Polyamory myths (hero image)

Busting seven big myths about polyamory

In the wild world of polyamory… well, let’s say it’s much more about deep conversations and Google calendar management than any of the extravagant antics you’re probably picturing. So, let’s start that again.

In the gentle, caring world of polyamory, there are some big myths about what your relationships should look like. Most of these are assumptions that people bring with them on the journey over from monogamy that don’t truly reflect what it’s like to live and love in this way. 

So, let’s bust some of these big polyamory myths and find out what the reality is (aka polyamory facts!) along the way.

Presented in partnership with Feeld.

Polyamory myths #1: Polyamory doesn’t work

I recently returned to Australia and reconnected with my network of friends and family who formed a huge part of my early life. One of the most interesting things I realised was from everyone I knew there 20 years ago, only two relationships had endured. My parents had split up, my older sibling’s marriage had ended, and nearly all the couples everyone thought would be together forever had moved on to new partners. And that is entirely ok. I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with break-ups. In fact, I think they’re healthy if people are no longer meant to keep working on their relationship together.

The only people I knew who had managed to weather the trials of the past two decades and still wanted to be together were non-monogamous. Two couples. Four people. All of them had been in the early stages of their connection in the early 2000s. Now they were celebrating two decades of commitment to each other. It surprised me as I hadn’t known many non-monogamous people during that stage of my life. Yet, the few I had were still together, had each bought houses to cohabit in and navigated their way through everything life had thrown their way.

For me, it reinforced the idea that no relationship style is guaranteed to either work or fail. It’s all about the people in any connection finding the most authentic way of committing to those they love and then doing the work on themselves and with each other to build a relationship with intentionality and care. 

Polyamory fact: Martha Kauppi, a marriage and family therapist, conducted a study in 2011 where she and a colleague surveyed 340 people who identified as polyamorous about their relationship structures and the length of their various connections. 

It wasn’t a perfect sample (nearly all respondents were white, for example), but it did have a range of folks from those who were new to polyamory to others who had been practicing it for 55 years. On average, their relationships lasted eight years which, when you take into account how many romantic connections a polyam person has, it’s pretty impressive. Even more interesting, a whopping 20% of the reported relationships had been going on for a decade or longer.

Polyamory myths #2: If you get jealous, you can’t be polyamorous

Ah, jealousy. That giant green-eyed monster that dominates any conversation with anyone new to polyamory. Often when I talk to people about non-monogamy, they first say, “But what happens when you get jealous?” or “I could never do that. I’d get too jealous.”

This is the end of the conversation for many because we are taught to fear jealousy and avoid it at all costs, especially in relationships. The reality is everyone experiences jealousy in some way. Maybe it’s jealousy of a sibling, friend or co-worker. Anyone with multiple pets has likely witnessed that even animals experience jealousy. It’s a natural emotion to have.

When you first start out being polyamorous, it’s common to think that you have to hide any jealousy you feel, like it’s a shameful feeling. But experiencing it doesn’t make you any less polyamorous, and sometimes it can clue you into the fact that you’re in a situation that is concerning in some ways. Sometimes, it can highlight an area where you feel your relationship isn’t serving your needs. And other times, it’s something you need to feel your way through and learn that it won’t destroy you or the connection.

Polyamory fact: Jealousy happens in polyamory. Different people experience it to different extents, and it can come up in various ways that may surprise you. You may feel zero jealousy about your partner having sexual or romantic connections with other people. Still, you could feel jealousy or envy about your metamour’s incredible skills in the kitchen or their high-profile job.

Plenty of resources are out there to help you understand why you are jealous and how to feel your way through it. The Multiamory podcast has put together a great resource with 50 ways to handle your jealousy that is split up into episode 1 and episode 2 so that they can give detailed insights into each option. 

Polyamory myths #3: Polyamorous folks are afraid of commitment

The stereotype that non-monogamous folks use their relationship style as a way of dodging commitment has been a pretty pervasive one. Some think that people use the phrase “I’m polyamorous” as a shield to stop others from getting serious about their connection. 

The reality is that most of the polyamorous people I know are over-committed. Their lives are rich with deep investments in their friendships, lovers, co-parents, and romantic relationships. The term ‘polysaturated’ exists for a reason, as so frequently do polyamorous people find themselves in a situation where they are at capacity with their connections. Despite what you may assume, not all non-monogamous people are looking for new partners (but if you are, I recommend checking out Feeld).

The problem that most monogamous people have with any non-monogamous approach to commitment is that it doesn’t always fit the ‘relationship escalator’, a series of steps society tells us is required to formalise romantic commitment. When we choose not to be sexually exclusive, live together and/or get married, it challenges these assumptions about commitment. But these days, many monogamous couples don’t pick all of these steps either, which means we’re all beginning to move towards consciously collaborating on what commitment means – and that is an excellent thing.

Polyamory fact: In 2021, I asked a group of my non-monogamous friends to describe how they felt about commitment. What did the word mean to them? How had it been modelled for them in their childhood? How did they create commitment in their relationships without sexual and/or romantic exclusivity? 

The responses were beautiful and thoughtful and deeply challenged the idea that commitment had to look one particular way. As my friend Aida wrote, “If I’m committed to you, I won’t marry you, but I will travel across the world to be there for you when you need it.”

Polyamory myths #4: You must have multiple partners to be polyamorous

When people start having polyamorous relationships, it’s common for them to feel like they need to ‘prove’ that they are polyam by having multiple relationships. As if having one or no partners somehow makes their desire to structure their relationships in this way phoney. But remember, monogamous people who are single don’t feel the need to prove their desire for a sexually and romantically exclusive relationship to other mono folks. So why should you? 

The reality is that it’s very common for people who are polyamorous to go through extended periods where they have one partner or none. Being non-monogamous is not a game of Pokemon. You don’t “gotta catch ’em all,” as the slogan goes. Of course, there is no shame in having multiple partners. It’s all about understanding what you have the capacity for, which will certainly shift and change as you flow through life.

I laugh about how the ‘polyamory pipeline’ is starting out thinking you should date as many people as possible, simply because you can. Then after a few months or years, you chill out and feel content knowing you can, even if you don’t.

Polyamory fact: After 14 years of overlapping relationships, I decided to take a break from romantic commitments last year. So, for the past 12 months, I have had zero partners – but that doesn’t change the fact I am polyamorous. When I have relationships again, they will be structured this way. 

For me, it’s not about numbers but being open to genuine connections as and when they come into my life. So, there is every chance I could spend long stretches with no partners or one or more. To me, it doesn’t matter, as long as I and everyone I am connected with feels free to pursue their life in a way that feels authentic to them.

Polyamory myths #5: You have to be polyam if your partner is

A common topic that new people seek advice on is when their monogamous partner wants to be polyamorous, but they don’t. It’s a challenging situation (I know, I’ve been there), and there’s no easy answer for working through this together. 

It all comes down to knowing what you want your relationship/s to look like and seeing if there is any common ground where you can continue with your connection. No one should be forced to be polyamorous, just as no one should be forced to be monogamous. Yet, when it comes to love, people often feel these are areas where they should compromise to make a connection work. But if you are in this for the long haul, it’s usually best to be honest about who you both are to find a realistic way to build your connection and commitment.

If you are considering trying polyamory because of your partner, then Lola Phoenix from the Non-Monogamy Help podcast talks about finding your ‘anchor’ – your reason for doing this that’s not because your partner wants to. If, after going on this journey, you realise polyamory is not for you, then that is entirely ok.

Polyamory fact: Mono-poly relationships exist. That’s where one partner is monogamous, and the other is polyamorous – which is more common than you think. In fact, there’s a Facebook group with over 46k members, so support is out there if you want it.

There are various reasons why someone may not want more than one partner. A demanding job that leaves you with little time is a common reason. Still, if you’re happy for your partner to be committed to you and have a life on their own terms, then a mono-poly relationship structure could be an ideal fit for you both.

Polyamory myths #6: Polyamory is not healthy for children

“But what about the children!?” has become such a common catchphrase in many non-normative areas of life these days. Regarding non-monogamy, these questions are usually centred upon the idea that polyamory is somehow new, and we don’t know how it will affect children growing up in these environments.

Except, it isn’t new. Generations of families have had polyamorous households, so there are adults now who can speak to their experiences. In 2019, Koe Creations wrote the book This Heart Holds Many about growing up with polyam parents. You only have to read the comments on GoodReads to see that many other people grew up in a similar environment. And the general consensus? It’s all good.

A friend who grew up with polyam parents in the nineties admits it wasn’t easy, but that was mainly due to people outside the family. The stigma at the time was on par with having queer parents, where children felt it necessary to keep their family structure a secret. But thankfully, times are changing and having parents who are both queer and polyam isn’t that unusual anymore.

Polyamory fact: “There’s certainly zero evidence that [polyamory] is worse as a basis for childrearing than monogamy,” says British psychotherapist Dr Meg-John Barker. “There’s no reason to believe that monogamy is any better [or worse] than other family structures – of which poly families are just one… Structures with more adults involved, and more community support around them, may well work better for many people.”

If you are a parent or considering becoming one, plenty of polyam folks are happy to share resources and advice. Jessica and Joe Daylover from Remodeled Love create workshops and have a book all about polyamorous parenting. Also, Libby Sinback has an excellent podcast called Making Polyamory Work, which sometimes has episodes around her experiences as a mum.

Polyamory myths #7: You can’t be asexual and polyamorous

For a relationship style whose name is all about love, it’s usually the sex that monogamous people tend to focus on when discussing polyamory. They think that the reason why we aren’t romantically exclusive is because we’re having non-stop orgies. All the goddamn time. 

While most non-monogamous folks I know do have occasionally adventurous sex lives, others don’t have any sex at all. That’s because polyamory is about being open to having multiple loving, committed romantic relationships – and not all of them have to be sexual some or all the time.

Asexual people exist, and they make up an important part of our community. If people know that they can love multiple people and want to structure their relationships that way, it doesn’t matter if they are somewhere on the asexual spectrum or are allosexual (a person who regularly experiences sexual attraction). Polyamory is all about love.

Polyamory fact: Cody Daigle-Oriens, aka Ace Dad Advice, is an asexual, non-binary person in their 40s who is married and polyamorous. While all the other people in their polycule (or “constellation” as their astrophysicist boyfriend Dan calls it) are allosexual, it doesn’t change the fact that they are loved and supported for being exactly as they are.

As Cody said in our conversation on this topic, “Asexual people can enter into really any kind of relationship structure that exists. Sex isn’t the only reason that we have relationships. We enter relationships for many different reasons, and if you are a naturally polyamorous person, you can have more than one partner and still be asexual.”

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A lifestyle blog for everyone who questions the norm. From polyamorous relationships and personal growth to being genderqueer, Minka Guides helps you live a fabulous life with intentionality.

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