So you think you’re polyamorous, and you need some help figuring it out for certain.
While there is no universal definition of polyamory, polyamory is defined as the practice of having multiple romantic and/or sexual partners simultaneously with the full, informed consent of everyone involved.
So, polyamorous people are those who are able to have multiple romantic and/or sexual partners at the same time.
Seems simple, right?
Well, it’s not always simple. You see, figuring out that you’re polyamorous can be difficult, scary even, because society conditions us to think of polyamory as abnormal.
Before I realized I was polyamorous, I thought something was wrong with me. I had been in situations where I was in love with more than one person at once – something I was socialized to believe was not only impossible, but deviant as well.
Through the media, religion, the government and other institutions, we’re taught that the only way to experience true love is to want one person and only that person.
Society romanticizes the idea that everyone has one true soulmate, and that we won’t be happy without them – an idea which marginalizes asexual and aromantic people as well as polyamorous people.
For this reason, coming to the conclusion that you’re polyamorous can be a challenging and emotional journey.
It can also be an exciting and amazing point in your life which can lead to discovering a beautiful truth about yourself.
It might be tough to unpack the issues and thoughts you might have at this point in time.
Here are a few useful tips for coming out to yourself.
1. Take Time to Absorb and Articulate Your Feelings and Thoughts
Self-awareness is always a wonderful quality to have.
In times of crisis, great change, and self-discovery, being self-aware is particularly useful.
When I began to consider whether I was polyamorous or not, I had so many difficult thoughts and feelings. At first, I pushed all the thoughts aside because thinking about being polyamorous was so emotionally taxing for me.
But eventually, I realized it was really helpful – imperative, even – for me to dig deep into my psyche and ask myself some probing questions.
Ask yourself, why is it that you feel you’re polyamorous?
Is it that you feel that you’re capable of loving more than one person at a time? Do you feel you need to love more than one person at a time? Do you feel you need to be loved by more than one person at a time?
Or is your reason completely different? Do you feel okay with the idea of being in a relationship with someone who’s in relationships with others?
You might want to reflect on past relationships. If you felt that you had to conform to monogamous standards before, how did it work for you?
When I explored these questions, I had to look back at my past relationships with a different lens. While I had been in happy, healthy monogamous relationships, I occasionally found myself developing feelings for people while still feeling committed to others.
At the time I thought of myself as a selfish, awful person – but now I began to realize I was just a confused polyamorous person who struggled to manage their feelings.
How do you feel about monogamy? Jealousy? Sharing romantic and/or sexual partners with other people?
You might not have all the answers right now. And that’s perfectly okay – this is a journey to self-awareness, not an exam!
The answers to these questions might change over time. Remember that as people change, the way they approach their relationships might change.
The way we might experience love, romance and/or sexual attraction – if we experience it at all! – can be very fluid.
When I entered my first polyamorous relationship, I honestly had more questions than answers. I still find myself constantly re-examining previous perceptions I had about myself and my sexuality.
My feelings change depending on my partner, my emotional situation, and my mental health. For example, I hardly ever feel jealous about sharing my partner with other people, but if I’m feeling insecure about my career, body or financial situation, I tend to be more jealous.
This feeling of jealousy usually signifies that I have to dig deep emotionally and ask myself why I feel insecure.
It’s incredibly important to stay aware of these feelings and to manage them when they come instead of denying they exist at all.
2. Imagine What Your Life Might Be Like If You Were Practicing Polyamory
In a world where we’re socialized to think of monogamy as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’, we often feel the need to downplay our fantasies – especially those that don’t conform to the societal norm.
Dreaming enables us to find our desires; it helps us realize what we want, and ultimately, who we are.
And, when it comes to discovering you’re polyamorous, it can be difficult to know what you want for this very reason.
So – let yourself fantasize. What would a polyamorous lifestyle look like for you? What do you want out of polyamory?
Whether you’re daydreaming at work, school or university, in the shower, or at night before you fall asleep, try to consider what you truly want. Perhaps you’d find it useful to write or draw in a journal so that you can keep a record of your ideas and desires.
Remember, of course, that your desires will change over time.
Right now, I am in a committed romantic and sexual relationship with one partner. However, we both have the freedom to date others if we so desire. This set-up makes me happy, and I would feel happy if they had other partners, or if I had other partners.
In a few years’ time, I imagine myself to be living with one or more partners.
About ten years from now, I could imagine myself living and raising a family with more than one partner.
But as I get older, my desires might change depending on my experiences, feelings, career and my partners’ desires. I know what I want at this point in time, but it might change, and I’m okay with that.
Please bear in mind that the point of this exercise is not to set rigid, time-constrained goals for your relationships. Our expectations don’t always match up with reality and that’s okay – sometimes, the realities we create are better than our fantasies, especially when it comes to relationships.
Rather, the purpose of this exercise is to explore your dreams, desires and fantasies so that you can begin to think deeply about what you want and who you are.
3. Connect with Other Polyamorous, Polycurious, and Polyfriendly People
It can be really helpful to find a community that understands you and accepts you as you are. Polyamorous communities exist both offline and online, in the forms of social media groups, discussion boards, and websites. It’s a great idea to use these spaces to meet new people.
I’m not just talking about meeting other polyamorous people in order to date them. Platonic relationships with other polyamorous people can be extremely valuable. These friendships can be a great source of mutual support, comfort and love.
In a society where polyamory is seldom recognized, let alone tolerated, it can be comforting and healing to find a place where polyamory is both understood and celebrated.
4. Go Consume Some Polyamorous Literature!
When I came to the conclusion that I was polyamorous, it really helped to research polyamory online. When I was confused about how polyamorous relationships could work, I turned to the words of more experienced polyamorous people for guidance and comfort.
And when I was unsure about how to handle certain situations, I read the musings of experts on polyamory in order to guide my thinking.
There is so much out there on polyamory – so much that it can be a little overwhelming! So if you’re not sure where to start, begin by looking at these three key areas:
Read about the ethics and theory of polyamory. Personally, I really enjoyed reading The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures as well as More than Two. The latter book’s author also runs a useful and comprehensive website on polyamory.
Read about other people’s experiences. I found it particularly comforting to read about how a few other polyamorous people felt in monogamous relationships, because it really struck a chord with me – I remember feeling the same sense of incompletion and inadequacy that others were describing. It comforted me, and I felt less alone.
Reading about other people’s experiences and feelings can not only be comforting, but insightful. It can help you think deeply about the situations you come across, and, sometimes, it can help guide your choices for the better.
Read about useful skills for polyamorous relationships. Communicating, managing jealousy and insecurity, time management and setting boundaries are all useful relationship skills.
If and when you eventually try a polyamorous set-up for yourself, those skills become even more important. So get a head-start by thinking about which skills you need to work on.
5. Start Challenging Your Internalized Heteronormativity
“True love only comes around once.”
“Love is when you want to be with one person and only them.”
The language we commonly use when we discuss love and romance is very heteronormative. These messages suggest that the beauty of love is that it’s exclusive – that if we really love someone, we can’t love anybody else but them. This can cause many polyamorous people to doubt themselves.
This sort of mentality is ultimately a part of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is a word that refers to the societal structure which privileges certain types of romantic and sexual relationships over others.
One of the underlying assumptions of heteronormativity is that heterosexuality and monogamy are natural and superior to other forms of sexual and romantic attraction. They suggest that love is a universal and uniform experience.
We often think of heteronormativity leading to homophobic or queerphobic attitudes, but it also leads to attitudes which oppress polyamorous people.
Heteronormative attitudes try to tell us that we all experience attraction and sex in the same way – and this is simply not true. We experience romantic and sexual attraction in a number of different ways. Some people don’t experience romantic and/or sexual attraction at all, and that’s entirely okay!
It might be helpful to start thinking about the way we talk about love. Try to recognize how our language and assumptions about romance is rooted in heteronormativity.
Once we start to think critically about the language we use, we can start thinking about how we’ve internalized heteronormative messages.
Since heteronormativity says that polyamory is abnormal, unnatural and wrong, it can result in us polyamorous people feeling ashamed of ourselves. This deep-seated shame can prevent us from practicing self-love and nurturing healthy relationships.
For example, heteronormativity tells us that we only need to love one person at once. Heteronormativity tells us that, if someone truly loves us, they won’t want anyone else. Of course, in polyamorous situations, one person might love multiple partners at once.
If one of those partners believes, at a conscious or subconscious level, that you can only love one person at once, they’re likely to feel upset, unloved and unwanted. Perhaps they’ll feel jealous and act unloving towards their partner as a result. If they identify and manage this belief, they can begin to feel better.
As you can see, it’s incredibly important that we identify internalized heteronormativity and tell it to fuck off whenever it shows up.
Always remember that your experiences are valid, your feelings are valid and the way you love is valid.
Coming to the conclusion that you’re polyamorous can be difficult, but it can be an exciting and wonderful experience too.
Embrace and enjoy the journey. Use this as an opportunity for introspection and self-discovery. Take time to marvel at the beauty of it all – consider how beautiful it is that humans can experience love in so many different ways.
Above all else, remember that no matter how you eventually identify, your experiences and feelings are valid, valuable, and beautiful.
Want to learn more about polyamory and non-monogamy? Sign up for Ethical Non-Monogamy 101: Exploring Love, Abundance, and Accountability!
Sian Ferguson is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism and a queer, polyamorous, South African feminist who is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Anthropology. Originally from Cape Town, she now studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where she works as vice-chair of the Gender Action Project. She has featured as a guest writer on websites such as Women24 and Foxy Box, while also writing for her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter @sianfergs. Read her articles here.