At the one-year mark, polyamory's many-sided Covid tales
The pandemic blew up some carefully constructed ‘polycules.’By Riki Thompson...I decided to focus on how the pandemic had influenced the dating lives of my participants. ... One finding soon emerged: People practicing polyamory were facing a totally different set of pandemic-related dilemmas than those who practice monogamy.At the same time, their experience navigating the complexities of having more than one partner put them at a particular advantage when it came to managing pandemic-specific dating issues.
Relationship networks – also known as “polycules” – can be complex and interconnected. ...
(Yes, they used one of those feet pix. EyeEm/ Getty)
...On a March 2020 episode of his “Savage Lovecast,” sex columnist Dan Savage declared that “poly is canceled” because of the pandemic, adding that “monogamy is where it’s at these days.”In my study, some participants who identify as polyamorous seemed to agree with Savage’s assertion. They told me that they were “monogamous for now,” though not out of preference, but by circumstance. ...People in Facebook groups devoted to poly relationships were discussing how stay-at-home orders advantaged some relationship types over others. Those with “nesting partners” – a live-in partner or partners – were automatically granted the right to maintain their relationships during lockdown. Meanwhile, those living apart were [often] expected to cut off connection for an indefinite period.In my study there were also participants who have tried to retain some semblance of their preexisting relationships.Because open communication is an important element of poly relationships, it’s common to talk about sexual health, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and testing....As Dandelion, a 20-year-old nonmonogamous, nonbinary person, explained, “I think having to navigate STI conversations before COVID prepared me a lot to have those conversations.”A 64-year-old poly man who goes by Special Sauce made a similar point regarding the coronavirus: “Conversations about risk and exposure to SARS-CoV-2 are just like conversations about safe sex and testing.”Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard about families and friends forming “pods” or “bubbles,” limiting maskless interaction to a small, predetermined group.For many poly people, their pods and polycules do not neatly overlap. ... Curio, a 38-year-old solo poly woman, reported that members of her [housemate] household changed the rules in August when they realized they “needed to set people up to make informed and harm-reduction-based decisions, instead of saying a flat ‘no’ to everything.” They agreed that housemates would be permitted to connect with others beyond their bubble if the person they were seeing had received a negative COVID-19 test and quarantined until meeting.Suedonym, a 35-year-old poly woman, described similar negotiations to protect an immune-compromised pod member; the group decided that “a person needs to be quarantined and asymptomatic for two weeks before being allowed into the pod.”And yet the risks could be daunting, with some polyamorous arrangements reflecting a sprawling web of contacts. ...In May, Poly Slut, a 45-year-old solo poly man, sketched a social network map of his and his roommate’s interconnected polycules. He quickly realized that it would have been impractical to adhere to safety guidelines, so in the end he put some relationships on hold to reduce risk.In January, Ebullient Mommy, a 47-year-old married, poly woman, decided, sadly, to end “all in-person sleepovers with my boyfriend because … he chooses to spend indoor time unmasked with people that he and his other partner are casual acquaintances with and I’m not.” ...
Hannah MinnBy Elly BelleBefore the pandemic, Rachael, a 32-year-old sex and relationships coach, used to host a monthly potluck. “Everyone would bring their partners and friends,” Rachael said; and so would she....Rachael prefers what she calls “kitchen table polyamory.” Her relationships with her partners don’t exist in seclusion, but in the community, meaning that each connection is in conversation with the others....Things were going smoothly until the pandemic, [Rachel] says, which “led to some new stressors to navigate with my nesting partner, since we were suddenly together almost all the time and we were both feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.” But, by identifying this as a problem, Rachael and her nesting partner started seeing a couple’s therapist, which helped them so much that Rachael says things are even better now than they were pre-COVID.For some, though, the problems come from not having a current partner. “I float between groups and prefer one-on-one interactions, so I never had a ‘pod’ or polycule,” says Dylan, a 26-year-old who has practiced polyamory for roughly seven years. ...For many polyamorous people whose living situations dramatically changed when the pandemic hit, finding new activities to do with partners and new ways to spend time together has perhaps been the greatest challenge. But in many ways, it’s also brought people even closer to their partners, forcing them to be in a pod together for their own safety.“It’s been really hard not to see so many of the people I’ve been really close with over the last several years because of COVID, and I’ve leaned a lot harder on my partners for support since they’ve been in my bubble,” Rachael said. But, “as rough as this year has been, having multiple partners in my bubble has allowed me to go to my girlfriend’s place when I need to get out of my house, and it’s meant some fun hangouts with all of us together, like getting to spend a snow day sledding with both my partners.” ......Avery, a 24-year-old who has been practicing polyamory for about three years, is currently in a throuple with a married couple. Avery also has their own partner with whom they live and who isn’t involved with the other couple at all. Over the course of the last year, Avery has had to get used to many long distance dating techniques to keep communication with their partners alive. “Even though my partners aren't technically long distanced, we've utilized techniques such as video chatting, calling, and more in order to connect with each other since we are quarantined separately. I think these techniques may go away once we can see each other more often post-COVID,” Avery says. “But, it made me more open-minded to long-distance relationship techniques....”“Being involved with a married couple is such an interesting experience alone, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about having a shared relationship, but making it personal and special still. All of that while also having a separate live-in partner is a challenge, but also a beautiful thing in itself,” Avery says. ......I’ve personally practiced communication and providing affection by sending love letters across the universe and great divides of physical distance, all in hopes of staying connected and showing my partners I care for them despite not being able to hold them or physically show up in other ways right now. ...All of these are love letters and acts of service to me....After all the struggles of the last year and all of the yearning, the most prominent feeling inside me now is not dread or even desperation for touch and affection. Instead, it’s hope and excitement about the new lessons, new feelings, and new partnerships blooming on the horizon — and all around me.
Bohdan Skrypnyk / GettyBy Shelly BakerOn March 15, the day before Gov. Gavin Newsom announced shelter-in-place orders for California, my partner of nearly five years left me and our life for someone else.When a long-term relationship you never want to end, ends, no one tells you how to move through it. I wondered if there was a word for “knowing it is dead but living in denial,” because that was still the feeling I woke up with daily for nine months after that fateful week in spring....Before COVID-19 took hold, my “polycule” had a rotating 6-7 people in it. I had two partners ― my life partner and a newer relationship that was fast developing, sparked from a friendship. And they each had dates of their own, some casual, others in a more serious capacity, and sometimes those people had dates, too. With polyamory, you must make the best of your dates’ choices, and I would be lying if I said it was always easy.In non-monogamy, so often, you run up against the dilemma of “ideals vs. practice.” In theory, a relationship style that is all about love sounds like a beautiful path to take. But in practice, especially when you’re gay and everyone has abandonment triggers, the reality can unfold quite differently....Regardless of what relationship orientation you prefer, everyone says the same thing when you get dumped. Don’t isolate! Link up with other people, let your friends hold you, go out. But how do you do that in a global pandemic?It became immediately clear to me that I had been watching my entire last year on a split-screen, my perception of it on one side, the truth on the other.My remaining date and I were experiencing problems, too. While he was quarantining with his other partner and I was feeling immense levels of abandonment, I ended it. And so it was that I lost both partners to other people....I couldn’t even cry in a friend’s arms....Instead, I went to the clinic where I work long days in a mask, hoping I wouldn’t die, getting upset because I didn’t die, then coming home to cry, sleep and repeat. When you are grateful for your high-risk hospital job just to keep sane, something is severely wrong....Despite my private hell, it seemed like every week, someone I knew was going through a breakup, job loss or moving due to COVID-19. I started wondering how other people were coping with being left during the pandemic. As winter rapidly approached, I felt the hole of sharing holidays with partners.Slowly, I have begun to make sense of all of this. But I am also surviving this dual breakup and rejection during a period when all of my communities are being stretched thin. ......There are a few things I know for certain after this experience, the biggest being that if you are abandoned, romantically or by friends or family, it’s genuinely no marker of your worth. Scarcity culture has always been present if you’re LGBTQ+, but now it’s starvation culture, and everyone deserves compassion if you’ve got some to spare. ...
Vesna Asanovic / Refinery29By Drew GregorySince childhood, I projected my trans womanhood onto crushes. I didn’t understand my gender, so I assumed my affinity for women was solely romantic. I thought that if I could just find my soulmate my gender confusion would disappear. Until I did — and it didn’t. Then I came out....The best date I went on [in 2019] was with Gaby. We didn’t hook up or catch feelings or go on some adventure; it was just coffee. But it began one of the most important relationships of my life.After the date, Gaby texted me to tell me that they had a partner, Mal, and that they were polyamorous. This shifted my expectations, but only slightly. ... Gaby and I continued getting to know each other, and at some point we both confessed that we were better at finding hookups than platonic friendships. We clearly had an attraction. We clearly had a connection. But maybe dating wasn’t what was needed to best serve that connection. What if instead of hooking up, we asked each other, we did something far more vulnerable for both of us? What if we became friends? And so we made a pact not to have sex. Yes, that sounds like the first act of a romcom, but this one had a surprise ending: We kept our agreement. ......Before then, I had never allowed myself to be vulnerable, to open up emotionally, or to express my needs and wants in friendships — only in my romantic relationships. But with my new [poly] friends, I could be vulnerable. It became okay to cry, to talk about money, to make mistakes, to say no, to say yes, to say maybe. These friends taught me what it means to trust in a friendship. And through this discovery of queer family, I achieved a newfound independence. ......In spring 2020, Gaby and I lived within walking distance of each other, but we might as well have been in different states. They lived alone, but I lived with four roommates, all of whom continued to see their partners. I didn’t begrudge them this — if I was in a relationship, I would’ve wanted to see that person too — but it meant we weren’t totally quarantined, so I couldn’t safely see Gaby or anyone else. Meanwhile, Gaby was making plans to move in with Mal.Suddenly, cracks began to form in my newfound revelation around community. Sure, it’s nice to think that as queer people we can prioritize our friends over traditional relationship structures. But with the pandemic limiting the number of people we could safely see, people were choosing their partners. And I was alone. ......My roommates let me know there was an option to get out of my lease early. I shared this news with Gaby and Mal. “Why don’t you just move in with us?” Mal casually suggested. I told them not to joke about that, and they said they weren’t. ......I started the pandemic wishing my friends could care for me like my partners used to. Turns out? They can.
My husband’s girlfriend, Molly, moved into our house during the summer of 2020, in two, three and four week spurts at first, and now, perhaps, for the duration of the pandemic. She is not our unicorn. We do not have wild threesomes, or even tame ones. Molly is one of my husband’s three polyamorous partners, counting me. His other partner lives with her boyfriend about ten miles away....Eric and I are fully employed and while the world spins topsy-turvy during the pandemic; we are working remotely, or remotely working, depending on the day. We get together with our presumptively monogamous neighbors over fire pits at a safe social distance, complain about politics, and walk our neighborhood in large loops to get fresh air and retain what is left of our sanity — like anyone else. ......Molly, almost ten years my junior, lived a few miles away with her college-aged children. ...While Molly was mostly following stay-at-home orders, her children’s routines included working at a hospital, going to the gym, visiting boyfriends, and eating at restaurants.The lifestyle of Molly’s household was inconsistent with the tighter lockdown practiced at our house. ... Molly was having a rough go if it, primarily because without a live-in partner, she was lonely for actual adult companionship and sex. ... Cue, Eric.As Eric saw it, he and Molly had four options.-- He could accept the risks her household posed as the cost of polyamory, and they could see each other with no physical barriers, other than condoms. This would necessitate consultation with, and agreement by, the rest of our bubbled-in polycule,* whose members had lower risk profiles — and no kids.-- He could wait until the pandemic was over to see her at all.-- They could continue with the socially distanced visits — wine on the porch or a masked walk in the neighborhood.-- Or they could devise a plan that included coronavirus testing and quarantining, and could lead to Molly bubbling in with us....When Molly tearfully choked out last spring, “Eric, I need you to be my person. I do not have anyone else because of the freaking lockdown. Can you do that?” — Eric, man that he is, protector, hero, problem-solver, and co-owner — with me — of a relatively large house, was game.... This was actually happening. My husband’s cute, engaging, fun, smart, sexy girlfriend, with whom he never had to talk about parenting, ceiling leaks, and whether the peanut-buttered attic traps caught any flying squirrels, was living with us, and all that entailed. She would be using my fridge, washing her lacy black panties in my laundry room, and sharing the entirety of my home. She would be sleeping in the guest room, whose floor was also the sound-porous ceiling of the master bedroom. She would be sharing my husband, in decibels I could hear.When the bedposts banged the wall upstairs, how welcoming could I really be?...Eric is “kitchen table” poly, which means he loves to have his partners and my partners, all around the metaphorical as well as physical table, as a type of chosen family. My default is usually to do my own thing with my other partners and let Eric do his, and have our streams cross less frequently. Covid changed that. ...I reminded myself that I had agreed to this trial.--------------------...I found Molly sitting on the back porch with her coffee, crying. My shoulders slumped and I felt like what I was — an inconsiderate, jealous jerk. I desperately wanted to turn the clock back fifteen minutes.“I told Eric that we needed to get up,” she sobbed. “It’s my fault. I was taking a long time.”“Oh Molly,” I said as I sat down. “This whole thing is hard. Talking about having a partner move in, even someone as wonderful as you — and I do think you are wonderful –is light years from living it. Obviously, I know you and Eric have sex and am cool with that. I just don’t really want to walk in on it.” ......Each of Molly’s extended visits yielded increasingly less friction and more growth. I was also examining my relationship with Eric more closely, which led us to communicate with deliberateness, because, as Eric and I try to remember, “your lover is not a mind-reader.” This was exponentially true with three interconnected partners living under one roof and sharing two beds. ..Our adventure continues.
...I sent Wes photos of our Halloween costumes, outdoor treat table, and a ginormous inflatable lawn dragon we named Blaze. He, in turn, sent photos of his clever candy delivery chute from his porch to the sidewalk below, complete with a bell for kids to ring to trigger a treat avalanche.Nonetheless, these concerted text exchanges were not enough to sustain our relationship. His last text to me was:Hey… I wish I knew a less awkward and gentler way to say this … but I would like to break up. I really appreciate the effort you’ve been putting into trying to maintain our relationship, but I’m just not feeling the same connection and I’m not able to put in the same effort. I still like you (and Eric and the rest of the polycule) and would be happy to see you at a poly conference or whatever if events are ever a thing again.
He had not asked me a question like “can we talk?” He had not sought my input such as “how can we make this work better?” Rather, he had stated his course of action with finality. I stopped staring at my phone and took a 20-mile bike ride along the river. I mulled and rode, and rode and mulled. ...
By Annie Burdick...What about those in open, polyamorous, and ethically non-monogamous relationships?...Lindsey*, 23, bisexual, and Greg, 25, bi-curious
...Their boundaries have shifted during COVID, as Lindsey and Greg have tightened their relationship's guidelines by a mile. For them, online dating has become the new norm, and neither has been on a physical date since the start of the pandemic...."For the time being, Snapchat and FaceTime help us strengthen our emotional bonds with prospective partners until we're able to decide if it's worth testing out the physical bond, too," Lindsey said. ...Matt, 26, bi/pansexual, and Leah, 25, queer
..."I had been having a difficult time with dating due to mental health issues and time commitments, so I wasn't particularly interested in meeting anyone new," Matt said. "There wasn't much of an adjustment to be made."... Leah had been seeing people only casually, more of a friends-with-benefits approach than building meaningful connections. While she and Matt both had dated more actively before, they just happened to be in momentary pause from serious connections as the pandemic started.For Leah, this was a signal to let go of the casual relationships, which didn't feel worth trying to maintain as physical connections became less safe.Leah had friends with polycules who had contracted the virus, and this also influenced the decision to lean away from non-monogamy for the course of the pandemic."What is most interesting is that I'm choosing to value existing relationships with people I care about, rather than spend the time and emotional energy to build new ones," she said.Erin, 31, pansexual, and Ryan, 34, bisexualErin and Ryan are nesting partners.... They are in a polycule with John, 29, who identifies as bisexual, and Lucy, 32, who identifies as non-binary and pansexual....The result is that each member has metas (short for metamour, the partner of your partner), and often a person's meta is also their active partner as well. In addition, Erin has queerplatonic partnerships that have developed since the pandemic began, and other members of the polycule have outside relationships as well. ... They're a "chosen family" and often spend quality time as a group...."None of us have veto power," Erin said. "We avoid using words like primary and secondary. We try to minimize couples' privilege as much as possible," she said.Their boundaries prior to the pandemic were limited and dealt with sexual health. They've made adjustments during COVID to factor in the added risk of a larger network of physical relationships. ..."I imagine each of us having a decision-making formula that contains all the variables needed in order to make an informed decision. If a partner is showing me consideration when making decisions, (that) doesn't mean that the formula will equal a decision in my favor," she said."The decision made should still be the authentic choice of the person. Consideration is simply knowing I was included as a variable in their formula at all."During the pandemic, variables have "shifted in size and importance" for the polycule. ... Once more was known about COVID, they adjusted their assessment of which risks were worth taking to maintain the relationships outside of their household, with added cautions.Erin has created shared documents for the polycule outlining guidelines for health and communication expectations when podding with other households. Other documents help them equitably schedule time with various partners. They choose only to pod with other households who present a low risk.They agree to inform each other if they want to engage in risky activities with people from outside the pod, so that the other members of the polycule can assess if the risk is acceptable to them. If it's not, but that person decides to go ahead with the decision, they're able to quarantine in a designated part of the house before getting tested and reentering the group. This allows for the ever-important autonomy and safety.With all these changes, Erin says her relationships with some of the non-nesting partners have at times felt like long-distance relationships, despite being local. ..."You can see them, but can't touch them. You have to schedule out visits far in advance," she said. "Each 'visit' feels like a special occasion."This has led to challenges in the lack of physical intimacy, but benefits in the strengthening of mental connections. ...
[David's] household came up with carefully defined, science-based, case-number per population guidelines for seeing their partners from outside the household when it became clear the shelter in place orders were not just going to be "a couple weeks in March." So, we had an interesting conversation about the effects these guidelines have had on their extended polycule that I struggled to cut down to an hour-long podcast for you all.