When I first explored what it meant to be asexual, I turned to Reddit. I read people’s narratives and problems, people like me who were confused by their feelings and lack or urges. While I’ll be the first to admit Reddit is far from an objective reference, at the time it was my rock. There were other people struggling with the same issues I was and I identified with them. People talked about their allosexual partners (people feeling sexual attractions, as opposed to asexuals) and the expectation of sex as a necessary component of relationships.
Among the threads, there were plenty of variations of “I have a crush on an allo but can’t act on it because I know I won’t be able to satisfy them”. The compatibility issue was quite common, which isn’t too surprising considering asexuals are a small percentage of the population. The number 1% gets thrown around a lot, even though that number is over a decade old and the questions in the survey it came from were questionable. Other people delved into the minutia of the number of asexuals out there. The fact remains, however, that unless one specifically seeks out another asexual for partner, most ace relationships will be confronted with the expectation of sex at some point.
Many solutions were offered to the original posters. Sex-positive users sometimes encouraged the posters to feel joy from giving pleasure and satisfying their partner’s needs, even if the poster was ambivalent about the activity itself. Sex-neutral comments would compare it to doing chores and dishes: a basic necessity that needed to be done from time to time to keep everything running smoothly.
Replies from sex-repulsed users were a bit more pessimistic. Some limited their dating pool to only the ace community. Others resigned themselves to be forever alone and offered tips on how to handle loneliness. Others still had a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy going on with their partners, or they explored other ways to be physically intimate, or they suggested polyamory.
That last one was often met with lots of criticism and caveats.
To those it fits, polyamory removes a lot of the issues of a mixed relationship. The ace partner can enjoy whichever form of intimacy they are comfortable with, and their allo partner can look elsewhere to satisfy the rest of their needs, be they sexual, kinky or otherwise.
However, polyamory can bring about more conflict than it is set out to solve.
Everyone in a polycule must be able to communicate their needs and emotions, or else jealousy and frustration can grow to a level where they become damaging. For ace people, this might start by comparing themself to their metamours and fearing their partner will decide they aren’t good enough and leave them behind. Or they could get frustrated that their partner spends more time with their metamours, and find it unfair. Frustrations can come up despite everyone’s best intentions. It’s important for the polycule as a whole to work through the underlying causes of these issues instead of letting them fester.
Another way poly relationships can fail is through mismatched assumptions of what the relationship should be. The eternal question “is this going anywhere?” is a good example of that. People coming at it from a monogamous perspective assume the couple will have a honeymoon period of dating, followed by getting progressively closer to each other, making a show of commitment, moving in together, getting married, having kids, and growing old together. These same people may receive a wakeup call the moment their partner shares a different view of their future. From living as a triad to not wanting kids, refusing to live together, or putting up with metamours one can’t stand, there are many reasons an existing relationship model can come crashing down. This is not limited only to people used to monogamy. Each poly relationship is different. One cannot bring patterns that worked in the past and hope they work once more. These should be redefined for each new relationship. While this principle applies to all relationships, the expectations surrounding monogamy are deeply rooted in our social collective such that they often sneak up on new poly couples without the latter being aware of them.
Then there is the social pressure from everyone around the poly couple. Even if the polycule is free of drama and even when everyone shares the same expectations of what the relationship is supposed to be, they may be shunned by coworkers, friends and family members. Some cultures make it dangerous to be out as poly, in which case there will always be the strain of lying to others, of deciding which partner to bring to events, of living in fear that a single stray comment to the wrong person would mean the end of a loving relationship. Even in a society open to it, even if the members are out and accepted as such, it can still make one feel awfully lonely. The fact that a large proportion of the population doesn’t share one’s values regarding relationships can make it difficult to form connections outside of other poly groups.
Polyamory challenges people’s insecurities.
I had a lot of time to internalize these issues since the first time I saw a reddit comment suggesting polyamory (which got promptly dismantled by the rest of the community for suggesting it). And yet I kept coming back to it.
I read The Ethical Slut. I read More Than Two, and blog posts like this one. The more I read the more I realized the advices given in these books were applicable to all relationships, not just polyamorous ones. Sure, the latter needs the extra effort to be successful due to the added complexity of having more people, but the same principles hold true in friendships, monogamous relationships, parent-child relationships and more.
It is possible to feel jealousy from a friend if, for example, that friend spends more time with another. It is possible to feel compersion for one’s child in moment of pure joy, and for the child to feel it for their parent. Communicating one’s needs remains a useful skill to have at any time in one’s life, from talking to colleagues and managers to family and friends. And the list goes on.
To test whether polyamory was a good fit for me, I went ahead and applied its principles to my non-romantic relationships, starting with my family. I have a large one. We are six siblings, with me being the second youngest one. For the longest time, while I had a great relationship with my younger sister, I was too immature to get past the age gap separating me from my older sisters and relate to them as an adult. When I became more independent and comfortable in my skin, I put my efforts towards reconnecting with them.
I put words on my feelings and my needs, and voiced these with the people around me. I listened and guided many discussions to understand the needs and feelings of others. I came out with everything to everyone, being poly and ace and trans and kinky, leaving no secrets in my closet. I talked about my weaknesses and my struggles along with my successes, and for the first time my older sisters shared theirs with me.
My first few attempts at connecting were clumsy, but the more I opened up the easier it got to keep doing it. Not just with members of my family, but with friends and strangers as well. I was comfortable showing vulnerability, and that brought me closer to people.
When I was ready to start dating, I was also confident in polyamory not just as a romantic model, but as a lifestyle choice.
To me, polyamory is more than just having multiple lovers. It is both a set of skills and a certain perspective on interpersonal interactions. I feel closer to people accustomed to the lifestyle because they developed many of the qualities I seek in a partner. Good communication, empathy, responsibility of their emotions, self-awareness, establishing needs and boundaries, and more. Not everyone in the poly community shares those traits, but a bigger proportion do than in monogamous circles because polyamory tests these skills. I find myself sharing many values with these people that aren’t as common or as deliberate with others.
It also offers me opportunities to grow as a person, both in romantic relationships and out. The skills I mentioned above are applicable to all sorts of situations, and they have made my work life and social life easier as a result. Furthermore, I can be a part of many communities despite there being little overlap between one another. This lets me better explore who I am, learning more about myself and my boundaries as I go.
Finally, polyamory removes the social pressure to perform sexually. I do not have to suffer anxiety to satisfy my partner’s needs, nor do they have to go without. Were I to keep a monogamous mindset, even if my partner told me they didn’t want me to do something I didn’t want to, I would still push myself beyond my boundaries because I would see it as my responsibility to satisfy my partner in every way. Abstinence would always be on my mind, as though I had failed in some way for being different. With polyamory, not only am I relieved from no longer bearing that responsibility, I also feel happy that my partner’s needs are satisfied at all.
From where I stand as I write this entry, I can’t see myself going back to monogamy. I could take a single partner to marry, agree to make them my primary partner, limit the level of intimacy I express to anyone other than them, respect my partner’s boundaries on how to label our relationship and how to conform to social norms, and yet I would still feel I’m in a poly relationship. The awareness of my social network would remain. I would still have close friendships and queerplatonic partners; I would still express my needs and boundaries and share my vulnerable moments with everyone I know. I would still treat every other relationship I have with the same commitment I would a non-primary partner, just as I do now.
Polyamory for me is no longer just about romantic love. It is about all kinds of love, and I will love many people at once, be they among my family or my family of choice.