I used to live in a large house with three gay men. They were a triad, a “throuple.” I was the guy upstairs. When one of them got cancer, none of us knew how to proceed. Do I stay? Do we fight? Do we simply live? Do we make plans? Do we stop making plans?
In his last weeks, his partners grew quiet, ready. No one is ready when this happens, and no one deserves it. But there is one essential payoff: Cancer reveals, from life’s myriad connections, the ones that matter most. Like sifting gold out of dirt, pain reveals which loves are real. Theirs was.
Their relationship was polyamorous (from the Greek poly, meaning "many,” and Latin amor, "love") and nonmonogamous. In other words, their setup was extremely nontraditional by hetero standards and pretty common by queer ones. They set rules: Have fun at the circuit party, but come home to me. They had outside sex and outside flings, and enjoyed what most people would call an “open” relationship. Naysayers tend to blast open relationships and dismiss loves like this as “cheating by a different name.” You’ll likely read some of these opinions in the comments on this article.
You can disregard these opinions. These men showed me how powerful love looks when it’s right. Every relationship’s rules are different, but here’s a basic list to get you started — the DOs and DON’Ts of polyamory.
My name is Alexander Cheves, and I am known by friends in the kink and leather community as Beastly. I am a sex-positive writer and blogger. The views in this slideshow do not reflect those of The Advocate and are based solely off of my own experiences. Like everything I write, the intent of this piece is to break down the stigmas surrounding the sex lives of gay men.
Those who are sensitive to frank discussions about sex are invited to click elsewhere, but consider this: If you are outraged by content that address sex openly and honestly, I invite you to examine this outrage and ask yourself whether it should instead be directed at those who oppress us by policing our sexuality.
For all others, enjoy the slideshow. And feel free to leave your own suggestions of sex and dating topics in the comments.
Everyone gets jealous. Proponents and practitioners of polyamory get just as jealous as everyone else. The trick to handling jealousy is talking about it, not sitting with it.
Say, “I’m jealous. I don’t look like those hot guys you were checking out.” Or: “I’m feeling a little jealous and trying to get through it. I know you love me, but I need some validation.”
The minute you say “I’m jealous,” it stops being this negative, ugly thing. It becomes what it is: a sign that you need some attention and reinforcement. Because you’re human.
Being “enough” isn’t the same as being someone’s “one and only.” Humans don’t have “one and only” loves — not in my book. There’s no one in the world who’s going to satisfy me sexually 100 percent of the time, just as there’s no one in the world who’s going to satisfy me romantically 100 percent of the time. There are certainly a few people I love more than the rest, but I won’t decide who sits at the “top.” It’s not a hierarchy.
When I tell someone they’re enough, it means I love all of them. Even if I don’t want to be around them all of the time or have sex with them all the time, I wouldn’t change any part of them. I want them fully in my life — not on the sidelines. I want them right here, in the inner fold of my passion and my care. I want them to know that a sexual attraction to someone else or a romantic connection with someone else doesn’t mitigate or invalidate what I feel for them.
There’s no rule saying you can only love one person. Love doesn’t diminish itself by being shared.
“We’re not getting out of this car until we talk.” Don’t say that. That is backing someone into a corner. You don’t corner your partner and demand conversation. You don’t make ultimatums. You don’t withhold sex because you’re not getting something you want. You’re not at war.
You’re co-conspirators hatching a plan. You’re teammates on a group project. You’re doing this together. Sometimes you will have to pick up the slack. Sometimes they’ll have to. When there’s a problem, cornering someone and making demands is not how you work things out.
“You always do [awful thing] every time we [activity] and I’m sick of it!”
“You care about [person, place, or thing] more than you care about me!”
“You don’t give a shit about [person, place, or thing]!”
These are not facts. These are your feelings, your perceptions. Your perception as a human is trained from millions of years of evolution to recognize causation and pattern. The problem with this — with evolution — is that we have a bad habit of seeing causation where there is none and discerning “patterns” from one or two supporting instances. We’re good at exaggerating or ignoring truths to fit our perception. This is why most people fight.
Arguments aren’t about facts. They’re about feelings — your feelings — so make statements about yourself.
“I feel [jealous, hurt, overlooked, neglected, ignored, foolish, etc.] when you do [thing] when we [activity]. I need to talk about that.”
“I feel like you care more about [person, place, or thing] than me sometimes. That hurts.”
“I feel like you don’t care about [person, place, or thing. [Person, place, or thing] is really important to me. That hurts.”
You never back someone into a corner. So what do you do? You extend a hand. Even when you’re furious. You give an olive branch, an exit ramp, a way for them to join in a positive solution when they’re ready.
“Look, I get that you're not in the mood to talk right now. That’s fine. When you are ready, I need us to talk. You’re the person I entrust with my heart. Talking about things is part of your job. You have so much sway over how I feel, and I need you to know that. When you’re happy, I’m happy. When you’re upset about something, or when something’s wrong and not being addressed, it ruins my whole day. That’s how much I care. So I need to talk about this. If not now, soon.”
What do you think polyamory means? What do they think it means? Before you do anything, agree on terms.
Let’s start with definitions. “Nonmonogamy” focuses on sexual exclusivity (or lack of exclusivity). Monogamous couples only fuck each other. Nonmonogamous couples may be completely open — both partners can fuck whoever they want without having to tell each other — but most don’t take it that far. Most nonmonogamous couples are monogamish (a Dan Savage term), meaning they make certain sexual allowances for certain occasions or for certain people.
Most nonmonogamous couples have rules like “Hey, I’m going to be gone for a few weeks. Have fun. Send me videos. Please don’t fuck any of our friends or do something that’s going to make life weird. Have a hookup. Tell me about it.”
Many couples choose to only play together. They meet cute people online or at the club and take them home for a steamy threesome.
Polyamory, as the name suggests, is about multiple romantic connections happening in tandem — connections that may or may not be sexual.
Not every polyamorous relationship is nonmonogamous, but most of the ones I know are. Why? Because if you’re game for polyamory, which is fairly outside most cultural norms, the concept of nonmonogamy isn’t going to be too outlandish. That said, there are monogamous polyamorous relationships — threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes who are committed, sexually and otherwise, to each other.
Set boundaries when you’re starting off, but know that these boundaries might change as your relationship develops, and it’s OK if they do.
Talking becomes tiresome. I know it does. It’s always more fun to watch TV and avoid serious moments. But when you do relationships like this — relationships in which you make your own guidebook rather than complying with the one culture has laid out for you — you must talk often. Honest communication is how your guidebook gets written. In time, the talking becomes less. You figure it out.
Don’t make the labels a big deal. I hate labels — “boyfriend” immediately makes me feel pressure — but I’ve learned how insensitive it is to drag someone along without giving them a name. You’re not so much assigning a role as you are defining someone’s importance to you. A word might seem small, but it shows how much you care.
Jealousy isn’t a sign that you’re closed-minded or prudish. In a polyamorous setup, jealousy is going to flare up. That’s not a sign that “this kind of relationship isn’t for you.” Jealousy just means you need some attention. If the person you’re dating doesn’t understand that or refuses to work with you through your feelings, they may not be the best person for you — but that’s a sign of something they probably need to work on, not evidence that polyamory itself is the wrong way to go.
Poly setups often happen when an established couple starts dating a third. Or when two couples start dating each other. Or when someone starts openly dating two (or more) people simultaneously (these other people may or may not be close to each other, and certainly don’t have to be).
What this means is that your relationship with one person you’re dating might not be the same kind of relationship you have with another person you’re dating. You may have history with one person that you don’t have with the other, or be moving at a different speed with one person than you are moving with another.
Keep all parties informed of where you are with others in your life. If things are getting serious with one of your partners, tell the others. Check in. Let everyone know where you are.
If it’s not working, it’s not working. If you’re half of a couple and have made a romantic connection with someone else, you may have the fantasy of the three of you dating each other, but if they don’t click, they don’t click, and you can’t force them to.
Say, “How do you feel about me continuing to spend time with [other person]? I love you and want to make this decision with you, but before we talk about this, you should know that I like [other person] a lot.”
There’s very little to criticize about someone who reliably tells the truth. You might not always enjoy what they say, but truths — even hard truths — are always better than lies. Appreciate full disclosure. You want people in your life who have no secrets — not from you.
It’s sad that I have to say this: Polyamory is not your excuse to be a jackass. You don’t get to date, woo, and ghost people under the cheap defense of being polyamorous. You don’t get to hurt or lie to people, string them along, or be reckless with their hearts and call it love. That’s not how this works.
A very wise man told me this. The best relationship practice is to schedule regular meetings where you talk about “the four F’s.” These are: Friends, Family, Fucking, and Finance.
Friends: Are you spending enough time with your friends and making them a priority? Are there any friends you need to talk about? Are there any friends you have feelings for?
Family: Where are you with family? Do you need to spend more time with family? Less? Do you like their family? Do they like yours? Do you want to start one?
Fucking: Are you getting enough sex? Are they? What do you you want to differently? What do you want more/less of?
Finance: What’s the money situation? What are your areas of concern?
If you can talk through these four things with honesty and take this seriously, you can work through most issues. This polite, civil, vital talk may be the the glue that keeps you together or the necessary unraveling that needs to happen. You know that going in. The Four F’s are how relationships run smoothly.
I’ve referenced this book countless times in these slideshows. When I first recommended this book to readers, I was just a reader myself as well as a big fan of this book.
Now that I’m friends with the authors, I’m recommending it. The Ethical Slut is a timeless, invaluable resource for people who know they’re not made for one person, “till death do us part,” but who may not know where they fit in the countless other options for love. Give it a read.