I’ve been in a polyamorous relationship for almost 12 years, but my partner, Nico, and I didn’t always call it that. In fact, we adopted the "poly" label more as a way to help others understand our relationship, but we just view each other as partners.
We met in college. I was drawn to him because he was one of the first people who challenged the ultra-conservative beliefs I had grown up with, in a noninvasive way. He introduced me to things I now love, like yoga, and there was an instant connection. But our relationship has always been really unique.
We both like to be pursued in relationships, and neither of us took on the role of the pursuer when we met. There was no cat and mouse game, and neither one of us wanted to be too committed. We never labeled each other boyfriend and girlfriend. But we both knew we loved each other for reasons that were way bigger than relationship dynamics. Over the past 12 years, we’ve lived together and apart—even across the country from one another—but nearly the whole time we’ve been connected in some sense.
We love each other and are family, but we both believe in letting the other live the life that makes them happy. We realized pretty early that we can’t satisfy each other’s every need, especially when we were living so far away from each other. So we got really honest about dating other people and letting those people into each other’s lives.
That’s just progressed over the last 12 years, so it’s funny to now be putting a polyamorous label on it, when we didn’t have a big conversation about entering into a poly relationship. It’s just what worked for us and it’s where we’ve landed.
But that’s not to say it’s been easy. Nico and I have to operate with full transparency. No Saran Wrap, nothing. I’ve learned that when people find out about things after the fact, it’s incredibly hurtful. But if you’re up front about new partners, you can work through those emotions.
So when I’m going to a party to meet people, Nico knows about that. It’s not a secret. And it’s not a secret to anyone I meet there that I’m with Nico. I would never take someone home unless Nico and I had talked about it first.
Yes, jealousy happens—it’s a human emotion, and we all have that desire to be number one. I’ve found that being really honest about what’s going on in our lives helps combat that.
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It’s also important to understand each other’s boundaries. Nico and I have been together for so long that we just get it, and we don’t have to check in with each other about those things a lot. But I dated another woman who was super monogamy-oriented, and I’m not, and we had to set up boundaries that worked for us. We had a zip code rule—we couldn’t date anyone else in the New York area, and that was hard for me. We were never able to find a sweet spot with the boundaries that worked for both of us, and that’s why it didn't last.
That’s one of the hardest parts of being polyamorous—finding the right people. There are a lot of people who think they can do this, and then emotions get involved and they can’t. You have to find people who are really in touch with themselves and how they feel.
When I meet someone I’m into, I try to be really upfront but casual at the same time. I’m not exactly yelling, “I’m poly! Wanna be my second girlfriend? It’ll be great!” That’s a lot. But I try to talk about my relationship as realistically as possible. I talk about Nico the way he is. He’s a great person; Nico is an addition to the team, not a subtraction from the team. He’s a support person for me, so it actually is a very positive place to be in.
The label is the scariest thing. People hear “polyamorous” and they think it’s people having sex like crazy and that’s just not how it is.
For Nico and I, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. I feel safe in our relationship. In monogamy, there’s often this fear of “But what if they leave me?” With polyamory, that fear is gone because no one needs to cheat or lie, and we’ve built this place of trust where we can really talk about what’s working and what’s not working. And that feels like a better place for me. Being poly allows us to be authentic and explore what makes us happy in our lives in a way I didn’t feel like I could in monogamous relationships.
Being open about our relationship has been hard on some people in our lives (my family didn't welcome us at our holiday celebrations this year), but mostly, the feedback we’ve gotten has been amazing. I had a lady message me recently (she does my be.come workouts) and she said, “You and I have COMPLETELY different beliefs, but you’ve really been a positive light for me and I love you.”
We feel like it’s important to talk about it and normalise it, especially because we look like a straight couple in a photo, and we don’t identify with that at all. Being able to sort of get away with that when we’re walking down the street or traveling gives us privileges that most queer people don’t have, but it’s also important to show that being poly and queer can look a lot of different ways.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US