One form of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is polyamory, a relationship style in which partners consensually agree to form multiple romantic and/or sexual partnerships with other people. Within the lifestyle, there are countless structures each polyamorous relationship can have, and the way people practice polyamory can vary greatly from polycule to polycule (the term to describe a group of people connected via their own partnerships or those of their partners). Dating while polyamorous may go against the grain of the mononormative standard, but according to Ana Kirova, CEO of the inclusive dating app Feeld, the conversation around polyamory is buzzing more than ever before.
“We have definitely witnessed increasing understanding and acceptance of ethical non-monogamy, and conversations surrounding the topic are increasingly common and continue to grow,” Kirova tells Bustle. She shares that use of the term “ENM” on Feeld increased by over 240% between 2020 and 2021. “Additionally, we’re seeing growth in our users as a whole — showing us there is growing interest and desire to explore consensual non-monogamy and a willingness to invest and be intentional about it too.”
If you are new to polyamory or are curious about what dating within the lifestyle might look like, the amount of information (and opinions) out there might just make your head spin. Doing your own research and exploration is important, but gaining insight and perspective from someone with expertise in the relationship style is incredibly helpful. Below, Kirova shares her advice on how to date when polyamorous.
If someone is new to non-monogamy/polyamory, how do you suggest they approach that topic with potential new partners?
I would start by reading about different relationship structures to build some understanding and confidence on the topic. Also, get some practice and if you feel like it and start dating on Feeld — people on the app express the types of relationships they are interested in which could serve as inspiration or reassurance to say what you’re looking for or wanting to explore.
For existing relationships, use your intuition on when and how to raise the topic. Using language that reflects your experience is always helpful: ‘I would like to’, ‘I feel,’ etc. are great ways to begin sharing your experience. Last but not least, be open-minded and curious about the conversations you are opening, and listen to your partner as well.
What are some examples of ways to open a conversation about polyamory when you're on a date with someone who might not be polyamorous?
While there is no right or wrong — this is a purely personal journey — I can’t stress enough the importance of open and honest communication. Be clear when stating your desires and boundaries, and meet their questions with patience and honesty. If you met on Feeld, there’s a strong possibility they’ll be just as open and judgment-free as you are. If you didn’t, use the opportunity to explain your position, why polyamory works for you, and how you came to this place.
You could also talk about what it could mean for your connection (and possible relationship) with this person, too. Above all, just as you expect to be met with patience and minimal judgment, honor your date by reacting to their feedback and concerns in the same way.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to polyamory and enters into a pre-existing polycule via a new relationship?
It might seem like an obvious thing, but be curious, communicate a lot, and check in with yourself and your partners. It’s easy to forget this, but people are actually in many relationships at any given point — they have friendships, acquaintances, families, colleagues, and more. Approaching a pre-existing polycule can be a wonderful journey of self-discovery. Ask yourself how you feel, express it to the partners involved, and be cognizant of what you want, what feels good, and what seems off. Communicate these experiences with your partners.
For people new to polyamory, what are your biggest pieces of advice regarding time and energy management with new partnerships?
Being open to the fact that there will be discoveries you make about your own energy and desire is the best advice I can give. Moving from a monogamous to a multi-partner relationship is a journey that will help you learn a lot about what you need, what you enjoy, where your boundaries are, and how everything shifts with time. Make sure you always save some time to reflect.
What are some ways that someone can make sure each of their partners feels seen, heard, and appreciated when they have multiple?
As is important in any relationship — romantic or otherwise — it’s all about open, honest, and intentional communication. There should be no unspoken rules when entering or participating in a non-monogamous relationship — all cards should be laid right out on the table so all partners are aware of and in agreement on the structure.
How can new relationship energy help or hurt people who are new to non-monogamous dating?
Help can come from so many places, including from getting close to a new person. The excitement, warmth, and discovery can be really enlightening, opening up knowledge about oneself and one’s needs and desires. As vulnerability is important for getting truly close, hurt can also happen. While you’re navigating expectations, the surprising feelings one might experience — despite it potentially being uncomfortable — are normal. Any change can come with a level of discomfort. Approaching it with curiosity can really transform the experience into a journey of self-discovery and growth.
What polyamorous relationship structures (like kitchen table poly, don’t ask/don’t tell, parallel, closed-V, etc.) do you recommend for newcomers to the lifestyle?
There is no one structure that works for everyone or that I would recommend over others for newcomers to ENM. The key to exploring any relationship structure is communication. The ability to communicate your desires and needs to your partner(s) and the honesty this requires from all sides are truly the building blocks of any successful relationship. From there, it’s a matter of exploring the practicalities of making the relationship work for all sides and building a structure around it together.
How should newly poly people approach feelings of jealousy? Is it “natural”, and can it sometimes be healthy?
Jealousy comes with a lot of baggage in contemporary culture. It can be a symbol of love, and it’s a common conception that if your partner is not jealous, then they must not love you. In actuality, it’s much more interesting to ask yourself what it means when jealousy or any other such feeling arises. What is that feeling trying to communicate about your needs and desires?
How can someone approach their partner about wanting to open up their relationship? What about when their partner might be hesitant?
What’s most important is how we navigate these moments of ‘stress-testing’ our relationships. Open and frequent communication is truly essential. Check in regularly to ensure both partners are happy and feeling supported, and ask whether there is anything occurring that is causing pain or friction. When a partner is hesitant, work with them on identifying the root emotions causing those hesitations and tackle them together. If it’s the potential for jealousy, ask yourself what that feeling shows you — is it a sign that your partner needs more care from you, or a moment of insecurity and fear? Either way, approaching it with an open mind and discussing it together can be a powerful and enlightening experience.
What are some ways you recommend for people to deal with being rejected because they are polyamorous?
Dating is all about patience and being your most authentic self. While it can be a scary process, I recommend people create and follow their own core values and work towards finding people who prioritize those same things.