Confessions of a Failed Polyamorist.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Jan 1, 2014
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spoons polyamory

Over the past couple of months, I have written a few pieces discussing why I feel monogamy is the best choice for me.

No matter how hard I try to point out that I am only talking about myself and have no problem with what others choose, it seems inevitable that someone gets offended. Fair enough, I suppose—not everyone is going to going to agree with me.

Still, a question I’m often asked is how do I know that polyamory is not for me? Have I ever tried it?

To the surprise of many, the answer is yes, I have. Many years ago while finishing up my last year as an undergraduate, I was a practicing polyamorous woman. Granted, at the time I did not know and it took me years to realize, but looking back it’s clear that I was.

In a nutshell, I had just come out of a nearly two year relationship with a fellow student and was single again. For about six months or so, I dated three men at the same time. I was totally upfront with each of them and since I attended a small college, we all knew each other in some capacity. Eventually, though, I ended up pairing off with just one who, ironically, was the only one who was not dating someone else during the period of time I was seeing multiple people.

It wasn’t so much that I picked monogamy but rather, monogamy picked me.

Still, when I look back, it was a learning experience. At the very least, it taught me what I wanted and even more importantly, what I did not want in a relationship.

While this is only my own experience and I am in no way saying that all polyamorous couplings are doomed, here is why it ultimately did not end up being a good fit for me.

1. Time issues.

When I look back at my youth, I often marvel at how much free time I had. No kids, no pets, no full-time job—these were the joys of my college experience. With that said, it was still hard to find time to see all three.

It takes time to really get to know anyone, be it a new friend or a new lover. Time was something none of us had a lot of.

After a while, just trying to find time to spend with each of them became tedious which is not something most people strive for in any sort of relationship. As a result, it’s no surprise that I experience the following detailed in my second point.

2. Less intimacy and sex.

This is often a surprise to many, but I actually had far less sex and intimacy when I was dating three men at once than when I was in a one-on-one relationship. (In fact, I didn’t even have sex with one of them.) While time played a huge role in this, a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t feel really committed to any of them.

The fact is: that kind of commitment I am talking about only comes to me after I have spent a lot of one-on-one time with someone. I couldn’t really do that with all of them. (See number one.) As a result, it was surprisingly boring for the most part which is something few people associate with polyamory.

Along with less intimacy and sex there was also number three…

3. Intimacy issues.

It’s probably not surprising that all three of us had commitment issues. While some polyamorous have said that their arrangements have lead to great closeness and intimacy, in my case it was quite the opposite. In fact, I would go so far to say that polyamory allowed us to remain distant and avoid the deep intimacy stuff that we all dreaded because it could lead to being hurt.

That isn’t to say that there weren’t feelings of friendship and appreciation, because there were, but any sort of deeper intimacy was lacking.

4. Complication issues.

While this wasn’t the biggest issue by far, explaining my polyamorous relationships to others could get complicated in an amazingly short amount of time. Even some of my most open-minded of friends would get genuinely confused when I mentioned that I was involved with three people at once.

Many assumed that meant we were all having sex with each other. (We weren’t. ) They also thought that this meant that I was into swinging and group sex. (Nope. Never participated in either.)

Also, while it’s a staple of sitcoms and jokes for people to accidentally mistake one lover for another—call them by the wrong name in conversation or even worse, a moment of passion—I can say point-blank it isn’t nearly as humorous as it’s portrayed. In fact, it’s actually pretty awkward when that happens and even the most open-minded person is probably going to get insulted.

In any case, my experiment in polyamory ultimately came to an end with each of us going our separate, monogamous ways, and I never looked back.

In the end, I have no regrets over my experience. I am not ashamed that I tried it.

However, like Bikram yoga, folk dancing and other things I have tried, it just wasn’t for me.

While some may argue that I didn’t give it a fair shot or that my experience is in no way typical, I was content to leave my one experience behind me and return to monogamy. While the latter is certainly not without its problems, it did end up ultimately being the best fit for me which should ultimately be the end goal of any relationship: finding what works for you rather than someone else.


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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


15 Responses to “Confessions of a Failed Polyamorist.”

  1. melissa danielle says:

    Are you mistaking a polyamorous relationship for an open relationship? The polyamorous community identifies their relationships as one in which everyone is dating/intimate with each other. What you describe here is an open relationship, as your lovers were only involved with you and not involved with you AND with each other.

  2. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for commenting. My understanding from talking with polyamorous people is that there are many types of polyamorous relationships. While some many include situations like you describe where everyone is dating/intimate with each other, not all of them are like that. I use the definition as found in the wikipedia entry:

    In other words, there are more than two people, everyone knows, there is consent by all parties.

    A quick Google search shows even may in the polyamorous community differ on what exactly a polyamorous relationship entails. (Again, some are like what you describe, others are not.) However, like one website says, "The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else's involvement. . .Polyamory is defined by informed consent of all the participants."

  3. Jessica says:

    A relationship is not based on its title, call it what you will what is most important is shared experience, communication and what both/all parties agree to. I am no pro at this but your article seems a little surface and mostly misses the point. When one engages openly in numerous relationships the whole point is to explore intimacy beyond what we might normally/culturally be comfortable with. This can transpire in infinite ways but what I think is most important is the conscious intention around it. Both/all parties have to be on board, this does not mean everyone’s intention is the same but it does mean that even if there is disagreement/jealousy/misunderstandings it is met openly and explored in a safe and trusting way, this is where a lot of the intimacy can grow. It just seems to me that you just happen to be dating a couple people at one time, which is cool and you can learn a lot from that but totally misses the point of your article.

  4. kimberlylowriter says:

    I'm not disagreeing with your description. However, are you saying that a relationship is only polyamorous if it "explore[s] intimacy beyond what we might normally/culturally be comfortable with" and results in the other things you mention? (BTW, I think deeper intimacy in general is something every relationship-monogamous, poly, etc.-should aim for.)

    Sorry if my experience wasn't perfect, didn't meet these things, but that is the reality of my past. Again, as I stress in the article, I am in no way implying that my experience was typical or even like most polyamorous arrangements.

    As I mentioned in another comment, there is no clear-cut definition of a polyamorous relationship. It's an umbrella term describing many arrangements. Some may say I was in an open relationship, others that it wasn't "really" polyamorous compared to ones they know or heard of, but it does fall into the category as well.

  5. Caroline says:

    I have had similar experience s as Kimberley and from my experience s I have now chosen a monogamous relationship.

    But hey each to their own .

  6. Max says:

    I think the whole point of the article to express a single perspective in the ocean of different experiences of relationships. I always find it damning for any minority community to limit itself and identity to ONE particular definition. Human nature does not fit neatly into boxes. Relationships between humans certain don't. My own small exploration into polyness has been a practice in the consideration of what constitutes a relationship, and what one is "supposed" to look like. Can you have romantic feelings for someone without it being sexual? Hell yes! Can you feel intimacy with someone as a best friend that vacillates between romantic, platonic, and sexual? Yup. Can it be all at once or none at all?? Sure! Lesson? People are complicated. Needs change.

  7. LivingArtisan says:


    Great article.

    It always amuses me how for most poly people this topic comes down to a discussion of semantics.

    In my opinion, definitions, rationale and having to haul out the dictionary is the very thing you are describing as 'not intimate.' It's mind stuff and operates with belief and completely misses the emotional and spiritual intimacy that you've found works for you as a monogamist. Ironically, its always the people in the poly-community who come out of the woodwork to lash all the non-polys for our ignorance in not understanding the variations in words.

    I think its epic that you point out that even in the poly community that there is a lot of discussion about what 'it' is and isn't ; if the poly-community can't even come to a consensus ; then why is it that poly people take it upon themself to explain definitions and semantics to a person who is just saying …

    "hey, this monogamy thing works for me … and this is why." You even clearly say why it works for you ; but its still the same tired response from poly-types ; its predictable.

    As I have witnessed in the poly and open relationship community, I've yet to see one that has not suffered some type of sexual trauma or abuse in their past. And I can understand how that can create intimacy issues, within oneself, and how scary other people can be as a result.

    So, since monogamy is a topic that is sensitive for poly-types, it will cause defensive responses from the very same people b/c, in my opinion, they are still living with and have not healed the trauma of their past.

    And I make that bold claim from knowing a great deal of people who are poly, in open-relationships, and from the variety of communities I have lived in, and things people have shared with me. (Eg, if you are a poly person who is going to say I don't know what Im talking about b/c I dont know people or something along those lines, you are wrong, and I write this in anticipation of the predictable response.)

    I have yet to see the poly people admit how this lifestyle has messed up their lives, or broke up their marriage, or hurt people that they love, or caused their children to be raised in a single parent home, or made them lose their job ; I have not seen one, NOT EVEN ONE, have that kind of courage and integrity.

    instead, it's pointing out how us non-poly people don't have it defined right … not even that kind of discussion / argument point has any depth or intimacy of soul.

  8. Jessica says:

    The point of all relationships is to experience and explore intimacy. I think for most people who choose a polyamorous lifestyle the point is to explore intimacy in different ways then what we are used to or told is “good” or “normal”. I don’t really care what type of relationship you choose but since polyamory is still a very new idea for most people I guess I have some concerns that your article may be giving people the wrong idea. I myself have a preference for monogamy but am very open to exploring intimacy in different ways. it doesn’t matter what I/we call it but that we are all on the same page.

  9. kimberlylowriter says:

    I have yet to find any relationship, monogamous, poly, etc, that is perfect. Many people have written about failed monogamous relationships, and I don't think that isn't giving people the wrong idea.

    Again, this is not about all polyamorous relationships or even a piece on polyamorous lifestyles, but my own personal experience.

    Lastly, just to make it clear, my goal in this and all my relationships was to explore intimacy. However, as anyone who has been in any sort of relationship knows, sometimes we do not get what we set out to achieve.

    If I had been writing about one of my failed monogamous relationships, I don't think anyone would be saying my article was giving people "the wrong idea".

    Again, no relationship type is ideal. The majority of relationships fail at some point. That's not an attempt to scare anyone. Rather, it's reality.

  10. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thank you for your comment, Max.

    Well put!

  11. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for commenting.

    That last sentence points out how I feel about any relationship anyone chooses.

  12. kimberlylowriter says:

    Dear Keith,

    Thank you. (Full disclosure to others: we know each other IRL.)

    You and I have both known people (i.e., actually known people one-on-one) who had terrible poly experiences. Likewise, we also know people who had terrible tales of monogamy as well.

    My goal in writing this was not to convince anyone that one lifestyle was better than another. It was a post about a personal experience that did not work out for me for the reasons I listed.

    The arguing over semantics does get tiring. If we were to judge any relationship only if the parties experienced and explored true or deep intimacy then I daresay we would all find we had a lot fewer "relationships" than we though.

    P.S. I read the comments your article attracted, and you did well. I had to smile, because I can say with some degree of authority (3 years of knowing you) that being close-minded is NOT one of your faults.

  13. LivingArtisan says:

    Ironically, my fire-blast of a comment seems to be the last one from the readers …

    I challenge any polygamist to come along and offer something more than the 'you dont understand definitions' argument, the 'you havent tried it or dont know people' perspective, and the 'its made my life better because ive had to face intimacy and jealousy issues' aspect … think I've got my next idea to write out.

    Integrity is admitting the whole scope, not just focusing on the positive.

  14. nothingtobraggabout says:

    I can't speak for any of the poly people you know who have "all experienced traumas" and that you seem to attribute that to why they would be poly as a way to avoid intimacy. I also don't know why it "making someone's life better" is somehow invalidated by you having heard it before. I can only give my experience, as I don't know any other poly people. I agree with you that the definition isn't really important. what's important is the state of the relationships. one thing I hear a lot of poly people say on the net is that honesty and openness are paramount, and I agree with that, for any relationship, really. I have only had 3 significant others in my life, two of which I have now. My first and only failed relationship so far lasted 2 years and was a long distance relationship. I was in my early teens and I developed a crush on one of my friends.
    I asked my first significant other if I could date my friend as well. Even though we'd been unable to communicate for almost a month I still waited for his answer. I realize now that, since he had not signed up for something like that, I was overstepping my bounds, but I thought, at the time, that complete exclusivity was something insecure teens did and that adults could handle dating more than one person. I'm not talking about having more than one committed relationship, just dating. It's not like I was ready to make any relationship sexual or truly committed. But I also realize that I'm glad he dumped me on the spot for suggesting it because I've been with my friend for 8 years now and he's been great, much better than what I knew of my first boyfriend.
    Neither of us have ever been very jealous people and the talk about polyamory started as just that: talks. about 5 years into our relationship, we talked about being separated and how we wouldn't mind if the other sated their loneliness with someone else. then, while I was away visiting family, he was approached by a woman, who asked him on a date and I realized I would not have minded if he had gone out with her.
    We've since added another man to our relationship, about a year ago. neither of my significant others would call themselves bi, so we're not all involved with one another and I have yet to make my relationship with the second man sexual(my other significant other and I waited until we'd been together 2.5 years so it's not that strange to me) so you may argue that I'm not really in a polyamorous relationship at all.
    I agree with the article that time can be an issue, finding time to spend with both of them can be hard, moreso the one that does not live with me. it can sometimes feel like I'm neglecting one or the other, but I ask if that is the case and have never gotten a 'yes'. the avenues of communication are open between us and we have yet to run into something that makes one of us uncomfortable. I definitely do not need anymore romance in my life and I can see why and how someone would be happy with one person. I was for 7 years and I wouldn't say that has changed. I'm happy with them individually as well as together and would be sad if one of them didn't work out(though at this point, I'll be honest, I can only see the second not working out, but things have gone well so far). having twice as many quarrels can be draining, but I love both of them and they both enrich my life. I wouldn't say my life is better for polyarmory, my life is better because it has two good men in it, and that was true before I started calling the second man my boyfriend.

  15. Tara says:

    I think one of the problems is there are a lot of people, particularly on this platform, writing about how polyamory failed for them or with a definite slant against polyamory when they're either monogamous and they've never done it or they haven't committed to the lifestyle like many of us have. I won't say your experience wasn't polyamory, but I will point out that doing it for six months isn't long enough to have really worked at it. Which you know, because that was the whole point of your article. But for many of us, we've been with our partners (and, in some cases, their partners) for years. In fact, some of the reasons you listed for your failure are the very things we use to explain how our relationships work so that people will accept them. For example, the time management issue — we work very hard at that, often using Google Calendars and constant readjustment of priorities and dates to make sure everyone's happy, but you couldn't do it because you were understandably busy during that period of time. For some of us moving toward getting people to understand how we do what we do and why people shouldn't trivialize, dismiss or flat-out insult our relationships, articles like this make it easier for those things happen. It sucks, but it's what happens.