The Truth About Jealousy in Polyamorous Relationships
Illustration by Camilla Ru
My First Time is a column and podcast series exploring sexuality, gender, and kink with the wide-eyed curiosity of a virgin. We all know your "first time" is about a lot more than just popping your cherry. From experimenting with kink to just trying something new and wild, everyone experiences thousands of first times in the bedroom—that's how sex stays fun, right?
This week, we're talking to Non-Monogamy Help podcaster and advice columnist Lola Phoenix about their experiences of polyamory. You can listen to My First Time on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
I came to polyamory probably ten or 12 years ago. I didn’t have a very good relationship with sex—I was scared of sex, basically—so I decided to educate myself about sex positivity. I started listening to a lot of sex-positive podcasts, and became aware of polyamory through that.
I’m demisexual, which means that I need to have an emotional connection with someone before I feel sexually attracted to them. I chose polyamory because I don’t tend to be attracted to people very often, so when I am attracted to someone, I want to have the chance to explore that.
I met Kyle online. I’d been planning to move to the UK from America to study, so I wanted to connect with polyamorous people before I came over. I actually spoke to him for almost a year, every day, always online. We were in a long-distance relationship. And then one day, he goes to me: “Have you seen my Facebook?” I look, and it reads, “Kyle is now in a relationship with Felicity.” I was like, oh!
When you’re new to polyamory, a lot of the books you read really stress the importance of not being jealous or controlling of anyone. So I felt like I had to be cool about the situation, even though I found it weird that he hadn’t mentioned her to me before, and he also wouldn’t let me reach out to her and say hello. Around about this time I also realized that Kyle was often quite [psychologically] abusive. He’d just be really rude, for no reason.
It got to when I was coming to London to study, so I messaged Kyle and suggested I come and stay with him. And he said, “That’s fine, but I need to ask Felicity.” I thought, I don’t even get consulted before you start a new relationship, but I can’t stay with you for a few days without you checking with her? It made me angry, but because I was new to polyamory I thought I needed to be OK with everything, as if that’s the right way to do polyamory. He told me that he’d spoken to her, and she was excited to meet me and wanted to have a threesome. I was pretty shocked by that, and as it got closer to the time I decided I didn’t want to stay at his any more—the expectation we’d have a threesome was making me feel a bit weird.
I messaged him and said, “Actually I don’t think we should meet.” He asked me why, and I told him: “You’re kind of a jerk.” He blocked me and removed me on everything. He completely ghosted me on everything—except his FetLife profile. I thought about messaging Felicity and warning him what an asshole he was, but I didn’t want to seem like a crazy, jealous ex. Fast forward a few months, and I’m at a party in London, and I run into her! She’s standing right there, at the same party as me.
I go over and say hi, and it becomes apparent she has no idea who I am; he never told her about me. She messages him and says, "I just met Lola!" And no lie: He blocked her on everything. She’d been in a relationship with him! She had stuff at his house. It took absolutely ages before he’d even meet her to give her back her stuff. I never heard from him again, apart from when he sent me this weird, random message saying, “You guys think I’m the enemy.” I thought, alright dude, whatever.
When you’re in a polyamorous relationship and it doesn’t work out, you can experience judgment from people. They assume that the relationship failed because it was an open relationship. So that was hard. Luckily, around about the same time the situation with Kyle unfolded, I’d also been speaking with someone else. He was really kind and supportive—I met him the first day I arrived in London.
A lot of the literature about polyamory is written from quite a narrow perspective. It’s written only by cisgender, heterosexual white people. They’ll write: “If you’re scared your partner will leave you, don’t be! Because you’re special and unique in your own way.” That advice works on paper, but if you have anxiety, and you live in a society that tells you that you’re unattractive or your needs are bad, that message doesn’t really work. So in my early days I think I tried too hard to be cool with everything, as opposed to acknowledging my own needs.
Jealousy is something that’s commonly misunderstood in polyamory. To me, jealousy isn’t always a character flaw, but a natural human emotion that you can feel for very legitimate reasons. For example, my partner was dating someone and she came over and they watched TV together. Which sounds like not a big deal at all, right? But he never wanted to watch TV with me, ever. I was so angry!
There’s this concept in polyamory which is called "kitchen table polyamory." The idea is that you should be friends with all your partner’s metamours [a partner you have no romantic relationship with], and you should be able to sit around a table and get along, like you’re one big family. Some people want to be friends with all their partner’s metamours, but I don’t. My policy is: If we get along, great, but I don't have to meet them.
Everyone defines cheating differently, whether they’re polyamorous or monogamous. To me, cheating is when you lie and hide something. That’s something I’ve discussed with my partners: When do I tell you that I’m in a new relationship? The way I arrange things is, you don’t have to tell me everything straight away, but you need to be responsible from a sexual health point of view. And if I ask you about something, you can’t lie. The minute you start hiding things, that’s cheating to me.
New relationships, whether they’re polyamorous or monogamous, are always scary. People put too many expectations on polyamory. They view it like it’s some sort of relationship nirvana. Then when it doesn’t work out on the first go, they run back to monogamy. But monogamy isn’t inherently safer—just because you’re with someone exclusively, doesn’t mean they won’t hurt you, or leave you.
If you’re thinking about becoming polyamorous, it’s good to think about the reasons you want to be polyamorous. What benefits would polyamory bring you? Where do you see yourself in ten years? For me, I want to have different relationships with multiple people I can be romantic with—which is why polyamory works for me.