Episode 116: Authentically Polyamorous

Telling the difference between a couple of bad dates and polyamory just not being for you can sometimes be difficult.

Telling the difference between a couple of bad dates and polyamory just not being for you can sometimes be difficult.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: Describe a situation where you had a “sign” of being interested in non-monogamy early that you didn’t pick up.

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I’ve dabbled for years with non monogamy, mostly swinging when in a relationship and more recently [ethical non-monogamy] with [friends with benefits] and casual dating.

I want more in life. I want to feel love again so I did some reading on poly[amory], specifically solo poly[amory] and decided this might be the answer. The concept resonates so much with me. I’m [neurodivergent], bisexual and have a definite alternate approach to life. I love my independence.

After creating a poly[am] dating app profile I met 2 men. Both a bit younger and both also solo poly[am]. It’s ended disastrously with 1 and with me having no idea what happened with the other.

Dude 1 swept me off my feet, made me feel emotions I’d not felt in a long time. Then it felt like he was struggling to be a strong hinge, while rushing towards [kitchen table polyamory].

I communicated that the only need I had was that my time with him (which wasn’t that often and fine by me) was protected by him and he showed he was keeping the space for me. Twice in the space of 2 weeks my meta[mour] ended up being around during my time with him.

First time [the metamour was] leaving just before I arrived, when I’d been told I could have turned up earlier if I wanted (good job I didn’t). Second time [the metamour was] in a place that we had planned to go to for weeks. His response was that she is autonomous and he has no say over when she leaves/where she goes. I said maybe we had to accept this makes us incompatible.

Dude 2, was super interested at first but then met someone else and I knew his interest had waned. After a one sided phone conversation where he was unable to say how he felt about me one way or the other. I decided that said it all and ended it.

I suppose my question is how do I know when my needs make me not suitable for poly[am] versus my needs being poly[am], fine and my partners just not being compatible.

My anxiety (long-standing due to previous relationship trauma) is triggered and is unbearable while dealing with these situations. I wonder if that is something I can overcome. I’ve also had it in mono relationships but there is so much more to deal with poly[amory].


Let me define some terms just in case there are people listening to this who are a little bit new to “the scene” as it were. So in case you don't know what some of these things mean a metamour is your partners other partner who you're not dating.

And kitchen table polyamory is a type of polyamory that some people pursue, where the expectation tends to be that you may not necessarily live with all of your partners and kind of like this co-op situation. But it's that you all kind of form this type of family where you get along with your metamours, where you maybe have close friendships with your metamours — like the idea is that you're all sitting down at this very Leave It to Beaver idealic kitchen table.

I'm not even gonna go into my own personal feelings about this. If you've listened to the column— listened to the podcast and read the columns before you know how I feel about this concept, but — not that it's a bad concept. But if you're new to what that is, that is what kitchen table polyamory is. It doesn't tend to be something necessarily that solo poly[am] and people look for but I don't think that's always true.

And I think that it's possible to be solo poly[am] and but also interested in a style of kitchen table polyamory, really, these terms are things that people you know, come up with and describe and they're constantly kind of changing, morphing terms. But that is the rough kind of concept of what those things mean.

Now, to get to your question. I think that there is this expectation that you're forcing on yourself that isn't really fair to yourself. Like if you were monogamously dating and you had two bad dates, you wouldn't think that monogamy wasn't for you. You wouldn't — I mean, maybe you would, but like most people would expect that like dating is gonna involve a lot of exploration, a lot of incompatible connections.

That's just how it works. Like, you're not always going to know right off the bat that you're compatible and being polyamorous doesn't mean that you're both compatible in the same way that being monogamous doesn't mean that you're compatible.

So you're putting yourself into this serious kind of expectation that you know, you're kind of forcing yourself to prove to yourself that you're really solo polyamorous and you're kind of creating your own misery in a way to be honest because you wouldn't be forcing yourself into this expectation — I mean, some people do. To be fair some people do even in monogamy when they have a couple of bad dates so they wonder if they're gonna be you know, you're gonna die alone in a ditch or if they're just not good enough at relationships, et cetera and so forth.

And I think like that is understandable to a certain degree to have that but like you are adding this kind of pressure you're like, you know, there's so much more to deal with. And polyamory is different. It also is different in the way that you've grown up I assume, unless you —correct me if I'm wrong in a society which centred monogamy, which told you that monogamy was your only choice, which told you that — and a lot of people know about open relationships but the rough ideas that open relationships don't work.

So you're battling up a hill of something that you that is really new to your brain that is really new. You may not have a lot of examples of it done “right”. Whereas like within monogamy, you've got often quite a lot of examples of both right and wrong ways to do things. So it's a lot and it's something which is naturally going to make you anxious whether or not you have this “trauma”.

I'm not saying you don't have trauma, but I'm just saying like, anyone you know— the most normally well adjusted person in the world who's never been through any type of difficult situation would find polyamory to trigger some anxiety just like most people, regardless of whether or not they've had a terrible experience with public speaking might find public speaking really anxiety provoking.

It's not necessarily that there's something definitely wrong with you. It's just that this is a situation which inspires an understandable amount of fear and an understandable amount of anxiety. So like, maybe question the kind of expectation that you're putting on yourself to like, prove whether or not you're really polyamorous or not.

And I think that, you know, sometimes you're just not compatible. And I'm actually really, really impressed with the way that you've handled these situations, because it could have been easy to kind of brush things off and to not step away from situations that are not serving you but you've done that in both of these situations like with the first guy and like that whole being like well, “she's autonomous and I can't control her”. Oh, bullshit.

This isn't about controlling some other person. This is about what you said you want which is a very perfectly understandable want. You want specific dedicated time with someone and you want them to prioritise that time and you would like that time to be spent with you and not be spent with other people. And again, it would be no different than if he like had a bunch of his friends over while you were supposed to have a date.

You would still be frustrated. You would still be annoyed because you want to have specific time set together— quality time that is for you both and you both alone, and that is a perfectly understandable need. And when you weren't getting that need and you got— you know, you challenged you You asked for this to change and the response was lacklustre and bullshitty and cowardly, you stepped away from that situation and that's awesome.

That's success, my dude. May not feel like success. But that is actually a huge success. Like I don't know, if you realise like, listen to some of the episodes of this podcast, and how long people stay in situations that don't serve them because they're afraid to be alone, because they're afraid to ask for what they need. You not only asked for what you need, you confronted a situation when it wasn't serving you and you walked the fuck away when that situation was not what you wanted.

That's fuckin awesome, mate. That is not a sign of a— Like it feels like shit. I'm not I'm not saying like you should be like “yeah, broke up! happy”. But like, that is amazing. That is awesome. That is you refusing to sacrifice yourself that is you prioritising your needs. That is awesome. That is a success in my eyes. May not feel like a success as I said, and then with like situation to again, you know, you want someone who clearly wants you back.

You don't want people who are lacklustre about the connections to you. Which is awesome. Which is great. You want someone who clearly prioritises — even if you're solo polyamory, like that doesn't mean you get brushed to the side. That doesn't mean you get treated like whatever. That means, “No, this is what I want. I'm asking you I'm coming forward and saying this is what I want. I don't get the response from you. That indicates the level of commitment that I want. So I walk away from that situation.”

Again, may not feel like success, but it's another success to be quite honest with you. Because so many people would have stayed in that situation. So many people would have been like “Well, I guess I'll just…” and just waited for the situation to blow up in their face before they actually left. You have stepped away from situations that do not serve you. That is a success. That is a good sign.

And even despite the fact that you, you know, have this situation. I don't know what kind of relationship trauma you've had or how you're defining that. But despite having that and despite feeling all the feelings that come with, you know, the fear, the anxiety, the like, the shit that comes with actually having to put your own money where your mouth is. You have continued to do that. You have chosen yourself.

You have not sabotaged yourself. You have really done an amazing job in these two situations. So please don't like be down on yourself about this. I know it sucks. I'm not saying that breakups are fun. I'm not saying that—  like dating sucks. I hate like— Some people like dating. I fucking hate it. I've always hated it. I don't like the process of like lacklustre connections. I'm very similar to you in a lot of ways. I want reciprocity. I went dedicated time. I want somebody— I don't want somebody who's like fucking lukewarm about me.

And that's not to say that somebody has to like spend all day writing love poems about me but I don't want to be in a situation where someone— I ask them how they feel about me and they don't have a clear concrete answer like — Fuck no, I'm not I'm not interested in that and the dating scene. I mean, I guess it can depend on where you're physically located.

But also keep in mind that when you're dating polyamorously, you're fucking dating pool is bleehhh. Your dating pool is very, very small. And that also creates a lot of complications. That also creates a lot of difficulty. First, you gotta find somebody who's even interested in that and then you gotta find somebody who's interested in not kitchen table polyamory if that's not what you want.

Someone who's okay with solo po— like there's a lot of obstacles that come in the way of this and so dating is going to be rough. Like it's just going to be a rough time. I think if you're not already following Todd Baratz on Instagram, you think his instagram handle is yourdiagnonsense. He talks a lot about— I don't think he's polyamorous, but he talks a lot about being single and how difficult that can be and how difficult dating can be and how we don't really acknowledge how difficult it is and how we give single people a lot of really stupid advice, especially within monogamy.

But I also think even in polyamory, like there's a bit of a struggle for you to kind of as well like an expectation for you to be happy about having this independence. And yeah, maybe you are happy to have this independence, but also like, it’s a struggle out there. It's hard out there and it's hard to be constantly disappointed by people. So give yourself a little bit of a break.

I think that you need to also think about the story that you're telling yourself. So I bring this up quite often because within — you know not to be like a jock, but like within athletics and within like training and all of the things that I do on the side that are more athletic focused —You can't approach a situation where like, I have a competition or like, I do weightlifting. So like, I'll use this example. Like if I approach a weight and I'm like, “I can't lift this”. That's not gonna work.

Like you don't approach situations like that in an athletic context. You always say, you know, if you don't say “I’m going to be able to do this”, you say “I’m going to try”. Your mentality has a huge impact on your performance and on how you, you achieve things. And I think even though athletics is different than relationships, I think that very much the same is true like throughout life.

And I think that that's one of the reasons why people who do athletics can sometimes be in a lot more of confident or positive mental state. Sometimes it's like the endorphins from exercise. But I also do think it's, it's reframing your mindset of discouraging yourself and telling yourself negative things into telling yourself like “I can do this, I will do this”.

And I sometimes feel like as much as I know that we want to recognise when we've been through difficult things, and especially if you've come from a situation in life, where other people have denied that your experience was bad or told you to get over it or told you to have a stiff upper lip and just be like, “Oh, just shut up and deal with it”. Having that ability to sit and go, “Yes, this this thing happened to me. It was bad. It impacted me” — Having that space to do that is really, really important.

But I think staying in that space creates a type of learned helplessness that often causes more problems in the long run. It's important to be in a space where you can you know— because you don't want to be in denial. Like it's one thing for me to approach a weight and say like, you know, “I can do this, I can do this”. But it's another thing where like for me to add like a whole bunch of weight onto something that I've never even attempted and convince myself I can do it and then injure myself. Like that's different.

You're not denying that you've been through things. But at the same time, you don't want to stay in this mindset where you tell yourself that you're this traumatised person, that you're always going to have these difficulties because you're defined by this thing that happened to you or whatever happened to you. And I'm not again, like it's not about minimising. It's not about denying what happened to you, but it's about like, what is the story that you're telling yourself about yourself?

Can you — I think a process of overcoming that is changing that narrative. Like yes, you have been through some stuff, but look at you, mate. Look at you. You have been in situations where people who have been through the same or worse than you or even less — all kinds of people would have stayed in those situations, would have ignored what they wanted out of fear of being alone.

And you've been like, “Nah, I'm not going to be in this situation. I'm going to walk away from situations that aren't serving me. I'm going to choose myself. I am going to make sure that I am seeking the things that I actually want I'm not going to stay with people who are incompatible. I'm not going to stay with people who don't prioritise my needs in the way that I need. And I'm going to find, you know, despite the difficulty that it may cause to break up, I'm gonna go on with that. That's amazing.

And that is something that you— you know. Tell yourself this. And so telling yourself like “Oh, I'm traumatised. I'm this person. I've been through this stuff. And I'm always going to struggle with this anxiety or When will I ever get over this anxiety, blah, blah, blah”. Look at what you've done. Look at the things that you've achieved.

And understand that you may have anxiety because that's normal. And because you're trying to relationship style that you haven't had necessarily tons of social examples. You're going against the grain of what society has told you and maybe you've done that before, but it's still going to elicit some emotion within you stop expecting yourself to be like a Vulcan.

Stop expecting yourself to be, you know— if you were to — I don't know, any kind of thing you do. But if you were to try something first, like maybe you've never swum before, and you're learning how to swim, you would expect yourself to be afraid and you wouldn't hopefully, you wouldn't beat yourself up about being afraid. And you wouldn't beat yourself up about the emotions that you're feeling. And you wouldn't consider yourself you know, to be this person who can't do it.

So like it's really— think about the the way, the way that you're talking to yourself, the way that you're seeing yourself, the way that the expectations you're forcing on yourself. Because I think a lot of the stuff you're going through right now is self imposed because you're imposing this expectation on yourself to not only like— to find someone who's instantly compatible with you, which isn't really something you can control at all. Like you could be the most settled, nonplussed, chill person in the world and still not find anyone who's compatible with you.

But you're also kind of putting yourself in this situation to prove to yourself that you can be solo polyamorous. You're also like not recognising the progresses you've made even though they don't feel like progresses. So like really, really think about the story you're telling yourself and lastly, I wouldn't really worry so much about whether you're really polyamorous or not right now.

And the thing that I would use to think about this is like there was a time when I was — I basically — I'm also neurodivergent and I've suspected for quite a long time that I'm on the autistic spectrum and for a while I was really worried about being able to voice that. Like I had been to a couple of meetups with another autistic person explaining what neurodivergence was in it, you know, everything just clicked and like the other person that I met was like, “Yeah, you're probably autistic”. And like I understand self diagnosis is like — you know, it’s— I understand why some people are hesitant about it.

I understand. It's complicated, but I was really worried about this. And I asked a friend of mine who I knew who would like work with autistic people for a long time and I was like, “Am I really this or Am I really that?” I was really worried about even suggesting that I might be on the spectrum because I was worried I was robbing something from other people.

And my friend said, “Look what you're trying to convey by saying that you're autistic or that you're on the autistic spectrum, is that you know, you have sensory processing problems, that you have difficulty with taking people extremely literally, that you can't always read nonverbal communication like and all of those things are true about yourself whether or not you choose to use this label, whether or not you choose to say or whether or not you can say that this is this. All of these things are true about you right now.

“And that's what you're actually trying to convey. It's not so much about the label that you're putting on the situation, but it's actually about what you're trying to say behind the label. You're trying to say and expressed to people in a simple and direct way that these are the things you struggle with so that they can be aware of it so that they can respond to your needs”.

So when you're trying to convey that you're solo polyamorous, you're trying to convey a certain amount of things about what you prioritise and how you live your life, and those things are true for you right now. They may change in the future. You know, maybe something would happen for me and I don't have sensory processing problems anymore. I doubt it, but it could happen. And then that would change but that's doesn't mean that I didn't feel that way in the past.

It doesn't mean I didn't experience of sensory processing issues in the past. And if you decide or you go later on down the line, and you decide that, you know, whatever solo polyamory means to you and how you convey that those things like being independent — like let's say you decide that you do want to live with someone and not in a solo polyamorous setup.

Let's say you do decide you want to live in a different kind of more, you know where you have a primary partner. That doesn't take away from the experiences that you had. That doesn't take away from how you defined yourself in the past because what you're trying to convey through that label is a specific thing that is true about you and it's true about you right now, and that's really all you need to worry about.

So don't really worry so much like you're trying this out, maybe it's not for you, but you don't have to decide that right now. And you don't have to know for sure. And you may feel pressure from other people who are projecting their kind of insecurities and fear around, wanting stable relationships and wanting to know that you're really in it for the long haul or whatever.

They may kind of push you or or you know, make you feel like you need to absolutely say like “Yeah, for sure. I'm definitely solo polyamory I'm always going to be for the rest of my life”. But that's about their own insecurity. That's about their own personal fears. That's not necessarily anything to do with you. So don't put so much pressure on yourself, to label yourself and to meet and live up to the standards of that label.

Because it's not really— it doesn't have to be about that, like labels are good to convey something about yourself, but they're not — they should never be designed to be sort of like prescriptive lists of characteristics or things that you have to be in order to be able to call yourself that in this context. I think there are other contexts where that makes sense. But in this context, like it's just a way of conveying that this is the style of relationships that you want to have right now. And that may change and that's fine.

So just give yourself a little bit of grace. And to sum up kind of like what I've said before, I think some of this is the expectation that you're putting on yourself. I think that you've actually done an amazing job so far at prioritising your needs and like stepping away from situations that don't serve you and I think you should actually pat yourself on the back right now even though I know it probably doesn't feel very good. And I think that you know, first off a little bit of a break. Like, you've had two bad situations.

I'm not saying they weren't bad. I'm not saying that the emotions you felt about them aren't strong, but it could easily happen in monogamy. And that wouldn't necessarily mean that monogamy or that you're going to die alone or anything like that. Like you'd never know what's going to happen. You can't control whether or not you meet somebody who is super compatible with you.

The only thing you can do is just like keep putting yourself out there. Again, follow Todd Baratz on Instagram at yourdiagnonsense.  He talks a lot about like the advice given to single people about how difficult it is to be in the dating scene. I think sometimes that's quite cathartic for people who are facing similar struggles. And just — Yeah, pat yourself on the back.

Give yourself a little bit of a break and and realise that you've actually done some really difficult things that some people wouldn't have the courage to do. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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