It’s Not a Cure-All: 8 Things Polyamory Doesn’t Fix

4 stick figures - the one on the left has a heart showing prominently
Image by Jurgen Appelo / CC BY

I’ll admit it. I think polyamory is pretty awesome. But what isn’t awesome? Unrealistic expectations.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks new to polyamory approach it expecting it to be a cure-all for their relationship issues.

Here are 8 things that polyamory doesn’t fix:

1. Polyamory Doesn’t Get Rid of Breakups

In fact, more love can often mean more breakups.

This one can be a big surprise when you start exploring open relationships. Especially if you have an internalized relationship script that the only reason someone breaks up with someone else is that they trade one relationship for another they like better.  Going by this reasoning, allowing a person to have as many relationships as they want would eliminate this need to break up for the new shiny.

But the reality is that there are plenty of reasons that a relationship can end that have nothing to do with the appearance of “someone better” (whatever that means). People’s situations change. People’s feelings change. Sometimes a connection feels vastly different in theory than it does in practice. And people can grow and change in incompatible directions.

2. You Still Can’t Date Everyone You Have Feelings For

Maybe they’re too busy. Or they don’t reciprocate your feelings.

The person you fall for? Could happen to be monogamous.

Polyamory gives you the opportunity to explore more connections, but plenty will still be off limits to you.

3. No One Is Gonna “Complete” Your Relationship

It’s a common cliche from couples who are newly opening up and looking for a third partner: “We want to find someone to complete our relationship.”

Honey, if your relationship is incomplete before you open, it’s gonna be incomplete after you open. It’s the same relationship.

In fact, many couples find that polyamory exposes issues in their relationship that they were previously unaware of.

There’s a saying that applies here: “Relationship broken, add more people.” It’s a  simple recipe, to be sure — but one that rarely produces anything delicious.

4. You Still Have to Control Yourself and Exercise Reasonable Caution

Polyamory isn’t a fast track ticket to a no-strings-attached sex carnival. While there may be more sexual opportunities and exciting possibilities, exercising good judgement and reasonable caution is a must.

If anything, you have to control yourself even more because there are more people involved. Which means that more people get hurt when you mess up.

5. If You Cheated When Monogamous, Polyamory Doesn’t Magically Fix Any Underlying Issues with Honesty

Some folks get into polyamory because they keep cheating on their partners while trying to be monogamous. And while the tendency to be attracted to multiple people at the same time can signal that ethical non-monogamy might one day be in the cards, the unethical behaviors that accompany cheating can be difficult habits to break. Even in a non-monogamous setting.

One thing a lot of reformed cheaters struggle with: Being able to admit mistakes to the people who it affects. It’s not the crime that gets them in trouble — it’s the cover-up. And a lot of them have a really hard time admitting to others when they’ve messed up.

This is not to say that these issues can’t be addressed. They can. But you have to make a point to work on it. Not just lay back and expect poly to do it for you.

6. You’re Going to Be Roughly as Happy With Yourself When Polyamorous as You Were Monogamous

Polyamory doesn’t fix low self-worth. While having more loves and a large support structure in the picture can help, there are also times when polyamory can challenge you.

Some poly folks end up as relationship collectors. They seek as many connections as possible. Love is limitless, horizons infinite. They know there are always more fish in the sea, so they cast a lot of lines and catch a lot of fish. Trouble is that people are not Pokémon.  It’s a very bad idea to try to fuck one’s way to better self-esteem, to collect admirers and hangers-on in a never-ending quest for attention.

Security does come from within. Now, people who love you can help bolster that, and that’s a good thing. But while having more loves can be exhilarating, at the end of the day, we are still us. Whether we’re in no relationships, one relationship, or… oh, eight.

7. You Still Might Get Lonely or Spend Time Alone

Even with more loves in your life, there still might be times when you are alone. Your other loves might be busy with other people or obligations. And your friends, too. You might have things that call you away — work, family, etc.

And a lot of poly webs aren’t able to all be together over the holidays.

8. It’s Still Possible to Cheat on Polyamorous Partners

Even though you’re allowed to pursue other relationships, most poly folks have relationship agreements they must abide by. Rule structures are incredibly unique to the people that form them, but one that I hear a lot when I’m talking to poly people is a requirement for up-to-date STI testing prior to certain activities with a new partner (often penetrative sex).

Well, if you have this agreement with your partner, and you hop into bed with someone new, whose STI status is completely unknown? By the terms of your agreement, you just cheated. And yes, that’s gonna be a problem.

The funny thing about polyamory, and about non-monogamy in general, is when you stop defining faithfulness as only sleeping with one person, other loyalty becomes paramount. And respecting the agreements you make with others is a big part of signalling that loyalty.

 

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