The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but what does that make my lover’s lover?
Those in monogamous relationships might be hard-pressed to imagine their lover’s lover as their friend, but it’s not unusual for people in polyamorous or other types of consensually non-monogamous relationships to navigate these kinds of relations. There’s even a term for “your lover’s lover”: metamour, or your partner’s other partner whom you are not dating.
“We are socially conditioned not to share intimacy with anyone other than our partners,” said Zayna Ratty, a United Kingdom-based psychotherapist. “When challenging this internalized rationale, we can begin to see that this brings both challenges and possible joys to the table.”
Every consensually non-monogamous relationship is different, so every person’s relationship with their metamours can be different, too. But why would anybody want to be friends with their lover’s lovers?
“If your partner likes them, chances are you’re going to, too,” said Lori Beth Bisbey, a psychologist and gender, sex, relationship, and diversity therapist, also based in the UK. This means there’s a good chance that you share the same interests with your metamours—like a friend who’s already been pre-screened for you.
According to Bisbey, if you’re in a healthy consensually non-monogamous relationship with clear boundaries, then making friends with your metamours could mean more support when times are difficult with the partner you share. They’re an addition to your chosen family, with whom you can share life’s highs and lows.
So how do you turn metamours into friends?
“The first thing you need to do is have a look at your monogamy hangover,” said Bisbey. A monogamy hangover is any leftover monogamous thinking that people might have. In particular, the thinking that anybody else your partner is dating is automatically competition. Make sure you’re ready to look at your metamour as a friend, family member, supporter, and ally, rather than someone who would take your partner away.
If that’s the case, the next step is to allow the friendship to form organically. “Don’t force it. Don’t come with the idea that just because your partner is with them, immediately you need to be best friends,” warned Bisbey, as that could be overwhelming.
In other words, don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not all that different from having other friends. “If you’ve worked out your own jealousy and insecurity concerns, then do it like you would any other friendship,” Bisbey said.
If you had more than one best friend in school, then you already have a model for being friends with your metamours, Ratty said. Imagine what it would be like to be friends with that metamour, if they weren’t a metamour at all. “Try removing the notion of your mutual lover and asking what you might like about them if you met them, minus the complex emotional web of relationships,” said Ratty.
It’s also important to figure out the specific mechanics of your relationship with your metamours. What exactly do you want? What do they want? Some people want to be friends with their lover’s lover, but don’t exactly want a separate relationship with them. They might call that metamour when there’s an emergency with their shared partner, but don’t necessarily want that metamour as a friend just for themselves.
The shared partner can help, too. They can make everyone feel secure in the relationship, to avoid resentment or jealousy from everyone involved.
What if your metamour doesn’t want to be friends?
If your metamour doesn’t want a relationship with you, accept that. Some people just aren’t interested in having more people in their lives. Bisbey said that some people in consensually non-monogamous relationships enjoy having more alone time, which is part of why they’re OK with their partners seeing other people. Meanwhile, others might be cordial with their metamours, but don’t exactly want to be friends. Some people in consensually non-monogamous relationships negotiate this, said Bisbey, but it’s best not to force it.
What if you’re not ready to be friends with your metamour?
If it’s you who isn’t quite ready to be chummy, that’s fine, too.
People who are new to consensual non-monogamy might find it more difficult to be friends with their metamours, Bisbey said. If you find that you’re not ready to be friends with your lover’s lover, own it. Communicate your feelings well so you’re not cutting off the possibility of a relationship in the future. Try to say these things in such a way that the metamour doesn’t feel bad, either.
In other words, keep an open mind. You can be friends with your lover’s lovers, but you don’t have to be. You might not be friends with them right now, but you might be one day. All this is part of polyamory and consensual non-monogamy.
“The polyamory model that you may have discussed with each other to begin with may not be the one you end up with,” said Ratty. “Every relationship has to evolve, so asking and learning as you go along is key.”
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