so you wanna be a polyamorist? take expert Dr. Elisabeth Sheff's test
Polyamory might sound appealing on the surface — more sex partners, more sex skills, more deliciously new sex experiences — but as polyamorist expert and noted monogamist Dr. Elisabeth "Eli" Sheff, PhD, discovered, it's so much more.
Dr. Elisabeth "Eli" Sheff
Think negotiation, communication and relationship skills, along with partners who are on the same page. Through Eli's decades of work as a relationship coach, researcher and educational consultant, she's gaining new insights into this growing cultural and sexual trend, largely driven by Gen Z.
For more of her groundbreaking insights, read our interview below and check out her bestselling books: The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple Partner Relationships and Families (2013), Stories from the Polycule (2015), When Someone You Love is Polyamorous (2016). Or take her 10-minute online polyamory test, The Bonding Project, to see where your curiosities fall. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter and Facebook or catch more of her science-backed POV on Psychology Today's blog.
What does polyamory look like in today's world? Who's doing it? Why are they doing it? Especially compared to the past.
Eli Sheff: I would say it kind of depends if you're talking about people who identify as polyamorous, think of themselves that way and use that label for themselves, or just people who have multiple partnerships openly conducted, long-term, emotionally intimate, multiple partnerships. There's way more of those people who are living what from the outside looks like a polyamorous life than there are people who actually identify as polyamorous.
For instance, non-monogamy, consensual non-monogamy is incredibly popular among young people like Gen Z, but they don't necessarily call it polyamory because polyamory has this kind of aging hippie connotation to it, like polyamory was something their parents did. And what they are doing now is different, although really it's pretty much the same.
What does polyamory look like then for Gen Z? Is it pretty much the same exact aging hippie thing that you're describing, or have they modernized it in some way?
Eli Sheff: I think they've modernized it. For one thing, it's a lot more virtual. There's a lot more virtual and long-distance relationships. Polyamorists have been having long-distance relationships this whole time and they've been maintaining that over the phone and stuff, but with the advent and the rise of social media, I think that has really influenced pretty much everything in Gen Z's life.
So it certainly has influenced the way they find partners, the way they conduct relationships, the way they break up with each other. It's influenced their entire relational sphere in a way that baby boomers, for instance, have not adopted to that same degree.
Why is Gen Z sort of going back to this idea of open relationships or polyamory — even though they're not calling it that — is this an outcome of Gen Z's sort of more open outlook to sex and partnerships and gender identity and everything else? Or is it a more an anti-marriage stance?
Eli Sheff: I would say yes, all of the above. For one thing, monogamy used to be the default just like heterosexuality was the default and you had to explain if you were anything but heterosexual, and it wasn't legitimate. Now monogamy, I would say, is still the default but has to be negotiated even among monogamous folks. First of all, going from the hook-up culture or the dating culture on Tinder and any kind of swiping app, to go from, "All right, we've hooked up, that's fine," to like, "We're in a relationship," you have to have a DTR talk, a Define The Relationship talk.
If you just sleep with someone and then think, "Oh, we're in a relationship," as a young person that's just foolish and naïve. That's not really true. If you slept with someone, all it means is you slept with them. It certainly doesn't mean you're in an active or ongoing relationship. And if you act that way then you get your feelings really hurt. So even if you are looking for monogamy and want monogamy and assume monogamy is the way you'll end up, you still have to talk about it and define it. For instance, for some monogamous folks, watching pornography and masturbating would count as cheating.
"One of the big signs you're actually ready or interested in polyamory is, can you think about your partner being with other people and you not being with them?" — Eli Sheff
For others, they're like, "No, that's insane. Of course that's not cheating." Well, how about sending your ex emojis on Facebook? You're not seeing your ex in person. You might not even speak to them but sending them hearts and flowers, does that count as monogamy now? I don't know. You got to talk about it in a way that you didn't have to before. So now people must negotiate both monogamy and non-monogamy, and the fact that monogamy has to be defined and negotiated kind of knocks it off of its place of unquestioned supremacy.
Once there's differing versions of it and you have to discuss it, that opens the door to alternatives, too. Like, "Oh, you think monogamy means this? Well, to me monogamy means I can kiss anyone I want as long as I don't go home and have sex with them or something." But someone else will be like, "No, that is totally not monogamy. Kissing other people. No." So I think that is very significant especially in Gen Z and millennials. They, as a group, just have no assumed definition of monogamy. You must discuss it.
They have also watched their parents say they'll be monogamous with each other and then not do it, and watched how that messes up their family. So many of them are thinking, "I'm just not even going to get married. I'm not even going to agree to monogamy because nobody really sustains monogamy over time so I'm just not even going to do it. Let's not even pretend so that way we don't have to get divorced and we don't have to break up and we don't have to have this huge fight over you kissing someone else. Let's just never expect that of each other."
There's also I would say among millennials and Gen Z, a significant rise in solo polyamory. Have you heard that term? Do you know what that is?
I have no idea what that is.
Eli Sheff: Solo polyamory, some people also call it relationship anarchy. Actually those or they could be two separate things. So solo polyamory is a form of polyamory where people don't necessarily want a primary partner. They're not looking for a spouse-like relationship with anyone. Either they have a lot of autonomy and they want that autonomy and they just don't want that kind of centralized relationship with anyone or, they do have an important relationship with someone who's not a romantic partner, for instance. And that's where you go kind of more into relationship anarchy.
"When I have seen people who are deeply monogamous by orientation, there's just no way they'll ever feel comfortable in a polyamorous relationship. It's much like asking a heterosexual women to be a lesbian. She might enjoy women's company, but you just can't manufacture lesbianism if you're not really a lesbian." — Dr. Eli Sheff
I had a respondent when I was trying to figure out how do you then have consistency with relationship anarchy, and she was saying you don't necessarily ever agree to 'til death do us part,' but you agree to treat each other in a way that makes you want to stay with each other, that makes you want to, even without a 'til death do us part' be there next year and the year after, and the year after that. And so she had decided that she was just done with trying to organize her life around romantic relationships which she had tried several times.
She had three kids with two different men and each of the men she had really tried hard to develop that kind of stable family life. And the father of her first child was incarcerated and then the father of her second and third child, kept saying he would be there, he would pay the rent, he would take care of the kids while she was at work which he called babysitting which is some bullshit right there. You don't babysit your own children. And he wasn't very consistently employed so she was paying all the bills and taking care of the kids and then he wouldn't even show back up when it was his time so she could go to work. So finally she was like, "You know what? Screw this," because her sister had also had the experience of trying to establish a family with the father of her two children. She had two kids with the same guy, and he was just unreliable. He was childish and more demanding of her attention, more work than he was worth, took more of her time and effort than he put back into the family. So she was like, "That is it. I am not relying on men again, God dammit." So the two sisters got a place together and they both pay the rent. If one of them is like, "All right, I'm on deck with the kids tonight so you can go out on a date," they actually show up and take care of the children. So these two sisters are each other's primary partners. They're each other's life partners. Not sexual partners, but they're co-parents. They raise their children as siblings and they can rely on each other in a way that they could not rely on any of the dads of their kids.
So while they are both heterosexual and have relationships with men, they treat these men as tertiary basically. Their kids come first, their relationship with each other comes second, and the men they date come a distant third because the men have just not earned a higher place in their life. They have not been reliable.
That's so interesting.
Eli Sheff: I think a lot of millennials and Gen Z, they look at this marry one person and spend the rest of your life with them as unrealistic. They don't see people around them doing it so why should they agree to it when it's an unrealistic goal even for those who say they want it.
Also in part because when monogamy was invented we had much shorter lifespans. If you're only going to ever be with one person your entire life, that's so much easier if you're dead by 40. But right now, let's say you're in your 40s and you're in a relationship that feels miserable to you, you could be looking at another 50 years with that person.
Or even if you're not miserable with that person. Even if you love that person and get along great with them, another 50 years of never having sex with anyone else for the rest of your life? For some people that's no problem. But for other people, just because they're in love with their partner doesn't mean they don't find other people sexually appealing. And just because they want to have sex with other people doesn't mean they don't love their partner.
"Not everybody gets that Disney version of monogamy... and if that's what you've been sold as a child, that's the real relationship and you see the people around you not living happily ever after then I think a lot of people are like, "Oh, man. Marriage is corrupt. Monogamy is unrealistic." — Dr. Eli Sheff
So that idea that you could have both a long-term partner that you love and adore and have a family with and maintain a very strong connection and sexual variety, is super appealing to people who are going to have much longer lifespans. And for whom sex isn't necessarily about procreation.
Again, back to when monogamy was invented, it was all about controlling women's sexuality so you knew whose baby it was that you were handing down your property to. Well, if the baby is less crucial, people are less focused on having children as the goal of sexuality, then maybe monogamy is not as important if you're not focused on handing down the family jewels.
How do you know if you're ready for polyamory... it sounds like there's an emotional maturity and a realism that's attached to younger generations' outlook—
Eli Sheff: To some extent. It's easy and fun to think, "I would like multiple partners. I would like sexual variety." But the trick comes when you are sharing those partners with other people. It's super easy to think, "Oh yeah, I would like a husband and a girlfriend and a wife and a lover who lives in Paris that I can visit periodically." But then thinking about, "Oh, my wife is going to have a girlfriend that she wants to vacation with and I'll be at home with the kids while she's in Costa Rica?" That's much harder. That's not nearly as appealing.
So I think one of the big signs you're actually ready or interested in polyamory is, can you think about your partner being with other people and you not being with them? Can you deal with that or not? If not, then what you want is a harem that you don't have to share, and that's not polyamory. And I got to say, it's what a lot of people want, the sexual variety for themselves without having to share their partner. And no shade on them, that's what they want. But it's hard to get and you got to be clear with your partners up front, don't pretend. If what you want is a harem, don't pretend you want polyamory because that's misleading to your partners. Be clear straight up.
You would be surprised how many people do that and usually it's men who either want a harem of women who just are focused on them or some of them are also down for the harem to have sex with each other so he can watch and/or get in on it, but generally very threatened by the idea of anyone of his harem having sex with another man. And so the polyamorous folks call that the one-penis policy that they must be the only man around and just tear into those people. They get so much shit in the polyamory world.
And interestingly enough, I have looked for a good at least 15 years, I have looked everywhere for a comparable one-vagina policy relationship with a woman with a whole bunch of men that are not allowed to have sex with other women. Never found it. Where in that time I have found hundreds of one-penis policy relationships. Hundreds.
Yeah, why isn't that surprising?
Eli Sheff: Yeah. So that says to me that a lot of men who are approaching the world of polyamory wanting to find bisexual women that then they can be the sexual center of attention for multiple women. They're setting themselves up for major disappointment because generally there's not a line of women around the block, lined up to be one of the harem. They come in with a female partner.
Often she ends up having way more opportunities, way more people coming on to her than he does, so I've seen it repeatedly both in my research and in my own life. That was exactly what happened, my now ex-husband pushed me really hard, "Find us a girlfriend," and finally this man fell in love with me and he lost his shit.
He was like, "No, no, no. It was never going to be you with multiple men. It was always going to be us with a woman." And I was like, "What the fuck? You didn't say that to me, dude." All of his fantasies were about us with a woman, but he never said to me, "You're not allowed to date men," which I would've been like, "You fucker. No way, asshole. You're not making that plan for me." But he was clandestine about it.
He didn't have enough self awareness before to think about, "Oh, how is this going to be for me if she goes off with some dude and I'm the one alone at home with the kids?" He was always focused on himself, which is the main reason I left his sorry ass. He's a selfish baby man who was too immature and insecure to really have an equitable relationship. He needed the coddling of his ego, his one-penis policy that he totally did not tell me about. And that happens over and over in the poly world.
It was interesting he tried that with pretty much the foremost expert on polyamory in the world.
Eli Sheff: Well, I wasn't yet. That's why I am. Now I'm 52. We met when I was 22 and I had no interest in polyamory. I thought I was going to be a lesbian and he was going to be my boy toy before I got back to real relationships with women. But I accidentally fell in love with him and then I was like, "Oh, what the fuck? You're a dude." I didn't expect that.
You're like, "Oops, change course."
Eli Sheff: Yes. And then he was like, "Well, I never want to be monogamous or get married but I do want to have a family with multiple people." And all his fantasies were about multiple women that he... As an intellectual, I intellectualize things that frighten me so I was like, "Oh man, I'm going to figure this out. This is freaking me out, his whole 'I want to be with other women.' Does that mean I'm too fat? Does that mean I'm bad in bed?" Which a lot of monogamous people, if they hear from their partner, "I want multiple partners," it translates to monogamous folks as, "You're not enough for me."
Because when we are satisfied in a relationship, we're not looking for anyone else. But I think there is a polyamorous orientation for people who it doesn't mean a lack on their partner's part. It doesn't matter who they're with, they're always going to want that freedom of perhaps pursuing something new and exciting. They like variety. They like multiplicity. And for many of the folks who are polyamorous by orientation, they don't struggle with jealousy very much if at all. It's just not a big thing for them. It's fine. They're not the ones who are struggling when their partner goes out with someone else.
It's the more harem-oriented folks who are super freaked out by that. Not every time. Certainly some people who are polyamorously leaning can have feelings of jealousy and insecurity but it's not generally as frequent or as potent as a monogamous person. And ironically, it took me a long time to figure out that I was monogamous, but couldn't partially because I didn't feel a lot of jealousy. What I would feel was insecurity and inadequacy like, "Oh yeah, no wonder you want someone else. I do suck. You're right. I'm a loser." And that's not a good life.
No. But it begs the question, though, how do you bring it up to somebody without creating that anxiety within them because that's horrible to feel?
Eli Sheff: Totally. Totally. Well, for one thing, a lot of people just put it on their dating profiles, are just straight up about it from the very beginning so they don't even date people who are not open to polyamory. They're just clear about it from the beginning. They're only looking for other non-monogamous people so they don't have to bring it up. They don't have to introduce the idea. That tends to work great.
What's somewhat less successful often is transitioning from monogamy to polyamory. That's rough. When both people really want it then it can totally be doable and they can figure it out and they can deal with the transition. Notice, "Oh, that's a monogamous mindset and we decided we're doing something else so I notice these emotions and I'm not going to make you do something different. I'm going to talk to you. I'm going to say I'm feeling insecure but I'm not going to demand that you never see this person again."
"It's in my experience, my own personal experience and in my data, polyamory really only works when everyone wants to be doing it. When someone gets talked into it or badgered or bullied into it, it always fails. It might work for a little while but I've never seen that go well, ever." — Dr. Eli Sheff
Whereas other couples, if it's one person who really wants it and another person who is reluctant, that generally does not work out very well. I've seen a very few people be able to successfully transition to polyamory from monogamy when one partner is hesitant. And generally that person is not polyamorous by orientation but also potentially not staunchly monogamous. When I have seen people who are deeply monogamous by orientation, there's just no way they'll ever feel comfortable in a polyamorous relationship.
It's much like asking a heterosexual woman to be a lesbian. She might enjoy women's company but you can't just manufacture lesbianism if you're not really a lesbian. If you don't have that desire, it's never going to be comfortable. And it's the same, I think, I'm deeply convinced that desire for multiplicity or not is a relational orientation. And most people are probably somewhere in the middle that they might like to have one main partner but also enjoy sexual variety here and there.
But like any bell curve, there are those outliers who I think will not be able to on the monogamous side be comfortable sharing their partner with others or on the polyamorous side be comfortable restricting themselves to just one partner for the rest of their life. So when people come to that, of either wondering what their orientation is or having a mismatch, all sorts of different things can happen. One of the tools that my colleagues and I have developed for this is called The Bonding Project. It's a free online quiz that helps people consider if they want to bond one-on-one, one-to-many, many-to-many, or solo.
It's our beta test and we've gotten some just fantastic feedback on it. For one thing, it's incredibly accurate, our bonders tell us. For another thing, the language is awkward and we're fixing that... It's still a useful and interesting tool but as the beta test we were like, "All right, this isn't the final thing. What are we going to do to improve it?" And now it's been out for a year. Since January of 2021, we've had over 20,000 people access the test, 18,000 of them started it and almost 15,000 of them finished, so we have 14,700 something finalized responses.
And it super interesting. What we've found is that the majority of our testers so far have been millennials, most of them cisgendered, more than half of them women, and that the millennials seem to be most interested in solo bonding or one-to-many. Not that many of them are interested in one-on-one and very few are interested in many-to-many. So many-to-many would be like a group marriage or something where the group itself is the most important relationship rather than any sub-component of it, which kind of makes sense that people would be a little nervous about that.
It can be difficult to maintain positive relationships with three or four roommates at the same time much less throw sex in the mix and that makes everything way more complicated. They seem to enjoy and want to have a lot of autonomy and freedom. They seem to want emotional connection, affection, kind of ongoing long-term relationships, but they don't necessarily want that kind of just you and me until one of us dies.
"...if you're not happy in your relationship and you're looking for someone else, you're trying to use polyamory as an exit strategy, just put your big girl pants on and end the relationship. Don't try to use polyamory as a bridge towards ending it because that will hurt the other person way more than just ending it." — Dr. Eli Sheff
I'm interested in why and at least from my own data, one of the reasons for that is looking at their own parents and seeing their parents either cheat on each other or get divorced or stay in an unhappy unfulfilling relationship. And I'm sure some people's parents have happy, loving, very fulfilling relationships but not everyone lives happily ever after.
Not everybody gets that Disney version of monogamy that makes flowers and bells for the rest of your life. And if that's what you've been sold as a child, that's the real relationship and you see the people around you not living happily ever after then I think a lot of people are like, "Oh, man. Marriage is corrupt. Monogamy is unrealistic."
And you see so many people on social media being so publicly monogamous. It's interesting that maybe behind the scenes, perhaps like everything else, it's quite different in reality.
Eli Sheff: I think for some people they protest too much, you know what I mean? It's a common trope that if someone is cheating then they will either go way overboard in expressions of monogamy, buying flowers and stuff like that. Or they will accuse their partner of cheating because they feel guilty. And, of course, if they're doing it, they're all suspicious then, it's on their mind. So that's a pretty common reality in attempts at monogamy. Not to say that no one is monogamous. I'm a monogamous person myself. People are monogamous, but it's not the default that it has been in the past.
And it sounds like what you're also saying is that because it's not a default and because people are looking at these other options like polyamory, people have come about finding healthier ways to do that, which is through having open communication and being clear and not having unrealistic one-penis goals-
Eli Sheff: Yeah. And negotiating things means, for instance, that openly conducted, consensually non-monogamous relationships are far less likely to transmit sexually transmitted infections. For one thing, the polyamory folks get tested. For another thing, they talk about safer sex procedures. Whereas, if you're cheating on someone and you have a condom break, you can't be like, "Oh, honey. You and I should use condoms until I'm tested twice," because honey's going to be like, "All right, we've been married for eight years and suddenly we should use condoms? What the fuck?"
Whereas if you are in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, you can talk about, "All right, if you have sex with other people, I want you to use a condom." Or, "If you're not going to use a condom with other people then I am using a condom with you." And let's all get tested and let's all share our results with each other so everybody knows who's got what and what we can all do to keep each other safe.
But again, back to cheating, if you're cheating, you can't do that.
But in consensual non-monogamy, I've definitely heard of polycules that have a potluck, everybody brings their test results and a casserole and they have a fun dinner together talking about who's got what. Because once you see those people, look them in the eye, they're a real person and their sexual health actually comes to matter to you. Whereas if you just hear about my boyfriend's boyfriend, "Oh well, this random person. If I end up accidentally giving him herpes, who cares?" But if you see him and you're eating his tuna casserole and you want that recipe, he's a real person. You don't want to infect him.
Just to pivot directions, I'm curious if polyamorous relationships might allow people to avoid deeper intimacy with say a primary partner? So rather than deep dive and get really close to one person, they hop around. Is that a thing?
Eli Sheff: I would say yes. For some people it's absolutely a thing. They have a little bit of intimacy with a whole bunch of different people and never bare themselves too much to anyone. And, you know what? If that's what they want, they want low emotional investment in romantic and/or sexual relationships, that's fine. The idea that romantic love, romantic intimacy is the only real form of intimacy is just bullshit. And it's a figment of our contemporary association with them. Hundreds of years ago no one expected romantic intimacy with their spouse. That was just not what a spouse was for. And now we have these hugely high expectations of our romantic partner to be our best friend and the best lover we've ever had and then financial co-planner and a co-parent and a companion and a doctor and a psychologist. We want so much from our partners but we're really much less willing to put up with crap than we used to be.
So at the same time our expectations have risen dramatically around what we want from a partnership, our commitment to it could be like, "All right, I'm in this for the long haul no matter what," has really eroded. A lot of people are like, "If I am miserable in a relationship, I am not sticking around in this miserable relationship... I want a million things from my relationship."
Yeah, but that paints the case for polyamory, right? Or not getting into monogamy. Because either you don't have all these expectations for one partner or you have multiple partners where you find what pleases you or what you need.
Eli Sheff: Right, and you get different needs met by different people. Absolutely.
Do you think though, that one of the benefits of this more open Gen Z mindset is that there's going to be less shame around wanting more partners or at least more people being open to discussing that possibility?
Eli Sheff: I absolutely think so. Already there's a lot less shame around divorce. Fifty years ago divorce was so shameful people were super freaked out about it. If you got divorced people might not let your kids come over to play with their kids because maybe it's catching. And now, we're not nearly as freaked out about divorce. We're like, "Yeah, shit happens."
I think already millennials and Gen Z are much less judgmental of each other around wanting multiple partners. And the other thing I would say is it really also depends on religion. I've seen in my sample, the majority of my respondents have either no religion, well over half of them just don't practice religion of any sort. If they do religion, it tends to be a much less mainstream religion. So the most common religion among my respondents is paganism followed by Unitarian Universalism then Buddhism, then Judaism and a distant final is Christianity.
I don't have any Muslims in my sample at all and I think perhaps because that kind of religious affiliation is more associated with polygyny where one man gets multiple women, but not the converse and generally in polyamory women get multiple partners, too. People of any gender can have multiple partners, not just the men. So, I think if the millennials or the Gen Z folks are quite religious, then monogamy will absolutely reign with them and they will look down on themselves and each other for desire for multiple partners, especially the woman.
Like this whole purity culture thing is a subculture that really values female virginity and female chastity and so they are not at all open to polyamory. Polygyny, perhaps.
This one-penis thing is really, really real.
Eli Sheff: It's a historical trend. It's a contemporary trend that men want but they dress it up. They don't openly want to cop to it because no one will go out with them so they try to pretend and come up with reasons of like, "Oh no, not that guy because blah, blah, blah. Not that other guy because blah-blah-blah," and it works out to it's never any guy, that there's always some reason they never come out and say, "No men." Some of them do, certainly, but many of them don't.
Okay, last question. If you are in a relationship and want to broach the subject, what's the right way to do it?
Eli Sheff: Kind of depends on your partner and how long you've been together and whether you require that or not. If you're flexible about it and it's something you're interested in, but you're not saying, "Look, either we're going to be polyamorous or we need a divorce because I need to be polyamorous and I need to find someone who wants to do that with me." Under those circumstances if it's a requirement then just come out and say, "Hey, there's this thing called polyamory. I'm really interested in it. We can do it all sorts of different ways. Here's a blog or a movie or a book or something."
If, however, you're interested in it but if your partner is like, "Oh no, I don't want to do that. That's freaking me out." And you'll be like, "Oh, okay. That's cool, honey. No, we don't need to do that," I would be very careful testing the waters because if your partner gets super freaked out about it... In my relationship coaching practice I'm thinking of this one specific couple where he was really religious and they'd been married for 17 years or something. He married as a virgin.
She'd had other partners before they married and had really wanted other partners and now the kids were 15 and 13 or something. They didn't need her around as much, were more independent. So she was like, "Hey, honey. What do you think about we start dating?" And it blew his mind. It destroyed him and his faith in her. He was like, "Oh my God, I didn't know you wanted other people." She wishes she could unsay it. She wishes she had never brought it up because he's so devastated.
"The idea that romantic love, romantic intimacy is the only real form of intimacy is just bullshit. And it's a figment of our contemporary association with them. Hundreds of years ago no one expected romantic intimacy with their spouse. That was just not what a spouse was for. And now we have these hugely high expectations of our romantic partner to be our best friend and the best lover we've ever had and then financial co-planner and a co-parent and a companion and a doctor and a psychologist." — Dr. Eli Sheff
And she doesn't want to leave him. It was more of a, "Hey honey, I've been wanting this for a while. What do you think?" And now his whole world collapsed on him. He thought he was in a happy marriage and he was totally dedicated to her and she's like, "I am happy with you. Just because I want to be with other people doesn't mean we're not happily married." But it's not fitting in his mind at all so she really wishes she had never brought it up. So in those cases, if you're thinking your partner might freak, and you're not requiring it of them, then I would say bring it up, like for instance, I blog for Psychology Today and maybe looking through those blogs and finding one that has something to do with what's happening in their lives and being like, "Hey, honey, check it out. I found this blog, what do you think?" And not like, "I want us to do this." But just kind of testing the waters and if honey is like, "Oh my God. No fucking way could I ever do that." Then I would say, don't continue to pursue it if you really value that relationship. And you kind of want non-monogamy but it's not a requirement, then bring it up obliquely and let it drop if they freak out about it.
However, if you know you will only be happy in a polyamorous relationship, and you can no longer maintain monogamy, then talk to that person. Talk to your other person about, "Look, this is what I'm feeling. There's a whole bunch of different ways we could do this if you want to. You don't even have to. I could do it by myself and insulate you from it."
But, the final thing I would say about that is, if you're not happy in your relationship and you're looking for someone else, you're trying to use polyamory as an exit strategy, just put your big girl pants on and end the relationship.
Don't try to use polyamory as a bridge towards ending it because that will hurt the other person way more than just ending it. And it will not only hurt the two of you from the monogamous relationship that's ending but anyone else you start dating, they're coming in to a massive booby trap. It's not a clean situation where people are actually open to doing things.
It's in my experience, my own personal experience and in my data, polyamory really only works when everyone wants to be doing it. When someone gets talked into it or badgered or bullied into it, it always fails. It might work for a little while but I've never seen that go well, ever.
Thank you so much. You're a phenomenal interviewee.
Eli Sheff: Well, I'm really interested in this stuff and feel like polyamorous people should not experience the level of discrimination and prejudice against them that they experience. And at the same time polyamory is really not for everyone, really not for everyone.
And actually, I make it sound so difficult. It's usually the first year that's really difficult, the first year of any relationship configuration within polyamory where everyone tries to figure out how the pieces fit together. That can be really hard but once you figure out a steady state where everyone is actually getting their needs met and is comfortable with what's going on, that's sustainable. That's really resilient over time. People helping each other out is great. But establishing that is challenging.
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