen stitches holding my girl bits together I don’t really want my partner having wild sex with someone else.) I can’t see the future, and I do want to find a partner with whom we can be each other’s mutual primaries, if not monogamous.

Could you be monogamous?

Would I rule it out? Of course not. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get worked up about my boyfriend flirting with a girl, or going to a strip club, or dirty dancing in a bar, or even kissing someone. For me personally if I’m secure that someone loves me it doesn’t have to be to the physical exclusion of all others.

Do you get jealous?

Yes. Of course I do. But we tend to draw a line between jealousy and envy. For example

J and L are going to see Matilda tonight. I want to see Matilda (envy).

J and L are going to see Matilda tonight. I wish that she wasn’t going and I was (jealousy).

Both emotions are normal and both happen, but they’re relatively rare occurrences, and learning that jealous is not a dirty word is a really important step.

The important point for me is to encourage people to see poly as a valid life choice. You can be a totally normal, happy, functioning person who chooses to love in a different way. And that’s okay.