Valentine's Day is stressful enough when you're just dating one person (all that date-planning, gift-researching, and flower-giving)—now imagine adding multiple boyfriends and girlfriends to the mix.
That's reality for people in polyamorous relationships, which means V-Day can be pretty tricky. Logistically, there are just more people to consider. But along with the extra work comes extra love, too. We talked to seven poly people about how they manage to show multiple partners they care on on V-Day. Here’s what it's really like, and how they make it work.
1. 'CARD-GIVING IS A STRUGGLE'
Asha, 36. She’s engaged, both her and her fiancé both date others.
“Compared to when I was monogamous, I now have more people to contact, and more gifts and cards to buy. I also have a much harder time finding Valentine’s Day cards. They are all very monogamously bent and don't really give room for different styles or tiers of relationships. Since becoming poly I really have internalised the realisation that not all relationships will last forever or end in marriage, and that's okay. With that knowledge, it's much weirder to get someone a card that essentially says we will be together until death. I just can't know that—even being engaged—but I do know that I enjoy every moment of my time with the people that I am with and I want that to continue for as long as our love lasts. So the way cards are worded the biggest complication for me.
"I usually spend Valentine's Day with my fiancé. Right now, all the people my fiancé and I date have either their own live-in partner, a spouse, or someone else they also spend time with, so scheduling the day isn’t too complicated.
"In the past it wasn’t quite so easy. I was once dating six people who were also dating multiple people, so scheduling was more difficult. We had to decide when and if we could physically see each other on that day or if another day that week was more plausible. Sometimes there were difficult feelings about who might get the actual day.
"Last year, I spent the afternoon with my long-distance partner who was in town for an event. We hung out in his hotel room and caught up. Then I spent the evening with my fiancé. We had dinner and went to see an action movie, which I love doing on V-Day.
"One of the best parts of being poly on Valentine’s Day is that there are more people telling you their feelings for you. It’s a great love boost!”
2. 'IT CAN BE GREAT...BUT CAN ALSO BRING UP JEALOUSY'
Kamala Devi, 42. She’s been married to Michael for almost 16 years. They have about a dozen other partners.
“We've both been polyamorous for over 20 years. We tend to travel with lovers to celebrate Valentine’s Day. In past years, we've gone to watch performance art or visit friends and watch theatre. Often times there are lovers who can't celebrate with us, because of scheduling conflicts or other constraints, so we make an effort to celebrate on another date. We like to think of it more like Valentine’s month, rather than Valentine’s Day.
"Although we've had many great Valentine’s, we've also had trying times of insecurity, comparison, and jealousy. Ironically, my husband and I are so secure in our marriage, that it's often the newer relationships that challenge us. It’s especially difficult when it's someone's first poly Valentine’s and they have expectations about having you or your partner all to themselves!
"Last Valentine’s was our 15th anniversary, so we rented a boat that had a built-in hot tub and invited our lovers to join us for a cruise!”
3. 'SCHEDULING CAN BE A CHALLENGE'
Valerie, 27, splits her time between London and New York City. She’s married to her husband and has a boyfriend and a girlfriend.
“These days, I buy into the whole Valentine’s Day thing a lot less. When I was in a monogamous relationship, I placed quite a lot of stock into those kinds of rituals and they always felt a bit formulaic: demonstrate love with XYZ gesture, lingerie, and cards. Once you've broken the big rule of monogamy, it becomes easy and fun to break lots of little rules. For example, I like to buy one of my male partners flowers for Valentine’s.
"Making enough time for everyone is always the number-one issue for me—and that’s the case all year round. You have to kind of accept that you'll never be able to equally distribute time across all partners. Sometimes that doesn’t even make sense—one of my partners isn’t really into Valentine’s Day anyway, so he'd find it strange if I went to great lengths to spend the whole evening with him every third year, for parity!
"I've only celebrated one Valentine’s Day with all three of my partners together. All of us went to dinner, along with a couple of other partners that are connected to the group through my partners. I love it when there's an extended little circle of people hanging out—someone's ex was even there! Afterwards, I spent the night at my girlfriend's house, since it was close to the start of our relationship, and she's much more into V-Day than my other partners.”
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4. 'WE TRY NOT TO TAKE V-DAY TOO SERIOUSLY'
Caitlin, 30. She is married to her husband and also dates her boyfriend.
“I enjoy ‘silly’ holidays like Valentine’s Day, and I love celebrating them with multiple people. It’s made me be more creative. The greeting card world is SO geared towards monogamy, so you kind of have to make your own stuff accordingly to accommodate more than one partner. This past year I bought a monogamous-worded card for my husband and crossed some things out and re-wrote it to fit our marriage.
"I usually just spend the day with my husband, because my boyfriend isn’t super into silly romantic stuff (but I get him flowers anyway). I’ll also send a group text to both of them—which is kind of funny—wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day. Since we don’t take Valentine’s Day super seriously, it’s not a big deal to carve out time to celebrate individually with each person. But it is nice to receive love and support from multiple people that day.”
5. 'IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO MANAGE EXPECTATIONS'
Lola, 65. She’s dating two women, both of whom have other partners.
“We communicate everything up front, so we’re open about what we’re doing with our other partners that day without fear of retribution or disaster. Still, that doesn’t mean we have to disclose exactly what gift or card we’ve given someone.
"The only complications are around expectations and scheduling. If someone has some deeper expectation of something special happening, and they don't make that request to the partner, there's room for ‘ouch.’ So it's an opportunity to grow our skills at asking for what we want or need. Similarly, if one of us misses the mark and schedules badly or double-books, then that can be tricky and painful to manage.
"Last year, we all exchanged cards and went swing dancing, which was really nice.”
6. 'IT ACTUALLY TAKES AWAY SOME OF THE PRESSURE'
Andre, 29. She’s in two long-term relationships with two transgender men, one of whom is married to her best friend, a cisgender man. She also has a girlfriend of two years.
“Back when I was in monogamous relationships in high school and college, I remember there being a lot of anticipation and anxiety pre-Valentine's Day. There was definitely a competitive atmosphere among the girls I went to school with around whose boyfriend could produce the most romantic day of all, which made my unpartnered classmates feel unworthy. I spent time on both sides of that coin, and looking back, I regret the power I let Valentine's Day hold over me.
"In my post-monogamy life, I've found that Valentine's Day now has much less weight to it. There's a certain ease in having several partners; you all understand that to carve out unique, intentional time for each person on Valentine's Day would be a massive undertaking that most adults don't have the bandwidth for!
"Instead, my partners and I typically pool our resources together and go in on a single excursion or indulgence that we all can enjoy. We'll typically wait until a few days after the surge, then go see a movie, have a chef friend cook us all dinner, or reserve a private hot tub and steam room at the local spa. I’m lucky enough to get to do that because all of my partners get along well with each other, and desire to be in each other's company. I’m very grateful for that. The only complication I’ve had with multiple partners is getting it into my head that I should try to have sex with all of my partners on Valentine's Day, and that has gotten pretty physically exhausting in the past!
"My partners and I also try to avoid feeding the capitalist machine around Valentine's Day if possible, so we don’t do many material gifts. I stopped buying cards intended specifically for Valentine's Day a long time ago, since they all prioritise and cater to monogamous relationships. Instead, I now buy handmade cards from artists within the local queer and PoC communities that are blank inside so I can write whatever my heart desires, without having to scribble out all of that ‘you're the only one for me’ nonsense! In 2015 I remember receiving a few boxes of my favorite Girl Scout cookies, some nude photographs, and an original piece of erotica written for me as presents, and I couldn't have been happier. I'm so glad that my priorities have shifted!”
7. 'I JUST THROW A BIG PARTY'
Page, 36. She’s married to her husband, and dates two women. Her husband dates one of her girlfriends, too.
“I have poly friends who have the ‘multiple partner, one holiday’ problem. But they’ve resolved it by setting up multiple dates on the same day, like one in the morning, afternoon, and evening, or by having a three-day stretch of ‘Valentine's Day’ dates. Most of my friends seem to be fairly laid back about the whole thing.
"The way I've typically celebrated Valentine's Day is by having a big party near the actual date. All my partners are invited, along with their other partners, many of our friends, and those friends' other partners. We watch terrible movies and mock them, eat fried chicken, have drinks, and catch up with one another.
"It's actually very rare that I do a big Valentine's Day date with any of my partners. Over the past seven years I've been with my husband, we've only done it once.
"It might be cheesy, but life is good and my relationships are so strong that every day feels like Valentine's Day, so for me the holiday has been less important. I know I'm loved year round.”
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US