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Here’s how dating is different when you're polyamorous

By Gabrielle Noel

Ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, and open relationships are gaining in popularity. All you have to do is swipe through Tinder to find that profiles often belong to couples and ethically non-monogamous people -- plus a ton of jaded monogamous people stating, “no, I don’t want to be your third” in their bios.

When I met Sharon and Isaac, a polyamorous couple with their own video production company, I was curious how their dynamic works for them. But when I learned that they also seek to educate people on polyamory via Youtube and Instagram, I knew they’d be the perfect people to help me develop my own understanding.

“I left a very toxic beneficial relationship, meaning the toxicity of the relationship is what put me on the journey to polyamory,” Isaac told me. “It allowed me to ask what it means to really love myself.”

A common idea is that finding a monogamous partner is how we can show ourselves love. Our rhetoric is often that we “deserve” people who love us exclusively. Sharon and Isaac rewrite that. Instead, they think that we deserve people who love us the way we need to be loved. So dating as a couple is different for them because they no longer believe that fidelity evidencestrue love.

Often, people conflate their relationship with polygyny -- meaning they assume only Isaac is allowed to have multiple partners, not Sharon. This is probably born from the assumption that women are not sexual people and that only men would seek multiple partners. But they both have equal space in the relationship to be sexual beings and there is no gendered shame about their past sexual behaviors.

“Of course she’s allowed to have other partners!” Isaac said. “Like it boggles my mind, people think I’m supposed to approve her other partners or something.”

Dating as a couple has showed them not only that men are not necessarily more sexual but that women are not necessarily more emotional. Both of them pride themselves on their desire to be vulnerable with new people, although Isaac acknowledges that men are not often encouraged to be soft.

“People are always surprised by my sensitivity and my ability to give full love,” Isaac said. “They feel like polyamory is always sex-based but I’m open to relationships as well.”

When Sharon and Isaac met, he was already dating a woman named Jessica, who had a career that forced her to travel often. In a lot of ways, this enabled the relationship to work for everyone involved.

“Sharon fulfilled a need that Jessica couldn’t,” Isaac told me. “We can’t expect someone to fill all of our needs.”

This was such a mic drop for me because in monogamy, we do expect our partners to fulfil every need. I often date people who expect me to cut off certain friendships because they want to fulfil every single need that I have -- and that’s just not rational. Even the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, admitted that he doesn’t eat alone with women who aren’t his wife or drink without her being present. Polyamory pushes us to collectively consider that the relationship expectations we were taught might not be reasonable.

Isaac’s relationship with Jessica never even ended. Instead, he slowly transitioned into considering Sharon his primary partner. The idea that a relationship might not have a firm end or a distinct break-up conversation also blew my mind.

“You make a meaningful connection with someone and it’s like a friend,” Sharon explained. “Just because you’re not seeing each other doesn’t mean you’re not still connected.”

So often, I translate someone’s inability to see me as proof that they don’t have actual feelings for me. In the same vein, there are sacrifices that I’ve made in my life to allocate time for my romantic partners, because I believe you have to if you’re in love. What Sharon and Isaac describe is a love that is compassionate but unafraid to be selfish when necessary.

Currently, they are dating one woman together -- Kayla -- and they date people separately as well. They use apps like Tinder and Feeld, which make it easy to be upfront about their relationship before they even meet people. Whether they’re dating together or as individuals in the relationship, they look for softness, vulnerability, and openness.

“In the beginning, I would have to explain it and this one guy was like, ‘okay, you’re really weird’,” Sharon told me, laughing.

But polyamory actually shares a lot of core aspects with monogamy. And statistically, one in six Americans is practicing ethical non-monogamy, suggesting that it’s not nearly as deviant as people think. In both scenarios, communication, honesty, trust, and love are central to the success of the relationship.

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“Polyamory is not for everyone,” Isaac told me. “Some people need a little monogamy in their life and that’s okay.”

Of course, I needed to know how they dealt with jealousy and fear in the relationship, if it came up at all. Isaac, who has been practicing polyamory since 2013, only get jealous occasionally but he notices that it stems from concern for Sharon’s well-being and safety. Sharon, on the other hand, experiences both jealousy and fear a little more frequently and honors it when she does. 

“When I’m wanting more physical connection and I see him doing something with someone else, especially when we’re in a turbulent place, I feel a little bit jealous,” she admitted. “But I understand the whole context so I just know that jealousy is coming up and that’s fine. You’re always afraid someone’s going to steal your man. But you can’t steal anybody.”

Anyone who knows the song ‘The Boy Is Mine’ by Brandy and Monica is familiar with the (incorrect) belief that people are items that can be traded or robbed. Here, Sharon reminded me that a partner who wants to leave or be dishonest is going to do so regardless of the relationship framework.

“I know whatever’s going to happen is going to happen anyway!” she explained, which is true for polyamory, monogamy, and everything in-between.

Sharon and Isaac hope to eliminate some of the stigmas around polyamory through their transparency. They think so many other people might try it out if they knew it was possible for them -- especially since it shares so many commonalities with monogamy.

“Both are about communication, honesty, trust, love,” Sharon said. “It ideally should be the same exact thing, it’s just polyamory is with more than one person.”

Isaac agreed, adding, “If you can’t be in a monogamous relationship, you can’t be in a polyamorous one.”

Cover image source: Sharon and Isaac's Instagram

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