What it feels like to have more than one partner - one woman opens up about the benefits of polyamory
Tired of conventional romances, sex coach Beth Wallace embraced polyamory - being in more than one relationship at a time - and has reaped the emotional rewards
I've been in relationships with women and men over my adult life and I guess from my teens onwards, I didn't have that traditional heterosexual 'normal' perspective on relationships.
The idea that you meet someone, marry them, have kids and stay together until the day you die, that works for some people, but I think it's a relationship choice that's largely born out of societal norms and expectations. If you throw out that rule book of what a relationship 'should' look like, then what goes in its place?
"Polyamory means quite simply having a loving relationship with more than one person at a time, or being open to having a love relationship with more than one person at a time. Imagine a monogamous relationship and then imagine that with several people.
"In previous long-term relationships I'd talked with partners about the idea of having sex or relationships outside the primary relationship but it had never gone beyond the conversation. Then in my 40s I met a man who was already in an open relationship and if I wanted to be in a relationship with him then I had to be okay with how his life was already set up. That took a while to get my head around. We would be out for dinner with 12 or so people including his wife and he and I would leave together to be with each other for the night and she was fine with it. It made me question all the societal norms around relationships and this idea of how we're supposed to behave. It redefined for me what love is.
"In my experience, polyamory is something like being gay, lesbian or bi, it's an orientation, it's who I am, not something that I do. It's not something I can just switch off. If you're a polyamorous person who finds it easy to love and be intimate with, and find a connection with, lots of people, you can't switch that off just because someone isn't okay with it, because then you're going to feel like you're not being true to yourself.
"People make a lot of assumptions. One of the most common reactions I get from women is that they think the men I'm involved with 'just want to have their cake and eat it'. I find that very insulting because they're assuming the male in whatever group of people it is the one calling all the shots, which isn't my experience. Some people also assume I must be very sexually aggressive - I'm aware of some married friends who started holding their husbands a lot closer when I came out of my last relationship! But if someone is in a monogamous relationship then I would never cross that boundary. Polyamorous people are obsessed with talking about boundaries - which is hilarious because monogamous people tend to think we have none!
"In fact there's so much discussion around boundaries, and time planning that goes on, there's often more talking than sex. People assume being polyamorous is all about getting as much sex as you can, but it's not like swinging or open relationships which tend to be more about sex, being polyamorous is about having a full -on relationship.
"It can be a logistical nightmare. Three relationships at once is my max. Recently I was seeing three men, two in Ireland and one outside the country. Each relationship offered me something different. With one of them, we had lots of fun. He was quite a bit younger than me and it was a very fun-based relationship where we laughed a lot and did fun, stupid things. The second guy was quite a bit older and we would have very deep meaningful conversations about life and spirituality, he brought out the philosophical aspect of my personality. The other guy was an artist who brought out the creative side of who I am.
"It can be the most emotionally challenging and difficult relationship to be in, because it really forces you to be vulnerable and deal with insecurities and excruciating jealousies. But, done right, polyamory can teach you to be an excellent communicator, very self-aware and good at listening. It also offers a very deep love for people that transcends what a relationship 'should' look like.
"It's something I would say to somebody early on, because for a lot of people that would be a deal breaker. I'd tend to say 'this is who I am, if I'm interested in someone else and I feel there's a connection and something I want to explore, I'll talk with you about it, but I don't need your permission to go ahead and do anything'. That doesn't necessarily go down very well. Most people would think that the majority of men would be super on-board with it but actually my experience is that they're not. They might be okay with the idea of you having occasional sex outside the relationship but they're not comfortable with an ongoing relationship. I think societal ideas of relationships are tied up with ownership, this idea that 'you're my woman and I don't want 'my' woman having sex or being in a relationship with someone else because that makes me feel less of a man'.
"I'm not saying I would never be in a monogamous relationship, but if someone was to demand it of me, I'd be out the door. A couple of years ago I was with a guy and it got to a point where he said 'well, you know eventually this has to stop' and my response was 'basically you're saying I have to change who I am and you don't actually love me for who I really am' and the relationship ended.
"I'm single at the moment and happy with that. It's hard to meet like-minded people and I find that quite a lot of openly non-monogamous people in Ireland already know each other.
"People might think that being polyamorous means you have to be in relationships, that you can't be on your own. But I've found that polyamory has made me tackle my own insecurities and realise love isn't about possession or control.
"I've learned not to cling on to people. Just because a relationship ends, doesn't mean it didn't work out. I think having the idea that there is 'The One' can be quite dangerous. It piles a lot of expectation on to one person and one relationship and no one person can give us everything.
"I think Ireland is becoming more open to non-traditional relationships. My family has mixed feelings about me being polyamorous varying from 'sure whatever, if it works for you, great!' through to 'don't talk to me about it'. Most of my friends are absolutely fine with my choices, although I reckon a few think 'Oh Beth just hasn't met the right man yet, she'll settle down when she does' - good luck with that!"
Beth runs a relationship course on polyamory see bethwallace.org
In conversation with Chrissie Russell