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Styles of non-monogamy: the ideal and the reality (Poly Means Many – May 2013)

The past 15 years have given me the opportunity to be involved in all varieties of non-monogamy (except polygamy/polyandry, but I don’t much miss that). I’ve done open relationships, ‘dating’, non-hierarchical polyamory, hierarchical polyamory, polyfidelity and swinging (in my case, this was more like ‘sluttery’). I’ve been polyamorous when single (solo/unpartnered polyamory), poly while having one partner, and poly in a triad.  I could talk to you for hours about the pros and cons of each of these set ups.  (NB: I won’t go into specific definitions of what these different types of non-monogamy entail, as Rarely Wears Lipstick has a good entry defining many of them here. You can also reference the wikipedia article on non-monogamy:  and this chart by Franklin Veaux highlights some interesting overlaps and differences in styles of non-monogamy.)

I was in a very serious marriage-type partnership for eight years in which I (rather unsuccessfully) dated people outside that relationship nearly the whole time.  I would class this as more of an ‘open relationship’: I had a lot of stability in one relationship but almost none in my other relationships.  I then became single, practicing solo polyamory and the aforementioned sluttery.  This was a lot of fun but offered me no security or greater depth of relationship.  A short time later I experienced being partnered in a triad and as a secondary, which was an entirely new experience for me.  While I enjoyed it I sorely missed having an ‘anchor’, and so I came to have a closer affinity to non-hierarchical poly.  I then became involved in two serious partnership-type relationships and continued to subscribe to non-hierarchical poly during that period.  This time I enjoyed having two strong anchors, but both took a lot of energy to engage in and my other relationships (such as friendships) may have suffered due to lack of time.

For various reasons one of those relationships ended,  and for several months now I have found myself being poly with one partner. Recently, I’ve gone on dates with several people. I’m perhaps ‘dating’ someone I really enjoy spending time with now, but as I will be moving continents in a few months, my inclination to get into another serious intense long-term relationship is not as strong as it has been previously. I’m cautiously realistic about long-distance relationships. If or when I have children, I imagine that I may practice a more hierarchical form of poly, if only because my kids will unquestionably be my top priority as well as any co-parents I might have (please note: this could be more than one other person!).

For ages, I had the closest affinity with non-hierarchical polyfidelity. I think this is because I spent my early teens dreaming about having both a husband and a wife. Although I see polyfidelity in a different (less gendered) way now, it still attracts me in many ways. But my point is that despite whatever ‘ideal’ I have, the right approach for me is as much a product of circumstance. Any ideal simply might not fit with the shape my life is taking. One thing I’ve noticed, is that it can be difficult to find partners who are willing to try non-hierarchical poly when they are already very seriously partnered up or intimidated by my current relationship.

My relationship style may also change and adapt based on the preferences of who I am dating at the time. Some may think of this as fickle, but I think of it as realistic and practical.  One of the most important skills of a polyamorous person is negotiating ‘flexible boundaries’ (a term I first heard on the ALBJ blog on the post about boundaries and rules). While I cannot say whether any given style of non-monogamy is somehow superior to others, being able to negotiate what type of non-monogamy you want to practice over time is one of the most fundamental negotiations of all.