You can only prepare so much for your first polygamous relationship. You might have thought about potential jealousy issues, income stream issues, and sexual situations — but what’s it really like to live in a polyamorous household? What do those rare how-to guides forget to tell you about the long haul?
As with any atypical lifestyle, the day-to-day running of a poly household is filled with those little details its inhabitants take for granted, forgetting to even mention them to those who ask. I don’t pretend to speak for everyone in this article; there are as many ways to run a poly household as there are to run a monogamous one — okay, maybe quite a few more!
All I can tell you about are the things that surprised me from my own personal experience — things no amount of thought could have prepared me for, both good and bad.
No matter what your poly household is like, your household composition will differ from “the norm.” In my situation, my primary partner is employed doing what he loves at a professional rate of pay. I have a decent day job that I enjoy and a thriving writing career that brings in the bucks now and then. The third member of our household is extremely happy with the full-time job of managing our home. If someone from the monogamous straight world really wanted to characterize us, we might be called “two breadwinners and a housewife.”
This arrangement makes for an incredible amount of flexibility. I never expected to live in a situation where I wouldn’t have to worry about laundry, cooking, or housecleaning, and considering that I essentially hold down two full-time jobs, this has been a major life-changer! Meanwhile, the fact that my boyfriend and I both bring home bacon makes financial decisions easier. When one is hard up, the other is often flush, and though our finances are generally not combined, we share the burden well. On top of that, my day job allows for more work-at-home days and paid time off, so I’m the one who stays home when our homemaker is ill or needs help transporting our many pets to the vet.
Speaking Of Ill...
If you think being a couple struck with the season’s nasty cold is bad, you should see what happens in a household of three adults. Because I spend half the week sleeping in my own room, we have just enough distance from one another’s germs to allow colds to mutate. Often, one of us gets sick just as another is getting better, and once the illness has run its course through the three of us, it starts all over again. No amount of hand-washing, disinfecting, and kissing on the cheek prevents this, which is often difficult to explain when you have to take sick time for a few days one week and then again a couple of weeks later.
My household has a “crossover vehicle” specifically because it’s poly — even when we travel “alone,” we’re three people who like to bring a lot of stuff with us. Dealing with smaller cars when you need to transport three people and all of their things can be a serious challenge. Even if your cars are big fit the whole family, you might run into trouble parking — most urban dwellings have a maximum of two parking spots or driveway real estate, and that’s not always enough!
But It’s Not All Bad
There are entirely unexpected bonuses to polyamory, particularly as a triad. For example, we’re all big fans of conveyor-belt sushi joints, and most of them reserve the really nice booths for parties of three or more. No problem! Sales of the “buy two, get one free” variety are often useful. And while we’re just one household dealing with four cats and a dog, that means that almost every furry body can have a human one at any given time. Throw in the inevitability that someone will be willing to trot down to the mini-mart for a soda when you really want one but your feet hurt, and polyamory can look awfully beneficial indeed.
In my household, there is one person to handle giving medications to cats and another who doesn’t mind cleaning up cat barf. (We also have one especially clingy cat who often spends nights being passed from one set of arms to another so everyone gets a break.) One of us can cook meat of all kinds well, another is expert at menu planning, and the other can create excellent soups and pasta salads from scratch. One likes to drive, another enjoys napping during long trips, and the other is a good wingman. Division of labor can be amazing. It’s like finding someone you can split a bag of M&Ms with where you both feel like you’re getting the colors you like best. It can be amazing!
...And Then Again, It’s Challenging
Valentine’s Day specials at restaurants? All for couples. Win a contest to go somewhere fancy? Yep — “you and a guest.” Hell, I’ve even run into poly-friendly kinky events that offer a discounted rate for couples but don’t seem to have ever considered “moresomes.” Walking down the sidewalk holding hands doesn’t work in households of more than three, and even if you’re a triad you’d best be prepared to break up for every bus stop sign, city trash can, and folks walking the opposite direction. And don’t even think about the insurance issues.
If you aren’t out at work, even the most casual of conversations can be a real minefield — how do you explain that “other” person who lives with you? I’ve often told stories of my boyfriend to co-workers, but this puts me in a difficult spot when the subject of my third partner comes up. And come up it does. You can only talk about your life so much before you reach one of those impasses: you mention that your household is taking cats to the vet on Friday since you have that day off, and your conversation partner sympathetically says, “Ooh, that must be difficult with no one to help you, since your boyfriend works all day!” Calling your homemaker third partner a “helpful friend” in that situation does not ever feel good.
A Few Final Words Of Advice
There’s a familiar poly adage that goes “Whatever problems two people have in a relationship, three people have in a relationship, only squared.” This is true, but the same goes for the positives as well. There are more pros, more cons, and more everything to the poly experience. If you’re lucky, though, there’s more camaraderie, and that kind of compassionate we’re-in-this-together emotion can carry you through any number of life’s problems — even when they’re squared.