8 Polyamory Time Management Tips Beyond Google Calendar [Polyamory Conversation Cards #10]

Love is infinite, so the cliché goes. Love is infinite but time and energy are not, so the polyamorous version of the cliché goes. In polyamory, time management and scheduling are amongst the biggest sources of conflict that can damage relationships and polycules.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“What is your preferred way of scheduling dates/tine with your partner(s)?”

Luckily, scheduling and polyamory time management challenges are much easier to mitigate and overcome than (for example) jealousy, metamours who don’t get along, or major disagreements about money. With some forward planning and some simple strategies, you can limit scheduling conflicts and make your time management relatively painless.

Here are eight of my tips for how to do it.

Get a Shareable Calendar

Okay, I know I said “beyond Google Calendar”, but we really do need to start with this. Polyamorous people and Google Calendar is one of those things that’s a stereotype because it’s sort of true. Most of us have busy lives, and more romantic relationships means more people’s needs and schedules to juggle. It can get overwhelming fast.

You absolutely need some sort of calendar that you can share with the relevant people (which probably includes your partners but may also include your metamours, children, other family members, close friends, or work colleagues, depending on your circumstances.)

If you and your partners all live together and are the old-fashioned sorts, this could be a literal physical calendar or a whiteboard on the fridge. Most of us, though, will need a digital solution. Google Calendar is probably still the most popular, but there are dozens if not hundreds of calendar-sharing and family scheduling apps. Try some out and find which ones work for you and your polycule.

You don’t need to share your calendar with everyone in your polycule unless you want to, but many polyamorous people find it useful to do so. At the very least, having your calendar on an app on your phone means you can pull it out and see your schedule at a glance whenever you’re trying to make plans with one of your sweeties.

If you and any of your partners have shared responsibilities such as caring for children, pets, and other dependants, you might want to consider a separate calendar just to coordinate how those responsibilities will be managed and divided up.

Aim for Equity, Not Equality

Equality is giving everyone the same things. Equity is ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive, which will be different for everyone. Keep this difference in mind when you’re scheduling time with your partners. Not every partner will want the same amount of time with you, and not every relationship will need the same amount of time to thrive.

A casual or primarily sexual comet relationship, for example, may operate best with one date night every few months when you happen to be in the same place. A committed and intense romantic relationship, on the other hand, may need much more time together in order to remain happy and healthy.

Talk to your partners about their time wants and needs in your relationship, and share your own. Be honest about what you want and what you can offer. And remember that each relationship will look different, and this is fine and normal.

If you and a partner are in wildly different places (they want to see you once a month but you want to sleep over three times a week, for example,) you may find that you’re not compatible as partners or need to renegotiate some aspects of your relationship. This isn’t a failure. It’s important information that can help you to communicate more honestly and build healthier, happier relationships.

Balance Routine with Space for Spontaneity

I remember once hearing a polyamorous person joke that the maximum number of partners any one individual should have is 27 (“because even in the shortest month of the year, you’ve still got one day to yourself!”)

This was obviously said for comic effect, but I think it speaks to a very real tendency some polyamorous people have: we overcommit to plans, overschedule ourselves, and end up with a diary that’s so packed there is no space for self-care, rest, or spontaneity.

For some polyamorous people, having an established routine with their partner(s) is one of the ways they feel loved and secure. For example, maybe every Thursday night is your standing date night. This doesn’t work for everyone (it doesn’t work for me – my schedule is too inherently unpredictable and changeable due to several factors) but it works beautifully for others. You might find it works well in one of your relationships and not in another, and that’s fine.

Whether you like to have standing dates or not, you likely have at least some routines you stick to. Work, childcare, and hobbies are just some things that can dictate people’s schedules. Make sure that you don’t schedule your time so tightly that you’re left with no downtime, though. It’s important to have time to yourself, time to do nothing in particular, and the opportunity to make or say “yes” to spontaneous plans if you want to.

Make Scheduling Chats a Part of Your Relationship

When I was with one of my exes, we’d have a 10-15 minute “scheduling chat” every so often (in practice, it tended to be every 3-4 weeks) where we’d look ahead a few weeks and put time in the diary to see each other and generally talk about what plans we had coming up. This worked well and I recommend it.

Scheduling doesn’t need to be onerous, stressful, or tremendously time-consuming. Just make a habit of sitting down with your calendars and mapping out your plans every so often. This might be as often as every week in the case of some nesting couples – particularly if you have children – or as infrequently as every few months if you’re comet or long-distance partners. If you have a very intertwined polycule or polyamorous family, you might want to do this all together.

Do Things All Together If You Can (But Don’t Mistake Group Time for Date Time)

If you practice kitchen table polyamory or another structure where metamours get along and enjoy spending time together, then doing things all together (or in smaller breakout groups from the entire polycule) can not only be fun, but allow everyone to get more time overall with their partners.

However, do not make the classic newbie polyamory time management error of turning every date into a group hang. Relationships all require one-on-one time to thrive. If you keep inviting all your partners over at the same time, you might be surprised to hear them all saying “when do I get to spend quality time with you?” after a while.

Group time and date time can both be valuable, but they are not the same thing and they are not interchangeable. And by the way, this applies even if you’re in a group romantic relationship such as a triad or quad.

Don’t Mistake Incidental Time for Quality Time

Ironically, many polyamory time management conflicts arise not in long-distance or comet relationships but in marriages and nesting partnerships. If you live with your partner, chances are you spend a lot of incidental time together – passing in the kitchen when you go to make a cup of coffee, doing household chores together, or sitting in the living room together in the evening while you both scroll on your phones or read your books.

None of this is the same as quality time. Mistaking it as such can easily lead to your nesting partner feeling ignored, abandoned, and resentful – especially if you are spending all sorts of quality date time with your other partners.

This incidental time can be great for a relationship. However, it’s important to build in quality time, too. Don’t forget to make date nights with your nesting partner or spouse and to set aside time to focus exclusively on being with each other and enjoying one another’s company.

Get Comfortable with the Fact That There Will Be Conflicts

Even in the monogamous world, there are going to be scheduling conflicts sometimes. For example, what happens when your partner has an important work event and wants you to be their +1 on the same night as your sister is having her birthday party? Scheduling conflicts are a fact of life and polyamory is no different.

Don’t make it a goal to avoid all scheduling conflicts. This is probably impossible. Instead, do what you can to minimise them (see the preceding tips!) and be prepared to roll with them when they do arise. Assuming good faith, giving each other grace when scheduling mistakes happen, and being prepared to get creative with solutions will all help you to navigate scheduling conflicts with minimal stress, pain, and drama.

Which brings me to the final tip…

Be Flexible

Flexibility is perhaps one of the most important and most underrated attributes that successful polyamorous people display. When there are multiple people in your romantic network, things are sometimes going to change. There are going to be emergencies, crises, and unforeseen circumstances popping up at least occasionally.

Flexibility allows you to roll with these changes and still feel safe, secure, and happy in your relationships. This includes flexibility in the way you deal with scheduling and time management.

Flexibility is not the same thing as being a doormat or always putting others first, by the way. You should be able to safely assume that when people make plans with you, they will keep them absent an emergency. When you give flexibility, you should expect to receive it in return, too. So if you’re happy to move your regular date night so your partner can attend your metamour’s birthday celebration, you should be able to expect that the same courtesy would be given to you if a similar conflict arose.

What are your favourite polyamory time-management hacks? Share them in the comments!

What is Extreme Chastity and How Can You Explore It Safely?

Chastity kink is a lot more popular than you might think. Though we most commonly hear about “male chastity” (a bit of a misnomer, since not everyone with a penis is a man), this kink is common amongst kinksters of all genders and can be practiced by people with all genital configurations. But what if you’ve been experimenting with chastity for a while and you’re looking for something a bit more intense? That’s when you might start looking into more extreme chastity play activities.

First, What is Chastity?

In short, chastity is all about restricting someone’s ability to feel sexual pleasure and/or to reach orgasm for the purposes of fun, arousal, and kink. Chastity can be mental (i.e. “I don’t touch myself or orgasm because my Dominant has instructed me not to”,) but it can also involve physical restriction of the cock or vulva/clitoris through the use of a device such as a chastity belt or chastity cage.

People enjoy chastity kink for all kinds of reasons. It can make them feel more submissive, it can feed into a humiliation kink, it can be connected to cuckolding, or it can simply lead to a more intense orgasm when release is finally permitted.

So What is Extreme Chastity?

Sex and kink are inherently subjective. This means that your definition of “extreme” will not be the same as someone else’s, and that’s okay! Ultimately, “extreme chastity” is whatever it means to you. There is no competition in kink and you do not have to live up to anyone else’s ideal of the right way to do things or the right level of intensity to strive for.

In general, when we refer to extreme chastity, we are referring to anything that pushes at your edges and challenges you more than what you have been doing so far. Sound interesting? Let’s look at a few ways you might want to explore it.

Experiment with Longer Lock-Ups

Whether you’re doing mental or physical chastity (or a combination of both), one way to up the ante is to go for longer periods of time between orgasms. If you’ve done a day, try a weekend. If a weekend feels easy, try a week. Once a week feels doable, why not extent to two weeks, a month, or even longer?

Long-term chastity isn’t for everyone, and it’s fine if you only enjoy short lock-ups or periods of denial. But if you find yourself craving more, simply extending your chastity is one great way to do that.

If you’re wearing a chastity device, it’s important to be aware of the safety implications of wearing one for long periods of time. Dan Savage did a great article on this subject, with insights from a urologist on the risks and ways to keep yourself safe.

Add a Little Pain

Not all submissives enjoy pain play. If you do, though, adding pain to your chastity play can be a hot way to take things to the next level. This might include activities like impact play to the genitals, electrostimulation (for example, using a violet or neon wand), urethral sounding, or hot wax play.

If you’re going to do any of these activities, it’s important to get proper tuition and learn how to do them safely. Like all BDSM activities, they carry some inherent risk and applying pain to the genitals is riskier than other areas (such as the upper back or butt.) Most importantly, go slowly and stop if anything doesn’t feel right.

Many people find that they can take more pain when they are very horny. So you might find that, the longer you are in chastity, the more your pain tolerance rises.

Try a Different Type of Cage

Some chastity cages are designed to increase the intensity and extremity of your play. They can have features built in such as sounds, spikes, or electrostim capabilities to add additional pain or pleasure. If you’re used to wearing a device, experimenting with a more extreme chastity cage or device can be a good way to try out something a little more intense to see if you enjoy it.

Play with Ruined Orgasms

When most people think of chastity, they think of a lack of sexual pleasure and orgasm. But ruined orgasms are also very popular amongst chastity kinksters. To give someone a ruined orgasm, you bring them to the point of climax and then stop all stimulation just as they tip over the edge. You can also do it to yourself, of course, though this requires a level of discipline and self-control that not everyone has.

People experience ruined orgasms differently. Some find that they bring some relief from arousal, while others find they make it worse. For some people, they are even painful. To some submissives they are a reward, while to others they are a punishment. The only way to know what’s true for you is to try it out.

Consider Cuckolding

Cockolding is a separate kink and not inherently connected to chastity, though the two often go together. In a nutshell, cuckolding is enjoying watching your partner have sex with another person (or hearing about their adventures after they’ve had sex with someone else.) Many people use it in conjuction with chastity to add an element of humiliation, emotional masochism, voyeurism and exhibition, or other related kinks to their play.

This kink is not to be taken lightly and I could easily write an entire piece on how to explore it. It’s a form of consensual non-monogamy, which isn’t for everyone. It can bring up surprisingly intense emotions in reality even if you’re totally into the fantasy. If you do decide to explore it – especically if you’ve been monogamous until now – then go very slowly, communicate at every stage, and be prepared for intense and unexpected feelings to arise.

How do you increase the intensity of your chastity play?

Thanks to Lock the Cock for sponsoring this post. All writing and views are, as always, mine!

How to Feel Secure Without Rules and Restrictions in a Polyamorous Relationship [Polyamory Conversation Cards #9]

When people are new to polyamory, and particularly if they come through the “opening up from a monogamous couple” route, it’s normal to feel a bunch of really difficult and challenging feelings: jealousy, insecurity, envy, and more. Most of us want to overcome these emotions as quickly as possible, and for good reason. They’re horrible to feel! But few of us actually know how to feel secure in relationships that do not have romantic or sexual exclusivity at their centre.

None of these feelings are unique to polyamorous people, of course. However, polyamory can provoke them and poke at sore spots in a unique way. In monogamy, it can be possible (though I would question if it’s healthy) to mask these feelings by implementing strict rules and restrictions in your relationship. But in polyamory, that’s often not possible… or, even if it is possible, it’s not fair or kind to either yourself or the other people involved.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“What’s the most important thing your partner(s) could do to help you feel (more) secure and comfortable?”

This is a great question to ask yourself no matter where you are in your polyamorous journey. The problem is that a lot of people, when faced with this question, will immediately jump to ways that they would like their partner(s) to curtail, limit, or restrict their other relationships.

For example, someone might say “I don’t want my partner to have unbarriered sex with anyone but me,” “I don’t want my partner to take anyone else to that restaurant I like,” or “I would like them to promise never to love someone else as much as they love me.”

These types of answers are simple, seductive, and seem intuitive. The problem is that they’re almost always a bad idea. Let’s dive into why restrictive rules are problematic if you want to be polyamorous (as opposed to practicing swinging or some other form of more couple-centric non-monogamy)… and what you can do instead to build a lasting sense of security and safety in your relationships.

First, Why is Restriction a Bad Thing?

Placing limiting rules and restrictions on your partners’ other relationships is a problem for two main reasons. The first is that it’s unfair on the people involved in those relationships: your partner(s) and your metamour(s.)

Adults do not generally enjoy being told what they can and cannot do by other adults, particularly in ostensibly egalitarian dynamics like romantic relationships. Relationships tend to suffer under restrictions, particularly those imposed by outside parties. I have seen many, many relationships struggle, wither, and ultimately die due to restrictions placed upon them by an insecure spouse or “primary” partner.

It is grossly unethical, unkind and unfair to invite people into your lives as loving partners, only to then starve their relationship of the freedom and autonomy it needs to actually grow and thrive.

The second reason restrictive rules are a problem? They don’t work.

They might make you feel safer and more secure, but the safety that restriction gives you is an illusion. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if your partner loves you and wants to sustain your relationship, they will. If they don’t, no amount of rules or limitations on their other relationships will compel them to.

Think about it: if rules actually protected people, monogamous people would never cheat. They would never leave their partners for somebody else. There wouldn’t be dozens of posts in the polyamory forums and discussion groups every week saying “help, my partner broke a rule! What do I do now?”

I’m also not even convinced these restrictions actually do help to build long-term internal security. Insecurities aren’t rational, and they will try to protect themselves unless you take the time to really decontruct and unpack and work against them. What I see most often is that one restriction helps for a while… until it doesn’t, and then the insecure person wants to institute another one. Which also works until it doesn’t. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.

How to Feel Secure Without Restriction in Your Polyamorous Relationship: 5 Ways to Build Security

So if rules and restrictions on your partners’ other relationships have so many ethical issues and don’t even work anyway, what can we do instead?

Here are five things that I think do work. They might not all resonate with you, but hopefully some of them will. Even if you just work on one of them for now, with time they can help you to build the kind of lasting safety and internal security that allows polyamorous relationships to thrive.

Make Agreements (Not Rules)

I think it’s clear by now that I’m not a fan of restrictive rules in relationships. But this doesn’t mean I am against relationship agreements. Quite the opposite: I think agreements are a vital cornerstone of keeping relationships healthy, strong, and secure.

But what defines an agreement as opposed to a rule? In my opinion, the key cornerstones of agreements are:

  1. They are mutually arrived at and freely agreed upon by all affected parties
  2. They apply equally and do not invoke any kind of double standard
  3. They are renegotiable if any party becomes unhappy with them (or so fundamental that there would be no coming back from a breach)
  4. They do not limit, restrict, or adversely impact people who did not have a hand in making them

If you’re calling something an agreement but it doesn’t meet the above standards… sorry, it’s probably a rule or a restriction.

Your relationship agreements will be as unique as your relationship. But to get you started, here are some examples of agreements drawn from my life, my friends’ lives, and successful polyamorous relationships I’ve seen out in the wild:
  • “We will inform each other in advance if we’re intending to go on a date or hook up with someone new. If something happens unplanned or spontaneously, we will inform each other as soon as possible.”
  • “We will get sexual health screenings every 3 months and keep each other in the loop about our results and our safer sex practices.”
  • “We will tell the truth, even when it’s hard.”
  • “If one of us has sex with someone else in our shared bed, we will change the sheets.”
  • “We will give each other space when we’re on dates with other partners. Likewise, when we’re on a date with each other, we will put our phones away and focus on each other.”

…And so on.

Do Your Internal Work

This is perhaps the hardest of all the strategies on this list. I also think it’s the most important.

I do not believe that stupid saying that “it’s impossible to love someone until you love yourself” (in fact, I think it’s actively harmful.) What I do believe, though, is that a level of self-awareness and self-work are essential to building healthy relationships of any kind.

Internal work means taking your fears, insecurities, and jealousies out and examining them. It means considering where they come from and what they are telling you, then deconstructing those narratives. It means challenging yourself and finding safe containers in which to explore uncomfortable and painful feelings. Get curious, be kind to yourself, and adopt a philosophy of questioning your fears and insecurities rather than assuming that they are telling you the truth.

Doing the internal work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It will, and should, require additional support and resources. For example, you might:
  • Read books and articles, watch videos, or listen to podcasts on subjects like healthy polyamory and overcoming insecurity
  • Work with a therapist to unpack your struggles and any traumas they stem from
  • Seek support and reassurance from your partner(s) as you process and understand your feelings
  • Talk to your friends, family members, or other trusted loved ones
  • Connect with polyamorous community, either in person and online, to share your struggles and get support
  • Engage in other healing, self-care activities such as yoga, meditation, or spiritual rituals and practices

It’s important to understand that self-work of this nature is not simple, quick, or linear. You’ll have good days and bad days, and that is normal. It’s best if you can view “working on yourself” as an ongoing, lifelong practice rather than a to-do item to tick off.

Work on Your Relationship with Your Partner

Security in a relationship doesn’t come from limiting your lover’s other connections. It comes from ensuring that your relationship with your lover is as strong, healthy, and happy as it can possibly be.

Remember: no-one else can make your partner leave you, neglect you, treat you poorly, or behave badly in your relationship. Those choices come from them. If your relationship is happy and healthy, no other relationship – no matter how wonderful – can threaten it or your place in your partner’s life.

So think about the things you need from your partner that do not relate to how they interact with others or behave in their other relationships. Figure out what you need and want, and ask for those things. Likewise, ask your partner what they need and want from you unrelated to your other relationships.

For example, you might ask for things like…
  • An evening each week where you have focused, one-to-one quality time together
  • Regular physical touch (hugs, cuddles, hand holding, hair stroking and so on as well as sex)
  • For them to plan something nice for your birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion
  • Regular verbal expressions of love, care, and affection

You’re not guaranteed to get everything you ask for, of course. People always have the right to say no to requests that are made of us. But if you ask for the things you want, you’ve got a much higher chance of getting at least some of them than if you expect your lover to read your mind.

Learn to be Reflective, Not Reactive, in the Face of Difficult Feelings

When we’re learning how to feel secure in our relationships, it’s normal to run into challenging, painful, and difficult emotions. These are a normal part of life and particularly of navigating a non-normative relationship style. As you build skills and security, though, you’ll find that they lessen in both frequency and intensity and become more manageable when they do crop up.

One of the most important skills you can learn is being reflective rather than reactive in the face of these difficult feelings. This means sitting with the feelings and asking yourself gentle questions to unpack them, rather than immediately reacting. Even just pausing to take a few breaths, count to ten, and regulate your nervous system before you respond can make a huge difference.

Examples of emotional reactivity might include yelling or shouting at your partner(s) or metamour(s), saying unkind things that you don’t mean and will later regret, crying uncontrollably, having a physical response (such as punching or throwing an object), or storming out of a room.

At its extreme end, emotional reactivity can include becoming violent or causing harm to yourself or others. If you’ve done either of these things in the wake of difficult emotions, or felt that you were at risk of doing them, you should seek out professional support urgently.

Emotional reflectiveness, on the other hand, can look like:
  • Pausing to breathe and think through your response to a situation before doing or saying anything.
  • Politely and calmly removing yourself from a space to self-regulate.
  • Using “I” statements, such as “I think…” or “I feel…”, rather than making accusations or making your feelings someone else’s responsibility.
  • Seeking out reassurance and support by asking for it clearly and kindly rather than by acting out.
  • Recognising your own limitations and honouring your needs. For example, in a polyamorous relationship you might say to your partner “I feel insecure when I see you interacting romantically with your other partner, so I’d like to pause spending time together as a group until I’ve got these feelings more under control.”
  • Recognising that a difficult feeling is not an emergency and consciously choosing to put it aside for now and address it (either alone, with a professional, or with your partner) at a later time. This is particularly useful when you are in social situations, in public, at work, and so on.

Challenge Your Underlying Assumptions

We are all raised with a certain set of beliefs and expectations. And, in the vast majority of modern societies around the world, one of those beliefs is that monogamy is the only correct way to have a loving romantic relationship.

These assumptions and beliefs, even if we do not consciously subscribe to them, can and do have a tremendous impact on our ability to feel loved and secure in relationships. This is particularly true when we are rejecting a social norm as entrenched as mononormativity.

It’s time to challenge your underlying assumptions and the societal narratives that are no longer serving you.

Each time you run into a societal norm or an ingrained assumption that you no longer actually believe, take the time to unpack it. Ask yourself what purpose it serves. Visualise yourself setting it aside and replacing it with the thing you actually believe and want to internalise.

For example, is some part of you saying that your partner can’t really love you because they also have other lovers? This story is immensely powerful in our society and deciding to be non-monogamous does not erase that programming instantly.

Remind yourself why you chose to practice non-monogamy and what you really believe about love and relationships. For example:
  • “We are capable of loving many people without it diminishing our love for any individual.”
  • “Love is not a finite resource, a competition, or a zero-sum game.”
  • “Each person my partner(s) and I love or care for bring value and joy into our lives.”
  • “I am happy when my partner is happy, even if that happiness is not coming directly from me.”
  • “When I fall for someone new it doesn’t diminish the love I have for my existing partner(s). The same is likely true for them.”

What other assumptions are you carrying? If you feel insecure because your metamour is younger, thinner, more highly educated, or richer than you, ask yourself why you believe those things matter. Your partner clearly loves and values you – they wouldn’t be with you if they didn’t! – and chances are they love you for far more important reasons than the size of your shirts or the number in your bank account.

When you challenge your underlying assumptions and make an effort not to let ingrained social norms dictate your beliefs and behaviours, you get to start building self-esteem, security, and relationships based on the values and beliefs you actually want to hold.

Security is a Journey

When people ask about how to feel secure or overcome feelings such as jealousy in a polyamorous relationship, they want a list of tips that will get them to the desired destination (“no more insecurity! All compersion, all the time!”) as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that’s not only aggressively optimistic but probably impossible.

Experiencing insecurities and difficult feelings on occasion is a normal part of being in a relationship of any kind. Polyamory can be challenging and can force us to confront not only societal norms but also our own ingrained beliefs, fears, and traumas. That’s a big deal! Give yourself a huge break. You’re doing the work, and that’s amazing. Perfection is not realistic or required.

What is Couples’ Privilege and How Can It Impact Polyamorous Relationships? [Polyamory Conversation Cards #8]

Hardly anyone enjoys talking about privilege, and even fewer people enjoy facing and acknowledging the privileges that they benefit from. It’s deeply uncomfortable to recognise that we might be benefitting from unearned advantages, and particularly when those benefits come at the cost of harm to others.

However, if we want to create a more just and equal world, it’s vital that we are willing to look our privilege in the face and then begin to dismantle it. Today I want to talk about one of the most insidious and often overlooked aspects of inequality: couples’ privilege.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“Do you prioritise any of your relationships over your other relationships and if so, in what way?”

I wrote a huge essay last year about hierarchy, priority, and power in polyamory. Executive summary: we all have different priorities in our lives and priorities can shift over time. This isn’t necessarily hierarchy. A hierarchy exists when one party has power over others, and/or when one party expects, demands, or is given priority at all times and in all situations.

Couples’ privilege is intimately linked with relationship hierarchy. But it is also a slightly separate thing and, in polyamory, manifests in specific and often harmful ways.

So what is couples’ privilege, exactly?

When we talk about “privilege” more broadly, we are talking about unearned benefits or advantages that are conferred on one group of people over others due to some aspect of their identity, background, or circumstances. White privilege, straight privilege, cisgender privilege, and male privilege are some common and pervasive examples you may be aware of.

Couples’ privilege, then, refers to the advantages and benefits conferred on those who are in (or appear to be in, or are assumed to be in) a socially-sanctioned monogamous couple.

There are layers to couples’ privilege: monogamous or mono-presenting couples who live apart have it, but nested couples have more of it and married couples have even more still. Some aspects of couples’ privilege are more readily afforded to those with children. And so on. Couples’ privilege intersects with LGBTQ+ oppression, but monogamous or mono-presenting queer couples can also have couples’ privilege.

How does couples’ privilege manifest in society as a whole?

As with other types of privilege, couples’ privilege is insidious because those who have it do not usually recognise that they have it. It becomes tremendously apparent, however, when you lack it. Before we get into any of the specific ways that couples’ privilege plays out in polyamory, let’s look at some of the ways it manifests in society as a whole.

Not all couples will necessarily benefit from all of these examples, but all couples will likely benefit from at least some (and often many) of them.

Examples of Couples’ Privilege in Society

  • Significant financial advantages, such as tax breaks, can come from marriage
  • Housing becomes much more accessible and affordable as a couple. Splitting the rent or mortgage with a partner is so much cheaper than getting a one-bedroom alone
  • Shopping and cooking for two is much more cost-effective than for one
  • If you want to have children, access to fertility treatments, fostering, or adoption is much easier if you are part of a couple in many parts of the world
  • Travelling alone is much more expensive (and, for some people, much less safe)
  • Everything from restaurant tables to hotel rooms to holiday packages are sold with the assumption that two people will be sharing them
  • In friendship groups where most people are coupled up, those who are not are often either left out of activities or made to feel like “the third wheel”
  • Invitations to events such as parties, weddings, and work socials that include a +1 come with the assumption that that person will be your romantic partner (and you’ll be pitied if you come alone or looked at weirdly if you bring a platonic friend or family member instead)…
  • …Or single people don’t get a +1 at all
  • The normative models of romance that society shoves down our throats – particularly around holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas – can make anyone who isn’t living that ideal feel less-than
  • Our society views committed, monogamous, romantic love as a default that everyone should either have or be looking for, casting single people as incomplete and people who opt for other relationship models as deviant

How does couples’ privilege manifest in polyamory?

In polyamory, the closer a couple appears to be to the societal monogamous ideal, the more couples’ privilege they will have. This means that married and/or nested couples enjoy numerous advantages that solo polyamorists and those in non-nesting relationships cannot access. In addition, those who present as “socially monogamous” and hide their other relationships often enjoy more couples’ privilege than those who are more open about their polyamory.

In polyamorous relationships, couples’ privilege can often reinforce relationship hierarchies and power structures, causing serious harm to partners outside of the privileged dyad. Let’s look at some of the ways that this can manifest.

Again, not all of these examples will be relevant to all situations. But it is likely that all polyamorous people in a marital or nesting relationship will benefit from at least some of them. Again, this is far from an exhaustive list.

Examples of Couples’ Privilege in Polyamory

  • When an existing couple opens their relationship, they assume that they get to make the rules and incoming partners must abide by them
  • If unbarried sex is only available to certain partners, the marital/nesting partner will usually have access to it by default
  • Various relationship milestones such as living together, having children, or marriage may only be available to one partner
  • Financial and legal benefits, from inheritance rights to hospital visitation, may only be available to one partner
  • Permission dynamics in which couples have to ask one another before they can date a new person, escalate a relationship, or even see an existing partner
  • Rules that restrict certain activities, date locations, and sex acts to the original couple
  • If the couple is not “out” as polyamorous, other partners may not get to meet their partner’s friends and family, post about their relationship on social media, or appear as a couple in public
  • Conflict resolution is easier if you live together
  • If a couple has problems, they may close down the relationship again or end, restrict, or “backburner” other relationships in order to focus on their dyad regardless of the pain this causes to those other partners
  • “Not in our house”/”not in our bed” rules that put a significant logistical or financial burden on external relationships
  • Veto power, whether explicit or implicit. After all, it’s easy for a married or nested couple to say “we don’t have veto power”. But if one of them ever wants to close the relationship or puts an “it’s them or me” ultimatum on the table, other partners are not on equal footing and the more priviliged partner is far more likely to win
  • Unicorn hunting, which creates relationships with unequal power dynamics in which the original couple gets to make all the decisions

How does couples’ privilege impact other partners?

The problem with privilege, ultimately, is the harm it causes to those who do not have it. In polyamory, couples’ privilege primarily negatively impacts other partners who date one or both members of a couple.

Unfortunately, some couples choose – consciously or unconsciously – to wield couples’ privilege as a weapon. These couples are usually the ones who only date together, the ones with heaps of restrictive rules, the ones with heavily permission-based dynamics, and the ones who explicitly or implicitly use the threat of a veto to keep other partners in line.

In far more cases, though, couples’ privilege causes harm not through any malicious intent but through a lack of awareness and good intentions gone awry. Most of us are extraordinarily bad at truly recognising the extent and impact of our own privilege.

Falling in love with someone who is steeped in unexamined or unaddressed couples’ privilege is its own special kind of pain. At the extreme end of things, partners outside the privileged dyad may feel as though they can never truly be safe or secure, because an external party could restrict or take away their relationship at any moment.

They may also continually feel less-than, sidelined, or ignored. Having to hide your relationship while your metamour is openly acknowledged by your partner, for example, can be acutely painful. Similarly, it can be difficult to feel like an actual player in your own relationship if a third party is making the rules or has to be asked for permission before you can see one another, have sex, do a certain activity, or progress your relationship.

How can we mitigate the harm couples’ privilege causes in our other relationships?

In our current society it is, unfortunately, pretty much impossible to entirely eliminate couples’ privilege. The entire world, or so it seems, is built to uphold, promote, and support the monogamous dyadic relationship and the nuclear family.

Even so, there are actually lots of things you can do to limit the impact and mitigate the harm it can cause if you are a beneficiary of couples’ privilege.

When it comes to how to actually reduce the impact of couples’ privilege in polyamorous relationships, I’m going to come at this from two angles: reducing insidious and unintentional couples’ privilege, and how not to use couples’ privilege as a weapon. I think these are two slightly different issues.

How not to use couples’ privilege as a weapon

It’s really easy, especially when you’re new to polyamory, to use couples’ privilege as a weapon. Almost no-one who does this actually wants to hurt other people, though! In the vast majority of cases, people do it because it helps them to feel safer, more secure, or less threatened.

And I get that. I really do. Polyamory can be frightening and can drag up all kinds of fears, insecurities, and layers of pain.

Couples’ privilege can give the illusion of security, particularly when you’re new to non-monogamy. That illusion is incredibly seductive. After all, if things get too big and too scary you can just slam the lid back on and close the relationship. Or you can just add a few more restrictions and limitations until you and your original partner feel comfortable. Right? Well, not so fast.

Those other people who are dating you or your partner? They’re human beings with feelings and needs. And they have every bit as much right to be there as you do. (Yes, even if you’ve been there longer.)

What’s more, wielding couples’ privilege as a blunt tool to help you feel more secure won’t actually work. You don’t build security, trust, and safety in a relationship by restricting your partner or using other people’s hearts as collateral damage in assuaging your own fears and insecurities.

What you can do instead

Instead of using your couples’ privilege to keep yourself safe, work on building actual security in your relationships. Ask for what you want and need from your partners (and no, “I want more than my metamours get” doesn’t count.)

Work on your self-esteem and confidence, with the help of a therapist if possible. Seek out polyamorous communities, resources, and friends who can support you on this journey. When you feel difficult feelings, learn to sit with them. Interrogate them, ask yourself what they’re telling you, and learn how to communicate non-violently with your partners about them.

In the past, I’ve wielded couples’ privilege carelessly and harmfully in an effort to keep myself safe. It not only didn’t work, it harmed my partners, my metamours, my relationships, and myself. When I realised this, two things happened:

  1. I felt deep shame for my behaviours.
  2. I had to seriously question whether I was actually capable of being polyamorous.

Somewhere deep inside, I knew the answer to that second question was “yes.” However, it took years of deep personal work (with the love and support of my partners) to do the personal growth and build the skills toolkit I needed to actually do it well. Learn from my mistakes – do that growth and build those skills before you hurt yourself, someone else, or your relationships.

Reducing the unintentional impacts of couples’ privilege

In many ways, unintentional couples’ privilege is the hardest to mitigate. A lot of this stuff is societal and systemic, and that makes it almost impossible for individuals or couples to overcome. However, mitigating it as much as possible begins with awareness. You need to understand how couples’ privilege works and the ways in which you may not be able to see it.

I don’t have any easy answers to this. As with all forms of inequality, dismantling couples’ privilege and its harmful effects is an ongoing – probably lifelong – commitment. I do have a few thoughts on things that can help, though.

Question Yourself

Now that you’re aware of couples’ privilege and how insidious it can be, you can start to more consciously view your choices through that lens. When you make a relationship decision, ask yourself “does this protect or uphold the socially-sanctioned dyad at the expense of another person or relationship?” If so, chances are couples’ privilege is in play.

Question your motivations, too. Why do you feel the need to behave in a certain way? If it’s because That’s Just The Way Things Are Done, to assuage insecurities, to follow the social norm, or to reinforce the primacy of one partner or relationship… yup. Couples’ privilege.

Be Honest and Upfront

It’s absolutely vital to state any limitations that will apply to relationships upfront to new partners. If you already have a nesting partner and don’t want to live with anyone else, for example, that’s fine – but you need to be honest about it. This means that you are not leading anyone on with the hope of something you are unable or unwilling to offer them.

For plenty of prospective partners, this will work fine! Perhaps they’re solo, already have their own nesting partner, or are just happy to have a different type of relationship with you.

If you and your existing partner have a lot of rules, a veto agreement, or a permission dynamic, new partners also absolutely need and deserve to know these things upfront. Many people – including most experienced polyamorists – will opt out if your rules and restrictions are too extensive. But, if you are going to operate in this way, at least give people the information ahead of time and allow them to make an informed choice before their hearts get involved.

Come Out When and If You Can

This is a complex one, because there are all kinds of legitimate reasons not to be out as polyamorous or non-monogamous. Child custody, housing problems, and losing relationships with loved ones are just some of the common reasons I hear about.

I’m not going to judge your reasons and I’m certainly not going to tell you that you have to come out if it feels impossible, unsafe, or if the potential cost is too high. However, being open about one relationship and closeted about others can emphasise and perpetuate aspects of couples’ privilege.

I’m out to most people in my life, but not absolutely everyone. And I am very aware that, in those circumstances where I’m not out, this confers additional couples’ privilege on my nesting relationship.

If it’s safe and possible for you to do so, being out as polyamorous – even in a limited way and to select people – can help to reduce the impact of couples’ privilege and the pain of being “hidden” for your other partners.

Listen to Your Other Partners

If you’re not sure how partners outside of your married/nesting dyad are feeling about a choice you’ve made, ask them. And if they express that things feel unfair to them or that couples’ privilege is hurting them, listen. Do not get defensive, try to shut the conversation down, or tell them that they’re imagining things.

Pay attention to all partners’ wants and needs and, wherever possible, try to meet them. Never put one partner’s wants over another’s needs (and learn to tell the difference!) When you need to make a relationship decision, consult everyone who it impacts and seek compromise that honours everyone’s needs and the importance of all relationships as best you can.

Cultivate and Maintain Individuality

One of the most damaging societal narratives around relationships is that a couple is no longer two separate people, but a single unit. I find this creepy in monogamy, and outright harmful in polyamory. If a couple cannot operate in the world as two separate people, then they cannot build and maintain healthy and stable relationships with other people.

Seriously: individuality is one of the most powerful antidotes to couples’ privilege. Decoupling (not to be confused with breaking up!) is the process of stepping away from your joint identity as “a couple” and coming instead into identities as two separate people who are in relationship because you love each other and make each other happy. In other words, breaking out of the codependency and extreme enmeshment that modern relationship norms uphold and celebrate.

The Relationship Bill of Rights states “You have the right… to have relationships with people, not with relationships.” If you and your partner cannot decouple and function as individuals, you are absolutely doomed to mistreat and harm anyone who gets into an intimate relationship with either of you. Seriously. Being in a relationship with a highly codependent relationship, even (or especially) when you’re ostensibly only actually dating one of the people in it, is hell.

The article The Most Skipped Step When Opening a Relationship is an excellent primer on decoupling (unfortunately you’ll now need a Medium account to read it, but it’s worth it.)

Accept that Any Relationship May Change or End Someday

The final thing I’m going to say in this section is probably going to be the hardest for most people to swallow. To be successfully and ethically polyamorous, you have to be at peace with the possibility that any of your relationships may someday end.

If you view one particular relationship as essential and unendable, then you’re in a defacto hierarchy. That person (and that relationship) will always receive priority over others. This sounds nebulous, but I’ve found it to be one of the most important aspects of reducing unintentional couples’ privilege.

In my experience, it’s always people who believe they absolutely cannot live without one particular partner who display the most egregious and damaging levels of couples’ privilege. That’s because what this tells me is that – however much we love each other and however serious our relationship gets – I’m ultimately disposable and they’ll throw me under the bus to protect that other relationship if things get difficult.

Addressing couples’ privilege is a lifelong process

As I’ve said, there are no fast or easy answers to this. Our society affirms and entrenches couples’ privilege at every level and in countless ways. For those of us doing relationships differently, we have to accept that addressing and mitigating couples’ privilege is likely a battle we will always be fighting. That might sound daunting – and it is! – but I promise it’s worth it. When we challenge couples’ privilege and the social norms it upholds, we get to have richer, more fulfilling, and kinder relationships that can look a huge variety of different ways.

If we want to be ethically polyamorous, I believe that we have to be willing to face couples’ privilege and challenge it. I’ve seen too many times what happens when we don’t.

15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Polyamory

Today, 13 March 2024, marks my 15th anniversary of being polyamorous. Of course, knowing how to quantify such things or where to count from isn’t always easy. Personally, I count from the first day that I was in two romantic relationships at the same time (with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, of course.) For me, this was the day I got together with my first girlfriend – the woman I call my firework – while still being with my then-fiancé.

I’ve changed a lot, many times over, in those intervening fifteen years. Unsurprisingly, neither of those relationships survived for the long-haul. I’ve also learned a few things, even if I still feel like I’m winging it half the time.

So just for fun, here are fifteen things I’ve learned about polyamory and non-monogamy to celebrate fifteen years in this world.

1. You’ll probably never stop feeling as though you’re making it all up as you go along

The nature of non-normative relationships is that there are few roadmaps. Sure, there are books like The Ethical Slut, Polysecure, Polywise and so on but, compared to an entire world of monogamy-centric conditioning and assumptions about how relationships work, a lot of this is relatively unchartered territory.

As you navigate a non-monogamous relationship structure, you’ll likely always feel to some extent like you’re making it up as you go. Embrace it. That journey is part of the fun.

2. Being too rigid about relationship structures is the enemy of happiness

A lot of people enter non-monogamy thinking they know exactly what they want out of their relationships. A closed triad, an open quad, one male and one female partner, a sprawling polycule made up exclusively of neurodivergent queers…

It’s fine to have an idea of what sort of thing might make you happy, but being too rigid about the relationship structures you’re seeking can prevent you from connecting with the actual humans in front of you. Instead, stay open to possibility and accept that it will probably never look exactly like the “ideal” vision you thought you had when you first decided to practice non-monogamy. You know what’s really cool though? It might end up even better.

3. More relationships means more joy, but also more heartbreak

Being polyamorous has brought me tremendous joy. It has also brought me some of the most devastating heartbreaks of my life, including one very recent one.

When you have more relationships, you can experience more of those glorious highs that being in love brings. The flip side of this is that you also have more potential for heartbreak. Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, at some point some of your polyamorous relationships will end, and it will suck every bit as much as it does when a monogamous relationship ends.

4. You cannot open a relationship without changing it

I recently wrote an entire huge essay about this, so I won’t recap all those points again here. But many couples come to non-monogamy saying “we want to do this without it changing our relationship.” To which, in the kindest possible way, I say “good luck with that.”

To transition from monogamy to non-monogamy is to change the fundamental structure, foundation, and nature of a relationship. There is no way to make this transition and to keep your relationship the same as it was before. This isn’t something to be afraid of, though. Change can be good. Change can be beautiful.

5. You will likely always feel at least some jealousy at least occasionally

A common misconception from monogamous people is that polyamorous people don’t get jealous. A common misconception from newly polyamorous people is that at some point they will trancend jealousy and simply… never feel it again.

Hah. I wish.

Jealousy is a normal human emotion that we are all susceptible to from time to time. You’ll likely always struggle with it at least occasionally. Instead of fearing it or placing restrictions on your relationships in an attempt to avoid it, though, it’s time to get comfortable with it. Learn to sit with difficult feelings, learn to understand what they’re telling you, and learn to communicate your way through them with your partners.

6. Compersion is lovely but it’s not essential

Compersion – that feeling of warm, fuzzy joy you get when you see your partner happy with one of their other lovers – can be absolutely wonderful. It’s one of my favourite things about polyamory. What it is not, though, is essential. Some people will never feel compersion and can still be happily polyamorous. Many people feel it sometimes but not all the time, with all partners, or in all situations.

Either way is fine. Chasing compersion is likely to just make it even harder to attain, and beating yourself up for not feeling it will make it downright impossible to find.

7. Look for community before you look for partners

When people decide to practice non-monogamy, particularly if they are opening up from an existing couple, they’re likely to ask “where can I/we meet potential partners?” And it’s a fair question, but it’s also not the first one you should be asking.

Instead of looking for partners, look for community. Join groups and forums, go to meetups, attend polyamory events and classes and workshops, and get to know other people doing this thing we call consensual non-monogamy. Finding people to date will fall into place, but you need non-monogamous friends and safe community spaces first.

8. With rare and specific exceptions, mono/poly does not work

I’ve seen a lot of people attempt a mono/poly relationship, where one person wants a monogamous relationship and the other person wants a polyamorous one. If you find that you and a partner or prospective partner have this incompatibility, the best and kindest thing you can do in 95% of cases is break up amicably.

When people attempt to make a mono/poly relationship work, most of the time one or both parties is utterly fucking miserable. Sure, you might be the exception to the rule. But in most cases, the polyamorous person will feel trapped and restricted or the monogamous person will feel sad, jealous and resentful… often both.

9. Humans are extraordinarly bad at predicting how things will make us feel

“Experience shock” is a phenomenon wherein how we think we’ll feel about something in advance does not align with how we actually feel about the thing when it happens. It’s incredibly common and so, so normal. Most of us are really bad at predicting how we will feel about something ahead of time.

Make room for experience shock as you explore non-monogamy, both your own and your partners’. Learn to say “this feels different in practice to how I thought it would in theory.” Learn to talk through difficult feelings as they come up and give yourself and your partners permission to say “I don’t actually know how I will feel about this.”

Most importantly, never ever berate yourself or a partner for having experience shock.

10. Rules and restrictions are almost always a bad way to deal with difficulties

When there’s a challenge in your relationship – particularly a spousal or nesting relationship – or one of you is feeling something difficult, is your impulse to bring in rules and restrictions on outside relationships in an attempt to solve the problem or eliminate the feeling?

I understand the temptation, but this is almost always the wrong approach for several reasons. First, your or your partner’s outside relationships are just as important as the one between the two of you. Those other partners are people with feelings and should not be collateral damage in your relationship issues.

Secondly, if your partner doesn’t want to consider your needs and treat you well, the rules won’t actually compel them to (and if they do want to, the rules are unnecessary.)

Finally, restrictive rules do not build trust and security. If anything, they stifle its growth by strategising around problems instead of actually addressing them.

11. No matter how many partners you have, you will still feel lonely sometimes

Of all the things I’ve learned about polyamory, this one might be the hardest to swallow. Loneliness is a reality of life no matter what relationship structure you practice. Some people think they can avoid loneliness through non-monogamy. After all, if I have enough partners I never have to be alone… right?

Yeah, sorry, it doesn’t work like that. Even if you have ten partners, there will be days when they’re all busy or on other dates or working or sick or otherwise not available to you. And sometimes you’ll feel lonely even if you’re surrounded by people, because that’s just how humans work.

Learning to be comfortable in your own company is a vital skill not just for polyamory, but for relationships in general. Feeling okay alone allows you to approach relationships from a place of curiosity and possibility, not one of desperation, and helps to prevent you from staying too long in relationships that are not working for you.

12. You can probably handle one fewer partners than you think you can when you’re starting out

How many serious relationships do you think you can manage, nurture, and sustain at one time? If you’re new to polyamory or have not yet tested this theory, substract one from the number you just said. That’s more likely to be your actual number.

Polysaturation is real, and oversaturation can be tremendously damaging, both for the person experiencing it and for their partners. To avoid becoming oversaturated, start one relationship at a time and give that relationship plenty of time to grow, mature, and settle into the form it wants to take before you start any others.

I have met very few polyamorous people who can successfully handle more than three serious relationships. Those people exist, but they are the exception.

13. NRE is fun, but long-term love is where the really good stuff is

New relationship energy (NRE), also known as the honeymoon period, is that giddy love-drunk feeling at the start of a new relationship where you can’t get enough of the other person. Polyamory allows you to experience NRE multiple times throughout your life without needing to lose any existing relationships.

NRE is a lot of fun. It’s also finite, kinda exhausting after a while, and can cause its own problems. Long-term love, though? That’s where the real magic is for me. When you’ve overcome challenges, had each other’s backs, and seen each other at your worst and you’re still totally in love. For me, the security and comfort and safety that comes with this kind of love – and the ability to have that with multiple people – is one of the greatest joys of polyamory.

14. Most metamour problems are actually hinge problems

Not getting along with your metamour – your partner’s partner – is a real concern for many polyamorous people. However, I’ve realised over the years that most problems with metamours are actually problems with the hinge partner (that is, the person in the middle.)

If your metamour’s behaviour is damaging your relationship with your shared partner, they have a responsibility to manage the situation. They should be setting boundaries, advocating for their relationship with you, or keeping the relationships parallel. They should not be playing you and your metamour off against each other or sacrificing your relationship to placate another person.

If you think you have a metamour problem, you probably have a hinge problem. This isn’t universally true, of course, but it is true the vast majority of the time.

15. There are no experts

Whenever I’m writing, speaking, being quoted, or teaching a class about polyamory, I am always very firm that I am not under any circumstances to be referred to as a “polyamory expert.” This is because I don’t believe there are any experts. We’re all just imperfect humans working this thing out as we go along (see #1 on this list!) Some of us are sharing the wisdom we’ve gathered, but none of us actually have it entirely figured out.

Not to mention, in the last few years we’ve seen what happens when certain voices are elevated and exalted too much and for too long in this community.

So there you have it. Fifteen things I’ve learned from fifteen years in polyamory. Whether you’ve been doing this for five minutes or for so long it puts my mere decade and a half to shame, I’d love to know the most important lessons you’ve learned about non-monogamy on your journey!

How and When to Renegotiate Relationship Agreements in Polyamory [Polyamory Conversation Cards #6]

Few issues are as divisive in the polyamory community as the terms that govern our relationships. Whether we’re arguing about the difference between boundaries, rules and relationship agreements or debating the finer points of whether any specific rule/agreement is ethical, we’re nerdy about this shit.

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“How would you like to approach communication about any changes to existing agreements?”

Before we start, let’s get clear on what we mean by “relationship agreements” and how they differ from relationship rules and boundaries.

Boundaries are about yourself. They govern the things you own: your body, mind, emotions, time, space, physical possessions, and so on. They are statements of what you will and won’t allow and how you will protect yourself if they are breached. To give you an idea how this can look, two of my boundaries are “I will not remain in relationship with someone who lies to me” and “I never want to have children so I will take all reasonable steps to avoid pregnancy and I will have an abortion if I accidentally get pregnant.”

Rules are things that you impose on other people. They are generally frowned upon in adult relationships, and by the polyamorous community in particular. The implication is that the person or people bound by the rule would otherwise want to do the forbidden thing, or not do the thing that the rule compels them to do. Examples of rules might include “you must be home by 10pm every night” or “I forbid you to take your other partner to that restaurant I like.”

Agreements are made by, and followed by, both or all members of a relationship. They are usually designed to help maintain security, stability, structure, or the overall happiness and wellbeing of everyone involved. Examples of agreements might include “we won’t bring any new partners around our children until we’re reasonably sure the relationship is here to stay” or “we’ll notify each other promptly about any changes to our sexual health risk profile.”

It is agreements that we’re talking about today. Specifically, when you should renegotiate them and how to do so successfully.

Five Signs It’s Time to Renegotiate Relationship Agreements

First, let’s talk about renegotiating agreements in your relationship(s.) This isn’t something to be afraid of! It’s actually a really normal and healthy part of being in a long-term relationship. Because people and relationships aren’t fixed and static, it’s natural that you will need to renegotiate your agreements at various points during the lifespan of a relationship.

Here are five signs that indicate it’s time to come back to the table and renegotiate one (or more) of your relationship agreements.

You’re in Danger of Breaking An Agreement

It is always, always less destructive to attempt to renegotiate an agreement than to break one. A broken agreement can cause a massive breach of trust, which can take a long time to repair or – depending on its nature and severity – sometimes not be repairable at all.

I’m not (necessarily) talking about a fleeting thought here. But if you repeatedly find yourself butting up against an agreement and wanting to break it, then that agreement isn’t working for you any more. It’s time to come to the table and let your partner(s) know you need to renegotiate.

You’ve Realised An Agreement is a Rule in Disguise

By definition, an agreement must be agreed to by both or all of the people it impacts. If an agreement is benefiting only one or some parties, and others are going along with it grudgingly (to keep the peace, perhaps, or because they feel they have no choice) then there’s a high likelihood it’s actually a rule in disguise.

An agreement should not, generally, feel overly limiting or constrictive. It certainly should not seek to curtail relationships you’re not in, or to control the behaviour of people who had no hand in making it.

The Agreement is Harmful to You or Someone Else

Because people, relationships, and contexts can change, agreements that once worked well (or seemed to work well) for you might now be problematic or even harmful. Some are inherently harmful from the outset, though it may take you time to realise this. If an agreement you’ve made is harming you or someone else in some way, it’s time to renegotiate it. (The same is true, by the way, if there is clear and probable potential for harm even if it hasn’t actually happened yet.)

Here’s a common example: open phone policies. Perhaps you and your spouse or long-term partner agreed you could look through each other’s phones at any time. On the surface, this seems like a good way to build trust and security, particularly in a newly-open relationship. However, it actually feeds into a sense of mistrust in your relationship. It also violates the privacy and potentially even the consent of other partners and other people you’re communicating with.

You’re Feeling Resentful of Your Partner or The Agreement

When an agreement isn’t working for you any longer, but you haven’t raised the issue and renegotiated it, you might find yourself feeling resentment towards the agreement itself or towards the partner(s) you made it with.

Ideally, you’d renegotiate an agreement that is no longer working long before you reach the point where resentment sets in. However, if you’ve found yourself in this spot, it’s time to raise the issue and start the renegotiation process immediately. This can usually head off growing resentment and the more significant problems it causes in the long run.

The Agreement Served a Time-Limited Purpose and is No Longer Necessary

In general, I don’t think it’s a great idea to use restrictive agreements (or rules) as training wheels in a newly-open relationship. However, there are instances where certain agreements can serve a purpose for a limited amount of time but ultimately become unnecessary.

All agreements should serve a purpose. These purposes might include helping someone(s) feel secure and loved, ensuring that other responsibilities (such as household chores and childcare) are handled fairly, managing shared resources equitably, maintaining sexual health within your polycule… or something else entirely. If an agreement either no longer serves its intended purpose or that purpose becomes irrelevant for some other reason, it’s probably time to revisit the agreement and see if there’s any reason to keep it.

How to Renegotiate Polyamorous Relationship Agreements

So you’ve realised you need to renegotiate a relationship agreement. How can you actually do so effectively?

First, what not to do: don’t simply announce to your partner(s) that you will no longer be following the agreement in question. Please don’t do that! Got that? Okay, here’s what to do instead.

Raise It as Soon as It’s a Problem (But at an Appropriate Time)

You know what happens when you don’t address small problems or concerns? They turn into big problems. As soon as you start feeling that there’s a problem with one of your relationship agreements, address it ASAP.

Be mindful of the time and place for this conversation, though. Choose a moment when you’re both feeling calm and will have time to talk, free from distractions. If you do regular relationship check-ins, this is a great time to talk about your relationship agreements. If not, you can always give your partner a heads-up about the conversation you’d like to have and set aside some time for it (tell them what it’s about, both so they have time to gather their own thoughts on the subject and so that you’re not stressing them out with a contextless “we need to talk.”)

Make Sure That Everyone Impacted Gets a Voice

One of the most insidious problems that emerges when hierarchical polyamory and/or couples privilege are in play is that people end up being impacted by agreements that they had no hand in creating.

If you are considering making an agreement with one partner that may negatively impact another relationship, it’s hugely unfair to expect that other partner or metamour to just go along with it. Instead, speak to them and bring them into the negotiation process. They have a right not to have their relationship with you or your partner curtailed or harmed because of something that’s going on between the two of you.

Better yet, if this is possible and appropriate for you, sit down as a group or polycule and hash things out all together with equal weight given to everyone’s needs, feelings, and opinions.

Allow Plenty of Time for the Process

Sometimes, renegotiating agreements is incredibly simple. I’ve had agreement renegotiations that literally went “this agreement isn’t working for me”, “yeah me neither, shall we nix it?” “sure.” However, this is usually the exception rather than the rule. If you’re dealing with significant and emotive subjects, in particular, allow plenty of time for this renegotiation process.

Be ready to have a lengthy conversation, or even several. Be ready for everyone to need time to process, think things through, and come up with ideas for how to proceed. There’s a balance to be struck here, of course, and if you’ve been talking around the issue for six hours and got nowhere it might be time to park the subject and come back to it another day. But in general, do not expect major renegotiation of relationship agreements to take five minutes.

Keep It Simple

Relationship agreements should not resemble sprawling legal contracts full of clauses and exceptions, cross-referencing and footnotes. If you feel the need for this type of document in your relationship, something else might have gone wrong. Perhaps you’re dealing with unresolved trust issues, communication problems, or lingering mononormative beliefs.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t put your agreements in writing. You can, if you like! I’ve not felt the need to do this for a long time personally, but it has been helpful to me at other times in my life and I know plenty of people who find it useful.

Most agreements should be simple enough that you can distill them down to a sentence, or two at most (for example: “we’ll let each other know in advance about planned dates or hookups with new people” or “if I’m going to be out much later than originally planned, I’ll send you a text to let you know so you don’t worry.”)

Be Flexible, Creative, and Open to Input

As we’ve established, agreements should ultimately serve a purpose. So when you’re negotiating or renegotiating one, ask yourselves what purpose you want it to serve. Once you understand the underlying need or reason for an agreement, you can begin getting creative in how you craft it.

There are often more ways to achieve the same outcome than you might initially think. You might know exactly what you want your revamped agreement to say, but your partner or metamour might have an even better alternative idea you’ve never thought of.

Stay flexible, stay curious, and don’t forget that your ultimate goal is the health, happiness, and wellbeing of everyone in your relationship or network.

Have you successfully renegotiated your relationship agreements? Have any extra tips for us?

“Help, I Hate My Metamour!” When a Metamour Relationship Goes Wrong [Polyamory Conversation Cards #5]

“Help, I hate my metamour!” This subject crops up in the polyamory groups and forums I frequent multiple times a week, so I thought it was time I wrote about it.

Throughout the 15 years I’ve been polyamorous, I’ve had a mixed bag when it comes to metamours. In recent years, I’ve mostly been very lucky. My partners are smart and discerning humans with excellent taste and judgement, so the people they date tend to be pretty damn cool.

In the past, though, I’ve had metamour I disliked, metamours who disliked me, metamours who (accidentally or intentionally) triggered some of my deepest insecurities and traumas, and even a couple of abusive or excessively controlling metamours.

One of the hardest things for many people to come to terms with, when they start being polyamorous, is the fact that they cannot control who their partner chooses to date, have sex with, fall in love with, or invite into their inner circle.

In some cases, metamours click beautifully and end up becoming close friends (or, more rarely, becoming partners themselves.) It’s wonderful when this happens. Often, metamours will coexist happily and healthily without drama but not feel the need to spend a tonne of time together. This, too, can be great. But what if your partner chooses someone who isn’t at all the type of person you’d have wanted for them? What if they’re dating someone you simply cannot stand for some reason?

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“To what extent and in what way would you prefer to be involved with your metamours or others in your polycule?”

First, let’s get clear on our terminology. A metamour (sometimes shortened to “meta”) is the partner of your partner, with whom you do not have a romantic or sexual relationship [*]. So if I’m dating Alice and Alice is married to Bob, Bob is my metamour. If Cleo is dating both Dave and Emily, but their partners are not dating one another, then Dave and Emily are metamours. The mutual partner connecting two metamours is often referred to as a “hinge.”

[*] There are nuances and grey areas here, of course. Some people do have sex with their metamours regularly or occasionally. Me and my former meta used to do this but weren’t romantically involved, and we called ourselves “metamours with benefits.” You’ll settle on the language to describe your relationships that works best for you.

With that understood, let’s talk about hating your metamour.

Metamour Relationships Are Unique to Polyamory… Except They’re Not

People think of the metamour relationship as a unique facet of polyamory that doesn’t apply anywhere else. And this is sort of true, in that polyamory is the only context in which your romantic partner is likely to have other romantic partners that you’re aware of.

However, even in a monogamous context, your partner will have other significant relationships outside of you. Friends, family, coworkers, and so on. These relationships may include people you don’t particularly care for, or even people you really cannot abide. In this way, I think “I hate my metamour” is just a variation on “my mother-in-law is the worst” or “I can’t stand my partner’s best friend.”

The fact that your partner has a romantic and possibly sexual relationship with your metamour doesn’t actually change the fundamentals of this type of situation all that much. Remembering this may help you to realise that this situation is, in most circumstances, entirely navigable.

Why Do You Dislike Your Metamour? Getting Specific

When someone says “I hate my metamour,” the first thing I want to ask them is “why?” Because the answer to this question will inform the advice I give next. The reasoning can also be hugely telling in itself. The reason think you hate your metamour might not be the actual reason when you really dig into it. So, obviously, the first thing we’re going to do is… really dig into it.

You’ll need to be really honest with yourself here. Observe your feelings without judgement or reactivity, and see what comes up for you. What is it about your metamour that rubs you the wrong way? Where do you think those thoughts and feelings are coming from?

Sometimes, two people simply do not get along. Neither of them have done anything wrong, but they are too different and cannot find a way to gel. For all the often-true jokes about polyamorous people who date three different versions of the same person, it’s equally likely that your partners will be very different from one another… and that your metamours will be very different from you. This is really, really normal. Unfortunately, these situations can sometimes lead to personality clashes.

If you determine that the cause of your “ick, I hate my metamour” feelings are just a personality clash, that’s pretty easy to handle. In a nutshell: don’t hang out with them! We’ll talk more about how to achieve this in practice a bit later on.

In some cases, your metamour might remind you of someone else you don’t care for. Perhaps they look, sound, smell, or behave like somebody who hurt you or your partner at some point in your life? This might mean that you’re projecting past experiences onto them due to baggage or trauma. This is also surprisingly common, especially if your partner has a “type” and your new metamour reminds you of a previous, problematic meta.

Of course, it’s possible you dislike your metamour for a really valid reason. You might have seen serious red flags in their behaviour or heard damning things about them in the community. Perhaps you don’t like the way they treat your mutual partner (or their other partners, or someone else in their life.) This gets more tricky to navigate and we’ll get into it in more detail below.

It’s also possible that your issue with your metamour is actually about something that’s going on within you. This is what we’ll talk about in the next section.

Is It About Them, or About You?

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, metamours can inadvertently trigger insecurities, traumas, deep-seated fears, or other complicated and painful feelings. This is actually pretty normal and doesn’t necessarily mean anyone has done anything wrong. Realising that’s what is going on can even be pretty empowering. After all, if the issue is about your stuff, you have the power to work on and fix it.

Seeing your partner fall in love or lust or both with a new person can be challenging. This might be particularly true if you’re new to polyamory, if your relationship with your partner is having problems, or if you have particular traumas or insecurities that are getting triggered by the new relationship for some reason.

If you determine that your dislike of your metamour is more to do with your own stuff than with them, then you have several options. But before you do anything, take a breath. Don’t panic. You’re not broken or bad at polyamory or any of the things you’re probably telling yourself right now.

So what can you do next?

First, you can take a break from the metamour in question. We’re going to talk more about parallel polyamory a bit later on, but just know that it’s okay to minimise or pause social interactions with your metamour – even temporarily – if you need the space to get a handle on your difficult emotional response to them.

If you do this in a time-limited way with the intention of re-establishing contact and building some sort of positive relationship later, it can actually be hugely beneficial in the long run. There are also instances where staying parallel permanently (or at least indefinitely) is the right choice. You can decide what’s best for you with the help of your support network.

Alternatively, you can decide to consciously give your metamour a chance and try to build a positive relationship with them. We’ll look at how to do this more in the next section.

This is also the time to shore up your relationship with your mutual partner and ask for what you need. Do you need some reassurance, more quality time, a dedicated date night? You might have identified unhealthy patterns, unmet needs, or problematic behaviours from one or both of you that are being highlighted by the new relationship and need your partner to work on resolving these issues with you. Perhaps you just need them to hold space for you to talk through your feelings and difficulties in a non-judgemental, loving environment.

Finally, this is the time to work on yourself. Examine the things that the new relationship has triggered within you, and call upon your coping and healing strategies. If you’re not already, this is a great time to get yourself into therapy. Journal, find and consume relevant resources (Polysecure and Polywise, both by Jessica Fern, are two I highly recommend.) Reach out to your extended support network. Aim to build your self-esteem, confidence, and inner sense of security.

Can You Give Them a Chance?

The answer to this might be “no”, but I invite you to consider the possibility that you’re being overly harsh in your judgement of your metamour. Would you conceivably feel differently if you gave them a real chance? This is often a particularly beneficial option if you’ve determined that your issues with your metamour stem from your own trauma, baggage, or internal “stuff.”

Many people find that humanising their metamour by getting to know them is challenging initially but hugely beneficial in the long run. You’ll see that they’re neither a monster nor the embodiment of perfection. They’re just a person with their own quirks, flaws, wonderful qualities, and personality traits.

I’m going to write a whole piece on meeting your metamours successfully soon. In the meantime, though, here are some quick tips that might help you.

Timing is crucial here. I do not recommend meeting or instituting hangouts when you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” rage-spiral. This will backfire spectacularly. Take the time to calm your nervous system, do some of your own internal work, and get to the place where you can genuinely meet them with an open mind and a generous spirit.

Whether you meet by yourselves or with your mutual partner is something you’ll have to negotiate. There are pros and cons to each approach. If your mutual partner will be in attendance, negotiate what levels of PDA you’re all comfortable with seeing and engaging in. Meet in a neutral space such as a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop rather than at someone’s house. It can also be helpful to bookend your time together with a built-in limit (e.g. “I’ve got two hours because I need to pick the kids up at 4.”)

Try to go in without too many expectations. The goal isn’t to become best friends. Remember that you’re just two humans who happen to love the same person. You’re both doing your best and, hopefully, want a good outcome for everyone involved. After that, just be yourself! Be polite and friendly, look for common ground, and treat them like you would any new person you’re trying to get to know.

This all assumes, of course, that your metamour is up for meeting you or hanging out. It’s never okay to force a meeting if one party really doesn’t want it or isn’t ready. But if things go well, you might very well find that this leap of faith does great things for your metamour relationship.

If they go badly, or if you really can’t bring yourself to give this metamour a chance? It’s time to consider going parallel.

Parallel Polyamory is Valid

Like many polyamorous people, I love kitchen table polyamory – the close, family-style structure where the various partners and metamours in a network are totally comfortable in each other’s presence and may even actively choose to hang out.

There are tonnes of potential benefits to kitchen table polyamory (KTP.) Your metamours can become dear friends and members of your chosen family. There’s more support for everyone when things are hard. There are more people to celebrate with when good things happen. If children are involved, there are more adults to love and care for those kids. There’s the potential for group outings, polycule trips and adventures, and even group sex if you’re all into that. However, practicing KTP is a personal preference and it won’t work for everyone.

Parallel polyamory is where you know about your metamours, but don’t spend time with them or have any involvement with them beyond essential information. Like parallel lines, the relationships do not meet or intersect. Despite having a bad reputation in some parts of the community, parallel polyamory is an equally valid choice. And in situations of dislike or animosity between metamours, it’s often the best one.

Some people even prefer parallel polyamory right from the beginning! It doesn’t have to come out of metamours disliking each other. Some just prefer to keep things very separate for all kinds of reasons.

Parallel polyamory can look a few different ways. The common thread, though, is that the metamours have little or no direct interaction. They may also prefer not to hear much or any information about the other person, or to have their own information shared. There’s also Garden Party Polyamory, a middle ground where metamours can be polite and friendly to one another in occasional social situations, but otherwise have little interaction and do not hang out independently of their mutual partner.

It’s possible to shift between structures over time as necessary or dictated by circumstances, too. You don’t have to pick one and stick to it forever! Like so many things in polyamory, it’s an ongoing journey and may require renegotiation over time.

Personally, as I’ve said, parallel polyamory isn’t my preference. But if there was ever a time when I had two partners who couldn’t get along with one another, or a metamour I really couldn’t stand (or vice versa,) I would accept it as the healthiest option for everyone in that situation. It’s not a lesser form of polyamory. It’s just different.

“I Hate My Metamour, But Our Partner Wants Us All to Live Together!”

I hear this (and its less extreme cousin, “I hate my metamour but my partner is desperate for us all to hang out”) so, so, so often.

It’s far too common for hinge partners to try to force closeness between metamours who don’t get along. This might look like trying to arrange group hangouts or social interactions despite the metamours’ wishes. At its most extreme, it can look like trying to force metamours to date (see: unicorn hunting), have sex, or live together.

If you’re one of the metamours in this situation: stand firm with your boundaries. You do not have to hang out with anyone you don’t want to hang out with. You certainly don’t have to date, have sex with, or live with anyone you don’t want to.

The fact that your partner wants it – even really, really wants it – is ultimately irrelevant here. You can hear and sympathise with their desires, of course. But you cannot and must not compromise your boundaries and needs for the sake of their desired structure. Doing so will just breed resentment and mistrust, ultimately destroying your relationships. At its most extreme, you may end up feeling coerced, violated, or abused.

If your partner continues to push for more of a relationship between you and your metamour than you want, and will not respect your boundaries when you state them clearly, then it might be time to consider leaving the relationship.

If you’re the hinge in this situation and trying to force a dynamic between your partners: stop it! I can’t overstate how damaging this is. Firstly, people tend to hate being coerced into things they don’t want. Secondly, let’s say they give in and do what you want. How do you think this is going to go? Does a social hangout with two people who don’t like each other sound fun to you? Does living with two people who don’t like each other sound fun!? Exactly.

I understand you have a dream for how you want your ideal polyamorous life to look. However, you’re dealing with actual people with actual personalities and feelings. When you try to force your partners to be friends, date, become lovers, or live together against their wills… chances are you’ll lose both or all of them.

If you want to be with these people, you’ll need to accept that (for now at least, possibly forever) they love you but care for each other much less. If anything other than kitchen table polyamory or nesting with all your partners is a dealbreaker for you, that might mean you need to end these relationships and find others that better meet your desires.

Friendship Isn’t Necessary, But Mutual Respect Probably Is

If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you’ll take this: you don’t have to like your metamour! It’s perfectly fine to feel indifferent towards them. It’s also okay to actively dislike them, though I hope you’ll first follow the steps I’ve outlined to examine where that dislike is coming from and if it is truly warranted.

How you frame things, both in your mind and externally, really matters here. In the vast majority of circumstances, hanging on to intense dislike, disrespect, or contempt for another person isn’t going to do you or your relationships any good. Can you reframe “I hate my metamour” to “my metamour and I are very different people who don’t really get along, but our goal is to coexist peacefully because we both love our mutual partner”?

In the end, mutual respect for your metamour(s) – even if you are not friends or dislike one another – is both possible and desirable in most circumstances. Here’s what that can look like in practice:

  • Accepting and fully internalising that they have just as much right to their place in your mutual partner’s life as you do.
  • Giving your partner space to have their relationship with your metamour. For example, not trying to infringe on their dates or spoil their time together.
  • Articulating and maintaining clear personal boundaries around things that you control: your time, your space, your energy, and your possessions.
  • Hearing and respecting your metamour’s boundaries around the things that they control, even if those boundaries are different from your own.
  • Respecting your metamours’ privacy and consent. This includes things like not expecting intimate details about their activities with your hinge partner, unless they enthusiastically consent to such sharing. It also means not trying to find or use personal information about them that they may not wish you to have.
  • Ensuring that agreements you make with your hinge partner do not negatively impact your metamour or their relationship.
  • Retaining a reasonable level of flexibility around things like scheduling and the use of shared spaces.
  • Not trying to convince your partner to leave your metamour, change their relationship, or view them the way that you do.
  • Not badmouthing your metamour (either to your partner or to others.)
  • Resisting the temptation to compete or frame your metamour as an adversary.
  • Wherever you can, assuming good will. Your metamour probably isn’t trying to piss you off, trigger your insecurities, or replace you.

Sometimes Metamours Really Are Terrible

In the vast majority of circumstances, your metamour probably isn’t actually a bad person. They might be perfectly lovely but simply not one of your people. They might have their heart in the right place but still exhibit some behaviours that rub you the wrong way. In these situations, mutual respect, a little courtesy and goodwill, good communication from your mutual partner, and minimising unnecessary interactions will probably be all you need to keep things harmonious within your polycule.

But what if you’re right? What if your metamour actually is kind of terrible? Perhaps they hold horrible, oppressive views or regularly do unethical things. At the worst end of the spectrum, perhaps they’re abusing someone – your mutual partner, another partner or partners, or even a child.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: this situation fucking sucks. It’s also probably largely out of your control. You cannot force your partner to leave someone, even for their own good. There are times when going parallel will sufficiently mitigate the issue. There are also times when it won’t. Firm boundaries, strengthening your relationship with your mutual partner, and calling on the rest of your support network can all help, too. Sometimes, though, even all of this won’t be enough.

Sadly, problematic metamours can sometimes lead to the end of a relationship. I once ended a relationship because my metamour was so controlling – and my partner was so willing to capitulate to all their demands – that we couldn’t actually have a relationship. Leaving devastated me, but ultimately staying would have been worse.

What About Abuse?

This article is about what to do when you dislike your metamour. But what if you suspect (or know) that your metamour is abusing your mutual partner?

I’m going to write a whole article soon about handling abuse within your polycule. That subject deserves thousands of words of its own and there isn’t space to delve deeply into it here.

I just wanted to acknowledge that this can happen, and that it’s heartbreaking and painful on a whole other level when it does. The reason I’m not going into it in this piece is that I want to give it the attention and space it deserves, taking the time and doing the background research to make sure I get it right.

In the meantime, Eve Rickert has compiled this incredible list of resources on abuse in polyamorous relationships.

Do You Have a Metamour Relationship Problem, or Do You Have a Hinge Partner Problem?

In polyamorous spaces, you’ll often see people say things like “metamour problems are really partner problems.” This isn’t always true, but it’s often true.

Take, for example, the controlling metamour I mentioned above. Ultimately, the problem was that my partner chose to follow all the arbitrary rules and restrictions they laid down. My partner had a choice there, and they could have refused. They weren’t powerless. They could have advocated for me and for our relationship. The fact that they didn’t is actually what ended things between us.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to situations of abuse. In those situations, your partner may really be powerless in a very real way. But if your metamour is behaving unreasonably but not abusively, it is your partner’s job to manage the situation and ensure your metamour’s behaviour doesn’t spill over onto you and your relationship too much.

It’s almost impossible, in anything but the strictest form of parallel polyamory (and probably even then), to keep relationships from impacting each other entirely. After all, if I’ve had a fight with one of my partners and am then due to go on a date with another partner, that is likely to impact my mood and energy levels even if my partners have absolutely no interaction with one another.

The choices you make in one relationship can, and often do, affect your other relationships. This isn’t necessarily a bad or problematic thing in itself. It does, however, require intentionality and care to manage it well. That’s particularly true if the metamours do not get along.

In some cases, your partner’s choice of partners or behaviour in other relationships might directly impact how you view them. Let’s imagine, for a second, one of your partners knowingly brings home someone with extreme and violently right-wing politics. This problem isn’t going to be solved by going parallel. This problem is deeper, in that it says something pretty fundamental – and pretty damning – about your partner and their values.

One of the most important skills in polyamory is partner selection. This extends to being able to trust your partners’ judgement in their partner selection. Unfortunately, when “I hate my metamour” turns into “I hate that my partner chose this person and what that choice says about them”, there might be little you can do but leave the relationship.

Last Words

Wow, even for me this has turned into a mammoth essay! Like so many relationship-related subjects, it’s nuanced and highly contextual. To sum up, though, my 10 key points are as follows:

  • You do not have to be friends with your metamour, like them, or even ever meet them if you don’t want to.
  • If you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” space, start by asking yourself why and really interrogating it.
  • Examine what your feelings about your metamour are telling you about what’s going on within you.
  • Give them a real and fair chance if you can.
  • It’s fine to be parallel polyamorous.
  • You never have to interact with your metamour in a way that violates your boundaries or consent, and your partner should never pressure you to.
  • Mutual respect, even in the face of indifference or dislike, will go a long way.
  • Metamour issues are often, but not always, really hinge partner issues. Hinge partners have a lot of responsibility here.
  • Relationships can and do impact one another, which is one of the reasons good partner selection is so vital.
  • It’s okay to end a relationship over unresolvable metamour issues, especially if your mutual partner isn’t respecting your boundaries or advocating for you appropriately.

Have you ever found yourself saying “I hate my metamour”? How did you handle it? Any horrors, cautionary tales, or success stories to share?

Polysaturation: How Do You Know When You’re Polysaturated? [Polyamory Conversation Cards #4]

It’s safe to say that the polyamory community likes its cute wordplay. We’ve got “metamour,” from meta (beyond or after) + amor (love), to mean your partner’s partner. We’ve got “polycule”, from poly + molecule, to mean an interconnected network of relationships (because when we draw out our romantic networks they can kinda resemble scientific models of chemical molecules.) Then there’s the subject of today’s post: polysaturation, or “the state in which a polyamorous person has as many significant relationships as they can handle at a given time” (definition courtesy of Multiamory.)

In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.

This week’s card asks:

“How much time, energy, and other resources do you have left for potential new attachments?”

My personal answer to this is “very little,” but that doesn’t make a very exciting post, does it? So let’s delve into the topic of polysaturation, how to know when you’re at your relationship limit, and what do to about it.

What is Polysaturation?

Polysaturation is the point at which a polyamorous person has the maximum number of relationships that they can handle. Typically, when people are polysaturated, they stop actively looking for new relationships and may become entirely closed to the possibility of new relationships until or unless their circumstances change.

Polyamorous people feel differently about polysaturation. Personally, I kind of love the feeling of polysaturation. I find “dating” and actively trying to make romantic connections difficult and demoralising, so being at the point where I am comfortable and satisfied in my romantic life is wonderful. Others dislike it because they feel it limits their options for making connections if they happen to meet someone incredible but don’t have time to pursue a relationship with them.

What is an Average Polysaturation Number?

There’s no one right answer to this, because it depends on so many factors. Physical and mental health, work, child rearing and other caring responsibilities, life stage, geography, finances, and the status of existing relationships are just some of the factors that can play a role in determining someone’s polysaturation point.

I will say, though, that I have been polyamorous for 15 years and I’ve encountered very few people who can manage more than three serious relationships well. Overall, two and three are by far the most common polysaturation numbers.

My own polysaturation point, in case you’re wondering, is currently two serious relationships. I can enjoy situationships, friends-with-benefits, and casual encounters (such as occasional sex parties or swinging) alongside those relationships, because these casual dynamics demand very little in terms of ongoing time commitments or emotional investments. But actual, Capital-R Romantic Relationships with people I’m in love with? Right now it’s two, and I am struggling to imagine that number ever being higher than three.

More Partners =/= Doing Polyamory Better

I know or have known of people with five, seven, ten romantic partners. On the surface, it might look like these people are absolutely killing it in the realm of polyamory. In reality, though? When you look closer at this type of situation, you’ll often see an exhausted, burned-out person who’s massively overcommitted themself and a lot of neglected, pissed off, unsatisfied partners.

Are there exceptions? Sure. But not many.

What you need to let go of here is the idea that having more partners means you’re doing polyamory better. The goal of polyamory isn’t to constantly add new people, to “collect them all” à la Pokémon, or to compete to have more partners than anyone else. The most experienced and successful polyamorous people I know tend to be in anything from one to three committed romantic relationships at a time.

By the way: it’s totally possible to identify as polyamorous but go through a period where your polysaturation point is one partner, or even zero partners. Polyamory is an identity defined by the desire and ability to love and be in relationship with more than one person at a time. It doesn’t mean you always have to be actively doing so. There’s no “poly card” that someone will revoke if you don’t have two or more partners at all times!

How Do I Know If I’m Polysaturated?

When you first started exploring polyamory, you might have had some idea in your head about how many relationships you thought you’d be able to handle. If you’ve been practicing for some time, you might have found that that number is lower in reality than it was in theory. If so, that’s super normal. Many of us underestimate how much time and energy relationships take up, especially with the added complexities inherent in polyamory.

One of the keys to happiness in polyamory, I’ve found, is learning to identify when you’re polysaturated before you accidentally become polyoversaturated. That is, in more relationships than you can actually manage.

Polysaturation feels slightly different for everyone. I experience it as a lack of something, primarily. Specifically, a lack of any desire or inclination to add new romantic partners to my life. It also feels like a sort of “enoughness”, like my needs are being met and I’m satisfied. Kinda like the relationship equivalent of being comfortably full after a great meal, but not overly stuffed!

But in short, you’ll know you are polysaturated when you know – emotionally, intellectually, or both – that you are in a space where you cannot reasonably add any new partners to your life.

What If I’m Polysaturated But Meet Someone So Amazing I Simply Have to Pursue It?

This is a difficult one and I can’t give you a simple answer.

One of the realities of living a successful and happy polyamorous life is accepting that there are simply too many shiny people in the world to ever be able to build relationships with all of them. Sometimes, you have to let a potential interest go because you just do not have enough time in the day and it wouldn’t be fair to yourself, your existing partners, the new person, or others who also rely on you (such as your children or other dependents) to pursue something.

So your first option is simply “decide you don’t have the bandwidth, and leave it alone.”

It’s possible that this new relationship will be a low-time-and-energy-investment one, in which case you might be able to shift things around to accommodate it with relatively little pain and stress. But if it’s a relationship requiring a higher level of investment, particularly in the new relationship energy (NRE) phase, you might have some difficult decisions to make.

What you shouldn’t do, in almost any circumstances, is dump or demote an existing partner to make room for the new one. This is a profoundly shitty thing to do to someone you claim to love. Of course, if one of your relationships isn’t working or isn’t making you happy, you have the right to end it. But you should really be doing that at the point that it’s making you unhappy and isn’t fixable (or worth the energy to fix), not at the point that there’s a New Shiny to step in and fill the gap.

So if this new relationship seems too good to pass up, what can you do?

Be Honest with Yourself and Your Partners

What can you actually offer this new person in terms of time, energy, and current or future commitment? How will those choices impact you and your existing partner(s)?

Be unfailingly honest with everyone, yourself first of all. Don’t convince yourself you have energy or hours in the day that you simply don’t have. Don’t overcommit yourself to the new person just to let them down later. And don’t lie to or mislead your existing partners to get their buy-in if they are understandably reticent about you adding someone knew when you’re already at your polysaturation point.

Look at What Else You Can Move Around

If you decide you do want to pursue the new connection, something else in your life will likely have to give.

You might be able to shift some things around in your life to accommodate the new relationship with minimal disruption to your existing relationships, if you get creative. Is there a hobby or activity you’re willing to let slide (or dedicate a little less time to?) Will the grandparents take your kids for a few hours after school one evening a week to allow you to visit your new sweetie? Do you have the means and flexibility to take one fewer shifts at work or to move your working pattern around a bit?

The answer to all of these things might be no. But if nothing can realistically change and you don’t have the time or energy, then I’m back to my original advice: don’t pursue this new relationship.

Negotiate a Casual Relationship

When you meet someone new and make a connection, you don’t initially know what shape that connection might naturally take. So consider whether you and your new interest would be happy with an occasional, casual, friends-with-benefits or comet-style relationship.

Some relationships cannot be casual. Forcing a relationship that wants to be serious and committed into a casual box will hurt everyone involved and probably blow up in your face. But if circumstances allow and your needs and desires align, negotiating a low-key casual style relationship can be a great way to navigate this situation.

Avoiding Polyoversaturation Before It Happens

“Kid in a candy store syndrome” is a slightly snarky name for the phenomenon of newcomers who discover polyamory and immediately leap into DATING ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME. They’re overwhelmed by possibility and the next thing you know, they’ve got twelve partners and their Google Calendar is packed until August… of next year.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation then… I’m sorry. It’s an easy mistake to make and a hard situation to be in. I can’t tell you what to do about it, because it’s obviously not as easy as “just break up with six to eight of those partners to bring your polycule down to manageable numbers.” I will say that a lot of people make this mistake in the early days and things usually even out over time. Still, you might be in for a bumpy ride in the short term.

Experienced polyamorists, by the way, typically won’t date people who do this. We’ve seen it all before and we know the pain, neglect, and frustration it causes.

Fortunately, if you’ve not yet made this mistake, it’s fairly easy to avoid. Instead of seeing polyamory as a smorgasbord where you can indulge yourself without limits, approach dating and relationships with intention. Where possible, build new relationships one at a time (two will be doable for some people, but not for everyone. You know yourself and your capabilities best.) And before you get involved with a new person, take a clear-eyed and critical look at your current situation. Do you actually have the time, energy, and bandwidth?

Remember, to go back to that food analogy: the goal is “pleasantly full,” not “uncomfortably stuffed.” With time and self-awareness, you’ll get to know what that feels like for you.

How to Make Your Own Sex Toy: Should You?

I’m a big fan of pervertables for kink. That is, ordinary items that can be misappropriated for sexy purposes. Think wooden spoon spankings, clothes pegs on nipples, and so on. But when it comes to things to use on your genitals, how to make your own sex toy – and even whether or not this is a good idea – is not quite so straightforward.

I understand the temptation of making your own sex toy. Toys can be expensive. If you live with family, have little privacy, or live in a place with strict laws, they can also be difficult to get hold of. That’s why I’m not going to tell you not to do it. Instead, I’m going to give you some quick safety facts and show you some ways you can go about making or improvising a sex toy while minimising your risk of harm.

Making Your Own Sex Toy: Safety Considerations

Overall, most people have a very poor level of understanding when it comes to the things that are and are not safe to use on their genitals. This is for two main reasons:

  1. Sex education sucks almost universally so unless you were lucky enough to have very switched on parents or go to an incredibly progressive school, you almost certainly weren’t taught this stuff.
  2. The sex toy industry is almost entirely unregulated. This means that manufacturers can lie, both about what materials they’re using and about the safety profile of those materials, and there is little recourse to call them on it when they do.

So with that in mind, be very very cautious about what you use as a sex toy. All kinds of items and materials can harm your body. This can run the gamut from physical injuries (for example, from using items with sharp edges) through to infection (from using items that aren’t properly sterile or are made of porous materials which can harbour bacteria.)

Quick Safety Tips

Follow these tips to keep yourself as safe as possible if you’re going to experiment with homemade sex toys:

  • Only use items that are smooth and free from sharp edges
  • Never use anything sharp, pointy, or that may have splinters
  • Never use anything breakable (such as glass items)
  • Avoid highly porous materials
  • Put a condom over anything you are going to insert into your body
  • If you are doing anal play, always always always make sure your item has a flared base or a large handle so you can retrieve it easily
  • Don’t use anything electrical in the bath, shower, or near water
  • Do not use items that have already been used for other purposes (such as used electric toothbrushes) and keep the item for sexual purposes only – or retire it – once you’ve used it as a sex toy
  • If you use food items such as vegetables, do not eat them afterwards but throw them away
  • Only ever use your own items as sex toys, never something belonging to someone else

How to Make Your Own Sex Toy: 3 Ways

Cast Your (or Your Partner’s) Genitals

Making your own sex toy at home is relatively affordable thanks to the invention of genital casting kits such as Clone-a-Willy and Clone-a-Pussy. These kits typically cost under $50 and allow you to make a replica of your or your partner’s penis or vulva. The finished toy will be made of silicone, so it will be body-safe and should last for many years with the right care.

Bonus: it’s a fun and surprisingly hilarious date night activity.

Learn How to Work With Body-Safe Materials

If you want to make your own sex toy, you can always turn it into a project or a new hobby by learning how to actually work with body-safe sex toy materials and make things to a good standard.

For example, you might learn how to mix and pour silicone and make your own toy moulds. Or you could take up woodturning and make beautiful wooden sex toys (don’t forget to glaze and seal them properly with a body-safe finish!) on your lathe at home.

Repurpose Safe(r) Items

Fortunately, there are several household items you can use as a makeshift sex toy that are unlikely to cause you any harm. The following are likely to be okay with some basic safety precautions:

  • A new, clean electric toothbrush (use the non-bristled end)
  • A vibrating back massager
  • An electric showerhead
  • Smooth handles of items like hairbrushes (as long as they are clean and covered with a condom)
  • Some vegetables, as long as you wash them and cover them with a condom (check carefully to make sure there are no rough or spiky bits first)

Let the Professionals Handle It

If you want something designed perfectly for you, it’s time to hand things over to the professionals. Yes, there are companies out there who will make you your very own personalized sex toy based on the specifications that you request.

Freely Toys, based in Montreal, offers a unique “custom adult toy” builder where you can make your own sex toy design and then they’ll create it for you. This can include choosing the shape, curvature, size, colour, base style, and even the firmness of your toy. At the time of writing, there are 52 basic designs for you to choose from and then customize. So no matter what you’re dreaming of, they can probably make it for you! Of course, they also have a range of pre-made designs for you to choose from.

Freely’s custom platinum silicone toys are of the highest quality and made using 100% body-friendly materials. So you’ll know you’re getting value for your money as well as a safe toy that you can use with complete peace of mind.

Thanks to Freely Toys for sponsoring this post. All writing and views are, as always, mine!

What Does Inclusive Sex Toy Design for the LGBTQ+ Community Look Like?

I believe, and have believed since the first day I started working in this industry, that sex toys are for everyone. Unfortunately, sex toy design and marketing often fail to live up to this ideal. Toy retailers are often unintentionally exclusionary at best, and outright offensive at worst.

But what does it actually look like to create and market inclusive sex toys? Today I want to look at this question specifically through the lens of LGBTQ+ experiences.

No Toy Will Suit Everyone

There are so many reasons I cringe when I see phrases like “best ever sex toy for women!” and “orgasm guaranteed!” in sex toy marketing copy. The main one, though, is that sex – and bodies – simply do not work that way. We’re all different. Our bodies, minds, and relationships have diverse needs. This means that it is absolutely impossible to create a toy that will work for everyone or to guarantee that a product will work for any particular individual.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few different ways that sex toy design can become more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. Hint: I love colourful Pride-themed things as much as anyone, but this issue is much more complicated than just slapping a rainbow on something during the month of June.

This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but includes some considerations for sex toy designers and makers who want to be LGBTQ+ inclusive to think about.

Design for Diverse Bodies and Preferences

LGBTQ+ people’s bodies can look and function in a whole myriad of different ways, and inclusive sex toy design accounts for this beautiful variety.

Arosum has recently released two new products, the G-Snuggle and the LushVibe, that are specifically crafted for people with tighter or narrower vaginal canals. This might include trans women who have undergone gender confirmation surgery, some intersex people, and cis women, trans men and AFAB non-binary people who suffer from conditions such as vaginismus. These toys feature a slim design with a unique hooked tip shaped like a bean sprout that applies gentle pressure to the vaginal walls.

To be honest, even as a cis woman who simply prefers slimmer toys for penetration most of the time, I think I’d enjoy these products. It’s really nice to see companies breaking the “bigger is always better” narrative when it comes to toys. (The LushVibe, by the way, is also suitable for anal use.)

Toys that are useable when flaccid are also popular amongst some trans women and non-binary people who take estrogen, which can affect erections. I’m eternally disappointed that one of the best toys in this category, the Hot Octopuss Pulse, is marketed with the cringeworthily-gendered term “Guybrator.” Wand vibrators are another great gender-neutral option, because high-powered vibration feels awesome for most genitals.

Highly versatile toys, in general, are wonderful and there should be more of them.

Sex Toys and Gender

Sex toys can play a role in gender affirmation, too. Simply de-gendering your toys entirely is a step in the right direction and can help you to avoid inadvertently causing gender dysphoria.

There are even toys specifically designed with gender affirmation in mind. For example, there are strokers designed specifically for trans men and transmasculine people who have experienced bottom growth due to taking testosterone. And pack-and-plays allow wearers to both pack (create the look and feel of having a penis) and have sex with the same cock.

Toy Kits for Couples

Something that’s tremendously popular in the sex toy industry is bundles or kits for couples. These typically include two toys, one for each person. Sometimes the two products will link up or work together in some way (such as through an app. Isn’t technology marvellous?)

But these bundles are, with very few exceptions that you really have to go looking for, incredibly cisheteronormative in their marketing and design. I’d love to see LGBTQ+ toy manufacturers designing sets and kits for couples with the same genitals… and for couples with different genitals but without the “his & hers” marketing.

Be Aware of Other Intersections

Privilege and oppression exists as a huge and complex system of intersecting identities. This means that, when designing products with the LGBTQ+ community in mind, it’s important to consider other intersections of identity and experience as well.

For example, the sex toy industry has a huge and ongoing racism problem. “Historically, “flesh” dildos and vibrators were the color of Caucasian skin,” writes Hallie Lieberman. This is still a common occurrence and, when toys are available in other skin colours, companies often market them using problematic or even outright racist language. In the same article Shani Hart, CEO of the Hart’s Desires boutique in the D.C. area, calls out the “racist and derogatory” packaging and marketing copy that still appears far too often in this industry.

Disability inclusion matters, too, and it’s important to remember that disability doesn’t look just one way. Disabled writer, advocate, and sex worker Ruby Rousson writes in this article that “Nearly every toy I’ve come across has not been designed with accessibility in mind. Whilst we’re slowly getting there, we’re not there yet.” Size, weight, shape, button size and placement, positioning, care and cleaning, and noise are just some of the factors you’ll need to consider when it comes to disability-friendly sex toy design. Even then, you should probably avoid claiming that your toy is “good for disabled people” without specifying what that actually means.

The Words and Images You Use Matter

Okay, this is a sex toy marketing issue rather than a sex toy design issue, but it’s all intricately connected. Think about the language and images you’re using when you market your toys. Are you using a lot of images of cisgender, heterosexual-presenting people and couples? If so, your LGBTQ+ audience is unlikely to see itself represented and will probably feel excluded by your marketing.

Are you using gendered language? If so, that should be the first thing to go. For example, not everyone with a vulva is a woman and not all women have vulvas, so marketing a clitoral vibrator as a “toy for women” is exclusionary and alienating.

Think about language around sexual orientation and gender identity, too. I advocate against categorising toys by sexuality because, well, inanimate objects don’t have sexual orientations. You might think it’s inclusive to categorise a strap-on, for example, as “for lesbians.” But people of a huge array of sexualities, genders, and relationship configurations can and do use these toys.

If In Doubt, Ask

Remember that, when designing and marketing products for the LGBTQ+ community, you should actually ask us for feedback! Even if you and your team are part of the community, you probably don’t have every single identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella represented and your experience won’t be someone else’s experience. Always seek the direct input of the individuals and communities you’re looking to serve.

Thanks to Arosum for sponsoring this post. Check out their range of products designed with LGBTQ+ people in mind! All writing and views are, as always, my own.