What Is Polyamory?
Polyamory is defined as the state of being in love or in a relationship with more than one person simultaneously. All parties have full knowledge of each other. Many people think they understand the concept, but few can truly grasp the meaning.
Polyamory is often associated with upper- to middle-class, white married couples who are bored with their marriages and their money, and who seek to open up their relationships for purely sexual means. This, as I’ve come to find, is exceedingly false.
Polyamory is not to be confused with polygamy. The latter denotes marriage, whereas the former doesn’t necessarily mean that each person is married to the other. There can be committed, long-term relationships without the institution of marriage.
I had little to no understanding of polyamory, nor did I realize just how profound and popular it is. While it’s extremely difficult to find definitive figures for the number of polyamorists in the U.S. — many people not only disagree on the definition of polyamory, but also fear sharing their preference — the number is anywhere from 1.2 million to 2.4 million, according to a study by Kelly Cookson.
In another study of 284 men and women, those who identified as polyamorous showed greater levels of intimacy and trust than their monoamorous counterparts, according to research at the University of Saskatchewan. Makes sense, really — more love to go around!
Though that did get me wondering even more about the dynamics. Are there intense levels of jealousy when you know your partner is with someone else?
And then I thought, Wow, being in a monogamous relationship can be expensive. How much more cost is involved in a relationship with multiple people, if at all?
Nearly three in 10 people in monogamous relationships (29 percent) say that annually, they spend an average of $1,200 to $3,600 more ($100 to $299 per month) on relationship-related expenses than when not in a relationship, according to an online survey by Harris Poll.
But there have been very few, if any, studies on the cost of multi-person relationships. So I did what any budding writer would do: I took to Reddit to interview self-identifying polyamorists and find out just how much it costs to be in love with multiple people. Money is also a form of love for some, right?
My research showed that while polyamory is, in general, more expensive than monogamy (as there are multiple people involved rather than two), “not having a ton of money isn’t a dealbreaker,” as Sarah, who has three partners, puts it.
“I think it’s more about having a realistic view of your and your partners’ means,” she says.
“Polyamorous people have to live within their means just like monogamous ones!”
Shared expenses can eventually bring down costs, such as “free” babysitters if children are in the picture, as can multiple sources of income and extra skills and talents.
Three people can live as cheaply as two in the case of Byron (who wished not to use his real name). He says that he and his two partners each pay a percentage of their wages into a group account that they use “for things we all do together” — vacations, weekly shopping, and medication, to name a few.
The trio prepares meals together to save money and improve efficiency. “We can make giant lots of spaghetti or roast and veggies or whatever,” he says.
So maybe some polyamorous relationships can eventually help you save money, and maybe even time, down the road. Though this differs for each individual and their relationships.
Tax preparer Jared, for example, reckons he spends a lot on dates, as he has more of them. “It’s easy to spend $120 a week when going out two or three times,” says Jared, who’s married and in a relationship with multiple people. His gas bill soon mounts up, visiting more people over a larger area, he says.
And last but not least, Jared spends $135 every six months on tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Taking care of our sexual health is something we should all be doing, and damn the expense!
But it’s not all rosy in the garden with love coming from every direction. Some of the polyamorists I contacted were not comfortable giving their real names, as they were afraid of negatively affecting their careers. And no one was comfortable providing me with pictures of themselves or their partners, again fearing social or professional prejudice.
Jared recalls being removed from a project when one of his client’s employees asked about his romantic relationships.
“She was appalled to hear I did not conform to her beliefs,” he says.
As well as facing job loss, polyamorous people also run the risk of alienation from family and friends, harassment, loss of custody of a child, and physical attacks, according to a study conducted by Routledge.
But enough of me blathering on about a topic I know very little about. Let’s hear from the real experts:
Licensed tax preparer.
Wife: ALE* [initials given to protect privacy], separated
Girlfriend: Melanie* (her metamours, henceforth shortened to metas: Jamie* and Tina*, a married couple)
Girlfriend: Paula* (metas: Parker* (boyfriend) and Nick* (spouse))
Friend: Dylan* (no physical contact is possible)
Friend: Max* (no sexual relationship)
What Polyamory Means to Jared
Ownership over self, but not over others. It means allowing relationships to develop wherever they naturally would. This has helped my friendships, too, since it allows us to talk about romance or sex more openly and be honest.
Polyamorous Since High School
My first girlfriend in sophomore year already had a boyfriend, so we all agreed she could have one for each social occasion.
We literally didn’t understand why anyone had a problem with it for nearly a year. The whole concept of monogamy has always been a little weird to me. I did not know that polyamory was a word until I was 28, when a poly friend used the term and I found out it was a regular thing.
What Polyamory Can Give Me That Monogamy Can’t
Happiness. No one person totally understands and matches me. I don’t match sexually with the people whom I match with professionally nor socially. Why wait for one person to somehow meet an impossible number of needs?
Why reject a wonderful connection possibility in hopes of “perfection” in one relationship?
No one owns me. The thought that certain levels of friendship or intimacy would be off-limits because of a concept of ownership to someone else is confusing.
Dispelling Myths Surrounding Polyamory
Polyamory is not polygamy. Polygamy is a legal term related to a purely legal contract known as “marriage.”
Marriage has always been a financial, political, and legal tool, and only in the last couple of generations has it even been remotely related to romance.
Polyamory is not about sex. (I’ve had more nonsexual partners than sexual ones.) It’s the opposite of exploitation.
Polyamory and Its Acceptance, or Lack Thereof, in Society
In Portland, Oregon, it seems to be in the regular vocabulary, like cisgender male or heterosexual.
There is no “normal” anymore, and people seem to appreciate that.
Everywhere else? No. When I traveled North America for work for a few years (two to four flights per week), it cost me some clients. The slander is best forgotten, as are the people who spoke them. The bigotry that still exists in the U.S. is an embarrassment to our civilization.
Jealousy Isn’t Totally Eradicated
There are definitely still elements of jealousy, but it’s important to remember two things:
Envy and jealousy are different. Envy is wanting something someone else has (such as money, or a happy relationship in general). Jealousy is fear of losing what you already have to someone else (such as abandonment or theft). I am sometimes envious of one of my partner’s vacation plans with their other partners.
Jealousy comes from somewhere. Because it is fear based, it most often comes from inside the person feeling it, and not normally from the actions or choices of others (at least in a healthy relationship). Why am I jealous of a new meta who is far more physically fit than I am? Likely because I am unhappy with my personal fitness level, and that is what needs to be addressed, either with improvement or self-awareness.
Anniversaries Are Important, But Not a Big Deal
In general, my partners and I don’t remember them. We live in the moment and aren’t concerned with such things. We keep track of years-ish.
Down to Brass Taxes: The Money Involved
- Dates are expensive, and being poly means you have more of them. It’s easy to spend $120 a week when going out two or three times.
- I feel that monogamous relationships tend toward staying in as they go on, rather than going out, so that is something to consider.
- Gas is expensive, and being poly means you are visiting more people, possibly over a larger area. I personally commute 11 miles one way for work, but 35 miles for either partner, and 20 miles for each friend. I am literally considering a new hybrid vehicle just for all my social and romantic occasions.
- STD tests every six months for about $135. It’s all about health. Condoms are fairly inexpensive when purchased in bulk on Amazon.
- While I am currently solo poly — I live in a trailer in the woods while I wait to build my home — I am attempting to build a poly home where multiple people can live and let live, known as “kitchen-table polyamory.” This will reduce household expenses drastically: Shared rent and utilities paid by multiple adults. I also hope to start a family soon, and this may lead to more cost savings on child care.
- Child care can be a significant expense for many couples. I have a meta who has children, and her long-term partners — some who live in, some who don’t — help in raising and babysitting the children for free since they are part of the family.
Group Dates Aren’t a Necessity of Polyamory
I am in dyads only (two members in a relationship). I do not normally participate in group dates, more as a matter of scheduling among career-oriented adults.
Gift Guilt: Not Everyone Gets One
I’ll get gifts for my partners sometimes, but the gift has to have meaning toward that individual or our relationship. It’s not usually something of monetary value.
There’s no pressure among partners, as our relationships are all quite different, and thus getting similar gifts for everyone would have little or no meaning.
Socioeconomics Comes Into Play in Minor Ways
In my opinion, socioeconomic backgrounds do not directly affect the development of a polyamorous relationship. I am personally dating two people from very different economic classes and very different backgrounds.
However, I have seen cases in which social backgrounds will have an impact when it comes to poly acceptance.
It tends to be geographically centered and has the tendency to be more popular in agnostic or atheistic communities where critical thinking is valued, in my opinion.
The Effects of Mainstream Media
I don’t see the mainstream media portrayal of polyamory as accurate at all, but I also believe the same for mainstream media’s portrayal of BDSM, LGBTQA+, accountants, consulting, or even dentistry.
Seriously, mainstream media has no interest in accuracy, as it can be more profitable with inaccuracies. I don’t think they portray the “affordable only to higher socioeconomic groups” when it comes to it, because I don’t think they portray polyamory at all.
Marriage as a Social and Economic Construct
Personally, my wife and I get double covered for our health, dental, and vision benefits, reduced car insurance and cell phone rates, increased credit ratings, reduced taxes, and knowledge that if something happened to one of us, the other would know what to do medically and financially.
But for all other purposes, we are separated and have been for some time — we don’t even share pets. We will be finalizing the divorce as soon as one of us has a need for our “spouse slot” or some other circumstance changes and we decide it is a good idea. She has her partners, and I have mine, and that’s always been okay.
Our marriage (like all others, in my opinion) is a purely economic construct.
There is a social and financial benefit to the legalization, but not an emotional, physical, or mental benefit beyond what cohabitation with a partner(s) can provide.
Once formally divorced, I could marry a friend in order to provide him or her with medical insurance coverage and give myself a tax break, but there’d be no romantic intent. This is just another example of marriage being no more than a financial tool.
I’m Also a Person
I have been a licensed tax preparer in a small firm, where it was literally my job to prepare tax returns and explain them in common language to our clients. Our firm catered more to the lower classes of the public — those who may not have had much financial education. And as a result, we were often the only experts they would have contact with.
My background is in tax, my undergrad is in accounting, and my passion is in tech, so that makes me the perfect person to review business systems and make them more efficient. As a consultant, I would review physical and digital processes for inefficiencies and vulnerabilities and make recommendations on how to improve the system, the database, or the business.
Now I use my talents and experience for a better cause. If a government becomes more efficient and saves money, then the entire community benefits. If a government becomes more transparent and secure at the same time, then there is no loss to anyone.
I work for the City of Portland [Oregon], bringing my skills of efficiency and critical evaluation to the benefit of our collective efforts as a community.
There will always be a place for our employees as there is always more work that needs to be done than there are people to do it, and that means my work can finally shed its negative externalities.
Who Gets the House?
As a tax preparer, I have had to file final tax returns for many people who did not plan their estates as well as they should have. Some were of the age when their end was expected, others were younger than me at the time. As a result, I have taken steps to protect the proper people in my life in the event of my death or incapacitation, and I advocate for others to do the same.
Planning for Kids
I have no idea what I’m doing in that area. I think every parent has said that at some point, and I’ll be no different. I want kids, but I don’t want them to be stuck with two working parents who can’t be there for them any more than I would want to be a single parent.
If I can build the kind of home I would want my child to grow up in, then I’ll find the right partner — regardless of gender, as I’m bisexual — to have kids with, biologically or adopted.
Will that one partner take precedence in a scheduling and time sense? Undoubtedly yes. It’s the nature of children to take up free time. Will that one partner take precedence in a romantic or emotional sense? Likely not, but I don’t know.
Solo Life Won’t Always Be for Me
Eventually, I would like to move to kitchen-table poly. A community of acceptance is my ideal lifestyle, and while living alone has given me unique opportunities, I am an extrovert who requires others for energy.
One of my partners, Melanie*, may be solo poly indefinitely, as she’s had the opportunity to join her other family for a couple of years and still chooses to live with housemates (though it’s not like our generation can really afford to live alone), but her reasons are her own.
Financial Security in Polyamory
I wouldn’t call polyamory superior based solely on the financial aspects of it. It is always more secure to have each individual care for and understand their own finances, and it is always more secure for groups to bond together to lower expenses and produce income redundancy.
But not all poly people do these things, and not all monogamous people do these things. I think what we see is a selection bias.
As I see it, people who are introspective, independent critical thinkers tend toward polyamory more than people who follow beliefs based in tradition or social constructs. And those people are also more likely to take command of their financial situation and future by pursuing more secure arrangements.
My Home Goals
I’m living in a trailer alone in the woods, trying to build a sanctuary for a family of my choosing. My idea was this: Start with a small, affordable house with the smallest loans possible, and design it in such a way that it can grow as my circumstances evolve. So I designed a 600-square-foot house with hidden built-in upgrades, like a large window that is actually framed as a double doorway, and a water main that goes to a closed valve with just smaller lines going to the kitchen and bathroom.
I also designed the expansion phases to incorporate features I’ve seen around the country, such as condos that share no bedroom wall (either bathrooms or closets separating every bedroom) to reduce noise; rocket mass heaters for efficient midwinter climate control; walk-in basement to allow an energy-efficient escape from the summer heat.
Additionally, every phase will be built with the most energy-efficient materials and methods available to keep energy usage, and thus long-term costs, down.
This method of building has another advantage: I can collect interest instead of paying it (it is more diversified than just interest, but you get the idea). With my time spent in a trailer, I am saving more than half my income in order to build the first part of the home, which will be small and inexpensive, hopefully with very small loans which can be paid off quickly. Then each expansion phase can be built with saved money rather than with more loans, giving us the maximum flexibility to expand as needed.
One More Thing
I’m not just polyamorous, I’m a professional. I’m an accountant and financial analyst, an enrolled agent, a business consultant, and an efficiency expert trying to improve local government systems for a more transparent and efficient use of our collective monies. It is important to me to note that.
From Mount Airy, Maryland.
What Polyamory Means to Dann
It is the simplest expression of two truths I’ve long known about myself:
Each relationship in my life should be defined only by the individuals within it.
And I am someone who can easily love more than one person in a romantic sense.
A lot of it has been built into my life since I was a kid. My closest friends growing up were effectively polyamorous before we had a word for it, and I’m still very close with most of those people.
I’ve been in my relationship with my wife for 16 years, married 15, and officially “open” for just under a year. We were sort of open in the past, but never truly acted on it.
I am currently in two separate romantic relationships. My wife and I make one, and I have another with myself and my partner.
The Differences Between Polyamory and Monogamy
In many ways, nothing is different. If I were only with my wife, we’d still be our own independent people with other friends and other interests. It’s just that instead of going out to hang with a friend and see a movie, sometimes we’re going out with another partner to see a movie or have a nice date or whatever one might do in a “normal” relationship.
What I find very appealing, though, is that I love my wife and my partner very differently.
I’ve learned new things about myself in my relationship with my partner, and that in turn ends up making me a better partner to my wife. I feel like the openness to everything also lets me just enjoy life to its fullest when I meet new people and make new connections. There’s no pressure.
Myths Are Bogus
I think there’s a lot of misconception around polyamory being very sex-focused. Not that it can’t be, as everyone conducts themselves differently. But to me, the thing about polyamory is that it’s not just sex.
When I connect with someone new, I’m doing so in the same way I would if I were single (if I were monogamous), where I’m open to any possibility. Sometimes that means you make some new friends; sometimes you might make a connection around a shared hobby or kink; and sometimes it blossoms into a committed, serious relationship.
Polyamory in Society
It’s definitely not widely accepted, but I think over time it will come to be more common and recognized. In my mind, it really is no different from how I form every other relationship in my life, save that there’s never the “but I’m already with X, so this can’t be a thing” moment.
Jealousy Rears Its Ugly Head Everywhere
Everyone has jealousy show up differently. Personally, I haven’t had much issue with it in my relationships.
My wife has a few other partners, and while we’ve struggled around scheduling and making sure our needs are met, I’ve never found myself jealous.
I know my wife has had moments of jealousy though, usually around me doing something with a partner that was previously something she and I did together. Not necessarily sex or romance, but things like getting a tattoo or spending Halloween together.
Since mine are separate relationships, I celebrate anniversaries as normal, usually with a specific date night or similar.
Extra expense doesn’t impact me much, as my other partner and I only get together every week or two, we don’t spend much, and we always split the tab.
I’d say my wife and I, as we share expenses, are spending more than we were before we were open, but I’m not sure it’s much different than if we were going out more often in other social situations.
I also don’t generally buy gifts. My wife and I were never huge on gifts even before we opened up, and my partner insists I not get her things (even if she cheats and totally gets me things).
I can see how people interested in forming triads or similar polyfidelitous groups would benefit more in places where the cost of living is high, or if they’re caring for children or have other similar expenses that could then be shared in a wider group.
I don’t think mainstream media much notices polyamory, and often confuses it for being all about swingers and sex parties when it does (which I do think skew towards higher-income areas). In my experience, most polyamorous people are doing all the same things everyone monogamous does, just with wider, more connected groups.
One More Thing
There are so many configurations of poly relationships that it’ll be hard to paint a broad picture beyond it being people building relationships outside the given structure we’ve been raised with.
It’s complicated and daunting at times, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but I feel like it’s led me to having stronger, more honest, and more fulfilling relationships in my life.
Hailing from Australia, Byron has chosen to use pseudonyms to protect his and his partners’ privacy.
Byron is in a relationship with Darcy (who identifies as they/them) and Luna (she/her).
What Polyamory means to Byron
Polyamory means that you can have multiple meaningful and romantic or sexual relationships in a consent-based framework where boundaries are negotiated person to person, rather than societally set.
I was a “serial monogamist” before I was poly, and my first girlfriend had friends who were swingers (two couples who started dating).
That’s how I first heard about it. I then had a long relationship of around two years in which I really felt the pressure of having to stop being my regular flirty self with other people because of the strictures of the relationship.
The person I was with, while not conservative, was certainly not open to anything but monogamy. It seemed that most of the people I was involved with were insecure and worried that I didn’t care about them if I wanted to be with others, which never made sense to me.
After we broke up, I didn’t think I could do exclusivity again. So when I met Luna, we were originally only friends with benefits. She wanted to be able to take me to parties and events together after a while as a couple. Whilst I was fine with that, we had a long conversation about not being exclusive, and she was okay with that.
I then met Darcy at a party, and both Darcy and Luna had a lot of shared interests that I didn’t share myself to the same extent. We are all big nerds, so basically a lot of fandoms I wasn’t into, they both were. As they were both bisexual, I asked both of them if they would like to meet, and they agreed. The rest, as they say, is history. We have been together for almost five years now.
I am in a triad, as we call it (please, no one ever use the word “throuple”!), with Darcy and Luna. I have recently started dating another woman, and I have an on-again, off-again long-distance relationship with a fourth woman.
Recently, I have begun exploring my attraction to men, but so far I haven’t done much about that. Even us adventurous people can be scared!
Monogamy: Not Enough People to Cook Dinner
The number one thing I get from poly over monogamy is capacity when one of my partners is feeling bad and I’m feeling bad.
Unlike most relationships, we have a one-third chance of someone having the energy to cook dinner after work rather than a one half chance. That’s very helpful for all three of us because we do need time to ourselves and time with others, and it’s hard to match up precisely.
I also really enjoy the freedom of being able to flirt with whomever I like when I’m out or at a party.
I appreciate those small moments of connections between people, and I don’t want to feel guilty for that.
It’s Not All About Sex
There’s a common misconception that it’s all about sex, or that some people are treated lesser, or it’s because people in those monogamous relationships aren’t good enough, or that it’s a “phase.”
I think the more exposure that polyamory gets, the better, although I believe that professionals in poly relationships could be more prominent, as there is a view that only hippies are poly.
This is not only a poly problem, however. It’s very similar to the issues faced by LGBTQIA folks, where the only people who can come out as poly are those whose jobs it won’t affect. This leads to the feeling that no poly people exist in professional jobs where you would be discriminated against for your relationships.
On a side note, I know no one (to my knowledge) is going out bashing or arresting poly people, so the comparison to LGBTQIA issues ends at that point.
Polyamory in Society
I definitely don’t think the lifestyle is widely accepted. Most people can’t wrap their heads around it. My brother came out as gay, and whilst I don’t know what the reaction was, as I wasn’t there, I do hear that it was quite a bit more than the reaction I had when I said I was dating two people. My father scoffed and just walked away from the table.
Once it was clear that my triad was not going anywhere and there was some time to think it over, my parents have been great. But I think it usually takes people two weeks from when you tell them to get their heads around the concept.
It’s not widely accepted because popular culture is predicated on patriarchal land ownership values and the institution of marriage, and thus the framework for romantic relationships has been in place in society for a very long time.
There are very few representations of polyamory in media. In fact, there are more representations of polygamy, which is usually religious and, I would argue, less healthy.
Jealousy Comes From Insecurity
There are absolutely elements of jealousy in polyamory. I myself am probably jealous the least, but I also probably require the least interaction out of the triad.
All jealousy comes from insecurity and a sense of unfairness, though.
So it’s important first to identify whether your actions have been unfair and if you owe an apology to your partners or partner, and second to identify what the aggrieved partner really wants.
The basic rule for avoiding jealousy is open and honest communication with your partners about what they expect from you.
We have three two-person anniversaries and one three-person anniversary. We often fall into our regular schedule, and with three people, organizing a date can be hard. The three anniversaries are a very nice opportunity for the specific two-person relationships to express themselves in their particular formation.
A more intense getaway between only two people, in which hotels are rented, would almost certainly not be from a joint account, though.
The Cost of Love
We are all very left wing in our relationship, and so we have specifically set up a system in which each partner contributes a percentage of their wage to a group account that we can use for things we all do together.
We have all had our incomes fluctuate over the period of time we have been together, and I suppose it probably prevents any one of us from going into extreme savings or wealth, as we are helping out the others. But as we continue to grow our professional lives, I can only see benefits.
Some examples of things we buy with the group accounts are white goods [white fabrics such as sheets, towels, or linens]; weekly shopping; holidays for the three of us; three-person Uber Eats; condoms; birth control; and medication.
Buying a house will hopefully be easier as a result of being able to get the principal together faster, but the number one savings I think is going to be from having three people able to do any particular task, so if something urgently needs to be done outside of work, we can usually have this occur without hindering our professional careers.
We don’t often buy gifts, as we prefer to simply do nice things for each other.
The number one resource in a triad, or really any poly relationship, is time more than money.
Usually, if I am buying a present for someone in my triad, I would be planning that with someone else in the triad.
If it was for someone outside the triad, the others may or may not know, but I wouldn’t get equal presents. I think that is a kind of formal equality that doesn’t ask questions.
I’m also in a position where I can probably buy most things that I actually want, so gifts are a bit silly. For my most recent anniversary with Luna, we bought some house fixtures together as a joint present.
Background in the Foreground
We all come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and as I’ve said, our money status has fluctuated greatly. I am in a much better financial position now than I was at the beginning of our relationship. I think we have always tried to give an equal portion of what we are taking in. More conservative people might have a bigger problem with this than I do.
One of the reasons for pooling our resources together — which only started happening formally through the account after some time living together as three — is that it makes it clear that there are resources that are individually ours. This is an important aspect for me, as I do not want our relationship to be coercive, and each individual having a personal pool of funds makes it very clear that you are able to leave if this is not working out for you.
Media Portrayals of Polyamory
I’m not sure if the mainstream media stereotypes polyamory as something that is affordable only to higher socioeconomic groups. However, I would not be surprised if there was some truth in that. I mentioned before that time is the most important resource for people in polyamorous relationships, from my experience.
If you are in a lower socioeconomic bracket, you can’t use money to save time. You can’t eat out as often or afford a better washing machine or a dishwasher. You need to take the bus most places and repair things yourself rather than take them to shops.
One More Thing
Money is an issue in any relationship, but I think polyamorous people could be better equipped to deal with money conflicts within a relationship as they are already well versed in open and frank communication and negotiation.
I would strongly recommend writing down any agreements you make with your partners regarding division of money and how it is to be spent so that you can rely on it at a later date.
From the San Francisco Bay Area, Sarah has three partners.
What Polyamory Means to Sarah
Polyamory means having the freedom to explore the full extent and complexity of my feelings for other people without having those feelings condemned by agreements made in a different relationship.
It isn’t wrong to feel attracted to or romantically interested in Person B, or to pursue those feelings, just because I’m already in a relationship with Person A.
My polyamory is also deeply entwined with feminism. I am a free person. I own my body. I do not consent to my partners placing restrictions on my body, time, or commitments. My partners do not “allow” me to date or sleep with anyone. It’s my life, and I do what I want with it. The same is true for them.
If insecurities or other concerns come up, we talk about them and try to find mutually satisfying solutions.
In college, two of my best friends were in an open marriage, which introduced me to the concept of nonmonogamy and polyamory. I’ve been in polyamorous relationships of one form or another for over 10 years.
I have three separate relationships with three cisgender dudes, two of whom are queer. We do not all date each other.
The Benefits of Polyamory
I can explore relationships with a bunch of different kinds of people without worrying about how a given relationship aligns with my life goals.
Rather than agonizing about the “excepts” in a relationship that keep it from being a perfect fit (“we’re so compatible, except he’s already married,” or “we’re great for each other, except he doesn’t ever want to live together”), I get to appreciate the people I’m with for who they are. I’m not searching for “the one,” so I have more space to appreciate the many.
I also have a ton of really great sex.
Myths That Drive You Mad
That polyamory is all about having a ton of really great sex, or that all polyamory is straight and hierarchical. Not everyone has (or wants) a “primary” partner; not everyone is married and opening their relationship; and not everyone does rules and vetos.
People often think that the only way to be polyamorous is with the consent or supervision of an existing partner. I’m polyamorous in a similar way to how I’m queer: If I’m only in relationships with cis dudes, I’m still queer. And if I were single, I would still be polyamorous.
Polyamory in Society
I think it’s more accepted in the San Francisco Bay Area than anywhere else. I’m out to my family and friends, and I’m mostly out at work. I’m not hiding it, I just don’t go around wearing “Ask Me About Polyamory” buttons.
In the greater United States, I think polyamory is pretty widely misunderstood.
The concept of women having sexual agency and power equal to men is a concept our society has been built to resist, and that comes out in a lot of condemnation of nonmonogamous behavior.
You know the stereotype — if a guy is dating around a lot, he’s a player. But if a woman is dating around a lot, she’s a slut. A slut is just a woman who enjoys sex, but the context in which we’re taught that word is very negative.
Jealousy Exists in Many Forms
Some people feel jealous, and some don’t. Some people feel sexual jealousy and not emotional jealousy, and vice versa.
I definitely struggle with it sometimes. I often wish that multiple-person marriage was legal so I had the option to marry my partners who are already married to other people. And I deal more with emotional jealousy than sexual jealousy.
Overall, I think I’m pretty compersive. (Compersion is the joy you feel when you see someone else’s happiness. Think about feeling thrilled when your best friend starts dating someone he really loves, or your spouse gets a job that she really wanted.) I like my partners’ other partners for the most part, and I feel happy when my partners are happy.
Polyamory Can Be Pricey
Polyamory is expensive, but not having a ton of money isn’t a dealbreaker. I think it’s more about having a realistic view of your and your partners’ means. Polyamorous people have to live within their means just like monogamous ones!
When it comes to spending money in my relationships, I think my most frequent expense is takeout or restaurants, whereas my highest individual expense is probably airfare or Airbnb if I take a trip with someone.
Is it more expensive than monogamy? Probably. I think the biggest personal cost for me is that I live without being financially entwined with any of my partners. All my bills, savings, debt payments, and miscellaneous expenses are my responsibility.
I only do one-on-one dates. I don’t date couples or groups. If I see all three of my partners in a week, that could mean spending money on three individual dates, although that doesn’t often happen.
I’m more likely to cook at home with a partner or do something outside that’s low-cost or free, like go on a walk, go to the gym together, or go to a street fair. There’s a lot to do in the Bay Area that doesn’t cost much, even though the cost of living here is ridiculous.
I buy my partners gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, but they usually aren’t huge or terribly expensive. Sometimes I’ll grab a little “this just looked like it was for you” gift, but I don’t usually think that the way other people do. I’m not a great gift giver, but I’m trying to get better!
I don’t feel pressured to buy other partners gifts just because I bought a gift for one partner.
But if I’m doing something special with one (like traveling together), I’ll try to find little keepsakes for the other two while I’m gone, just to let them know I’m thinking of them.
Background in the Foreground
I think that different socioeconomic backgrounds can make accessing jobs with high earning power more or less difficult.
I have a college education, very little debt, and a six-figure job in the tech industry, so I’m basically hyperprivileged from a financial perspective, and that means I can afford to go out on multiple dates per week or take trips with my partners.
My three partners are all over the place in terms of backgrounds and current income. Two of them grew up in poverty, while one was pretty privileged. Two of them work well-paying tech jobs, while one of them works at a nonprofit (and makes less money because of it). And two of them are supporting children (children are a black hole you pour money into). One of them is supporting an ailing spouse who works part-time.
One of my partners makes about a third as much as I do annually; one makes about as much as I do; and one makes “could retire tomorrow and live comfortably until he dies” money. It’s really all over the place.
The key point is, everyone makes the amount of money they have work for polyamory as much as they can without sacrificing their other commitments. You just do the best you can with what you have, and try to have a realistic assessment of “best.”
My “best” doesn’t look like my affluent partner’s “best,” and that’s okay.
We’re all happy, and we all appreciate each other’s time and thoughtfulness and contributions, monetary or otherwise.
Polyamory in the Media
I think polyamory is portrayed as overwhelmingly white, straight, and patriarchal by mainstream media, when it’s portrayed at all. Do a google image search for “polyamorous people,” and you’ll see what comes up. Mostly it’s two women with one dude. Everyone is cisgender, and everyone is white. Ugh.
A Couple More Things
It’s hard to talk about the circumstances that facilitate polyamory without talking about privilege in general. I can’t limit it to just money.
I have money now in part because I grew up with opportunities that I happened to be born with and did nothing to earn: growing up in a society that privileges people with my skin color; having a relatively healthy body; having my parents’ two-income household, which paid for my college education, et cetera.
I grew up with a lot of privilege that facilitated my financial success today, as well as an upbringing that encouraged me to pursue financial independence and professional success rather than getting married and having babies as soon as possible. There’s nothing wrong with marriage and babies, I’m just saying I have the financial privilege of someone who’s invested 10 years in a career path, rather than someone who stopped working or took years off to parent a small child.
In some cases, I actually find that polyamory can help spread wealth around. I have one partner who is very wealthy and enjoys taking me on dates in which he pays for everything. When I’m not splitting the bill, that’s money I save and can potentially spend with or on my other partners. In a very real sense, my wealthy partner’s generosity helps fund the fun I can have with other people.
Living outside of Seattle, Suzanne is married to Brad and has three other partners: R, B, and P. Her husband has a partner, C.
What Polyamory Means to Suzanne
The freedom to ethically find and have relationships and sex, and to love who I want with as many people as I want or need.
I met a couple when I was in college, at the age of 18, and I was with them off and on for over a year. They were an amazing couple and showed me a new way to look at love and relationships.
When I met my husband, we were both 20 and I told him I don’t want to be with just one person for the rest of my life. He agreed.
We have kids, so our poly relationships have ebbed and flowed over the years. Kids are a lot of work and take up a lot of time, so we often couldn’t spare the time for other relationships. But we have been open again for the last two years.
What Polyamory Has That Monogamy Doesn’t
More love, more connections, learning and doing new and interesting things that my other partners enjoy. It has a village feel to raising a family. My children love all of my partners and my husband’s partner.
And honestly, I have more sex (and much better sex, because I learn more about myself and others with each partner).
What the World Thinks We Do
That we cheat. Ethical nonmonogamy is not cheating, because everyone knows about everyone else.
People think we are all sex-starved nymphos — I have had several relationships with little to no sex, and they were wonderful — or that we are all having sex with everyone. But I am very picky and almost demisexual, and I need to have a real connection.
There’s also a common misconception that my husband and I have to date the same person. But we have never dated the same person, although semiregular threesomes are a lot of fun.
People think we are all bisexual, but there are a lot of heterosexual poly people. It isn’t all triads and quads. I have never had a triad or quad.
We don’t all live together. In fact, we don’t live with any of our partners, but we are not opposed to the idea of it down the road.
Being poly does not mean you have to constantly have multiple relationships at once.
It just means that you can if you want to. It’s also not a revolving door of short-term relationships or hookups. Some relationships are short-lived, but most poly people are open to relationships lasting as long as they can and should.
Polyamory in Society
I think it is more widely accepted in Seattle and on the West Coast than anywhere else. I don’t think it is widely accepted in general. I think in Seattle we have such a diverse group of people that it is easier to add one more type of person.
On the Topic of Jealousy
Personally, I have not experienced much jealousy, although I have had envy. I have envied my husband’s time away from the kids, the chores, responsibilities, and some of the fun dates he has gone on. I know he has had the same type of envy, but again, it’s not jealousy.
I think most people say that they are jealous because they don’t know exactly what the problem is. There is usually something else that is the underlying problem — fear, loneliness, anxiety, anger, frustration, lack of communication, and so on.
Money, Money, Money
The money I spend is different for each person in my life, as I only live with my husband and our children. My husband and I have joint accounts and share all of our money and bills with each other. Neither one of us has joint finances with our other partners.
I usually don’t pay for as many dates as my husband does. I have heard from dozens of other poly people that women usually pay for less than the men do.
My husband and I have a guest bedroom that we can use when one of our partners stays overnight, so we really don’t need a hotel room. We usually only get a room for a weekend away or with a new or newer partner who we aren’t ready to bring home yet.
P and I go back and forth with who pays, although it is usually him more than me, at his request. R and I do a lot at home (his and mine) and go out every once in a while, and we will take turns paying. B pays for everything. He has asked to be able to do that, and I know how happy it makes him, so I agreed.
Money is not as big of an issue as time, communication, and trust.
Walks, picnics, home- cooked meals, stargazing, movie night, free day at a museum, and board games are all free or very inexpensive and can be just as fun or more fun than expensive dates. You don’t need money to date. Poly is about relationships, love, and sex — not about money.
My husband and I have a budget for our household, and we decide how much we are spending each week, month, and year. This can change from week to week and month to month, depending on dates, anniversaries, and vacations — whatever pops up. Planning ahead is very important, but so is being flexible when you can.
On the Subject of Dates
I have never gone out with all of my partners at once. My husband and I will go on dates by ourselves, and I go on one-on-one dates with my other partners. Sometimes my husband, his girlfriend, and I will go out on dates, or she will come over and we will all hang out together. When we all go out, we take turns paying.
R will come over and hang out with me and family and also will go hang out with my husband and kids. R, Brad, his girlfriend, and I will all go out on a date sometimes, and we take turns paying. B, Brad and I will go out, and B usually pays. P and I have double-dated with Brad and his girlfriend. When we do, P pays for us and Brad pays for them.
My husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. P and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. R and I don’t celebrate anniversaries, but he is around for all of our birthdays and holidays. B and I do not celebrate any anniversaries.
I am not big into gifts, I would rather have experiences and memories, so everyone I am with has agreed to little to no gift giving. Instead, we spend money on concerts, events, and trips. I have bought cards and small gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and anniversaries. I have purchased a gift for one of my metamours (P’s wife). She has also given me a gift.
Backgrounds in the Foreground
I have dated people that make very little money, a millionaire, and everywhere in between. My husband has, as well. Money has never been an issue in any of those relationships.
Communication is key, and sitting down with your partner(s) and deciding how much and how often everyone is comfortable with is the most important thing. Then, keep the lines of communication open and make sure you are touching base on it semi-regularly.
One More Thing
Communication is the most important thing in relationships. Trust and openness are key. Money is not a huge factor unless you let it be. Time, however, is a huge factor, and not overscheduling yourself can be hard.
Shared calendars are big in the poly community. We schedule our dates around our kids and our finances.
Making sure everyone’s needs are being met can be emotionally and physically exhausting, so taking time for yourself is very important.
Insurance, housing, child care, taxes, and wills can become very complicated if you have a triad, quad or more and are all living together and sharing finances and it becomes even more complicated when children are involved. Be informed and clever about it!
You Can Put a Price on Love (Sorta)
There you have it — you’ll be a regular polyamory expert after this.
I had always assumed polyamorous relationships would be crazy expensive to maintain, but once all the dust has settled, it seems it would be advantageous to all involved. Shared expenses, free babysitters, innumerable skills to tap into — you don’t just gain love and affection!
What surprised me the most is seeing how, even among a plethora of different viewpoints, relationship types, and genders involved, many of the people I interviewed had extremely similar viewpoints on all topics, particularly surrounding jealousy. These people live all over the U.S. (and Australia), and yet share so many values and morals.
The concept of kitchen-table polyamory is fascinating and seems to be the most cost-efficient way of maintaining multiple relationships with a relative level of ease. The idea of living with multiple people whom you love, and who love you right back, seems so wholesome.
I’m excited to check back in with Jared at some point to see how it all worked out. I wonder if it is possible to have a household like this without any major, world-shattering issues coming up. Watch this space!
Glossary of Polyamory terms: According to sex educator and author Franklin Veaux’s Polyamory Site, MoreThanTwo, these are some of the top phrases you need to know:
- Dyad: a relationship involving only two people.
- Triad: a relationship involving three people in which each person is usually romantically involved with both other people in the triad.
- Quad: a relationship involving four people in which each person is usually romantically involved with all other people in the triad.
- Cisgender: identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth.
- Kitchen-Table Poly: when many poly people can easily cohabitate. Relationships of any kind can grow between any sets of individuals of any number, regardless of living arrangements, and the combinations are unhindered by external influences.
- Metamour: the partner of your partner, with whom you do not have a personal relationship.
- Monoamory: similar to monogamy, but was coined to refer to a monogamous person in a relationship with a polyamorous person.
- Primary: in a polyamorous relationship, this is the person who holds the most significance, importance, or entanglement to you.
- Solo poly: an approach to polyamory that emphasizes individual agency and does not necessarily engage in couple-centric entanglements.
- Vee: a three-person polyamorous relationship in which only one member is involved with the other two, and those other two are not involved with each other.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.