A collage of paper people holding hands with a pair of scissors cutting off one of them from the relationship.
Collage: Cathryn Virginia

The Cost of Living Crisis Has Come for the Polycules

“It’s so hard to be polyamorous when you’re poor.”

Navigating relationships in the cost of living crisis is brutal. You finally match with someone fit and you can’t afford the train to see them. You feel like you’re ready to get back out there and your landlord tells you to do one because they’re selling up. And if you’re in a relationship already, rising utility bills, food and fuel prices dominate your conversations when you’d rather be talking about sex, or what’s on telly, or quite literally anything else.


Now imagine adding a whole other relationship into that mix. Or two. Or three. Or ten – you get the picture. In the cost of living crisis, daters get the shitty end of the stick, but polyamorous people, who have multiple relationships, get hit by an entire shit-soaked tree. 

Twenty-five-year-old artist Katy, who’s chosen to not share their surname for privacy reasons like others in this piece, recently realised they’re polyamorous after a lot of exploring. The problem? They’ve begun exploring this in the midst of the good old cozzy livs, which is still wreaking havoc on our bank accounts. 

Because of this, they’ve got tonnes of anxiety around the talking stage of dating right now. “Saying to a prospective partner, ‘I'd love to meet you in person but I don’t get paid until X date and I’m absolutely broke until then’ is anxiety-inducing,” Katy tells VICE. “What if they think I’m just after free food or that I don’t want to spend money on them and I’m a tight arse? I really worry about the reaction.” 

It’s no secret that the cost of living crisis has had a depressing effect on dating. It’s even become a crisis of its own: It’s impacted how many divorces happen, when they happen and how they happen. It’s seen couples decide to stay together for cost effectiveness when the love is no longer there. It’s even managed to ruin sex.


Obviously, money can have a huge impact on relationships, sexologist and polyamory expert Chantal Gautier tells VICE. “Spending, budgeting, saving disagreements, conflicts about money priorities – financial instability takes a toll on relationships,” she says. With polyamory, this is exponentially more difficult. 

“There’s long been an idea that polyamory is for one particular type of person – the rich, white, educated, upper class kind of person,” continues Guatier. “We’re often only shown it from an upper class point of view, in the lens of media and culture.” Particularly since The Ethical Slut brought it to the mainstream, she says, we associate people that are polyamorous with expensive sex parties and private events.

But sexual preferences are rarely related to class, nor do they depend on income: “People from various backgrounds are polyamorous.” There are many polyamorous people on benefits or squeezing dates between bartending shifts, just as there are many flying business class to sex resorts. A lot of them are having to find new ways to make polyamory work in the cost of living crisis, and are finding relationships strained or even forced break up.

Kayla, a 29-year old teacher, is one of those people – she’s had to end an eight month relationship because of her finances. “Neither of us had the disposable income to spend on dates outside of our primary partners,” she says, noting that the expectation for fun dates among multiple partners makes the cost of polyamory a pricey one. 


Starting dating from scratch is just as hard, though. Kayla still has a primary partner and both of them want to date other people, but Kayla has uninstalled all the dating apps after her matches “got fed up” when she couldn’t afford dates. “I was meeting other poly people on Tinder and Feeld, and it was successful at first, but then I kept having to cancel dates because I can’t afford them,” she continues. 

Polyamorous people have so many wallets to consider, too – all their dating decisions need to keep several people’s financial situations in mind. “We have to think about other commitments to our other partners, especially if your partners have nesting partners [primary partners who often live together and traditionally split finances] like one of mine does,” adds Katy. 

This means a hell of a lot more stress and organisation. There’s this idea that polyamory is all about acting on impulse and throwing out the rule book, but Katy says impulsivity isn’t the be all and end all of being polyamorous. It takes a lot more care, consideration and thinking – especially in a cost of living crisis.

It’s not all bad news, though, Gautier says that sometimes being polyamorous can actually make relationships more cost effective. “For polycules [the wider network of polyamorous relationships] where everyone lives together in one home, sharing food and finances, polyamory can actually make things cheaper,” she says. 


But this isn’t the set-up for a lot of polycules. Chris, a 38-year-old university lecturer, says this type of polycule hasn’t been possible for him (nor does he want it) and that being ethically non-monogamous has become a “stressful expense” since the cost of living crisis began. 

“Most polyamorous people are not in a position to nest with their polycule, it's just not practical in the majority of cases,” he says. “I have to pay for a lot of dates and a lot of hotel rooms since many of my partners have nesting partners, so we can’t go to their house. And if it’s early days, they understandably don’t want to come to my house yet.”

Social class and income disparities have become anxiety-inducing for Chris, as he and his four partners have found themselves in vastly different financial situations since the era of triple-priced food and housing nightmares began.

“Recently one of my partners literally didn’t have food to eat, while the other was travelling across Europe and eating in five-star restaurants,” he tells VICE. “It can be really hard to remain connected, supportive and understanding when there are such huge financial discrepancies.” 

“I’ve been sick to my stomach because I don’t have spare money to help one of my partners with rent money so they don’t fall into rent arrears and lose their home,” he continues. “Meanwhile another partner, who doesn’t know the former partner, will be blowing money like it’s nothing.”

Chris stresses that he still loves all his partners and doesn’t judge any of them on their financial situations, but it’s “getting harder to stay connected to all of them when the cost of living has exaggerated the financial divide in relationships”. His polycule, he says, has certainly been strained, and he’s considering taking a step back from the polyamorous lifestyle until his finances are more hopeful. 


Maybe you think there are bigger issues going on in the world than people being unable to afford multiple partners, but people losing autonomy over their relationships and sexual freedom is a serious problem. As Kayla puts it: “It took me so long to accept I wanted a polyamorous lifestyle and to let go of the nuclear relationships society wants us to go after. I had to let go of so much shame. To have that taken away by an unavoidable financial crisis is so awful.” 

Polyamorous people having to change their lifestyles right now is just another example of how financial inequality restricts our quality of life. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be polyamorous during a recession. 

Guatier explains that certain types of polyamorous people may experience less financial stress. For example, if individuals maintain their independence and financial autonomy within their polycule, rather than sharing finances, they can have multiple partners but no financially reliant partners – which can be a big source of money stress. 

“Functioning as autonomous persons, individuals can choose when to engage or withdraw, aligning their decisions with their living or financial circumstances,” she explains. Meanwhile, with the aforementioned nesting polyamory networks, or poly families, there’s less opportunity to “opt in and out”.

There are other solutions, too, and finding ways to keep going is the perfect middle finger to the ever-prevalent idea monogamy is the default: Katy has found another low-income partner on a dating app and is meeting them for a cheap ice cream date when pay-day comes around. Kayla has started looking into ethical friends with benefits arrangements with her pals, where money discussions are more comfortable, and has started hosting cheap sex parties. Chris has moved a lot of his relationships online, utilising cyber sex to keep the pleasure while cutting back on costs.

“Exploring non-conventional relationship styles holds significant importance,” Gautier says. In a world where monogamous relationships are still upheld as ideal or aspirational, embracing the potential to expand our perceptions and viewpoints is paramount – cost of living crisis or not.