So you see people identify as “poly” or “monogamous” (aka mono). Seems pretty clear cut. I wish it were that easy. When it comes to poly there are a gajillion variations. (Not an official number – lol) You can ask a dozen poly identified people to describe how they “do” poly and you are likely to get a dozen different answers.
For some they are romantically mono but agree that they and their romantic partner can play or have sex with others. For some they can only play with others – no romantic or sexual involvement. In some cases, partners have agreed that only one of them can have an additional outside partner – or that they can share one or more partners. Perhaps they share a romantic partner or play/sexual partners. Perhaps it’s closed and only a certain number of partners are allowed or open and people in the poly “pod” are allowed to date, play, and/or have sexual relations with others. The list is really endless when you consider all the various options and combinations.
An interesting twist is that one person may not do the same kind of poly based on their partner. Let me explain what I mean. At one point an individual may find themselves involved with an existing couple – for the purpose of this article I will use the term “secondary” to describe this person. However, let’s say that relationship ends and the person finds their own “primary” partner. The partner, based on what they know of the person’s relationship history, may expect that they are poly in any way. For example, this partner wants to bring in a secondary partner. They expect it to be an easy adjustment based on the fact that their partner has been a secondary in a poly triad. This may not be the case. It may not be the case by a long shot. Just because someone has been in a poly relationship, this doesn’t mean any poly dynamic will be comfortable for them. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, handle the transition just as you would if poly were a new thing for your partner. Because, essentially, it is brand new. This particular type of poly dynamic may be one that they have no experience with. Not all poly is the same and just because you have experience with one structure or one role doesn’t mean other roles or structures will work for you.
Poly can be a wonderful thing. It can lead to multiple fulfilling relationships and/ or fun adventures. However, nobody will say it’s always easy. Part of the difficulty comes back to “know thyself” as in “know thy poly”. Part of the journey is figuring out what kind of poly works for you and for you and those in your life. So be honest with yourself first, then be honest with your partner. Be patient and understanding and remember that it’s not all the same.
Jennifer Masri is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in Alternative Lifestyles for individual and relationship issues. She also teaches the BDSM 101 class series at Sanctuary LAX in Los Angeles every Monday evening. Read more about Jennifer on her blog, A Kink Shrink.