Advice – How do I get started with non-monogamy?

“My boyfriend and I have been together for 1 year and ~7 months and I finally told him I’m polyamorous a few days ago. It was also the first time I came to terms with it. I had the doubt since dating my previous bf, but that wasn’t a good/healthy relationship so I dismissed it because of that. This relationship is absolutely perfect so it confirmed I’m definitely not monogamous. He was really understanding and absolutely fine with it, but he asked me what we’re gonna do about it now and I honestly have no idea.

I’m certain I’m not interested in other serious relationships, but more in casual encounters. I just don’t how to start or what rules to establish. I’m also afraid I’ll do something wrong or that I dislike and that it’ll affect our relationship.

Any advice you have would be really appreciated!”

/u/flower_san, /r/polyamory.
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

Dear Flower San,

Welcome to ethical and consensual non-monogamy!

Your first steps in non-monogamy would be to figure out exactly what type of non-monogamous relationship you would like to have. My first ever column post was exactly about the different types of ethical non-monogamy, which will greatly benefit you to read. Based on what you have shared with me (i.e. casual encounters), it sounds like either swinging or open relationship type of non-monogamy will suit you best. Polyamory is much more about establishing multiple intimate and romantic relationships. It is also very important recognize that different styles of non-monogamy aren’t just static, distinct islands but a spectrum with varying overlap between different styles. And you’ll learn and adapt as you go, so you are definitely not locked in to just one style/type of non-monogamy.

Then the next thing you should consider is how involved you want your boyfriend of one and a half year to be in your ENM journey. By that I mean, are you planning on looking for respective independent relationships or if you are only going to seek partners that both of you can play together with. The general consensus among polyamorous folks is to date separately, but I’ve also seen some very successful folks in the swinger lifestyle who only sleep with new partner(s) together or stick to swapping partners with other swinging couples. Both sides come with their own unique set of struggles.

Photo by Mareefe on

As for rules and boundaries, it really greatly depend on the type of non-monogamous relationships you would like to have, whether or not y’all are dating together or separately, and your respective comfort levels for sexual risk profile assessment, emotional stability, and nesting situation.

Regardless of your styles and preferences, the first place to start would be to determine what each of you would consider best safe sex practices are. Since you’ve been monogamous to each other for over a year, it might not be a bad idea to get your STI screening done. Some folks ask for recent STI test results to assess your overall risk profile, while many others just use extra protection to make sure no fluids are exchanged (i.e. dental dams, gloves in addition to condoms). Almost every non-mono folks I’ve ever met used barriers to some extent – sometimes even in long-term relationships – in order to mitigate the STI transmission risk. And most non-mono folks have established a regular testing cycle (monthly or every other month) even when they weren’t regularly adding new sexual partners just for their own sanity. So it might be a good idea to discuss what you and your partner are comfortable with to make sure that both you and your partners (and all their partners) are utilizing best safe sex practices.

Another suggestion I have for you is to regularly check in with your boyfriend to stay current on how things are going between you two and in other connections. On the second date with my girlfriend, we talked about how polyamory has been such a rapid speed maturation process for each of us. Ethical non-monogamy will shine a bright light into each of your personal and relational flaws and force you and your boyfriend to address them as soon as possible. Regular check ins will help you stay connected with your boyfriend and for your boyfriend to stay connected with you as each of you grow and develop as human beings outside of your relationship with each other.

Photo by 高子良 on

As for getting started, every non-mono relationships I’ve been a part of started from an online dating platform. For me as a polyamorous man, OkCupid has worked the best for me. But I’ve heard a lot of positive feedbacks for Tinder, Bumble, Feeld, and #open. Just make sure that you talk about your non-monogamous relationship orientation before you meet those potential partners in person. If you live in a big city, you might also want to look for meetups, social events, and swinger clubs that you can attend to start forging more in-person connections. After that, dating non-monogamously is like any other dating.

The final piece of advice that I’ll give you is that you will inevitably make mistakes. Both of you will do things wrong. And each of you will hurt each other to some extent. Once each of you grow and change through your respective non-monogamous journeys, your current relationship as it is today will be no more. But that is just the course of any long-term relationship. And…

Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.

Jake the Dog. “His Hero.” Adventure Time. Cartoon Network. September 20, 2010.

It is perfectly okay to make mistakes. And it is okay to make repeated mistakes. You were never meant to be perfect, especially with decades plus of monogamy conditioning. And you were never meant to get it right the first time. No one ever gets it right the first time. You just have to keep committing to working on issues together, and recognize that a bad feeling does not necessarily need to solely determine your next course of action. If things feel awry and your connection with your boyfriend feel shaky, take a look at this article from 2017 often shared among poly newbies. If either of you like to read, the Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and the Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory are all three great starting points that’ll give you basic ideas on what to expect when you first open up. The third book’s author – Dedeker Winston – also contributes to the Multiamory podcast, which has helped me a lot. If you’re looking for more online resources, /r/nonmonogamy and /r/polyamory are great resources.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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