Intuitively, you might not think that people who prefer being monogamous would be with someone who is poly. After all, that seems like a lot of unnecessary drama if you want someone to yourself. But, as it happens, there are more people out there than you'd think who are in these sort of hybrid relationships.
Being with someone who doesn't align with you on the mono-poly spectrum can mean suppressing urges that may feel like part of who you are, constant conversations around individual sensitivities, and sometimes, hurt feelings. But, then again, so can dating someone who has opposing political alignment to yours or differing life goals.
VICE reached out to people who've been in hybrid poly-mono relationships to find out what the biggest challenges are from both sides and how people cope when their partner loves differently from them.
Poly, But Living Monogamously (Mostly)
The current arrangement is me poly and him mono; I can have emotional relationships but nothing physical. This came after many hours of communication and a few arguments. He knew I was poly from day one—it's been quite a process for us to get to where we are. I am still very close to my former partner, and the three of us hang out occasionally—that took him a while to be comfortable with. The biggest challenge has been the communication and fighting the urge to act on my desires. My love language is primarily physical, so not being able to express my love that way has been tough. I've had to learn to accept showing love in other ways to my emotional partners. His biggest challenge has been to understand the why and how behind polyamory. I chose to live monogamously with my boyfriend after a fiasco one night where I made a hasty decision that severely affected him. My other partner at that time could not advance his relationship with me further than what it was, and my boyfriend was in a position to. I didn't want to jeopardize a future with my boyfriend nor did I want to lead my former partner on while waiting for my boyfriend to come around to a physical aspect of me practicing polyamory. I decided to end the relationship with my former partner to be fair to him and my boyfriend.
I struggled and struggle still, but it is what it is. I came to realize while I love polyamorously, I want the security of a monogamous relationship. My boyfriend gives me that and then some. He knows that I will always love certain other people and accepts that and my emotional ties. He has come a long way in six months and continues to improve as time goes by. There have been times I've felt trapped, but usually having a long and open talk helps that feeling dissolve. Lately, I've been feeling helpless as my former partner is moving away due to life circumstances. I may never see him again, so the urge to ask for another night with him is strong. –Brittany, 27
A Second Chance Late in Life
Both my partners are mono: my bride of over 17 years and my fiancée of 15 months. I have always been poly, just did not realize there was a term for it until ten years ago. I always just thought I was different or strange—or broken.
My bride has always lived in conservative rural South Dakota and Minnesota, and it was a struggle to get her to even talk to me about it. The two of us finally read aloud to each other each night from Opening Up and The Ethical Slut and discussed each paragraph as we went along. At first I do not think my wife believed I could find a willing other partner.
In March 2011 I met my first long-term partner, who was mono. After our second date she left in tears telling me she could not be the other woman… In May of that year she rolled her SUV and should have died. When she got out of the hospital she called me—first time she had ever called—and asked me to come get her. We had a third date, and I explained I felt she and my wife needed to meet and discuss things without me there, which they did. She and I were partners for the next four years. In July of 2015 I had picked her up at her parents' home to drive back to Spokane. On the way, she gave me a ring and promised to spend the rest of her life with me. Four days later she died in her sleep on her living room couch. She was 48.
Two months later, my bride and I were riding our motorcycles from South Dakota to Spokane. She went off a curve at 70 mph and is now a paraplegic… The next nine months were horrible for me, although my bride says it was wonderful because she had just me all to herself again.
In June of 2016 I met Mary. She and my bride had worked together 20 years ago, before I even knew my wife. Mary and I began dating and found we were each other's person. My bride likes Mary, and Mary adores my wife. (My wife did not like my previous partner very well.)
I asked [Mary] to be my life partner last October, and she wears my engagement ring. We are wanting Judy [my wife] to participate in a commitment ceremony with us. Judy still wishes I was mono—it is her dream. Mary is perfectly happy sharing me with Judy, whom she looks upon as her sister wife. —Mike, 59
A Juggalo Love Story
I met her in a juggalo chat on Yahoo 14 years ago. We talked online, on the phone, via webcam for six months. She got me a plane ticket, flew me to San José, California. We moved into our own place the same day I flew in. Me and her were OK—we had issues, but the worst one was when she first cheated on me with an ex six years ago. She finally came clean to the shit and cut him out.
Fast forward to about four months ago: Another ex messaged her on Facebook. He was the guy before me. Then he hits with the, "Oh, me and my wife are poly."
He asks her if she is down… Then she brings it up to me. I'm apprehensive at first. But before she brought this shit up we were in bad bed death. So sexual manipulation [starts]. I went from sex once a week (if lucky) to nine times in a day. My dick hurt for three days. It turned her from zero to 1,000.
I tell her a couple weeks before she will be in Vegas to see him, "Hey, so why don't you just visit him, hang, you guys don't have to fuck. I think I won't be cool with it." Blowjob and facefucking til I say, "Fuck it, do whatever ya want."
She goes to Vegas, they fuck… She also ignores me. That pisses me off. I get drunk, blow up her phone with mean texts. She drives back home with the plan for her to do some butt stuff on me that made him cum buckets. She gets home, tells me, "Me and you are breaking up, and we will be friends with benefits." I'm hurt, but dude, there's buckets to cum.
Two weeks ago, she set another trip, a two-night stay. Then I realize one fucking thing that wrecks me: They are going to sleep and wake up next to each other. The last 12 years it's only been me and her waking up next to each other. I ask her, "Is it possible for him to go home at night and you guys not sleep next to each other?" More sexual manipulation. I relent.
[After a lot of drama between us on her trip], she gets off the plane and tells me she is done with me… Guess who calls her an hour later saying his wife is over the drama and he can no longer talk to her again ever?
If done ethically [polyamory] is a beautiful thing… She, however, just wanted to be close to him again. She violated boundaries to gain that intimacy with him.
The worst part is, honestly, I love her deeply and probably will forever. —Justin, 32
Married to a Poly Person Who Was Raised Poly
I'm mono, hubby is poly. We've been together eight years, married for five. He is casually dating. But, right now, his perfect world would be dating another person long-term. We always use the term "for now" in our relationship—in ten years, it might be two people. This is my first [relationship with a poly person].
I knew of his background and that he was raised in this [by parents who were poly]. He kind of always said he felt if he met the right person, he wouldn't need poly. That was sort of what I thought would happen. At the end of 2012, he mentioned that he saw someone when he was hiking and that it would have been nice if he could have asked her to go out, but he couldn't since we had never discussed that. That was the beginning of it. At first, it was really devastating, really, really difficult. It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done… Our initial conversation was whatever he decided to do, I could also do. So I got in my mind, oh, I have to start dating people… I started reaching out to [poly support] groups. It was really foreign, like someone saying, "I want to be best friends with dogs" or something.
It took nine months for me to accept it, and a year and a half to really be OK with it… When we were first going through this, I told him that if I couldn't come to terms with this, we would have to separate because I wanted him to be able to be loved completely. I felt like part of our marriage vows was to accept him completely. If I couldn't accept this, I wasn't accepting him completely… It was a push and pull of both of us trying to understand the other person.
He was really, really good about going extremely slow and not faster than I was OK with. The first year, we just talked about it a lot. I researched a lot. Last year, he had someone who was a little more serious… For the most part, it was good. But there were a few times I "went crazy," as we call it.
I told him this when I met him: He's always been an extremely independent person, not needy, not clingy. I'm not those things either… Everybody else I dated before that needed me all the time. I feel wanted, but I don't feel like I'm needed. I can go do my own thing, he can do his own thing, and we don't have to do everything together. That's really refreshing.
I think it's really important the poly person give the mono person the space and the time that they need to adjust, because it can be a long process. I still don't understand poly to this day… I just sort of accept it and recognize that I'm not enough for him—but I'm not enough for him because he's poly. It's not me. —Andrea, 36
Coming Out as Poly in a Monogamous Marriage
I've been married to my husband for seven years, with my boyfriend the past two years. I came out as poly shortly after meeting my boyfriend. I started out monogamous by default. So a huge problem is that it wasn't a known thing going into the marriage. Right when I met my boyfriend as a friend, I was just starting to read about it. It wasn't something I was sure enough about to make a stand on with my husband.
Upon becoming friends with my boyfriend, he mentioned that he was poly and explained it in better detail. It all started to click. My husband, though, is 100 percent monogamous. When I explained it to him, he got that it was a thing and had no moral objection to it, but he couldn't wrap his head around it. I got the standard, "You must not love me" and "Why am I not enough for you?" arguments. He doesn't understand; it's not something that he wants, so he generally doesn't want to deal with the issues that stem from it, which is an issue in itself. [My husband] has issues specifically with living with my boyfriend, and overall with living with anyone else. I would love to have my closest friends live in a big house with me, where I could wake up every morning and see all the people I love.
He wants privacy, just him and me together. If we had the same ideas about relationships and living arrangements, things would be much easier. Living separately also causes a number of piddly issues, like looking for my favourite shirt and realizing it's in my other home, or not being able to be around my pets every day. It works for now because my husband tries very hard to accept me, and I slow myself down at the expense of my own sanity sometimes to accommodate him. However, I still feel hindered by many of my husband's needs, and it is important that I feel like we're moving toward something that is more sustainable for me, something that truly makes me happy. I feel like I can see my true happiness… I'm trying to run towards it at full speed, and he keeps telling me to slow down. But we move, and at some point he will be unable to move further. That's when I'll need to look around and determine if I'm close enough. If I'm not, then we've accepted that we might not make it. But at least we'll know we tried. —Carrie, 38
Monogamous and Happy in a Little Poly 'Family'
I had never dated someone poly before. I did have a brief encounter with a couple, which did not end well, before I met Kevin. He asked me out before we discussed the poly thing. He messaged me on OkCupid. We were talking for a few weeks, he asked to take me out for sushi, and I said "Can we talk about this poly thing? I'm looking for a long-term relationship and not interested in a friendship."
He explained that he was also looking for a long-term relationship, that his fiancée had a boyfriend, and he really would like to meet up if I'm comfortable with that. And I said "Well, what's sushi and beer with the cute guy?" And then I fell in love.
This was totally new territory for me. I was out of an old relationship for about two years at this point; it was long-term and didn't end well. I thought I was going to marry that person. So I really wanted to try something different something that I wouldn't have tried. I don't plan to have kids. I own my own house. I really have my shit together. Why not try something new now? I didn't know if it was going to be a long-term thing.
I think it's also difficult being from a monogamous perspective to understand that someone dates you because of you, and you have to put that other partner your partner has in the back of your mind because you're both unique, special, and amazing.
Lauren [his fiancée] and I are very good friends. Lauren, Kevin, and I had a date to meet up together and have dinner. Kevin couldn't make it that day. I asked Kevin if it was OK to still go meet Lauren by myself because I was really looking forward to meeting her. He said it was totally fine. I met up with Lauren. I was really nervous, but she was warm and inviting, had an infectious laugh, and we got along really well. We even sent Kevin a picture of the two of us.
I wouldn't be human if I didn't [get jealous sometimes]. Most of the time it's envy, like, Oh man, I wish I could be with Kevin and Lauren right now. It sounds like they're having a great time… I usually try to make plans on those days when they are hanging out and I'm feeling self-conscious. I also do enjoy my alone time.
Polyamory has definitely opened my mind to the possibilities of what you can have in your life. I've never loved someone like I love Kevin before. I have created a little family with Kevin, Lauren, and Dan [Lauren's partner]. I love them all dearly. It's nice to have a community. I reflect on my past relationships and see a lot of the issues being addressed more effectively in my new relationship: having to be open and honest, having to be kind and fair, being open sexually. —Jamie, 32
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.