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Unconventional partners: 4 things to know before going poly

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No matter how curious or open-minded you are, expanding your horizons about love, sex, and relationships can be challenging. Especially in sexually conservative cultures, people are often conditioned to believe that romantic partnerships “should” be a certain way.

So many of us, for instance, have grown up with the idea of finding a “one and only” as the standard for a healthy, successful romance. Despite what we’re told, however, the truth is that love looks different for different people. Many people the world over, in fact, find a lot of emotional and sexual fulfillment in having relationships with multiple partners.

At the most basic level, polyamory involves maintaining romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person at a time. As you’ll soon see, though, there’s much more to it than that—and much to consider if you yourself are curious about possibly pursuing non-traditional partnerships. Whether you’re single and exploring or seeking to open up an existing relationship (with an informed, consenting partner, of course!), read on. Here are just a few essential things to know before you take the plunge.

It’s not just about sex
Before you get too deep into any threesome fantasies or looking at sex shops in the Philippines for new toys to try with a group, take a step back. Contrary to what many people think—and to what many poor depictions in the media would have you believe—people don’t enter polyamorous relationships just to have sex with as many people as possible.

Likewise, don’t assume that having multiple sexual and romantic partners means these relationships are casual and commitment-free. In fact, many polyamorous people are equally committed to and fulfilled by every one of their partners.

 As in traditional relationships, sexual attitudes, boundaries, and preferences within polyamorous relationships vary widely between individuals. Learning your preferences and those of your partners will thus naturally be an essential part of navigating these relationships successfully.

Break down your ‘monogamy mindset’
Whether you like it or not, being raised in a predominantly monogamous culture will have shaped your view of relationships in many ways. Some of these conventional ideas and attitudes may even be so deeply rooted that you’re not even conscious of them at first. Do you, for instance, expect to see your significant other every day? Are you comfortable spending time on your own?

Do you instinctively bristle at the idea of your partner receiving other people’s romantic or sexual interest? Acknowledging these ingrained ideas is a crucial first step to opening yourself up to a totally different relationship style. Once you identify what preconceived notions have a particularly strong hold over you, you can then begin to rework your thinking.

 There are many ways to be poly
Taking off from the above point, it’s important to understand that polyamorous relationships don’t follow a single specific configuration. Some people, for instance, may have a primary partner—usually the partner they live with and/or spend the most time with—and a more casual but equally committed secondary partner.

A triad of three people may all date each other. Or, two people in a relationship might also pursue relationships with others, but may not necessarily date or sleep with their partner’s other partner. Because polyamory can take so many different forms, it’s important to discuss goals and boundaries at length with anyone you’re interested in. The following concerns, especially, are often considered essential to address before making any commitments:

  • Whether you prefer your partner’s other relationships to be purely sexual in nature, or if romantic attachments can also be involved
  • Whether you want to know about your partner’s other relationships, and what specific information you prefer to be told or not told
  • Whether you tell other people in your life, such as friends and family, about your arrangement
  • How to touch base with each other about continuing with the arrangement, or otherwise support each other when strong emotions arise

Be prepared to self-examine
The success of any relationship depends on the people involved being clear about their needs and desires, first with themselves and subsequently with their partners. Identifying how you feel, what you want, and what you need can be especially complex in polyamorous relationships, if only because there are more people to think about. Thus, considering polyamory will require you to get very, very familiar with yourself.

Do some deep dives into your motives and feelings, and then take the challenge of putting your thoughts into words. It’s particularly important not to shy away from unattractive feelings like jealousy or insecurity. Make an effort to sit with those feelings when they arise, and ask yourself thoughtful questions about where they’re coming from and how you can address them.

There are as many different ways to love as there are different people in the world, and in this day and age, it’s important to appreciate that. Whether or not you eventually pursue a polyamorous relationship yourself, just remember that honest communication with yourself and your potential partners are key. Commit above all to treating yourself and one another with gentleness and care and that attitude will never steer you wrong.

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