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Disclaimer: I have been polyamorous for 6 years now, which doesn’t exactly make me an expert - in fact, I’ve made basically every mistake you can possibly make when dipping your toes into the non-monogamous pool. But that also means that I (hopefully) have some wisdom to impart.
Before we dive in, it’s important to make one thing super clear. One of the beautiful things about consensual non-monogamy (I’ll refer to this as CNM moving forwards because it’s a bit of a mouthful) is that there are no rules; you get to make your own.
That also means that any information or advice you get about CNM needs to be interpreted through the lens of your own individual circumstance. Not everything you read here will be true for you, and that’s ok! We’re all just figuring it out as we go along.
But the more we talk about and normalize CNM, the more it’s accepted and the safer we all are, both individually and in our various relationships.
Before we unpack things any further, we need to know what we’re talking about when it comes to CNM. There are lots of different types, so we’ve developed a nifty little flowchart to help.
You can use this flowchart to either work out where you currently sit, where you’d like to sit, or what different options are hypothetically available.
Note: While non-monogamy has the potential to be a healthy operating model for relationships, it also has the potential to be destructive if it’s done for the wrong reasons. So, before we go headfirst into the next non-monogamous orgy (or even before we raise it with a partner), it’s super important for us to understand why we may want to be non-monogamous.
CNM is typically defined to include sex and/or romance with multiple people. For those of us who are asexual, aromantic, or any other identity sitting on the ace and aro spectrum (IYKYK), this may not always be the case.
While this flowchart is primarily designed for people who have both sexual and romantic desires, ace and aro individuals can also explore CNM in a way that works for them and their individual preferences.
Some people just aren’t interested in relationships, and that’s totally ok!
If you’re solo poly, there’s nothing stopping you from having sex with other people in the meantime on a casual or semi-casual basis.
However, being soly poly means you don’t want or need these to go anywhere more serious.
Relationships are complicated.
If you’re in some sort of relationship but you don’t know exactly how to define it, you can define this as a casual relationship(s) - AKA a 'situationship(s)'.
That’s not to say things will or won’t develop over time – but it’s totally up to you and anyone else involved.
Ok, this is technically not CNM, but still a valid option.
You are monogamous if you’re in a committed relationship with someone, and neither of you are allowed to have sex or a relationship with anyone outside your existing relationship.
While this blog is about CNM, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with monogamy if that’s what you both want!
This means you’re in a committed relationship with someone, but you’re able to play with others outside the relationship on occasion, or under specific circumstances.
Those circumstances might be when one of you is out of town, or only having sex with a particular friend, or when one member of the relationship is unwell and isn't able to satisfy their partner's needs in that way.
Essentially, you’re basically monogamous, but with a little wriggle room.
This is when you’re in a committed relationship with someone, but you’re able to play with others outside the relationship basically whenever you like.
It's important to remember that being in an open relationship typically means no romance with others (i.e. sexual contact only), otherwise you'd probably define yourself as polyamorous.
This can apply to one or both members of your relationship, provided it’s consensual.
You are polyamorous if you’re currently, or would like to be, in a romantic relationship with more than one person, but you still embrace other aspects of monogamy.
For example, you may be married to and/or live with one of your partners, you may share bank accounts, you may go away on holiday together.
Polyamory has various forms; you can be in a throuple (a three-way relationship), and throuples may or may not have a hierarchy, or you may have separate romantic partners.
As a relationship anarchist, you actively reject all aspects of monogamy and don’t feel the need to look monogamous to the outside world.
These can include, but are not limited to: Getting married, living together, sharing bank accounts, going away on holiday together etc.
Basically, the rule book is out the window, and your relationships can look like whatever you want them to look like.