One of the first polyamory terms that gave me the giggles was polysaturated. “That’s cute,” I thought, picturing someone spreading themselves as thinly as margarine. But the reality is that having so many partners that you feel anxious and overwhelmed is the opposite of cute. It’s stressful and upsetting for both you and the people you love.
So, I asked some… polysaturation experts (of sorts) to help shed light on this challenging topic. They’re my lovely friends Heather, Tom and Zane, who I’ve either watched go through it or heard them talk about the struggle to balance more partners than they had space for at that time. The funny thing about polysaturation is that once someone has experienced it, they’re often very keen to talk about how much easier life is now they’ve grown from that time. And I really appreciate my friends for sharing their well-earned wisdom here.
It’s important to note that polysaturation looks different for everyone. There isn’t some magic number of partners that is good (or bad). We each have different capacities for love and time at various stages of our lives. Don’t judge someone for having what you consider to be ‘too many’ partners. Sometimes, it takes a while to figure out what is best for you right now.
Anyway, here’s a guide to polysaturation, with helpful advice from people who have been there, got the t-shirt, and now know what to do if polyamory suddenly feels like it’s taking over your life.
In short, polysaturation means someone who has reached their emotional or logistical capacity for managing multiple relationships. For some people, this could be two partners. For others, it could be five. It all depends on the individual and how many significant relationships they can truly enjoy at the present moment.
The name polysaturation is a cheeky play on the term polyunsaturated, which is a type of dietary fat that has no relation to polyamory. But it does help to describe a polyamorous person who is saturated, which the Cambridge dictionary defines as “completely filled with something so that no more can be added.”
Describing yourself as polysaturated doesn’t necessarily have to mean something that is a negative experience for you. It could simply be a way of saying you’re at capacity and aren’t open to new connections or partners. However, often, when people use the term, they are describing the potential negative signs or effects of having more partners than they have time or the emotional bandwidth for.
Such signs that you may be polysaturated include feeling like you don’t have time for yourself and struggling to schedule time with people. Perhaps your partners, friends and family complain about a lack of quality time with you. When you are polysaturated, you could experience stress or anxiety plus feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed is quite common, as is neglecting your self-care. Polysaturation could also result in spreading yourself too thin and struggling to communicate appropriately with all of your partners, causing the quality of these connections to decrease over time.
Is it easy to become polysaturated?
From my anecdotal experience, polysaturation is quite common when people try non-monogamy for the first time. My friend Heather agrees, noting that she feels “it’s easy to be polysaturated, especially when you’re new to polyamory (one or two years in) and so passionate and excited about everything.”
In the beginning, this heightened thrill can make you think because you can date multiple people, you should date everyone cute you come across. “I felt a little invincible,” Heather says, reflecting on her experience of polysaturation, “so I thought I could handle more partners than I actually could.”
For others, polysaturation is something they’re naturally inclined towards, even after many years of experience. My friend Zane finds it “way too easy” to become overstretched by their commitments. “I love meeting new people and am easily fascinated by a new constellation of attributes,” they note, while pointing out that they “know loads of people who find polysaturation very easy to avoid.” It’s something Zane has spent some time reflecting on and working through over the years. “I like to be busy, and I like to be needed (I am talking to my therapist about the latter), so I find myself saturated more often than not.”
For my friend Tom, their past experiences stem from a different place. “I am an addict,” they point out, indicating that for them, sex and dating have to be approached similarly to drugs and alcohol. “Novelty is so distracting… which means obviously every time somebody interesting comes along who shows a little bit of interest in return, you’re going to chase them.” This tendency meant that it was very easy for Tom to become polysaturated, often without being aware of it. “I never noticed it until it’s too late,” they recall. “I was like, “Oh, I am tired. I have made dating a full-time job.” And then I’d burn myself out.”
For Tom, this was unsustainable for them as it was “being fed by something deeply unhealthy and damaged. You’re treating the symptom, not the root cause: a lack of self-worth, of self-love. That’s my particular flavour of this.” In turn, there was naturally a significant impact on their relationships. “You’re not taking care of yourself, and you reach this point where you can’t treat people well because you’ve stretched yourself so thin.”
How can you avoid becoming polysaturated?
The good news is that experiencing polysaturation can help you discover how to have multiple, meaningful, enjoyable relationships within your capacity. Essentially, you often have to cross your boundaries to learn where they are. That also means avoiding polysaturation requires a thoughtful approach and continuous self-awareness.
Here are some strategies to help you maintain a healthy balance in all your relationships.
1. Set clear boundaries
“Boundaries and time management are all important,” says Zane. “Figure out what your needs are and honour them. Be impeccable with your commitment, both to others but crucially, also to yourself.”
This approach could look like defining the number of relationships you can comfortably manage and the time you can allocate to each. Then, by communicating openly with all your partners and anyone new who comes along, you will establish your personal boundaries.
2. Effective time management
“I used to go from partner to partner, and it was exhausting,” recalls Heather. “So block out at least two nights a week to yourself.”
By developing strong time-management skills, you can efficiently allocate time for your partners and all other life commitments. By harnessing your scheduling and organisation, you can help prevent any overextension.
3. Prioritise self-care
“If I’m struggling to find the time to give myself a facial once a week,” notes Zane, “then I know I should probably focus on maintaining my existing connections and prioritising self-care over chasing new avenues to saturation.”
It’s important to make self-care a priority, as neglecting it increases the likelihood of becoming polysaturated. Ensure you have time for your own hobbies, interests, and alone time to recharge.
4. Open communication
It’s vital to maintain open and honest communication with all your partners. Encourage them to share their feelings and needs as well. By being transparent about your emotional capacity, you can help avoid misunderstandings.
5. Regular self-reflection
“Be your own primary partner,” suggests Heather. “I think it really helps establish boundaries with your energy or time.”
Such a mindset can also allow you space to continuously assess your emotional and mental wellbeing. Be mindful of signs of emotional exhaustion or burnout, and don’t hesitate to scale back if necessary.
6. Quality over quantity
“Don’t be in a rush to call someone a partner or give them priority in your life,” recommends Heather. “I usually date someone for six months now and then decide if I want them to be a partner.”
By focusing on the quality of your relationships rather than the quantity, you may find building deep connections with a few partners to be more satisfying and sustainable.
7. Regularly re-evaluate
“When you start seeing someone new, take a minute to stop and reflect,” says Tom. “Really think about why you’re doing this. If things move forward in a particular way, do you actually have the energy and the capacity for this? Don’t be tempted to tell yourself, “Sure, I’ve got this. I know how to do this.”
Learning about polyamory involves more than following a few Instagram accounts. Take the time to understand what you want, why you want it and how others have navigated situations similar to yours.
9. Seek Support
“The root cause of your polysaturation could be something deep and tough to shift,” observes Tom. “So go to therapy if you’re not already.”
Seek out guidance and support when you’re facing challenges related to polysaturation. You don’t have to go through this on your own. Therapy is a great option, plus you can also speak to members of your polyamorous community (both your digital and IRL ones).
Life after polysaturation
It’s important to remember that avoiding polysaturation is not about limiting your capacity to love but rather about ensuring that your relationships are healthy, fulfilling, and sustainable for everyone involved. You simply can’t pour from an empty cup. That’s why using the above tools, like self-awareness, effective communication and self-care, can help you find and maintain your balance in polyamory.
My friends are good examples of how you can learn to manage your life at capacity without allowing yourself to go beyond this OR to minimise your commitments and enjoy life after you have been polysaturated. Heather fits into the latter category. “I haven’t been polysaturated for over a year now, and it has been so good,” she enthuses. “I feel less overwhelmed, and I have space for myself, my friends, my hobbies and my dating life. Through this journey, I have realised that I can probably only handle two significant partners and then have some comets floating around. I would encourage everyone to go on their self-discovery journey on that.”
One of the crucial things to remember is that by filling your life to capacity and consistently trying to maintain this packed schedule, there is never room for anything exciting and new. As Andie Nordgren puts it in the Relationship Anarchy Manifesto, “Build for the lovely unexpected” so that you have the freedom “to be spontaneous.” Or, as Tom puts it, “Keep fewer plates spinning because you never know what’s going to happen, right?”
When discussing polysaturation, people often remind you that love is infinite, but time isn’t. “It’s a poly cliché, but it’s super true,” notes Zane. “I find it helps to remember that the people you meet are just that – people. As such, pursuing connections usually requires an investment of time to render them meaningful.”
Some final words of wisdom I would like to leave you with on the subject of polysaturation come from Heather. “Yeah, having partners is cool,” she quips, “but have you ever tried coming home, making yourself dinner, dancing around listening to music, doing a hobby you love and then ferociously masturbating before you fall asleep in your own bed?” Amen to that, my beautiful, unsaturated friend.
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