Five Reasons Polyamory Might Not Be Right For You (And What to Consider Instead)
When polyamory might not be the ideal relationship structure for you.
Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM Jera on Instagram or Twitter @thejerabrown.
Ethically non-monogamous folks — especially those who identify as polyamorous — love to proselytize about their lifestyle (myself included). And I do believe it’s important to advocate for the various forms of ethical non-monogamy as valid options. Monogamy is still the default relationship style, and I don’t believe there should be a default.
In polyamorous circles, there can be an air of superiority over those who choose monogamy. A belief that polyamorous folks are somehow more enlightened for having escaped the trap of monogamy.
But this misses the point, which is that how you do relationships should be a choice. And, to me, understanding that you have a choice is where any sort of “relationship enlightenment” starts.
So anyway, polyamory is great. But is it right for you?
I’m sure you can find lots of other articles (or people!) to explain all the benefits of polyamory. In this piece, I’m going to do the opposite. I want to explain five reasons it might not be right for you and offer some alternatives to consider instead.
But first, let’s establish a baseline: what do I mean when I say polyamory?
What Do I Mean By Polyamory?
The word polyamory means many or multiple loves. It’s typically used when people have — or desire — multiple romantic partners. People who identify as polyamorous are usually seeking a lasting emotional bond just as much as multiple sexual partners. (Note: there are also folks who are seeking multiple romantic bonds without sex, and this is also valid.)
Polyamorous folks can enjoy swinging, friends with benefits, one-night affairs, etc. But they’re also open to multiple committed, romantic relationships at the same time.
So are you thinking that having multiple long-lasting lovers sounds amazing? Here are four times when you should reconsider.
Four Reasons Polyamory Might Not Be Right For You
1. You’re Just Trying To Save a Failing Relationship
In my experience, this is one of the most common reasons why couples open up their relationship. And it’s not a good idea.
Maybe one partner feels suffocated or the relationship feels stale. And you’re hoping to add new excitement and/or freedom by adding more people into the equation.
The problem is that more people = more complexity. And if your relationship is already unstable, then more complexity is only going to make it worse. And that’s really not fair for the person or people you bring into your mess.
Now, this doesn’t mean I think that opening up a relationship is always a bad idea. In fact, it can make a relationship even healthier. For instance, in the past, I’ve encouraged folks in relationships with mismatched sex drives to consider non-monogamy.
So what’s the difference?
If things are bad because you’re not able to be vulnerable with each other and you’re holding grudges, you’re not practicing active listening, and so on, then opening up isn’t going to solve anything. But if you believe that you and your partner have healthy communication and have made the decision together that opening up will be good for both of you, then that’s a whole different ballgame.
One more thing before I move on: if you are opening up a relationship for whatever reason — you’re often long-distance, one person has a higher sex drive, etc — you don’t need to jump into polyamory. For example, a lot of couples start with the rule of sex without emotional involvement (which is not poly). This is fine if that’s what everyone wants.
But no matter what you call it, you need to commit to being fair to whoever you start seeing.
Decide ahead of time what you’re going to do if you or your partner start catching feelings for someone else, because it’s going to happen. And make sure whatever you decide can’t easily be labeled an “asshole-move” to the other person.
2. You’re Not Great at Articulating Boundaries/Needs And You’re Not Going to Start Now
Aaaaand we’re back to communication.
This is one of those times when you need to be honest with yourself: are you willing to do the work to be a better communicator? Because if you’re interested in polyamory — multiple romantic partnerships — you haveto be ready for some serious emotional work. Think about the amount of work it takes to keep one relationship healthy and then multiply it.
If you search your heart, soul, gut, whatever, and realize you’re just not willing to do this work, then be honest with yourself and others.
It’s totally fine to be just looking for sex as long as you’re very, very honest and don’t lead people on (i.e. don’t call yourself poly) and when people catch feels that you’re not ready for, don’t be an asshole about it. (See the themes arising?) Just kindly remind them that’s not what you’re looking for and move on.
3. You’re Not Willing to Sit With Jealousy
When I mention I’m poly, the two most common responses I get are, “Oh, that’s not for me. I’m too jealous.” Or, “But don’t you get jealous?” And I inwardly roll my eyes.
Umm yes, I get jealous. Of course, I get jealous. I’m human. I think that attempting to maintain a relationship without jealousy is like trying to run without getting winded. It’s not natural.
See, I think that jealousy is healthy. It can be a sign that you’ve got some emotional work to do. It can also be a sign that something’s wrong that you need to talk out. But it’s a good thing because working with jealousy usually leads to better communication, more self-confidence, more vulnerability and intimacy.
The thing is, you have to be willing to sit with your jealousy and listen to it and communicate what you’re feeling. And if all of that sounds like way too much, then polyamory isn’t right for you.
4. You’re Primarily In it for the Sex
There are other relationship styles that lend themselves much better to folks who are primarily interested in banging multiple people: like swinging or just playing the field.
I know this is primarily semantics, but words matter. Because you’ve got to set clear expectations about what you’re looking for.
So if you know you’re mostly looking for sex, then be up-front about it. And the term polyamory probably isn’t right for you.
5. You’re Feeling Pressured Into It
People can feel pressured into trying non-monogamy for a lot of reasons. Maybe you’re dating someone who’s adamant about it and you don’t want to give them up. Or maybe your past relationships have been disasters are you’re trying to do something different.
Going into something you’re not ready for or not interested in isn’t healthy. That doesn’t mean I think you should rule out non-monogamy forever and ever, amen — but I do think you need to press pause and really evaluate what’s going on.
If you’re dating someone who’s definitely non-monogamous and you’re feeling squeamish about it, you’ve got some soul-searching to do. Start by asking yourself a bunch of questions:
Why are you attracted to this person? Is there something about their freedom that you want to emulate, but something is holding you back? Or perhaps, as much as you like them, you’re just not a good match?
If it’s not about a particular person, but you’re still feeling pressured into considering non-monogamy, I’d start by asking yourself if you’re not interested because of fear or because it doesn’t feel authentic to who you are and what you’re looking for.
See, there’s a tension we all have to work with around being true to ourselves while allowing ourselves to grow. The thing is, part of being true to yourself is identifying the ways you’d like to grow and honoring that.
In other words, I hope you do want to have the best possible relationships with others. But you get to decide what that looks like for you and what work you need to do to make it happen.
Other Relationship Styles or Practices to Consider
If you’re convinced that polyamory might not be for you, here are some alternatives to consider.
Swinging often gets a bad rap. In my experience, part of the problem is that swinger communities don’t always have the best communication practices. This may be because it’s a lot of couples’ first foray into non-monogamy. Being centered around sex, it’s also intentionally a meat market, and that can feel a little gross after a while.
But it can also be really liberating to just show up and say, yeah … I’m just looking for sex.
And it may be ideal for you if you’re not ready or interested in maintaining multiple committed relationships.
Polyamory and swinging are not mutually exclusive. Poly folks swing. But if you’re going to a swinger’s club or joining a swinger community, there’s generally not an expectation that you’re looking for a relationship that lasts years.
A term coined by Dan Savage which means being mostly monogamous with occasional extra outlets. This is great for couples who aren’t interested or ready for the commitment of multiple romantic partners but aren’t satisfied with traditional monogamy. Savage explains some of these benefits in this video, including the ability to have sexual adventures and variety. “Humans are programmed to seek sexual variety, and … having that ability to experience something new is a terrific thing to have in your life along with a committed relationship.
The rules about not being an asshole apply here. 1) Be upfront about your relationship agreements. 2) Have a realistic plan in place for what happens if you develop feels for someone else that is fair to everyone involved.
3. Relationship Anarchy
Relationship anarchy questions the dominance of “coupledom” as the ideal for romantic love. Andie Nordgren published a manifesto about what relationship anarchists believe, including things like “love and respect instead of entitlement” and “customize your commitments.”
Relationship anarchists reject the idea that one person is more important than any other — one of the common faults of polyamory, which clings to the ideas of “primary” and “secondary” partners.
If this equitable and independent style of relationships intrigues you, it can transform your life. It will make you question what you mean by attachment and commitment. But one word of caution: Don’t abuse it by using relationship anarchy to avoid true intimacy.
Just because you’re not interested in calling someone your “main squeeze” or “primary partner” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer people you care about (and who care about you) the gifts of vulnerability and commitment. The beauty of relationship anarchy is that it is designed for you to decide what commitment means to.
(By the way, plenty of polyamorous folks identify as relationship anarchists. If this feels right to you, you should also look into solo polyamory.)
4. Deliberate Monogamy
At the end of the day, it is 100% okay if you decide that monogamy is right for you. Deliberate or “radical” monogamy is simply monogamy that you are deliberately choosing — as opposed to seeing monogamy as the default.
When you choose monogamy, you can still commit to doing it in a non-toxic way. What does this look like? Committing to questioning your assumptions around sex, gender roles in relationships, what success in a relationship looks like, etc.
So you know how I said polyamory probably isn’t right for you if you’re not willing to work on communication in relationships? I have bad news for you.
Monogamy isn’t going to work for you either.
Ultimately no relationship is going to be healthy if you’re not ready to do the work.
But it’s much easier to do the hard work with one person at a time who is committed to doing the work with you.
Ambiamory is the new kid on the block. It’s a relationship structure or identity which means people can find satisfaction in either monogamy or non-monogamy. And it’s basically a nod to the reality that everything in life is fluid. Maybe in this current relationship, you’re monogamous, but in the future you’d be happy being open. That’s totally fine!
Identifying as ambiamorous is a way of saying you’re flexible, which is great.
One word of caution: make sure you continue to honor what you need — which can change. Don’t use ambiamory as an excuse to let your partners decide how things are going to be. And it’s ok to change your mind about what you’re open to or what you need.