Dating & Relationships

What Is Polyamory? Tips and Insight From Poly-People

Writer Rachael Davis talks to some real-life polyamorous people
by Rachael Davies
28 Jun 2021

UPDATED: 15 Nov 2022


When you think of polyamory, what springs to mind? Do you think of a long-term couple, looking to spice things up by introducing a third person to the relationship? That’s often the most common depiction of polyamory that we get in films and TV shows, but there are actually just as many different ways to do polyamory as there are people on this planet.

A triad is a form of polyfidelity, where multiple people commit to one another, and is actually relatively rare in polyamorous circles. By definition, polyamory is simply the practice of developing intimate relationships with multiple people at the same time, with the consent of all parties involved. It’s also sometimes called ethical non-monogamy (ENM) or consensual non-monogamy (CNM).

To better understand how diverse and multi-faceted polyamory can be, let’s hear from some polyamorous people finding love and intimacy on their own terms.

Leanne, 22, is in polyamorous relationships with four people and identifies as a relationship anarchist.

“I customise each of my relationships according to what the people in the relationship want out of it instead of ascribing labels like platonic, romantic, or sexual,” she explains. “My romantic relationships are on par with my intimate friendships.

I am polyamorous because I love and respect myself too much to ever be in a monogamous relationship. Monogamy is something I actively do not want. I know I deserve love from multiple sources and the freedom to seek it out, and I have known this since I was a young teenager.”

Rachel, 42, came to polyamory later in life at the age of 39 and started exploring it with her husband. Now married for almost 20 years, they are in a long-term triad with a man.

“My poly life is amazingly freeing and liberating,” says Rachel. “For years, my husband and I were brought up thinking it was wrong to love more than one partner, so when we developed feelings for other men and women it made us feel bad. Once we spoke with other like-minded poly people, we realised it was perfectly normal.”

Lastly, meet Mark in his fifties, who has been practising polyamory since 1993 and who has had many polyamorous relationships.

He is married to his wife and they have two children together. He also has multiple other long-term partners and continues to date casually. Mark doesn’t hide the fact that he has other partners from his children, but also doesn’t advertise it. When asked to describe his poly life and multiple partners, Mark had just one word to sum it up: complicated.

“The first time I heard the word polyamory was 13 years after I started being polyamorous. That’s when I learned that there was a word for it. I thought I’d invented it!”

What do poly-people enjoy about being polyamorous, and polyamorous relationships?

All three came to polyamory through different routes and all three enjoy different benefits from their relationships. For both Rachel and Leanne, it fundamentally comes down to freedom.

“Being able to explore connections as and when they come to their full potential,” explains Leanne. “I take full control of my sexuality and desires and explore anything I feel curious about with the right people. I have variety in my romantic and sex life and I can see my partners in love with each other and I feel overwhelming joy for them.”

“For me personally, the best thing about being polyamorous is knowing I have the freedom to share my love with those that want to and are ready to receive it,” says Rachel.

Mark finds the greatest value in polyamorous relationships in what he can give to other people – compared to what he is able to give in monogamous relationships.

“I think the best times for me have been when I have opened up somebody’s life in some way. When they tell me they’ve never experienced that before, or that they have just had a life-changing experience.”

What are some polyamory pitfalls?

Of course, as with any relationship, there are also challenges to contend with as well. Many people would assume that jealousy would be a common problem, but Leanne rejects that.

“I’m naturally not a very jealous person,” she explains. “Even before I realised I was polyamorous, I was actively encouraging my first partner in high school to point out people he found attractive to me so we could get excited over it together. For me, the main thing has been time management, but if you spend any time within the polyamorous community, you’ll know that most of us get by using Google Calendar.”

On Mark’s end, he acknowledges that dating more people leaves you more vulnerable to being hurt or getting taken advantage of.

“When you have one partner, if they’re a goodie, then you’ve got a good relationship,” he says. “But there is a risk when you’re in multiple relationships that you will meet up with someone who is not good for you. I now recognise that not everybody is going to be a wholesome individual who can cope with having a nice adult relationship and some good times.”

Sometimes, the obstacles to polyamory come from people outside of the relationships. Rachel has come up against social stigma since she started exploring polyamory. 

“When I tell people I am poly, they immediately assume ‘so you have affairs then?’ I explain they are only affairs if my husband isn’t aware that I am sharing my love with another. The rule in our household is that if we like someone, we get the blessing of our primary [each other]. “

Any advice for polyamory newbies?

For anyone thinking about polyamory and looking for some advice, both Rachel and Leanne recommend speaking to people in the polyamory community and doing your research first.

“It’s not for everyone,” says Rachel. “But by the same token, don’t sit on the side-lines thinking ‘what if’; take a deep breath and jump in.”

“Do your research, and be patient,” advises Leanne. “Unlearning a lifetime of monogamous conditioning is a process that takes time and effort, and all the failed polyamorous relationships that I’ve seen failed because they took a monogamous mindset into their polyamorous activities.”

Mark also offers some advice after decades of polyamory.

“Dare to be honest,” he says. “Long-term dishonesty is incredibly damaging to relationships. Honesty can be very difficult short-term, it can be really uncomfortable…but long-term, it’s far healthier.

“Don’t assume that because you’ve been monogamous with them for a while, that they’re definitely going to be anti-monogamy. Just dare to be honest.”