This Is What It's Like To Be Polyamorous In College, As Told By 4 People

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be polyamorous, especially if you are polyamorous in college. "Polyamory is a type of non-monogamy identified by its focus on having multiple relationships with the consent of all people involved, and by its not shying away from emotional/romantic involvement," Aida Manduley, a sexuality educator and social worker, told Elite Daily. There are no requirements for what each of those partnerships should look like, as it is up to the people involved to establish their boundaries.

To shed some light on what it's like to be polyamorous in college, I talked with four polyamorous people about their experiences. Each person's experience with polyamory is different, but some common themes recur for a lot of poly people when they date. For instance, many poly people struggle with the fact that others may misunderstand what being poly means. For Brianna, 23, being poly, "made so much sense to me, my being, and my soul," she explains. "It clarified how I enjoy giving and receiving love."

One important aspect of polyamory that all the folks I talked to agree on is that communication is key. There can be some misconceptions about what it means to be poly, so read on to learn what it's really like.

Dating Can Be Hard Because People Don’t Understand Polyamory

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"Being polyamorous in college [gave me] a lot of anxiety about people thinking I'm cheating [on my partner], especially when I was actively trying to date," CJ, 23, explains. "I would meet people, get to know them, and casually mentioned my partner, and you could just see the romantic interest blink off. It made for a pretty frustrating dating scene when most people didn't think you were a prospect."

Brittany, 25, also added that other people's incorrect assumptions about polyamory can be difficult to navigate. "Dating can be hard. People hear I’m polyamorous and it scares them away. Maybe they think I won’t commit to them, or they can’t get used to the idea of 'sharing'," says Brittany, "or they don’t take a relationship with me seriously.

Brittany also explained that there was a consistent pattern of people pulling away after she disclosed her polyamory to them. "Sometimes that can be chalked up to a lack of chemistry or bad timing — and since I was in a long-term relationship all throughout high school and college, I was going in very green — but I think people were more than likely uncomfortable with the idea of non-monogamy."

If You Have A Primary Partner, You Can Lean On Them For Support

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"One of the nice parts of being polyamorous, though, is getting to deal with those rejections with a partner, instead of going through it alone." CJ explained that their partner is often the one to validate that someone else is interested in them. "I think I had just kind of thought, 'Nah, no one here is open to dating a poly person.' Until my partner told me, 'Hey, dweeb, that person you're obviously going on dates with is interested [in you].'"

When it comes to dating, there are so many different experiences that you may need to talk through. And when you're polyamorous, you can talk through those things together. This can be a really validating experience because if you go through something like a breakup, falter in your confidence, or develop a new crush, your partner can be a sounding board.

Your Communication Skills Will Be Put To The Test

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"What has made polyamory so much better than monogamy for me is not just the ability to date other people; it’s the communication necessitated by that practice," explains Brittany. Polyamory requires a lot of honest, clear communication to make sure each partner is comfortable. Without open communication about your boundaries, wants, and needs, polyamory won't work.

"There are no mind games, no testing, no passive aggression, no petty arguments (other than the one about whether or not someone should eat chips in bed)," says Brittany. "All these things I’d been led to believe were just a normal part of a relationship. Now, I know these are not par for the course; they’re behaviors that can be unlearned."

You Have A Bigger Network

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With the stress of classes, social life, and everything else that college throws your way, having multiple partners can make you feel supported no matter what. Keagan, 24, explains, "If I'm having an awful day, and my primary [partner] is also having an awful day, I have another deep emotional support system to connect with about issues that doesn't create more stress for my primary partner."

The term "primary" in "poly" or" polyamorous" relationships refers to the main partner in a poly person's life. That doesn't inherently mean that a poly person's other relationships are less important. As Keagan explains, it can even mean that you have more people to lean on for support.

It's Hard To Know When To Tell People About Your Poly Relationship Status

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Dating as a polyamorous person can be complicated when trying to explain your other relationships to someone who may not understand them. "It's so tough to decide when to bring up your poly relationship status," Keagan explains. "If you bring it up too early, it seems like you're taking the relationship way more seriously than the other person might be taking it, which can make things weird. But if you wait too long, it seems like you were leading them on and being dishonest, which is obviously super problematic."

Since flirting can already be a precarious thing, it makes sense that divulging personal info, like the fact that you're poly, can be nerve-wracking. "So every time I meet a new person, I'm torn trying to decide when to have that conversation. It's like I have to come out all over again every time I meet somebody," adds Keagan.

Sometimes Potential Partners Can Hurt You Because They Misunderstand Polyamory

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Brittany recalled a time earlier this year when things didn't go well with a new partner. "They [weren't poly, and] met someone else, and when I asked where that left me, they said, 'How serious could we even get? You’re in a relationship.' I tried to point to the conversation we’d had when we first started talking, but it was too late." She explains that she was hurt because she had very clearly expressed her intentions and boundaries to the partner that broke up with her. She found that sometimes you can date someone, and fall hard for them, only to find out they don't respect your polyamory status after all.

"The truth was," Brittany says, "they had never seen me as a serious partner the way I’d seen them. I was a fun affair, no strings attached — and if they left, I’d be fine because I had someone to go back to. That’s not how it is though. I felt heartbroken. Having another partner didn’t take away the pain of losing someone I’d cared about. People aren’t interchangeable. "

It Can Be Hurtful When You And Your Partner Don’t Have The Same Boundaries

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Sometimes it is hard when both partners aren't on the same page. Polyamory takes a lot of work and communication to make sure that each partner feels appreciated and valued. Like any relationship, sometimes things end up not working out. "It is a balancing act to compromise without giving up your desires and wants in any relationship," explains Brianna. She says that she was OK with her partner dating other people, but was hurt when her partner would talk on the phone with other partners while they were spending quality time together.

However, her partner had different expectations for her, which felt unfair. "Her boundaries were different," she says. "She wanted to know exactly who I was talking too, seeing, and spending time with, even though I wasn’t seeking out other relationships. I was OK with a lot, and I’m attracted to poly because of the boundary setting, communication, and the freedoms that came with that, but this relationship felt very restrictive."

Having multiple partners can teach you a lot about yourself and how to communicate your needs. Being poly involves all of the more common challenges of dating, i.e. rejection, flirting, or knowing if someone is interested. There's just more communication involved when it comes to making sure everyone is on the same page.

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