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In some ways, poly dating is just like any other dating. You meet people, you feel it out, sometimes there is chemistry and sometimes there isn't. In other ways, it becomes much more complicated, and you end up facing challenges you wouldn't face in monogamous dating.
Since I have realized that I'm poly, I have been up front with everyone I've dated. It is clear on my profile on OK Cupid, and I include it in any personal ads I post. I don't see the point of waiting to tell someone, because that is wasting my time, and theirs. Why forge a connection with someone only to find out AFTER the sparks start flying that we are not compatible? If I meet people out in the world, it becomes a bit more complicated because I have to figure out when to tell them, but honestly that doesn't happen a lot. I don't have much free time, and very little of the free time I do have is spent in any activities with the potential to meet dates.
I am also up front about my time constraints. Part of this is just normal stuff that would apply in non-poly dating - I am a single mother who works full time. I don't get a lot of free time, and in order for me to go on an actual date, I have to pay money for someone to watch my kids. But some of it is also a direct result of being poly - I am seeing someone, and some of my time is already claimed by that person. Right now, that person is the one I have been seeing longest and I have a very involved relationship with them. Some of my time is reserved for them. It doesn't mean I don't have time for you too, but it does mean people have to understand from the get-go that there are certain times I'm not available.
Dating poly can be really joyful. I get the chance to experience new relationship energy (NRE) and the comfort of ongoing relationships. I love that I can get different energy from different people. I love meeting new people and feeling things out, hearing their stories, delighting in our common interests. I like that I get to have different kinds of physical relationships with people. Most of the people I meet who identify as poly also tend to be more accepting in general, more open, etc. and I really like surrounding myself with positive energy.
So, what is difficult about dating poly?
Many people don't know what it means.
Some people understand it from the start. Maybe they identify as poly as well, or have experience with it. Some people seem to just like the idea that there doesn't have to be a certain type of commitment that fits inside a box. But for many people who come across my ad or my profile, they start chatting with me and it almost seems like they don't really think about how it could be different to date a poly person. I still get people asking me if I am looking for "the one," and I have to explain that the concept of "the one" doesn't apply for me. I answer the same questions for many people. Yes, I already have a partner. No, I cannot define our relationship for you exactly. Yes, there are other people who come in and out of my life who I consider friends and have intimate relationships. No, it is not some giant orgy all the time. Yes, I am capable of loving more than one person at a time. I don't mind explaining polyamory to people, I want more people to know about it and understand, because exposure leads to normalization. But it can be frustrating once in a while when someone just can't grasp it OR chooses to ignore it as if it's not an important part of who I am and what I'm looking for.
The assumption that being poly means I'm easy and just looking for sex.
No, polyamory isn't just one big orgy all the time. I mean, I guess it could be, if that's what you want. And if it is, more power to you! I don't think that there's anything wrong with a lot of sex. However, I definitely encounter my fair share of people who think polyamory means slutty, and easy. I am not looking for a sex-only situation, so when people think this our interactions don't usually last very long.
Feeling like a sideshow instead of a potential partner.
Like I said, I certainly don't mind answering questions about polyamory. But there is a point at which it becomes less about someone trying to understand and more about them just wanting to hear details of my life. It makes me feel like an animal in a zoo, like they just want to study me. I don't mind explaining my current relationship(s) to some degree, but I'm more interested in exploring any potential relationship I might have with the person I'm talking to than giving them every single detail of my dating life before I even know what their favorite kind of pizza is. Sometimes I think that people message me who aren't even interested in me because they are curious about me.
Encountering people who like the idea of polyamory, but may not be polyamorous.
I saw one guy for about a month last fall. We met and I had this feeling, and I contacted him, which is not something I've really done in the "real world" (read: not online), and we went out on a date and our chemistry was just... wicked. It was intense. I could feel that both of us were super open and deep and intense and we had these FEELINGS and we were both trying not to fall into them, but the electricity made it hard. Both of us had thoughts when we're not together about how maybe we should call it off, but then we get in the same room and it would seem impossible.
About a month into it, I had to tell him that the level of togetherness we had been having was just not sustainable for me. I can't take long lunches and I need to pay attention to my bedtime. The NRE was strong and we both wanted to spend time together, but it was too much for me. At first it seemed like he got it, and it was okay, but it didn't work out. He was unsure about how to deal with sharing me. I would purposely bring up my other partners to see how he reacted, because I had to.
We talked about just letting it be what it was, once again the phrase 'without expectations' slipping from my lips. He was new to poly, newer than I am, and seemed to be coming at it from a completely different angle. He knew in his head that it makes sense, and he knew in his head that he wasn't really in a place for something "serious." But in the end, it felt to me like his heart wasn't in being poly. He wanted a "one," someone to be there just for him, to get wrapped up in, spend time with, and be enamored with. And that is totally fine, but I am not that person.
For me, poly isn't in my head. It's inside me, like a part of my spirit. It is a feeling. It feels like something I have been missing that I finally found. It feels like many other things I have discovered about myself this year, like a part of myself that has come to maturity and makes part of who I am, a part of this wonderful person that I have come to be and love.
But don't you get jealous?
Yes, there is still jealousy, but there are lots of ways to deal with it and experience it. The goal isn't to get rid of it, but to figure it out and incorporate it into your idea of how things "should" be. Or better yet, get rid of those boxes and ideas all together. What feels right? For some people, a lot of people, monogamy feels right and good. Fall in love, move in, get married, have babies, happily ever after. And that is fine and good and wonderful. I tried that. It didn't work out for me. And now, I am trying something else and it feels like home.
The jealousy will ebb and flow over time, and I will work to change my perception of jealousy. Instead of having a knee-jerk reaction that jealousy means I should immediately stop the situation from happening that is causing the jealousy, I will communicate and process and figure out what it means for me and how to deal with it.
Other Thoughts on Non-Traditional Relationships
Along with polyamory, I have thought a lot about relationships in general, and so far I have found that the relationships that work for me right now are often non-traditional in other ways. I have thought about a lot this year is labels. Our society places a lot of emphasis on labels. We are always trying to figure out what things are, how to label people, how to label relationships. Perhaps this is because we are trying to fit things that are new to us into boxes we can understand. Perhaps it is because the unknown can be scary. Perhaps it is because we are so used to being able to define things and we don't like feeling like we don't understand something. We have all of these expectations of what things SHOULD be.
We watch movies where the virgin princess waits her whole life for Prince Charming, and that is supposed to be what we want and the end goal of our love lives. Meet one person, who is perfect for us. Fall in love with them (but don't sleep with them!). Fall into a love so deep and profound that it would be totally TRAGIC if you were ever separated. Become exclusive and monogamous. Get married, have children, have sex with each other and only each other until you are old and grey and die. Happily ever after.
Guess what, though? This path does not work for everyone, but it seems like not many people want to talk about it. We do what we know, and in this society, the "normal" that is commonly accepted is the relationship escalator. On OK Cupid, there are all of these questions that you answer to get your matches. One is: Which interests you more right now, sex or love? Seriously?! There are about a thousand answers that lie in between those, on a continuum of how connected you want to be to someone. Do we really have only two boxes, one for fucking with no feelings involved and one for happily ever after? Because I'm pretty sure that's what it's down to given those choices...
What would happen if we removed these expectations from relationships and encounters? It opens up a whole new world of levels of relating to other people. I attend a monthly polyamory discussion group now, and a lot of the people say the same thing when they talk about discovering poly - that they heard the word and suddenly there was a definition for what they'd been feeling inside.
I know that for whatever reason people in this culture look down on polyamory or non monogamous relationships. They think it's weird. They think it's strange. They don't understand it, or have never heard of it. It's taboo. But why? Why should we limit ourselves based on some crazy ass idea of one man + one woman = RIGHT? Yes, that works sometimes, and it works for a lot of people. But other things can work too.
The relationships I have right now are not traditional. Sometimes, they are hard to define. But I am okay with that. I have let go of a lot - fear, pain, expectations - and it has only led to good things for me. Being more open and accepting of myself and how I feel has led to me being more open and accepting of the world at large, and that is a very good thing.