If You Wanna Be Poly, You Can't Be a Jealous Mess

'It's not monogamy, you don’t get to tell anybody who to love and how to love and how not to love.'

by Nicole Clark
Mar 4 2019, 11:15pm


What does it take to be in a successful polycule? In this episode of VICELAND's SLUTEVER, Karley Sciortino explores the intricacies of having a successful polyamorous relationship, from time management to navigating difficult emotions. Being polyamorous isn't just about sexual freedom—it's also about making sure you're emotionally available for multiple partners. In short, things can get messy if you don't "love communicating." But being with multiple partners can help you tap into different parts of your personality, and prevent you from "expect[ing] someone to be [your] everything." And if it works for you it can be incredibly rewarding. Here Sciortino answers some of the most burning questions asked by the poly curious.

math meme
Poly relationships can be confusing to navigate, but Sciortino is here to help. Photo by VICELAND.

If someone doesn't want to be monogamous, what are the options?

Sciortino met up with Effy Blue, a relationship coach who specializes in assisting those who wish to be in non-monogamous relationships. She explained monogamy as having "fidelity" for your partner—you don't engage in physical or emotional intimacy with anyone else. But outside of this arrangement, there are many options, and not all of them are polyamory.

"When you step into non-monogamy, you have options—you can swing, you can be in an open relationship, or you can be polyamorous," Blue explained. "So, poly: many, amory: loves, many loves. Polyamory is nurturing many loving, long term relationships at the same time."

To make this plethora of options less confusing, Blue hosts a monthly event called "Polyamory 101," where she unpacks types of non-monogamous relationships, what they look like in real life, and how to manage having multiple partners. Just like monogamous relationships, no two polyamorous relationships are the same.

What do different kinds of poly relationships look like?

At Polyamory 101, Blue described poly relationships by drawing figures on a whiteboard. Each dot is a person, and the line is their relationship.

Describing poly relationships

“A 'V' is essentially, you have one person dating two people," Blue said. Think of the person in the middle—the bottom of the 'V'—as the hinge. That one person is in two separate relationships, and each of them can fulfill a different need. In these arrangements, communication is key, because it keeps each individual relationship healthy.

"Some people are in a Z," Blue added. "So you have two people, they’re in a relationship, and you have two other people, they’re in a relationship, and then one of [each] couple will be in a relationship." In both a 'V' and 'Z,' it's not uncommon to consider one partner a "primary" and the other a "secondary" (and so on), as long as everyone is on the same page.

"A triad or a throuple, is three in a relationship," Blue said. This is just one of the ways poly relationships aren't always what they look like from the outside—just like the 'V' this one has three people, but instead of two separate relationships, these three individuals are in a polycule (the portmanteau of polyamorous and molecule). Similarly, "if you have four people, they can be all in a relationship together," Blue added.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of non-monogamous relationships between partners. They're as individual as the people in them. But they all require open communication—sometimes in the form of an agreement where certain sexual acts are and aren't on the table—but also the acknowledgement that such discussions mean that no one person gets to control how their partner carries on their separate relationships.

"It's not monogamy, you don’t get to tell anybody who to love and how to love and how not to love," said Dirty Lola, a sex educator on the Polyamory 101 panel. "You can request. You can be making agreements about what you’re doing. But it’s hard."

How do you manage jealousy in a non-monogamous relationship?

Jealousy is a natural impulse, and one that is stressful in any kind of relationship. "Jealousy is a human emotion, no one’s above it," Blue said. "The moment comes up when you feel jealous, but you have options. You can feel jealous or you can find that joy in celebration in your partner’s happiness. In poly we call it 'compersion.'”

A 'v' shaped poly relationship
From left to right: Alec, Sierra, and Markus. Sierra is in a relationship with each of these men, but they are not dating one another. Photo by VICELAND.

Compersion is feeling joy on another's behalf, and can be roughly considered the opposite of jealousy. It helps people in polycules experience joy on a partner's behalf. Instead of feeling jealous of a partner's date with someone else, you feel joy because they had a great time. It's almost like the kind of empathy you feel for someone getting a dream job, or someone you love playing with an adorable puppy. You don't have to feel compersion in a polyamorous relationship, and it's not the only way to manage jealousy. But it can help a great deal.

How can someone work on developing compersion?

Developing compersion takes practice. One of the more physical and fun ways of practicing this ideal is by attending a compersion wrestling class, which simulates the intimacy of sharing partners and allows students to confront their emotions in a guided environment.

“Here’s an opportunity to be able to see your partner engaging with another person—maybe someone they’re already dating—in a very intimate way," L.T., a compersion wrestling coach, told Sciortino. "You can start asking yourself what feelings are coming up and why are they coming up that way...The scariest place for jealousy is in your imagination. It’s what these people do together when you’re not around. And here’s a chance to see them just doing something silly. And you also get to see why it makes them happy."

But the class alone isn't a certain pathway towards experiencing compersion. Navigating jealousy in a poly relationship is an ongoing project.

"What I tell people is: It’s just a class, it’s not a cure," L.T. said. "So you’re not going to leave the class feeling like 'I'm a compersion guru.' It’s the first step. Personal development is not about being easy. It’s something we need to do.”

SLUTEVER airs Sundays at 10 PM on VICELAND.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Nicole Clark on Twitter.