In this episode, Janice shares about some of her personal experiences exploring polyamory (solo polyamory, more specifically) over the past few months. She defines what consensual non-monogamy, polyamory, and solo polyamory are to get us on the same playing field, then answers the most common questions and/or misperceptions she gets when telling others about her new way of doing relationships, including:
Rate & review the podcast on:
Connect with me:
Listen to all The Soul's Work Podcast episodes: www.thesoulsworkpodcast.com
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Also check out:
Hey y’all, welcome back to The Soul’s Work Podcast, the show about uncovering our authentic selves through doing both the light work and the shadow work. I’m your host Janice Ho, and today I am sharing about some of my personal experiences practicing polyamory, solo polyamory more specifically, consensual non-monogamy (CNM) more broadly.
I will dive into definitions in more detail in just a moment, but in case this is completely foreign to you, in general these relationship styles are about having multiple partners (romantic and/or sexual) at the same time, or being open to that, with everyone being aware of and consenting to that. And so, of course, this is often talked about in comparison with monogamy, where two people are exclusive to each other in that relationship.
So I will get into some of those terms a little bit further, and then I will spend most of this episode answering some of the most common questions, and often misperceptions, I get around polyamory and solo polyamory when I’m talking about my experiences with this with friends or new people I match with on dating apps who might may not be familiar.
And my hope is that if this is unfamiliar to you as well, that maybe there’s some demystification that happens. And also, I really want to put a human face to this way of doing relationships that I think many people still see as odd, maybe as not socially acceptable. Like, "Oh, there are those deviant people over there doing this abnormal thing."
And I really invite you to, for the next few minutes, to maybe let go of some of that heavy focus on the unfamiliarity of this relationship style, if it’s unfamiliar and different to you, and to notice where there are points of similarity. Because today I'm going to be sharing about my dreams, my hopes, my desires, what I want to experience in relationships, what I’ve been longing for with connection, intimacy, etc. And when I really think about the deepest layers of all this, what I see is that we’re all wanting the same things at the end of the day.
We all want connection. We all want connection so badly, whether we really realize it or not. We all want emotional attunement from a grounded, secure, consistent presence. We all want intimacy, whatever that means to us. Most of us crave to be touched and held. And to be seen and heard. And how people go about doing that in their relationships, and with whom, might look different from how you do it on the surface, but there is still this shared humanity that I at least see when I’m really tuning into a person’s story and getting to the heart of what matters to them and why they do what they do.
So this is very personal to me. Obviously everything I share on this pod is pretty personal. But these days I’ve been sitting so deeply in reflections about relationships and really acknowledging how important they are to me, and this episode is kind of honoring that acknowledgement. So I thank you in advance for coming into this with hopefully an open mind, an open heart. I appreciate you so much.
And please know that I am not here to try and convince anyone to do their relationship differently. If you are good being monogamous, cool, awesome. Do you. But also, if this opens some doors of curiosity and going down rabbit holes of exploration and education to learn more about polyamory or consensual non-monogamy because your intuition is calling for that learning, then that’s cool too.
Okay, before we dive into the deep end, just a reminder that if you are enjoying the show and want to support me and my work, please leave a 5-star rating and review for The Soul's Work Podcast. You can do that on Apple Podcasts, Podchasers, or Spotify. It truly warms my heart to hear about what’s been helping you, resonating with you. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to write a review, I appreciate y’all so much.
And don’t forget to subscribe to The Soul’s Work Podcast on your favorite podcast player, so you can be the first to get notified when a new episode drops. You can also follow me on Instagram @janicehoimages. And you can email me at email@example.com with any questions, feedback, or to share about your own personal story. And I’d really love to know how does this episode land for you?
All right, also before I get into clarifying some of these terms, like polyamory, I just wanted to acknowledge that today is my 2-year anniversary of being alcohol free. It is April 12, 2022. And I’m really happy, and I’m proud of myself, and I’ve been feeling great without alcohol in my life. And if you want some background context about my story with alcohol dependency, there’s an episode in Season 1 called My Drinking Story, there’s a couple of early episodes in Season 2 where I talk about it. Go check it out.
But basically, exactly two years ago, the pandemic was just beginning, we were all at the start of lockdown, and I made a decision to put my drinking on hold at the time. And it’s interesting to talk about this now, because it is a great analogy for how I also approached this exploration with polyamory from the get-go.
So two years ago, I said I’m gonna put drinking on hold. I’m not saying I won’t ever drink again, but if I do, I want to make sure I’m making a really honest, intentional decision around having that drink versus it being because of this deeply ingrained, subconscious response that I had developed in using alcohol as a coping mechanism. And in the meantime, I wanted to really explore what is my relationship with alcohol currently? And get really aware and conscious about what was going on, and do any of the work that was needed to be able to make that honest, intentional decision about whether I drank again in the future or not.
So in this case, I think of monogamy as the alcohol. When I started this journey exploring polyamory, which began last summer, I said I’m gonna put this idea of monogamy on hold for now. And I’m not saying I won’t ever return to it, but if I do, I want to make sure that it’s really the honest, authentic path for me versus just falling into that once again because I’ve been conditioned into believing that that’s the only one way I can do a “committed, serious” relationship.
And so, just to pause here on that note, I will be referring to monogamous scripts a bit in this episode, and I’ll be talking about questioning and unlearning those scripts. And I want to just remind y’all that when I say that, I am not equating that with monogamy being wrong or bad.
What I am saying is that any kind of conditioning that is born out of these systems that we live in and that we internalize – so, for example, the gender roles and norms that we learn to embody and that are born out of living in a patriarchal society; the kind of scripts we learn about productivity and work and consumption that we internalize living in a capitalist society – with any of those scripts, there is the potential for us to be living our lives in a less intentional way than if we were to really examine where our motivations, our behaviors, our ways of doing life and relating to other people come from. And my wish for everyone, regardless of whether you’re exclusive to one person or seeing multiple people, is that your choices in life are as intentional and authentic as they be.
But back to what I was saying. So, while monogamy has been put on the shelf, in the meantime, I want to explore what my relationship is with relationships. And get really conscious about some of those scripts, and ideas, and preconceived notions that have been subconsciously dictating the way I’ve been doing relationships. And understanding where are the authentic pieces of that for me, that really do align with my needs, desires, values, etc.; and where are the parts that actually don’t align with my authentic self, or that maybe limit me from experiencing relationships and my life in a way that staying in a monogamous mindframe and relationship structure might not give me the freedom to experience.
So, now I want to share some definitions of a few terms that will be coming up today, because I know that they are not well understood by a lot of folks. Just note that, and I can’t remember who said it, someone on another podcast, I think, these definitions just get us into the same ballpark, and from there it’s really great to ask individual people who might say, "I’m polyamorous," or "I’m in an open marriage," or "I practice consensual non-monogamy," what does that mean to you specifically? Because it can wildly different for different people.
But to get us into that same ballpark, the same playing field, I’m going to read some definitions from the amazing book Polysecure by Jessica Fern, I’ll link to it in the show notes. And I know this is going to sound a bit academic for a few minutes, so bear with me. But I do think it’s important to situate ourselves here, and I’ll also start sharing some of my personal experiences and thoughts as I talk about some of these definitions.
So, I’m talking about polyamory today, but if we take a step back from that, there’s actually a broader umbrella term of consensual non-monogamy (or CNM), sometimes referred to as ethical non-monogamy (or ENM). But we’ll just say CNM here, for simplicity’s sake. And this umbrella term encompasses various relationships styles, including polyamory but also others.
And so CNM, according to Polysecure, is “the practice of simultaneously having multiple sexual or romantic partners where everyone involved is aware of an consents to the relationship structure.” So, this is obviously not about cheating or infidelity. Everyone involved, all of the multiple partners, know what is up. They have talked about it, they have been transparent about what they want, what they don’t want, what their arrangements are with other partners.
For there to be true consent, there has to be enough information – whatever enough means for a particular person – to make an informed, honest decision about whether they want to participate in that relational dynamic or not. So, there is a lot of transparency, honesty, and open communication involved if you are, of course, staying true to the principles of CNM and really acting in the spirit of what CNM is all about.
Because, yes, people can obviously say they’re practicing CNM, polyamory, what have you, and not really be that transparent at all. Just as there are many, many people who say they’re monogamous and exclusive to one person, and do not execute that very well in practice. I don’t think I have to convince anyone of that.
So what we’re talking about here is obviously the ideal, the philosophy, the principles underlying CNM and polyamory, and what that can look like when all of the people involved are doing their best to live and act by those principles.
Okay, so under the umbrella term of CNM, we have things like swinging, which is – I'm gonna paraphrase a little here – the practice of couples engaging in sexual activity (typically while together, like, in the same room or event) with other couples, individuals, or groups.
There’s also the relationship style called being monogamish, which refers to “couples who are mostly sexually and emotionally exclusive to each other, but periodically engage in extramarital or extra-relational sex or sexual play.” For example, maybe they’re open to having sex with others while traveling apart. Or maybe no sex, but making out is okay. It depends on what is agreed upon by the individual couple.
Then we have folks who identify as being in an open marriage or an open relationship, where one or both partners in that primary partnership have sexual or romantic relationships outside of it. And I do sometimes hear from other sources that this open marriage or open relationship style often tends to lean more towards having other sexual experiences and partners vs the romantic or emotional aspect of it.
Which brings us to polyamory, which is the practice of having many loves – so, poly means many, and amory means love – and that can involve having multiple romantic and sexual relationships, although in this case, the defining feature of polyamory seems to be the romantic pieces, that is the practice of having more than one romantic love or romantic attachment. Or at least being open to that.
And I consider myself to be practicing polyamory, and I am open to having multiple partners where that romantic connection is welcome, if that’s what organically evolves from the dynamic. Now, that being said, I’m also open to having a connection that might be more sexually based – although I’m not into hook-ups and there has to be some kind of connection for me to really enjoy sex with someone. But it’s not like a requirement that every relationship I’m in has to have that romantic attachment present.
Now, polyamory itself is an umbrella term. So you could have hierarchical polyamory, where “there is a ranking system among romantic/sexual relationship and a some relationships are considered more important than others.” So, typically what this looks like is that you have a couple who consider each other to be their primary partner. And then all other relationships outside of that are considered secondary or perhaps tertiary.
And sometimes what that hierarchy can look like is if the primary partners agree on there being certain restrictions on, for example, specific social activities or particular sexual acts that they deem are okay or not okay to engage in with other partners. Sometimes, as the book Polysecure points out, that primary partnered couple might want to limit deep emotional connections from forming with other partners, and so they might put up certain boundaries to try to prevent that from happening.
It could be that the primary-partnered couple has kids together, they share a home, they’re married, and so there are lots of logistical things with scheduling and finances that oftentimes have to be discussed between those primary partners in making certain decisions that then affect their other relationships, whether it is about planning dates, or taking trips, or how money is spent, perhaps.
So, there are definitely mixed feelings around whether people might want to engage with someone who is in this kind of hierarchical relationship, because there is the potential for there to be “asymmetrical balances of power in which people in secondary or tertiary positions have little or no say about how their relationship unfolds, etc.”
So some people stay away from anything resembling a hierarchy; whereas others are okay with there being some form of prioritization, where they themselves are not at the top of that hierarchy. For me, it depends on what that hierarchy entails. And I think the really important piece here is that there is that transparency – that from the get-go, people are clear about what that hierarchy involves, if it’s present, so that anyone new coming in can really decide for themselves whether they want to engage with that or not.
You can also have a primary-partnered polyamorous relationship where the intention is to not have a hierarchy in place. And then, there is solo polyamory, which is an approach to polyamory that emphasizes personal agency, and so individuals practicing SoPo (for short) “do not seek to engage in relationships that are tightly couple-centric or financially and/or domestically entwined.”
So what that often looks like (not always) is that these folks might not share a home with anyone else, they might not want to get married, or share their finances – like myself. But it can look really different depending on the person, so again, ask. And sometimes you might hear from these folks that they see themselves as their own primary partner, and it’s really about prioritizing their relationship with themselves first and foremost.
And for me specifically, I don’t necessarily label myself as being my own primary partner. But certainly I take the perspective that I am also in relationship with myself, and that is a very important relationship. So, just as I carve out time for other relationships and ensure that my partners’ needs are getting met, I’m also creating time for myself and attuning to my own needs.
So, last term, which I also very much resonate with – and that is relationship anarchy. So, relationship anarchists “seek to dismantle the social hierarchies dictating how sexual and romantic relationships are prioritized over all other forms of love.” Which is the common approach or narrative in our predominantly monogamous-leaning culture, right?
And I certainly prioritized my romantic relationships in this way when I was in them – even sometimes to the point where everything else fell to the wayside – my friendships, my personal hobbies, etc. – and I would lose my sense of self. So, as I am taking on more of this relationship anarchy approach, I find that, yes, romantic and sexual relationships are still really important to me, but I’m trying to be much more conscious about what’s happening with my other relationships and recognizing that I also want to grow a strong social support system that includes my friends, family, etc.
Also, relationship anarchists “do not only reserve intimacy or romance for the people they have sex with.” So, I also feel more and more that, even though sex is important to me, and that if I’m entering a new relationship with someone under the context of dating – because maybe we met through a dating app – yes, sex is gonna be something on the table, I overall feel less fixated on the survival or significance of that relationship being dependent on whether that sexual chemistry pans out or not.
I am starting to move away from following the script that I really internalized of how sex “should” happen with someone I’m starting to date. And that, for me, was like, on the second date, or maybe the third, I should be figuring out if I’m sexually compatible with this person in order to decide whether I want to keep dating them or not.
I’ve been really sitting a lot with what intimacy means to me, and also love. And I wanted to share one example of a kind of intimacy I’ve been experiencing with someone who is pretty new in my life, we’ve been talking for, like, maybe three weeks and we’ve gone on, like, three dates so far, which is still more than most other people I’ve dated in the last few months. And while there is some physical intimacy there, we’ve had such a strong spiritual connection, I’d say. That’s how I would describe it anyway. And we’ve shared a lot with each other about our respective spiritual, personal growth, journeys. And the level at which we understand each other, where we don’t have to explain some of the most deepest parts of our Selves and our lives, because we are very similar in many core ways – also very different too – but that is a huge part of creating that intimacy, for me.
So I was chatting about this with him this morning, and he graciously gave me permission to talk about some of this here – so, thank you to him for that. And he’s shared with me that I’ve really helped him to open his mind up to expanding himself. I’ve witnessed him bravely showing up in his discomfort of being a bit more vulnerable than normal perhaps, because he realizes there’s an opportunity for him to grow. And I’d say the same for myself too. Like, I’ve been able to integrate a lot of the self-work I’ve been doing for the past few years in this relational container where, even though it hasn’t been a long time, we both feel there is enough safety and attunement present to explore some of our edges together.
And so, we both have been experiencing our interactions with I think a lot of intimacy but without the need for a label and with no expectations of whether this will continue on for months on end or not, or what it's going to look like. And while that can feel uncomfortable sometimes, to be in such uncertainty, I’ve ultimately been feeling okay to sit in the unknown of it and letting things unfold however they might unfold.
So I know there are some other terms that fall under the CNM umbrella. I would be remiss to not mention that you could be in a throuple, which is a romantic relationship between three people. The ones I mentioned are some of the common ones you’ll hear and, again, these are from the book Polysecure by Jessica Fern, which I highly recommend. It has so many great insights about how to work on developing a secure attachment no matter what kind of relationship style you’re in, including monogamy.
So now, let’s get to those questions. Again, these are the most common questions I get from people when I talk about my experiences with solo polyamory, or polyamory more broadly. When I talk about the fact that I’ve been dating someone who is in a consensually non-monogamous, open marriage, and that we are obviously not exclusive on either end. I also want to thank the good people in the Solo Polyamory Facebook group who shared some of their experiences on a post of mine to help jog my memory of the types of common questions or misperceptions many of us get.
So let’s dive in.
Question number one: Why did you choose to explore polyamory? And since when?
So I mentioned that I’ve been intentionally exploring polyamory since last summer. So in the grand scheme of things, this is still a pretty new experience for me, given that I have been in a monogamous mindframe for all the rest of my life before that. But I do think there were and are many reasons why polyamory makes a lot of sense to me, and for me, right now. So that even though at the beginning, I did have to kinda shake my brain a little in getting very conscious about exploring this relationship style, it didn’t really take that long for me to get comfortable with it.
So I guess the main motivation for me to really do the deep dive into the education around CNM and learn more about all of it through books, podcasts, etc. was that last summer I matched with someone online who had in his profile that he was in a CNM relationship, an open marriage, and he seemed like a really cool person that I wanted to get to know. So we matched and talked right out the gate about his open marriage, his wife, about CNM in general. And then we met, things really clicked, I liked him, and I was open to dating him and getting to know him, understanding what his relationship situation was, and me also not wanting to be exclusive on my end.
Now before this happened, I had already heard about polyamory or CNM more broadly through listening to podcasts or watching certain shows. And so I knew this was a thing that some people engaged in, the concept wasn’t foreign to me. But certainly, now that I was actually experiencing it for myself, I wanted to learn more about it, and so I did the deep dive, read the book Polysecure, listened to lots of podcasts. And very quickly started to realize how much of it actually resonated with me, particularly Solo Polyamory.
And I guess one could say that I was already practicing consensual non-monogamy in a way during the long periods of times when I wasn’t in monogamous relationships. So, for example, I was in an 8-year relationship from my mid-20s to my early-30s and then I was “single” for the next 2.5 years, during which time I was wanting to date multiple people, and not be exclusive with any one person, and I did do that.
And those relationships were very much sexually based for me, or at least that was the main intention of having the relationship. But there was still a lot of connection there with these various people I was dating. We would still go out for dinner or drinks or a concert, we’d talk about life and sometimes I’d be there as an emotional support or vice versa. I cared about these people and would say there was a genuine friendship present. It’s not like they were just a body to me.
But I also did have very clear boundaries in place at the time. That if I was going to spend, say, an evening with one of these people, it was with the intention of sex always being part of the equation. Like, I wouldn’t just have a date with someone where we ended up cuddling on the couch and that was it, or just met for a coffee and then nothing sexual happened after that. And I was very direct and transparent from the outset that that was what I was looking for, and I was not looking to have a monogamous relationship, I wasn’t ready for anything “serious.”
And knowing that I wasn’t ready, I didn’t want to get emotionally attached to anyone and put myself in a situation where I might have to consider being exclusive with them. I wanted to spend time by myself, maybe take time to heal from a previous relationship before getting into another one, and I mostly definitely didn’t want to lead anyone on. And so there were many ways in which I kept my distance and didn’t allow for myself to be open to a romantic connection with these people, and in these cases, where there were a lot of clear, limiting boundaries in place, that romantic attachment did not end up forming.
And I have really great memories of those times. These were really mature relationships with good people. And so, much of that honesty, transparency, open communication, regular check-ins, open conversations about safe sex with multiple partners – easily transferred over to when I started exploring polyamory, where those relational elements are really important. It also meant that I was already very comfortable with seeing multiple people at the same time, sexually. And the biggest difference now is that I am open to those romantic attachments forming, if that’s the direction a particular relationship ends up going in.
So, after that period of time of being in these what I called casual relationships, I was in another monogamous relationship for two years. And then was single again in the way that I just described for another couple of years until I started to explore polyamory last summer. And I now wouldn’t describe myself as being single, even though I am not exclusive to one person, because of the connotation that being single, for a lot of people, means that you are not exclusively attached to someone until you are, until you are in your next monogamous, “serious” relationship.
So, I’m not exclusive to anyone, but I consider myself to be in a serious relationship with this person who I started dating last summer, and we are still seeing each other to this day. And I will talk more about that in answering question number two, or perhaps not a question, but a misperception, which is that some people think that solo polyamory – this idea of seeing multiple people, but not having a primary partner (besides yourself) – sounds like dating with no commitment.
So, this is, I think, reflective of our culture’s monogamous perspective, which is that to be committed to someone means to be exclusive to them. And even if you’re in a monogamous relationship and believe that promising each other exclusivity is at least part of what makes you feel that you’re committed to each other, I think it’s fair to say that there are so many other aspects of the relationship that need to be in place for someone to feel a true sense of commitment. And those aspects are what are the most important thing for me right now.
Because exclusivity is really about omitting to do a behaviour. It’s saying to not go out there and act in x, y, z ways with other people. It’s about prevention, in a way. But what about the behaviours that you want to actively practice on an ongoing basis with your partner and have that reciprocated? What are the things that have to be in place, be present, be alive and actively happening in order for you to feel a true sense of commitment? Because someone could uphold their promise to not have sex with another person, but that does not guarantee that you will feel fulfilled in that relationship and like that person is committed to you. If we look at it that way, then we have start to think about other, foundational things.
And I’ll just say for myself that showing commitment in a relationship is about keeping in touch, being consistent with my communication and reaching out, and checking in, making plans to see each other, prioritizing them in planning my schedule, being there emotionally and as a support, whether that person is going through a hard time or wants to celebrate a win. It’s about being reliably there to hold space for conflicts or tough times that might come up in the relationship, and putting in the emotional labor and effort to work through that. Commitment, to me, is having open, sometimes hard conversations to get to really know each other, understand each other, hear about each other’s needs, boundaries, difficulties, desires. And there are probably so many more things I can name.
But all of those things that I just mentioned are what I bring into my relationship with my partner, and I don’t need to be exclusive with him in order to feel and know that I’m committed or that he’s committed in showing up in those ways too.
Also, I was chatting with him about some of these things I wanted to talk about today, and he mentioned as well from his perspective of being in an open marriage, that there is obviously commitment involved in the fact that he’s married – because he does want his primary partner to be in his life forever, and him marrying her and being married to her and all the things that come with that show his commitment to her. And also, he has other needs that involve dating other people, as does she. But you can absolutely be in a CNM relationship, a polyamorous relationship, and show commitment to your various partners.
So, number three, I often get this question from new guys I match with online: How many people would you be seeing at one time? How do you manage your time and make sure a person you're dating is feeling like they're getting what they need?
Yes, so there is obviously a capacity issue here. I mean, my time and energy is finite. And I also do require a lot of time for myself, and again, I also want to nurture my friendships, family relationships. I work. I’m also introverted, so it’s challenging for me sometimes to be super social and doing tons of activities and things with people all the time.
So, how many people? It depends. And it’s kind of hard to say right now, because aside from this one partner that I’ve been seeing since the summer, there hasn’t been anyone else yet who I’ve dated on such an ongoing basis, like over many months, to kind of have a routine and a flow going.
And so, throughout this time of dating this one person consistently, I’ve been on the dating apps, gone out on several first or second dates. I’ve messaged with some people for months, but not really seen them much at all, especially because of the pandemic, and then things have fallen off. I’m currently going on dates with newer people who have come into my life, including the person I mentioned earlier. And yeah, we’ll see what happens.
So, in terms of numbers, it’s hard for me to say right now. And it also depends on how much time a particular person might have available even to spend with me, and how much time I want to spend with them. You know, you could be seeing one person twice a month, maybe someone else once a week. But if I had to pull out a number out of my ass, probably three people feels kind of like a max, if I were seeing all three people continuously, consistently, on an ongoing basis. That did happen during the two-and-a-half months I was single and dating casually and non-exclusively, and even that felt like a lot sometimes. But we’ll see what happens.
And this is probably a good time to point that just because you identify as being polyamorous, just because you are open to seeing multiple people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will always be in multiple relationships at any given time. Because there have also been periods when maybe I’ve needed to give the apps a break. Maybe no new matches are working out and I’m just tired of engaging with new people. And maybe I’m also extremely busy with work. And so I might just be content to see this one person for the time being until I’m ready to pick it up again. And while I’m in that time of only actively dating one person, I’m still in the mindframe of being polyamorous, even if it doesn’t look behaviourally like I am.
Okay, number four: So this often comes up when I mention to people that I am seeing someone who is in an open marriage, which is the question of: What if you want more? And oftentimes there’s a sense of concern around that. Like, what if you develop really deep feelings for this person, and then, dot, dot, dot, what is there for you? Where is this relationship gonna be able to go? As though it’s gonna eventually hit a wall, right?
So this touches into this notion of the relationship escalator, which was coined by Amy Gahran (I hope I pronounced that correctly) and is “the default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.” And that is from Amy’s website offescalator.com. And it also says that:
“The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous, cohabitating marriage (where the two people are sexually and romantically exclusive) — that is legally sanctioned if possible.”
So the steps on the relationship escalator often include things like having sex, adopting labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”, then getting engaged, then getting married, having kids, buying a house together, and so on, until the day you die and are buried in graves next to each other, right?
And The Relationship Escalator is “the standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, “serious,” good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing.”
I want to just shout out Amy Gahran (a.k.a. Aggie Sez) who is also in the Solo Polyamory FB Group and has in general just provided so many great resources and information for folks are exploring this lifestyle. And I’ll link to her website in the show notes if you want to learn more.
But coming back to this idea of the relationship escalator. So, when people are like, what if you want more? First off, as I mentioned I was in an eight-year, monogamous relationship previously. And we were engaged, we had a wedding planned, and I knew that the next step was going to be having kids after that. We were in a house together. And long story short, I ended up breaking off this relationship and obviously the wedding.
And in my decision-making process and reflection about all of this, I had a huge wake-up call that getting married and having kids was actually not what I wanted at all. And it still isn’t, and I am good. I do not feel deprived. I’m happy for anyone who has kids and is married and is happy with that. But I feel zero desire for any of it, especially the having kids part.
So, I already gave up some big pieces of the relationship escalator a long time ago, the ideas of those. The only thing I’m not really sure about is whether I’d want to ever live with someone again. But more importantly than all of that, for me, is that what I truly care about is the actual relationship. I mean the actual relational dynamic. The actual relationship interactions. The actual exchanges of energy and conversation and care and all the things I talked about in terms of what commitment means to me.
So when someone is like, you’re in this relationship, you’re gonna be involved with them over time, what if you want more? My response is that that relationship, that whole process of being involved with them, growing that relationship, whatever that looks like for us, that is the “more." And I don’t look at wanting to achieve certain goals in any of my relationships, including when I’m coming into new dating dynamics, I don’t have any goals in mind of what I want or how I’d like that particular relationship to unfold. But if it’s really hard to get away from the idea of there needing to be a pay-off, then I would say that the relationship, the process and experience of being in the relationship, is the pay-off.
And along that process, there might be certain so-called “milestones” that are experienced that perhaps act as markers to show that the relationship is evolving, that it’s important, that there is a genuine connection being formed. For example, in this particular relationship I’ve been talking about, we were discussing that a milestone was that when I was really, really sick over the winter, my partner dropped by my apartment to bring me my medication that I had ordered at the pharmacy, and I was too sick to even go out and get it. And it was like 10 minutes seeing him at the door, with masks on, but that was something that felt like a milestone for him, and for me as well. And there are lots of other milestones that people in a relationship can look to, or even strive towards if they so choose, to build their relationship in a way where it’s still growing and evolving or deepening.
Then there is question number five: Don't you ever get jealous? And oftentimes, that is coupled with the person stating for themselves: “I don't know if I could ever do that (i.e., polyamory). I'd be way too jealous.”
So first off, I totally understand. Historically, when I was in monogamous relationships, I’d get jealous often. Now, when I was in a more securely attached relationship, that jealousy definitely wasn’t as present or intense. But when I’ve been in an anxious-avoidant dynamic with someone, which has been a lot of my past relationships, that will definitely trigger a lot of my insecurities and that feeling of jealousy. And certainly as I’ve started this exploration with polyamory, I know that with all of my history, that I strongly felt that I couldn’t begin doing this in a primary partnership where there would be so many more layers to confront and deal with.
But I have to give myself some credit, because I've worked really hard the past four years, and particularly after my last relationship, when I didn’t have as many triggers to contend with because I was now by myself, and I know I’ve moved much more towards having a secure attachment. And I’ve seen how that has shown up in many of my relational dynamics with the people I’m dating.
And first off, it’s been very rare for the feeling of jealousy to come up for me. And if it ever has, I view jealousy now more as information about what might be missing here for me? Is there a conversation that needs to be had about my needs, or even my boundaries perhaps? I see it as an opportunity to go deeper and really get to the root of why am I feeling that way, and then address it on that level.
But I do want to say that when I’ve been asked this question in the context of don’t you ever get jealous about your partner’s wife?, I’m like, no. If anything, ever since the start of my relationship with him, I have felt a lot of gratitude that I even had this opportunity to form a connection with him. Like, imagine if they weren’t open in this way. And I have just honestly had a lot of gratitude and respect for the fact that they are doing this, because they’ve identified that that’s what’s right for them, and that I got to, and get to, have this experience and develop this connection with this very wonderful person who has really added to my life. And also, I've met his wife and she's a very, very lovely person. And it just makes me happy that wonderful people are getting to be in relationship with other wonderful people.
And also, in this polyamorous mindframe and approach to doing relationships, I really feel this genuine desire and hope for my partner and anyone new that I’m dating to live their best, most authentic, most fulfilling life. And if they want to be seeing other people who make them happy or fulfill some need that I can’t fulfill either at all, or just on my own, then I’m like, go get yours.
And with that, there’s been a lot of unlearning of this idea of ownership that is often part of the monogamous script. And I say this as someone who absolutely experienced that sense of ownership toward my monogamous partners, whether I recognized it in conscious ways or expressed it in subconscious ways. And I was also in relationships where that sense of ownership was also directed back at me.
And there are so many ways that harm was done, and is done, in that kind of dynamic where people are seeing each other as “you are mine”, “you belong to me,” and the kinds of ideas, and thus behaviors, that can come along with that, including things around control and restriction, and where the expression of jealousy often doesn’t get resolved and talked about in a healthy way because it feels like being in a monogamous structure affords you the right to react to that jealousy with that controlling approach. And I'm saying this as someone who did that over and over again in my monogamous relationships.
So, it’s not that jealousy never comes up in polyamorous relationships. It often does. We’re still human. But because there isn’t this idea of I own you, then we must reckon with it and deal with it head on, ideally, versus responding to jealousy by piling on the control and rules and whatnot.
So before I move on from the jealousy topic, I want to come back to this acknowledgement that part (not all, but part) of the reason why I don’t feel inclined to be in a primary partnership myself is because I know that the feeling of jealousy would likely come up much more often that it does for me now practicing SoPo. And, really, the idea of having to navigate that extra emotional labor just doesn’t appeal to me.
However, I’m not necessarily chalking that up to me avoiding being in a primary partnership. Like, historically I’ve never had the goal in my mind or intention to seek out a relationship, even when I was monogamous. I never felt like I had to have a boyfriend and couldn’t be alone. I was always content being single, and if someone happened to come into my life who I wanted to be “serious” with, then it would happen organically.
And it’s the same thing now, where I feel no strong compulsion to have a primary partner, I’m genuinely content being on my own. I love the freedom I have to be able to book a month-long trip to Mexico in May – yup, that’s what’s happening – without having to have anyone else be part of the decision-making process. I love my alone time, and being able to have the space and quiet to work on my passion projects, read, etc.
But if someone were to come along who I’d want to explore that potential of being primary partners with, and I felt I was ready for that, and all the things aligned, then I would cross that bridge when I got there. And I really believe in myself enough to know that I wouldn’t let the fear of having to probably deal with more jealousy triggers in that context to stop me from doing something that might be really fulfilling and the next right step in my relationship journey.
Alright, so number six: Sometimes I will hear from people that, "Maybe you just haven't found the right one yet."
So, personally, at this point in my life, I don’t buy into the idea that there is this one person out there for me, like a soulmate, or “the one.” I do believe that there are many infinite possibilities of relationships that I could have that are intimate, fulfilling, emotionally connected, safe, secure, etc., etc.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s possible that people can meet someone who ends up feeling like their “soulmate” and that they even go on to be and live together forever. But just because that happens to pan out for some people, I don’t think that necessarily means that it’s a destined formula for everyone that we must be trying to insert ourselves into.
And this also goes back to the whole relationship escalator perspective too, where this statement of “maybe you haven’t found the right one yet” implies that my current relationships are somehow not significant enough, that this is maybe just a phase until I get a “real” relationship, and that is, again, missing the point of what I deem to be fulfilling for me.
Okay, two more left. Number seven: I will sometimes get the comment after explaining that I practice solo polyamory that, "You must have really gotten hurt before in relationships." Or that somehow relationships must have fucked me up so bad, that now I’ve turned to this thing called solo polyamory as supposedly a way to, I don’t know, protect myself I guess from more hurt?
And shout out to Roselyn Thomas, from the Solo Polyamory FB Group, who wrote a blog post called “10 Common (But Annoying) Questions About Solo Polyamory” – I will link to that in the show notes. And one of the questions she addressed was: What damaged you so you don’t want “normal” relationships? And this jogged my memory that I’ve also gotten this comment too, more than a couple of times.
So, first off, yes, I have been really hurt in relationships in my past. And the way that hurt has showed up, you know, when it’s fucked me up, when it’s expressed itself in ways that have been more defensive and protective, has been in monogamous relationships, where I’ve tended to be co-dependent, where I've continued to play out old trauma patterns. It’s also showed up when I’ve been single and using my aloneness to protect myself from connection and being vulnerable.
And the way that I’m showing up in, and approaching, relationships now as I practice solo polyamory, and polyamory more generally, I feel has never been more authentic, more securely attached, more open to connection and intimacy where there aren’t those old defensive responses of, again, trying to control the person and situation in an attempt to not get hurt again.
If anything, I feel that this experience has already been a healing opportunity for me. It’s been an experience where I’ve been able to unlearn a lot of the scripts that don’t actually align with the way I want to be. I’ve gotten to practice, for lack of a better word, having a securely attached relationship with my partner, where I can be myself, I can voice my needs, I can work through any challenges really maturely, respectfully, through the kind of communication that makes me feel good at the end of the day, no matter how difficult.
And because there is this lack of seeing your partners as people you own, at least in my experience; because there is this focus on encouraging people to be their full selves, and less of an agenda of, hmm, how are you going to fit my mold and expectations of what I want to get out of a relationship?, there is something really beautiful and healing about that.
Now, I’m not saying this is all rainbows and roses, and I’m, again, speaking to my one personal experience thus far. I definitely hear from folks who have been traumatized in their polyamorous journey by maybe specific harmful, toxic dynamics that can happen. As I said up top, there are ways that people can do polyamory or CNM not so ethically and great, just as of course with people in monogamous relationships. So, I just want to paint a realistic picture here, while still feeling really genuine in what I’m sharing as my experience thus far.
Last but not least, I have heard a few times from people when I explain a lot of what I’ve explained here that: "That sounds complicated."
So, to me, complicated means that the situation is unclear, it’s hazy, it doesn’t make you feel grounded. And for me, I feel very clear. I feel clear about what I want. I actually get that a lot from people I match with online, who read my profile – they’re like, "Wow, thanks for being so clear and transparent. It’s really refreshing to see that you know what you want."
I also feel clear about what I don’t want. And also, I make a lot of room for nuance and fluidity and the right to change my mind, and the possibility for a relationship to evolve in ways that are totally unpredictable and unknown to me right now. But that all, to me, is complex, not complicated. And I can hold complexity, I can be with complexity.
I think it can seem complicated to some people because it’s not following a well-worn script. When you’re following the well-worn script of monogamy, it seems more simple in a way, because you don’t have to think so hard about how you’re going to actively develop any one of your relationships – because the steps have already been laid out by the relationship escalator formula, right?
But I think a lot of what I shared in my Season 2 finale episode, where I talked about some of the big lessons I’ve learned through my trauma-healing work, really applies to this. Because a lot of it is about moving away from the binary, away from the scripts, and developing greater capacity to be with complexity and uncertainty, and to be able to hold multiple truths at the same time.
I’ve also gotten a perhaps related question of is polyamory easier or harder than monogamy? And I think all relationships are hard to some extent, especially if you’re really putting in the work. Again, as I said from the get-go, even though the relationship structure might look different, it’s still about people being in relationship with each other. And if you’re really making an effort to build that relationship, nurture that relationship, a lot of the same relational issues are gonna come up.
There are perhaps specific aspects about practicing polyamory or CNM that are harder because you often do have to confront things about yourself that you might not have to in a monogamous situation, including confronting the monogamous scripts that have been ingrained in us, and challenging those, and perhaps shifting a really core worldview that you might have held for decades. But to me, and going back to the top of episode, doing that work to become really conscious and intentional with how you’re living your life is, perhaps in the moment, confronting, but it is such a huge part, in my opinion, of what leads to living authentically.
So also to the question of is it harder, it might be the case that your pool of dating options gets smaller, because there might be less people who want to engage with someone who is polyamorous or in an open marriage, etc. It could feel harder for some folks because you might navigating more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship at the same time, which for some people doesn’t feel simple.
And I think ultimately doing anything that is not the socially prescribed norm is going to be harder in a sense, because you can’t take it for granted that someone hears about your relationship and sees it as “legitimate” in the way they might if you were doing what is widely seen as acceptable. So, for example, if I talk about my boyfriend who also happens to be in an open marriage, I can’t take it for granted that I’m going to get the same warm, excited reception about that news as I would if I said I have a boyfriend who I’m exclusive with.
And I have sometimes sensed that difference in the way people respond to me talking about my relationship situation. There is still stigma. There are a lot of people who practice these ways of doing relationships and have not come out about it publicly or even sometimes to people who are close to them. So, there is all of that.
But I, personally, am not afraid of doing hard things. And I will do the hard thing if I know it’s the honest, authentic thing to do. And right now, I do feel this is the honest, authentic thing for me to do and to continue exploring. I think that for me to really give this a honest shot, it’s going to take time, probably a lot of time. And in the meantime, while I’m in this process, this experience, I’m enjoying it. Like, I’m good y’all. Never felt better in my life.
And if down the road, I ever change my mind about how I want to do relationships – which no one can predict the future, no matter how much we believe in what we believe in now – I trust that it’ll be because I came to the realization that something different from this was the honest and authentic for me to do at that point. And if that happens, and I’m still podcasting by then, you will hear about it.
All right, I want to close this out by just saying thank you. I have so much gratitude for y’all being here, for making it to the end, for taking this all in.
I have so much gratitude to my partner for having so many of these conversations with me throughout our time together and from the very beginning to help me better understand and navigate and give words to this really nuanced, complex, but interesting and wonderful experience.
Thank you to both him and the other person I mentioned who more recently came into my life, for giving me their blessings to share about some of our personal experiences on this podcast. I really, really appreciate it.
Shout out to the Solo Polyamory FB group, who I really recommend, if you’re interested in learning more about SoPo, to check out. I do think that because this path of exploring CNM or polyamory is still not the conventional path, and as I said, there is still stigma in many ways, that finding a supportive group who understands through their own lived experiences what you might be feeling or going through, is a really great way to navigate it and not feel so alone in this journey.
There are so many resources out there if you want to learn more about CNM, polyamory, solo polyamory. I will list some of those in the show notes.
And until next time, thank you so much again for tuning in. I hope you stay well and take good care of yourselves. Lots of love and self-love. Peace.