From Broad City to Unicornland, open relationships are appearing more in pop culture. There are many forms of consensual non-monogamy (CNM), ranging from “don’t ask, don’t tell” sexually open relationships to polyamory, in which people both date and sleep with multiple partners. According to Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, a sex educator and adjunct professor in human sexuality at NYU, interest in CNM across the board is rising, but Google searches have especially spiked for polyamory.
With all the hubbub, if you’re monogamous, you may be wondering if you’re missing out. While Dr. Holly Richmond, PhD., somatic psychologist and sex therapist, stresses the importance of not pathologizing people based on their relationship formats, there are some personality traits that may point to the right relationship style for your needs. We spoke with some of the leading sex researchers to talk about indicators that can help you decide. Of course, as all interviewed were quick to add, often exploring is half the fun. So if you’re not sure if you’re best suited for polyamory or monogamy, it’s okay to try various relationship formats. Just remember to check in with yourself and your partner(s) as you go, and don’t feel bad if regular ole’ monogamy is what you want. I promise you can still be cool. Here are seven signs that suggest having one committed partner may be best for you.
1. A lot of change makes you uncomfortable. Change is inevitable in any relationship. However, in polyamorous relationships, the dynamic between you and your partners is more likely to ebb and flow, says Michael Aaron, PhD., a NYC-based therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships. Some life events, such as having a child, will change your relationship for both monogamous and polyamorous couples. Yet with more partners comes more change. A poly person may have a primary partner and one or several secondary partners who they see less frequently. This is known as hierarchical poly, where a couple exists that may even appear monogamous but dates others. Over the course of a primary relationship, the secondary partners are likely to change, as is the couple or individual’s relationship with them. For instance, if a poly couple decides they need to focus on their intimacy they may limit time with secondary partners, or if one or both people are feeling they have needs that can’t be met (like certain kinks) within their primary relationship, they may expand their secondary relationships. If too much change makes you uneasy, you may be better suited for monogamy. Research suggests being comfortable with change can depend on how open you are to new experiences, Dr. Aaron says.
2. You aren’t the best with jealousy. Most people get jealous, even professional porn stars who are consensually non-monogamous for a living, Dr. Aaron says. This means that both monogamous and polyamorous people can experience jealousy. However, the ability to cope well with the emotion, and regulate it rather than lashing out is a crucial factor in successful polyamorous relationships, Dr. Zhana says. If your reaction to seeing an Instagram photo of your partner getting cozy with someone else is to send a slew of angry messages and then seek retaliation by setting up a sexy social media photo shoot, do you, but probably stick with monogamy. In polyamory, not only may you see photos of your partner with sexy people on social media, but you need to be supportive of the fact that yes, they sleep with the sexy person in question.
3. You’re not huge on relationship talks. Polyamorous relationships require constant communication around often uncomfortable topics. These subjects include safer sex and regular STI testing, as well as checking in with your partners about your other partners, and boundaries you want to set. For instance, a polyamorous person may decide they no longer want a primary partner, but to have a non-hierarchical set up where all their romantic partners are on an equal playing field. Sound like too much? In monogamy, while communication is equally important, you’ll likely have to discuss STI testing and your feelings for other people less frequently.
4. You have stable attachment patterns. This one is a trick; stable relationship patterns are helpful for both polyamorous and monogamous relationships. “People who are happy with monogamy or open relationships tend to be equally secure,” Dr. Zhana says. A secure attachment pattern means that you expect your partner to be there for you. What can mess up any relationship are anxious attachment patterns when you tend to be clingy and constantly assume your partner’s going to leave you. Attachment style is often formed by our childhood relationships with our parents, although you can work to develop yours through therapy if it’s becoming problematic.
5. You’re not super organized. Certainly, many highly organized people prefer monogamous relationships. However, at the risk of ruining any highly erotic fantasies of dating multiple people, most poly problems take place in calendars rather than the bedroom. There have even been apps created by poly families, such as The Poly Life, to help schedule time for multiple partners. So, if scheduling time for one love interest already stresses you out, polyamory may be overwhelming.
6. You prefer living in rural areas. “It’s easier for people who don’t have stigmatized relationships to find belonging and community,” Dr. Zhana says. While times are changing, coming out as poly to friends and family can still be met with gasps and judgement. That’s probably why poly people are more likely to live in liberal cities such as New York or San Francisco, Dr. Aaron says. The internet has made it easier for poly people all over to connect and find community, but as a general rule of thumb, thriving poly communities such as Open Love NY exist in urban areas. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, monogamous couples thrive in New York, and poly families exist in small towns. One thing is certain, regardless of your relationship format, supportive friends are important for your mental health (and therefore successful romantic relationships). You need someone to bitch to. If you prefer life in rural areas where traditional relationships are the norm, you may be better suited for monogamy.
7. You’re simply uninterested in consensual non-monogamy. Perhaps the most important indicator of predilection for monogamy is desire. Do you feel certain that you want to spend most of your life in one relationship, in which you only love and sleep with each other? If that’s how you feel, then kudos for self-awareness, and go for the relationship style you desire.
Dr. Zhana teaches a webinar that can help people decide if polyamory or monogamy is right for them. Learn more about it here.
By Sophie Saint Thomas