Disclaimer: all answers given here are the opinions of one person. There is no one correct way to “do” poly, nor is there one correct way to conceptualize it.
Q: “I was wondering what advice or information you might be able to share for someone single looking to step into the Poly lifestyle (in the true sense of being Poly, versus just the sexual aspects).”
A: First of all, congratulations! You’re fortunate to already know you want a polyamorous relationship while single—in many ways, this is a much simpler starting point than the process of “converting” a pre-existing relationship from monogamous to polyamorous. But of course, there are still specific concerns that come along with dating and seeking poly relationships, and envisioning the poly life ahead of you. I’m sure this advice is by no means complete, but I hope it’s useful to you on your journey.
Think about what kind of relationship you want. Read books and websites and message boards where people are discussing their relationship configurations, and think about what sounds like the best fit for you. Do you want to become involved with someone in an already-existing web of relationships? Do you want to be the third member in a closed triad with a married couple? Do you want to focus on building a relationship with one person with the knowledge that you’re both open to additional relationships in the future? Do you envision yourself building a life and a home and a family with two or more long-term committed partners? Having at least some idea of what your ideal relationships look like can help you to know if a potential partner is a good fit for you. At the same time, however…
Remain flexible. There might be some things you’re certain you would never want, and it’s cool to know your own boundaries. But remain open to the idea that what you end up wanting might look different than what you thought you wanted in the beginning. Back when I was still monogamous, I used to think my ideal was to have only fairly casual romantic relationships outside of my marriage. But in practice, I quickly learned that I wanted something much more serious than that with an additional partner.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you start dating someone, be upfront about the kind of relationship you’re looking for. Even if this person is already identifying as poly, that can mean a lot of different things to different people, and different poly folks are looking for different things out of particular relationships. It’s difficult, but talk about your hopes and desires for the relationship as early on as possible. Of course, you can never know precisely what the future holds. But a simple clarification of whether you’re seeking a deeply romantic partnership, a friend to have fun with with few expectations attached, or anything in-between, can go along way in ensuring that you’re both on the same page.
Don’t limit yourself to only dating already-poly-identified people. Some poly folks disagree strongly with this, and swear that the best way to avoid drama is to stick to relationships only with others who are already living polyamorously. While I understand their reasoning, I also recognize that poly is something many, many people are entirely unfamiliar with, and there is always a possibility that you could introduce the concept to someone who thinks it sounds like a wonderful idea. Be willing to have conversations with others about poly, and to share sources of information that you’ve found useful (I always recommend Franklin Veaux’s website to poly newcomers). If you do date non-poly folks, though, be sure to disclose your poly desires right away. You don’t want to hurt anyone by being dishonest, and you also don’t want to spend time getting invested in a relationship if someone is going to be absolutely unreceptive to non-monogamy.
Remember that you have a right to express your feelings and needs. This particularly applies in a situation where you start dating someone who’s already partnered, particularly if they’re looking for more of a “secondary” relationship, though it can be relevant in a variety of situations. Of course, you should always be respectful of the relationship that existed before you came into the picture, and treat your partners’ other partners well. But that doesn’t mean that you are no longer a human being with needs and desires of your own. You’re still entitled to talk about what you want and how you feel, and you should never be made to feel like you don’t have a right to express those things.
And finally, the number one biggest piece of advice I would give all people about to embark on poly relationships…
Expect challenges. Even though you know this is what you want and you’re totally committed to it, chances are there will be times you struggle with it. I can almost guarantee that at some point in the future, you will feel jealous or insecure, and you will need to work through that. This isn’t a matter of how truly poly you are or how ideologically committed you are to the idea of being in poly relationships; emotions don’t always answer so neatly to ideology. If you think the fact that you’re enthusiastically choosing to partner this way means you will never struggle with the realities of living polyamorously, you will be completely blindsided by these feelings when and if they do occur. It’s also easy to fall into a trap of silencing and dismissing your own feelings because they seem irrational or don’t fit with your concept of yourself as a poly person. It’s far better to be prepared for these feelings in advance, and to realize that it won’t always be easy. When challenges do arise, acknowledging them and dealing with them head on will be far more productive in the long run than trying to repress and deny any negative feelings you have.
Good luck, and I hope your process of finding poly relationships is a fulfilling one!
Have questions you’d like to see answered here? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Poly Q & A” in the subject line.