Being poly when your partner isn't

Mono/Poly or How to Be Poly When Your Partner Isn’t

When I came to the realization that I could never not be polyamorous, I knew that from then on, I would have to be very upfront about that part of myself. I have since found myself in a long-term relationship with someone who has never been poly.

He’s not opposed to polyamory. He’s not opposed to trying it. He’s not opposed to being polyamorous. He just hasn’t really tested it out yet.

He has his established social life and rarely has the opportunity to meet new people. After 2 years together, he hasn’t really gone out of his way to go on dates.

I’m a whole different story.

Before COVID-19, I was often out at music or comedy shows, or going to parties and meeting new people every week. I had a long-term, long-distance partner who I am still with, in a virtual way. I also had a handful of infrequent lovers/friends, and I was always on the lookout for fresh cuties.

I thought I would break it down, and show you how I managed to navigate this course, without crushing hearts!


Be Open

Right out of the gate, it’s a good idea to be clear about who you are. Polyamory certainly isn’t the average relationship style and it might be a deal-breaker for potential lovers. But I do know that demanding I be monogamous would be a deal-breaker for me. I even put that detail in my OkCupid profile.

I definitely repeated that on our first date. And then talked about what that looks like for me.

I was open about what relationships I had and what they were like. We talked about how we can fit into each other’s lives. I made sure that, as much as possible, we would be clear and explicit about our feelings for one another.



As our relationship evolved, and as time continued on, I made a point to check in with my partner. I checked in when I talked about my partners. I checked in when I kissed other people. I checked in when I had sex with other people. I checked in when he met them.

People are really complex. Every moment has a ton of emotional associations. From the smells that remind you of certain times, places or people, to the music you’ve been listening to all week, let alone the previous events of the day. Each thought provokes a reaction and we have tons of thoughts every day.

We need to be checking in.

I have changed my mind on things within seconds, and that’s fine. Anyone can change their mind at any time. It’s ok and to be expected. I try to be aware of milestone events (like the first time I kissed someone outside of our relationship) and sensitive to how they might be reacted to.

You may not react in anger the first time you meet the person who dates your girlfriend, but you probably feel something. And if you don’t, you might have feelings about the lack of feelings.

Checking in often and sincerely demonstrates to your partner that you care about them and value their experience.


Negotiate Boundaries

We all have different boundaries but we’re not all aware of where they lie.

When I first started learning about personal boundaries, I didn’t really know where to start. I used to think that the world was held together by universally held standards of acceptable behavior. I thought that actions themselves were objectively good or bad. It took a while to understand that the golden rule shouldn’t be to treat others as you would have others treat you. It should be to treat others how they want to be treated.

Our comfort zones are shaped by our unique life experiences. It’s unreasonable to expect that we should implicitly know what will or won’t be within each others’ boundaries. Try not to assume where boundaries lie and instead, try to be specific with your language and wording so that you can figure out where and why they are.

You can go by what actions do and don’t bother each other, how much information you each want to know and what needs to happen for them to feel secure in the relationship.

Some people are fine with emotional connections but can’t accept sexual connections and some people prefer the opposite. Some want to hear about all the naughty details and some would prefer it to remain a mystery. Some are totally open in their private life yet need their public persona to appear monogamous. Talk these things through explicitly!

Remember that you might both be assuming boundaries.


Leave The Guilt Behind

If you’ve had long and detailed conversations with your partner and know what they are and are not comfortable with, you can relax a little. The clearer your relationship agreements become, the more you can relax. It’s good to check in often, especially in the beginning. Take the time to take care of your partner’s feelings.

If you didn’t grow up with polyamory as a normal part of the world, you might feel a sense of guilt while engaging with other people sexually or romantically. You might need to “unpack” your own feelings around polyamory. You might feel greedy or broken. You’re not. You’re being yourself with a partner who is accepting of that part of yourself. It’s a gift.

Monogamy-centric culture makes it very clear that showing affection for someone other than your partner is harmful. Yes, it absolutely can do harm, but if you’ve been communicating clearly and thoroughly with your partner throughout your relationship and they’re ok with you being non-monogamous, you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s ok.

Let it go.


Finding the Balance

It took a little while to figure out our groove. We were both learning how to be together and how to shift our time to accommodate our relationship.

At first, I wanted him to come with me to all the parties and events that I was going to but he had a pretty full life, too. We rarely overlapped spending time together with either of our friend groups, which worked out just as well.

I wasn’t sure how he felt about me getting flirty in front of him. I had had intense reactions to seeing my partners with other people at the beginning of my journey through polyamory, so I expected him to also react intensely. Even though he assured me it was fine, I still held myself back to accommodate my assumptions of what he was feeling.

Going to events on my own allowed me the freedom to be as flirty as I liked. I wasn’t worried about anyone getting hurt. I was just consumed by the moment.

It turned out that we were mismatched in our levels of desired intimacy/time spent together. I wanted to have romantic and intimate bonding moments pretty frequently, whereas he liked having a lot of alone time. My poly ways actually were just what was needed for both of us to get what we needed while maintaining a good relationship together.


Support System

A good support system helps in all areas of your life. These are the people you can lean on when you need a helping hand, listening ear or shoulder to cry on. From friends to family, to support workers — they keep us happy and healthy.

When you’re poly, you really lean on your support system in a different way. Social change is slow and polyamory is still on the fringes. Movies and media are rarely about polyamorous dynamics and it can feel very isolating. If you’re lucky enough to have other poly folks in your circles, that’s great! They might be able to help you and vice versa.

Your romantic, intimate, and/or sexual partners can also be a great support network. You should have clear conversations about what details you can and cannot share with your other intimate partners. Some people are very free and open with all aspects of themselves and others are more guarded and would prefer more control over who gets to know what. Make sure you’re having those conversations so that you don’t accidentally overshare, or hold back when you don’t need to.

Once you know where your partners stand on all of these things, you can go to your partners for support or advice with other partners. If your domestic partner has a busy month and you’re starved for attention, it’s good to have already let your other partners know that you’ll need them more during that time.

One of the best things about polyamory is that when you need something that your partner isn’t in a position to give you, there are other people you can turn to. The unavailable partner doesn’t need to feel guilty about being unavailable. They can just focus on what they need to do and let you focus on getting what you need.


Embrace Change

The one constant in the universe is change. Life will always change, boundaries may shift and feelings will evolve. Keep checking in and making changes to your relationship agreements. Stability can be great, but stagnation is not. If there are things you want to change about your relationship, you need to speak up. Your partners won’t be able to fix a problem they don’t know exists.

Your mono partner may decide they need monogamy from you, or they may decide to give polyamory a try for themselves. You won’t know until you get there and there’s no use worrying about these possibilities. They are just that — possibilities.

The best you can do is to stay open and honest and to communicate as clearly as possible. The rest is up to fate.

Featured art by Marie-Maxime Giguère