“I’ve always been a little different. When I was a teenager, I was the person who would browse thrift stores and wear the things that made me feel good about being myself. My mom was great. I remember someone saying to her, ‘How do you make her dress like that?’ And she just said, “Because they express themselves. Why should I stop?’
o From a young age I had support in expressing myself. But that took longer to get through to other things. In terms of relationships, I was really steeped in this rom-com idea of one person fulfilling you. As if you could be lucky and successful, but if you were alone then something would be missing in your life.
In my twenties I did the whole serial monogamy thing and I was in that cycle that a lot of people are in. A big relationship would come along, it would change my whole world, and then a few years later I’d be like, ‘Why don’t I feel okay?’
I was in my early thirties when things started to change. I read an article about polyamory in a local newspaper. My hands actually started shaking while reading. I was like, ‘Oh my god, is that a thing? People can do that?’ When I got to the end of the article, I read it again! Since I’m a super nerd, I then started researching and finding out more about polyamory.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that polyamory isn’t just about romantic relationships, it’s about how we view the relationship hierarchy. We put all our love and focus, time and money into this one thing and then we all experience existential anxiety, poverty, loneliness and wondering what is wrong with us. Beyond that, when we open up and ask, “How do I appreciate more connections?” it can be so much more nurturing.
I am now involved with Polyamory Ireland and our members spend a lot of time talking about their own personal development. We ask, “How do I screw this up? How do I improve? How do I learn? How do we learn from each other?’
I realized that I want to be with someone who has worked on themselves. I want someone who is responsible and communicates really well, and someone who I can feel emotionally safe with to do this very difficult thing of negotiating multiple relationships at the same time.
There’s more representation these days, and there’s more talk around polyamory, and there’s more people thinking, “Oh wait, I can see the future differently?”. It’s so exciting, but with this freedom and power, you still have to figure out how to use it. It’s not just about saying, “I’m going to be poly!” There’s a lot of work that goes into being self-reliant, emotionally regulating, and not being an asshole. And we all make mistakes. I made mistakes with it.
There are so many books [on polyamory] out there and they go straight to the language and the terms and how to do this and not to do that… I was that person. I read the books and the articles and I thought, ‘I can totally handle this.’
And now, after making some mistakes and hurting people and hurting myself, I know it’s about personal responsibility and really taking care of your own sanity. It’s about really being open and asking yourself, “How are these triggers going to affect how I feel about myself, how I feel about what love is, how I feel about what safety is?”
For example, I used to be scared of seeing a partner love someone the way I really see it, with all the hoaxes and inside jokes. I was so scared of it like I thought I’d feel bad, comparisons and all that. So it’s been a big shift for me not just to be okay, but to feel really happy.
On the other hand, I’ve had situations where I’ve been like, “I can handle this, I can really handle this…” but then a little thing can cause big problems and I have to go and unpack that, or not handle it very well. Because, you know, you don’t learn that in one big lump.
Ultimately, it’s not about learning the entire glossary of terms used by a polyamorous person. It’s about learning about really gross, gross things inside yourself and seeing how you could be an asshole and then working on it before you go out there and say, “Hey, I just want to be in a lot of relationships !“.
Polyamory Ireland receives many inquiries from the general public. Sometimes we hear from people who really want it [polyamory] good and don’t screw up. And then there are people who come up and ask, “How do I and my partner find a third party?” And everyone in the community kind of groans…
How polyamory is perceived and portrayed in the media is part of the problem. Many articles are about people in monogamous relationships writing down their fantasies. They are usually married and open the relationship to solve some sexual issues and the other character is never given full growth and we never see how that kind of minimization could affect them emotionally or any ethical difficulties they face may have to encounter.
It is presented as a kind of sexy little fantasy added to monogamy. People read that and say, ‘This is what I want!’ and then they go and read a book that’s all terminology and intangibles. It’s a recipe for potential disaster, especially when what can be lived is so different and so deeply nourishing.
There’s also a perception that people in the polyamory community are very gender biased, which I find really annoying. There are actually many asexual people in the community, and they can have multiple relationships and find the dynamic that suits them as a person. So, an asexual person can be with someone who feels sexual desire for other people and they can have a wonderful life together.
In the future, I wish there would be more content created by people who live it. You know, real lived experience and not through an ‘Oh that would be hot!’ filter.
I would also like to see more scientific research. The lack of research creates a great deal of bias among professionals, particularly therapists, and may mean that people with multiple attachments are somehow pathologized. And if the research isn’t there to show that people are truly happy, then it’s talking about the old attachment theory, where there’s one person for one person.
What we do know from the limited research is that people feel they cannot disclose to psychiatrists that they are polyamorous, and when they do, they experience prejudice. You get questions along the lines of, ‘Oh, is this really what you’re looking for? Are you just avoiding real intimacy?’ and so forth.
There are also aspects of polyamory that we have never read about. For example, you may have polyamory burnout from planning too much and having so many partners. There’s so much love, but there’s also responsibility and there’s also the nuts and bolts of a relationship. Sometimes you might have two or three partners who are all going through an emotional time. Where do you find this space for yourself?
I’m neurodivergent, so I struggle with overpopulation and I struggle with sensory overload a lot. I’m managing just fine now, but before I knew I was neurodivergent I always wondered why I was so emotionally dysregulated all along and why I found everything really challenging. Now I know what works for me and what doesn’t.
We know there is a much higher example of neurodiversity within the LGBTQ+ community, so there is a much higher rate of neurodiversity among poly people because a lot of people in the community are queer. Neurodiversity is a big screen, but the most common would be ADHD and autism.
I’m happy to think about it because it’s one of the fundamental things [with neurodiversity] deconstructs what things mean. So when you break everything down to its level of meaning, you also break down the understanding of what love is and how to deal with people. And of course, once you start with that, polyamory makes sense.
I’ve been through a lot of personal things this year and this next phase has been amazing for me. I’ve really stepped into that place where I feel nurtured by community and have no boundaries between what a friendship is, what love is, what a romantic relationship is and so on.
The solution to how we love ourselves is self-compassion. And yes, I’m a therapist, so of course I say that! But imagine experiencing this from multiple sources outside of yourself, and every time you do the scary thing or say the vulnerable, another person reaches out to you and reflects genuine love for you. It’s like a multiplier, but it’s so much more than just one and one.”
As Katie Byrne was told
https://www.independent.ie/life/theres-a-perception-that-polyamorous-people-are-highly-sexed-which-i-find-really-annoying-41543419.html “There’s a perception that polyamorous people are highly gendered, which I find really annoying.”