Here’s What It’s *Really* Like to Be in a Polyamorous Relationship

For starters, it's about loving multiple people—not just sleeping with them

(Photo: iStock/Leo Tapel)
(Photo: iStock/Leo Tapel)

Until six months ago, 28-year-old Maryëva Pelletier didn’t look very favourably on polyamorous relationships. “I had a false impression that polyamorous people are having orgies and aren’t loyal,” she says. “I always thought that a relationship was supposed to be monogamous.”

Then she met Vincent Sumah, 36, and his 25-year-old partner, Amethyst Blanchette, on the dating app Happn, and three days later, they all met for coffee. The Montreal-based couple, who co-parent three kids, were looking to add a third partner to their relationship. Their multiple attempts over the last five years to find their other soul mate were unsuccessful, but with Pelletier, something clicked.

“For me, it was never only about sex. I wanted something deeper and long-term,” says Sumah. “At first, Maryëva wasn’t into poly stuff, but she was so amazing that I still wanted to meet her as a friend. She fell for both of us, and the feeling was mutual.”

Pelletier says her compatibility with the couple plus her curious nature sparked her willingness to try polyamory. “I told them I want to know and understand everything, [and that] it has to make sense to me,” says Pelletier. “There was a lot of information to process…[but] maybe because I have a very fiery personality, I jumped into it.”

The closed nature of the relationship—meaning they don’t see others outside of the three of them—made the transition easier for Pelletier. “It feels right, now that I’m in a triad with these two wonderful people,” she says. “Maybe that’s why all my past relationships messed up in the end. I don’t think we’re meant to be only monogamous.”

(Vincent Sumah, Maryëva Pelletier and Amethyst Blanchette. Photo: Courtesy of the partners.)
(Vincent Sumah, Maryëva Pelletier and Amethyst Blanchette. Photo: Courtesy of the partners.)

What is polyamory and how many Canadians practise it?

While Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier’s relationship may seem unconventional to some, their polyamorous lifestyle may be less fringe than you think. Polyamory—the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at a time—is gaining traction. While Statistics Canada doesn’t track the number of Canadians who are polyamorous, a recent U.S. study found that around 21 percent of participants said they had been in a non-monogamous relationship, defined as “any relationship in which all partners agree that each may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners,” at least once in their lives. 

And when the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family at the University of Calgary recently conducted a polyamory survey to gain insights into the community, it discovered that attitudes towards polyamory in Canada are changing, too. 

According to the report, nearly 70 percent of the surveyed polyamorists from across the country said that they are currently involved in a polyamorous relationship, and out of those who are not, 40 percent said they had been in the last five years. Furthermore, 75 percent of polyamorous respondents were between the ages of 25 and 44—hello millennials!—and nearly 60 percent were female. The majority of those surveyed also said that in their view, the number of people who identify as polyamorous is increasing, as is the number of people openly involved in polyamorous relationships.

But it’s important to understand what polyamory is—and isn’t. Polyamory is very different than polygamy, which is the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time, typically a wife, and is usually rooted in religious beliefs. (Think TLC’s reality show Sister Wives.) Different still, is an open relationship, which is one that is not sexually monogamous, but is often more about the freedom to have different casual, sexual partners outside a relationship. Even though some use the term “open relationship” as a synonym for “polyamory,” those interviewed for this story argued that polyamory is about loving multiple people, not just sleeping with them.

What does a polyamorous relationship look like?

Polyamorous relationships can take different forms. A “triad” (also a “throuple”) is a relationship composed of three people—like Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier’s arrangement—and it’s just one possible formation. People can also have multiple partners that are not involved with each other, which is the case for Alaina Partridge.

Partridge, a 30-year-old queer mother from Winnipeg, is romantically or sexually involved with several partners who are not in relationships with each other; she is the common thread. She has been with her male live-in (or “nesting”) partner for five years, and has been seeing her female partner for about a year. On top of these relationships, she also has two ongoing friends-with-benefits relationships. None of her partners are involved with each other, but some have other partners of their own.

(Alaina Partridge. Courtesy of: Alaina Partridge)
(Alaina Partridge. Courtesy of: Alaina Partridge)

“My current live-in partner would ideally have a ‘One Penis Policy,’ or OPP,” says Partridge. “An OPP is where I can be with all the girls I please, but only one penis, which is his.”

With several relationships at once, Partridge says being open and honest with her partners is vital. “I’m a pretty good communicator—I really try to be,” she says. “But it’s not always easy finding partners that are also very good at it.”

What is easy, however, is picking her plus-one to an event. “It’s kind of like if you have five friends and one of them likes golfing, and one of them likes dancing,” she explains. “You don’t take the golfing friend dancing.”

But polyamory is not just about having different partners to spend time with. For Partridge, she says it’s more of a sexual orientation, and she doesn’t believe she will ever only want monogamy again. “I remember always thinking [that] monogamy was so stupid,” she says. “I just didn’t realize there was a better option for me at the time.”

Do poly relationships *actually* work?

Thirty-four-year-old Conor McMillen and 30-year-old Brittany Taylor also found themselves feeling confined and wanting more in previous relationships. The Texas-based pair were each in long-term, monogamous relationships before they met each other at the Woodstock Fruit Festival in upstate New York in August of 2013, and decided to explore non-monogamy together. (McMillen was with his previous partner for 12 years and Taylor was in a six-year marriage.)

“It wasn’t like I said, ‘I’m going to do polyamory,’ it was more like, ‘I want to have freedom in my life, and I want to have relationships that are really honest,’” says McMillen. “In retrospect, I can see that there were parts of myself that got lost [in my previous long-term, monogamous relationship] and I didn’t want to lose those anymore.”

Now, the couple runs a life-coaching business, promoting authentic “badass” and sex-positive relationships. They also have a YouTube channel and lead relationship workshops all over the world.

“Jealousy is the number one thing we get questions about, [it’s] the number one struggle for people,” says McMillen. “Instead of feeling like jealousy is something we have to deal with, we invite people to see it as an opportunity to get closer to themselves,” adds Taylor, arguing that feelings of envy can actually make poly relationships stronger.

“It can be a great opportunity to get closer to those we love,” she says. “[You can] support one another throughout jealous feelings, recognizing that although actions may trigger one another, you are not doing something [intentionally] to [hurt] one another.”

Another thing McMillen and Taylor says people are intrigued by? The sexual aspects of poly relationships. “I think there’s a misconception that if you’re with one partner, that’s commitment and anything else means you’re not committed,” says Taylor. “What I see [in poly relationships] are people who are interested in real communication and sharing more of their hearts with each other,” adds McMillen. “Not necessarily more of their genitalia.”

Toronto-based sex and relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly understands this mentality. The host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast says that more millennials are becoming interested in non-monogamous relationship options. For many people in poly relationships, she says, the desire to be with more than one partner is actually realistic.

“Younger couples have seen their parents divorce or remain in unhappy relationships, and they realize that there isn’t one way to make a relationship work,” she explains. “Monogamy as a default often fails. It’s not that polyamory is the answer, but it’s one of many potential alternatives. It works for some people.” But, she adds, “Polyamory is not a solution to a failing relationship.”

When polyamory doesn’t work

Michel Reyes* (name changed for privacy) knows this firsthand. After one month of dating, the 23-year-old Winnipegger found out his partner was polyamorous. Reyes had no prior experience with polyamory, but felt strongly enough about the guy he was dating that he willing to try to understand it.

“It was a bit of a mind f-ck,” he says, remembering the moment he was first introduced to one of his boyfriend’s partners he wasn’t previously aware of. “I didn’t know there was more than one partner. I thought it was just one because he only told me about one. I just remember thinking, What did I get myself into?

When Reyes realized seeing multiple people wasn’t for him, he suggested trying monogamy, but his partner wasn’t interested. “He said if you could have multiple people making you happy at once… why wouldn’t you?” says Reyes. “I guess I could have dated whomever I wanted, but I didn’t want to date anyone else. I was head over heels for him.”

But when all parties are on the same page, polyamory can work. Sumah, Blanchette and Pelletier recently created an Instagram account to prove it. 

“We thought it would be a good idea to share our family life with others,” says Blanchette. “Maybe it will give people an opportunity to be more informed about polyamory and show them that it can work to be polyamorous.”

“As long as you’re more than two people and love the others, it can work,” adds Sumah. “I think people assume you have to have many partners, but [three people] is also polyamory.”


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