I've been polyamorous for about a year. Although I don't quite consider myself an "expert" in polyamory, I have been thinking about this past year and what lessons I have learned about love, sex and healthy relationships.
What I've realized is that there are many things that being polyamorous forced me to face that I wouldn't have faced in a typical monogamous relationship; and those things have challenged me to rethink a lot of my assumptions about how to relate to others, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
What are the main lessons I learned that I wish I could transmit to myself in the past, and to every person who has romantic relationships? Here are four things I learned this year being involved in polyamory.
Friendship Is the Best Foundation
Think about your current significant other or one you've had in the past. Was your relationship based on friendship or something else? Maybe lust? Fear of loneliness?
Looking at my past patterns and current relationships, I realized that my relationships today are so much stronger because they are based on friendship. I was friends with one of my partners for over a year before we engaged in a relationship, and that has helped us maintain our strong bonds during tough times.
Lust is tenuous at best. It tends to evaporate quickly once the honeymoon phase is over. If you're not friends with your partner, what else is there to support your relationship once the first six months are over?
As the old saying goes, we should treat our lovers more like friends and our friends more like lovers.
Healthy Relationships Don't Just Happen
There's this myth that once you meet the "right" person, you'll be happy forever. If you could just find the right match, there would be no need for strife, for fights, for problems. Everything will just flow as smoothly as a water park lazy river.
Except that's not how it works.
Every human comes with their own traumas, their own issues, and their own needs. No matter how much two people love each other, they'll encounter resistance, challenges, and issues. They'll need to work through them.
Even though these things are made more evident through polyamory, monogamous couples are not free from triggers and problems. They need to work through them, just like polyamorous people.
I don't think polyamorous relationships are inherently healthier than monogamous relationships. There are plenty of shitty polyamorous relationships where problems are not being addressed. Yet polyamorists tend to bring things out in the open more easily and to deal with them more openly ... at least in my experience.
Love Is Just One Part of a Functioning Relationship
You can love a person to the ends of the earth, but it doesn't mean your relationship with them is healthy. Love is not a guarantee of health.
In romantic relationships, love is essential. However, it doesn't replace compassion, genuine interest, friendship, care and kindness. In other words, it doesn't replace all the other things that are necessary for a functioning relationship.
When I got involved in polyamory, I quickly realized that "but I love you!" is not the magic formula we purport it to be. I can love someone and yet understand that a romantic relationship may not be the best thing for us. I can love someone and yet understand that I've hurt them or that my behavior is dysfunctional.
Love is amazing, but it's not enough for a healthy relationship.
Your Partner Isn't a Mind Reader
Here's another expectation built up by romantic comedies and the narratives around monogamous love: that you should understand each other naturally, almost telepathically.
Except, again, as far as I know, nobody's a telepath.
My point here is that I wish I had known more about healthy ways to communicate when I was monogamous. The assumption that in monogamous couples everything should flow naturally, including communication, actually makes it more difficult to admit that there may be communication problems.
In polyamory, we strive to let go of assumptions. We tend to over-communicate, which isn't such a bad thing. We have to put everything on the table: our feelings, our needs, our demands, and our expectations. We need to discuss everything, negotiate everything. We need to be aware of changes in any of these areas because people aren't statues who never ever change.
Love grows stronger on open and honest communication. Connection and friendship - the soil on which strong, healthy romantic relationships grow - come from being out and open about everything.
So, until we can invent mind-reading machines, you're better off talking about stuff instead.
Sex Is Just Another Form of Intimacy
One of the major issues with polyamory is sex. Many see polyamory as a way to have a "get out of jail free" card when it comes to having sex with people other than your primary partner.
Sex is a lot more - and a lot less, at the same time.
When I had a monogamous partner, I remained faithful because I thought that sex should be an intimate thing kept for that special person. Now, I realize that I had this part right - but that I could have many special persons. Having sex with more than one person at a time is not wrong, as long as everyone knows what's going on and consents to it.
With my partners, I have a "do what you want as long as you don't endanger my health" policy. I don't need to know if and how they're having sex with other people. They can tell me if they want, but it's not a big deal for me.
A big deal for me is maintaining intimacy. Here's one thing that I learned: sex is just one form of intimacy. It's not the only one, and it's not always the best one either, depending on the circumstances. I've had long periods of time when I didn't have sex with a partner, and yet I still feel closely connected to them because we found other ways to be intimate. There are lots of ways to develop intimacy, and one big lesson I've learned is to de-couple the necessary link between intimacy and sex.
Don't get me wrong. Sex is still a pretty awesome way to share and develop intimacy. But it's only as important as you make it.
Love Is Work
The most important lesson I've learned being polyamorous is that love is work. There is no happily ever after. There is "happy for a while, then shit happens."
Monogamist or polyamorist, you need to put in the work if you want your relationships to thrive and be a positive force in your life. Love is something that demands work. Only with commitment and openness will you make love something that's a boon, rather than a drag, on your emotions and your life.