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In the ever-evolving worlds of sex positivity and non-monogamy, the one commonality between all lifestyles is that there isn’t just one way to “be” in any particular identity or relationship. This holds true for sexual identity and for relationship practices.
This makes embarking on a relationship model that isn’t “mainstream” complex.
Rules are paramount. Polyamorous relationships involve significant amounts of time and energy spent on working and reworking rules for dating outside the relationship(s).
While categorizing and labeling can often be misleading and simplistic, there are generally two types of polyamorous relationships. The first is “kitchen table poly,” which means everyone’s romantic partners know each other and are comfortable hanging out together. (Fun fact: the word for your partner’s partner is “metamour”).
The other common type is parallel poly. In this paradigm, partners are kept more or less separate. Nobody is taking a group vacation together any time soon.
Neither relationship model is ideal or superior. Both have perks and flaws and both depend heavily on the personalities and identities of those involved, which can be said about every relationship type ever.
We spoke with two people in sex-positive polyamorous relationships. Lola, a sex educator who has spoken with BTRtoday before about sexual communication, is in a relationship that more generally falls in the kitchen table variety. Dan, a network security engineer who runs in similar circles as Lola, is in a more parallel poly marriage with his wife and their partners.
Lola’s husband, Marc, has a steady girlfriend he met through Lola. Lola tells BTRtoday that it felt like a “jackpot” when Marc met his girlfriend and fell in love, because it was the catalyst for his comfort with exploring poly (versus a sexually open but romantically exclusive relationship).
“That was the first time my husband really thought he could do poly. Before then, he had no interest in poly. Fucking people fine, but no romance or falling in love–until he fell in love with someone,” she says with a laugh.
His girlfriend has a husband and the four of them hang out, not has good friends or “chums,” as Lola puts it, but as romantic partners. Sex between all four of them comes and goes, as it does with any relationship, but they romantically love each other.
Lola identifies as a polyamorous person, meaning it is an intrinsic part of her sexual identity.
“When I was younger I told me friends, ‘I wanna be with a man and a woman and I wanna live in a house together for the rest of my life as a big group.’ I always felt like I had to choose because that’s what we’re told but now I don’t have to choose.”
For her, kitchen table poly works because she has the group romance she has always wanted.
With polyamorous relationships, the biggest complication is feelings. Contrary to popular opinion spouted by people both poly and monogamous, people in polyamorous relationships are not immune to jealousy.
Lola’s polycule has not been a drama-free oasis, but it has helped with keeping communication open.
For example, Lola laid down the rule that she doesn’t hang out with her husband and his girlfriend without the girlfriend’s husband. Third wheeling is never any fun and her husband is still in the “new love” phase with his girlfriend. We’re all familiar with how gushy and gross new couples in love can be and it’s no different when the new couple is your loving husband and his girlfriend whom you also love.
Dan’s marriage looks a little different. His wife, Jenn, has a stead boyfriend who Dan knows and interacts with but they don’t vacation together as Lola does with her family.
Similarly, Jenn knows some of Dan’s partners but they don’t all bring their kids around for dinner. Everybody is fully aware of the situation but not everyone has met, or is comfortable meeting.
It’s an ongoing process that he hopes might lead to more kitchen table scenarios.
“We’re still feeling out what’s comfortable,” he admits. “We do, at least I do, want to get to the point where my girlfriend brings her kids over and her boyfriend brings his kids over and we all have a big cookout or something like that.”
When Jenn’s boyfriend stays over they both sleep in the guest room while Dan gets the master bedroom for his dates. My initial reaction was “excuse you, I do believe I smell the patriarchy.” But this was Jenn’s idea and it was for the comfort of Dan’s female dates, since the bedroom has an attached bathroom.
This is a frankly adorable example of how a parallel polyamorous relationship can function.
Lola’s kitchen table poly involves more established rules than Dan’s parallel marriage, though the rules took years and a lot of hard work to arrive at.
While on group trips, for example, Lola has made it clear that she doesn’t want her husband to have sex with his girlfriend unless she (Lola) and Marc are also going to have sex. Both Lola and Marc also agree no sex with other people in their bed.
“It’s these kinds of conversations of being able to own what will make me feel shitty before I feel shitty,” she says.
This is counter to a common misconception about polyamorous and open relationships: anything goes. Anything does not go.
“It was hard. It took me having to create these very strict boundaries around myself,” Lola tells us. “That was something else I realized: you can’t make boundaries for other people or to put on other people. All you can do is create things that are for yourself.”