“Bae, wifey, partner, open, oh my…” Find and use language you connect with.
This is about your intimacy practices, don’t settle for language you don’t love. I personally hate the word polyamorous. It sounds too clinical, too science-y to me, like polygon, polyester, polytechnic … I can’t connect with it so I don’t use it. (Also, heads up for those who do use it, be aware of the conversations around the term ‘poly.’)
I’ve found (and made up) many other words over the years that I use instead. On the surface, this might seem like semantics, but it’s not. Choosing and crafting the right language with yourself and the folks involved in your intimacy praxis is deeply important. It forces you to really figure out what you want and what you don’t.
A couple months ago while I was writing an article about ‘what it’s like being in an open relationship,’ I mentioned it to my girlfriend and she told me she doesn’t identify us with that term. We sat and talked about it. We had talked about guidelines and such before, but it was in those conversations that I learned so much more about the nuanced contours of what we both wanted. In the end, we decided to use the word spacious. Language is an opportunity to clarify and conjure. It’s also an opportunity for play. I hate the term primary partner – love the word bae. Use language that resonates with you.
Don’t just communicate about what you don’t want, communicate about what you do want too.
A lot of times when I share in, or witness, conversations around non-monogamy, folks get hyper-focused on boundaries and on what they don’t want to happen. Those conversations are important, just don’t forget to talk about the things you do want. What thrills you about the relationship structures you’ve chosen? What makes you feel joyous in it? What makes you feel cared for? What do you desire from them?
Resist shaming folks for desiring multiple people.
A couple years ago I dated someone who had recently shifted from monogamy to non-monogamy with her partner of 8 years. She was really happy with the change until she learned the amount of people her partner actually wanted to have intimacies with. Her assumption was that her partner would have a desired quantity close to her own, like one or two other people. When she found out that wasn’t the case, she began shaming her partner for her desires. I had to check her and tell her how problematic and hypocritical she was being.
If someone you’re intimate with wants to be intimate with lots (in your perception) of people, it’s one thing if that doesn’t work for you. That’s perfectly fine. That’s your boundary. However, you can (and should) express the fact that the setup doesn’t work for you without shaming that person for their desires. Unless this person has been dishonest or unethical in some other way, in which case feel free to point that out, there’s nothing inherently wrong with how they desire just because it isn’t compatible with you. We all do intimacy differently.
More Radical Reads: 7 Things You Learn Raising in Kids in an Open Relationship
Challenge internalized shame around your desires of multiple people.
Unlearning shame around desiring multiple people within ourselves is just as important. We get the message over and over that desiring outside of a monogamous framework is dirty, wrong, and immoral. This doesn’t always magically disappear without work. I’m in a really airy, supportive, and communicative relationship. And I still sometimes feel a twinge of something guilt-adjacent when I desire others or have to express that. Unlearning that is deeply important in communicating in non-monogamous intimacies, but also for our own self-love.
Be real about how much you actually want to see and know.
When the folks you’re intimate with are intimate with others, there can be potential/guaranteed crossover. I’ve been in circles where the expectation was that everyone’s lovers should meet everyone’s lovers. I’ve sat at many a table grabbing drinks with folks I’m dating and the other folks they’re dating. I was always down with it and ended up having a good time, but I also know that’s not for everyone. If that is not what you’re interested in, say it. It’s okay to say, “I’m happy with you dating other people, I just don’t feel the need to sit with them at a happy hour.”
It’s important to talk about those things. How will it feel if ya’ll flirt with other people in front of each other? And if ya’ll touch other folk in front of each other? Should everyone know each other – be friends? If there are multiple of you, all dating each other, are there still boundaries in terms of what you want to see? You can be okay with something, and still not want to see it. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about that.
Don’t be afraid to talk about identity.
I think this is a good guideline for all kinds of relationships. I think it can take on a particular kind of significance in non-monogamous relationships, especially when shifting from monogamy to non – monogamy. Maybe the person you’re dating identifies as a woman and now you want to date men. Maybe your partner is cis and you’re trans and you want to date other trans folks. These conversations can be hard, but are really important to have.
Be open to, and clear about, changes and shifts in feelings.
No matter what you all have decided and talked about, understand that things might shift in you and in others. Maybe something that was okay before, isn’t anymore. Maybe it was okay with one person, but not with another. Be gentle and open about these shifts in yourself and others.
Leave space and grace for them.
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