Last week, the person I’ve been dating for the past four months and I had The Talk™ (you know the one: “So what are we?”) and arrived at “partners.” Official romantic partners! This may not seem like that big of a deal because I’m polyamorous, but it was still a huge moment for me. It signaled to the person I was dating that I’m in this for the long-haul. This isn’t just a COVID cuff or whatnot.
I was excited, so I told my friends and family. They were happy for me but also slightly confused. In fact, I had a friend ask me, “Is there really any difference between what you were doing and what you’re doing now, since you’re polyamorous? You can still date and sleep with other people.”
I’ve been polyamorous for years, and every time I end up in a new “official” relationship, folks ask questions along these lines. So what does it mean now that you’re partners? Does anything in your relationship actually change now that you’re partners? But you’re still polyamorous, right?
Each of these questions stem from the same place of confusion: How can you be committed to a partner (or multiple partners!) when you’re not monogamous?
My answer is that “commitment” isn’t synonymous with “monogamy,” even though the majority of people use them interchangeably. You can be committed to a friendship or committed to your job. And just because you’re committed to one friendship doesn’t mean you don’t have other friends. Just because you’re committed to work doesn’t mean you don’t have other hobbies (or side hustles for cash).
In a poly relationship, as with a monogamous relationship, commitment means you will be there for that person. You’ll support them. You’ll take care of them. You’ll love them.
We also have rules, and agreeing and abiding to these rules is the poly form of commitment. I think there’s this idea that when you’re poly you can do whatever the hell you want, wherever the hell you want, and it’s all kosher. That’s far from the case. Poly folks still have feelings. We still get jealous. We still feel neglected. We still crave intimacy and attention. That’s why we put these rules in place, to make sure that we’re getting everything we need out of our relationship(s).
In my previous poly relationship, we didn’t have too many rules (I know that I’m a rarity when it comes to this). That said, we had this “agreement” that every time my partner had sex with someone hotter than me, he had to tell me how sexy, beautiful, and attractive I am. It may sound silly or petty, but it worked. It’s what I needed. Even though his compliments were solicited, they helped me get over my insecurities.
Every poly relationship has a different dynamic. In some, you can’t have another primary partner. (So you only have one woman you call your girlfriend, and the rest of the women you see are people you’re “dating.”) Or you can only sleep with others with condoms. Or you’re not allowed to have sleepovers. Or you can’t date mutual friends. Or any number of other rules. Commitment is living by these rules. The same is true for monogamy—you live by the rule that you can’t date or sleep with someone else.
Even though my previous partner and I agreed that we could date and fuck whomever we wanted, we still treated each other with the love and respect that comes with commitment. We never lied to each other. We didn’t cancel on each other to go fuck another partner. We took into account our partner’s feelings and desires when making a choice. When he got fired from his job and was crying endlessly, did I keep my date with another person that night? Do you think I said, “Well, good luck with that! I’m going to go a fuck some hot woman I met on Tinder! It’s in our shared calendar, so… bye!” Of course not. I canceled my date and stayed home with my man. We ate ice cream and watched cartoons because that’s what you do when your partner gets let go from their dream job.
So with commitment in polyamory, you still make sacrifices, just not the one you make with monogamy, where you only sleep with one person.
In my current budding relationship, I built up the courage and asked them to be my partner. I did this to let them know I am committed to them. To tell them that I’m going to be there for them, and I also expect that they’ll be there for me. (As we know, commitment is not a one-way street.) I was thrilled to learn they were on the same page and wanted to commit to me, too. Yes, we still have people we bone on the side. We even have other people that we’re dating seriously, men and women that aren’t at the status of official partner yet, but are getting close. But this doesn’t make us any less committed to each other, because we’re both following the rules we agreed up with each other.
No, we’re not monogamous, but we’re committed to upholding a relationship style that makes us feel both loved and satisfied.
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