I think a lot of people come into polyamory, or non-monogamy in general, wondering “What is the Next Step?” Whether they’ve found new partner(s) or not, they want to know what they’re supposed to do. Does loving another person mean inviting them to move into your home? Does loving another person mean marriage and children? Does it mean they meet all your family and friends? Do they become a date or a plus 1 for events? How do you maneuver the next steps? What are the options? Is being with more than one person different or the same as being with just one? What do I do now?
Every situation is different, as every relationship is different, so there is not one right answer I can give you. There are multiple configurations and dynamics within polyamory: solo polyamory, V, triad, quad, polycule, kitchen table polyamory, parallel polyamory, short-term, long-term, etc. And beyond that each individual person is just so different that no two configurations are exactly alike, even if they’re both V’s doing kitchen table polyamory. People often assume a triad means all people in the relationship do everything together and they all live together and everything is based off of this triangular framework, but that isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes people in a triad all live separately, or one person lives apart from the other two. Sometimes they only spend occasional time all together and mainly spend time one-on-one. It all depends on the people involved. Sometimes the end game isn’t to be together forever (as a lot of people coming from monogamous relationships assume), as short-term relationships can be just as rewarding and beneficial, if not more so.
So, what are your next steps? Well, ultimately this is something that needs to be discussed with each and every partner you may have, or end up with in the future. Together you will determine the present dynamic and configuration of your relationship, and choose a path for your future together. However, here are some options to get you thinking about what you might want to do, or what you can do. I have broken the following information up into sections to help you understand the directions that you can take, as there is more than just one direction (and each direction holds a multitude of options). The options I provide are by no means a complete list of every possibility, but I hope it gives everyone a good start in determining what sort of framework they wish to create.
Climbing the Relationship Escalator
Most people, especially those used to monogamous culture, assume that every relationship is meant to ride the relationship escalator or move forward in some way. So we’ll start with the options for this particular pathway first. Whether you’re single, or you’re opening up a relationship, there are multiple options here. How you proceed really depends on what you want. What are you looking for? For example, is marriage important to you? One option is to marry your new partner(s), whether legally or not (a lot of people choose handfasting ceremonies or something of the like to represent their commitment to additional partners, buying rings or getting matching tattoos, etc.).
If you’re not married yet, you have the option of wedding all your partners at once, or marrying them each individually. It depends on what you all want. You also have the option of moving in together. If you’re single, do you want to live with your partners? Just one of them? All of them? If you’re in a couple, do you want more partners moving into the space you’ve created already? Find a new home for everyone? Move in with a different partner? Keep things the way they are? And then there is the question of children. Do you want children, or more children? Do you want to have children with one partner, or with multiple partners? Will you all parent together, or will each parent set parent separately? Do you want to combine assets, finances, material possessions? For those who do there is also an option of creating a corporation. Some people in polyamorous relationships will create a corporation to legally, financially, or otherwise protect all partners involved. It can also just help keep things organized.
A great resource for helping you and your partners do that, if you want to take that route, is the Poly Box. The Poly Box has lots of resources, information, and tools for those working forward in polyamorous relationships. You can get a 10% discount on all of their products by using our special code: polyliving !! Check out the Poly Box, here. There are many different ways you can choose to climb the relationship escalator, but mainly it consists of marriage, moving in together, children, sharing finances, etc. with any combination of those existing together.
Then there’s the pathway that is directly opposite of climbing the relationship escalator, and that is de-escalating. Depending on your situation, this direction can be chosen for any number of reasons. Typically this choice is made when trying to level out all partnerships, or create equality, when climbing the relationship escalator does not seem or feel desirable (or maybe just not realistic). This category consists of the polar opposites of climbing the relationship escalator. If you choose to de-escalate a relationship you may choose to get a divorce, move out, or remove labels and/or expectations. You may also decide that partners cannot meet or spend time with your children.
This option is often chosen by couples who realize that the way they have setup their lives/dynamics is not congruent with the way in which they are now choosing to live. There may be a divorce simply so that status is no different between partners, or because marriage no longer holds the same meaning. They may choose to live separately because it makes more logistical sense for dating, or because they’ve decided that having more space makes their relationship healthier. Removing labels can be freeing, as it allows you to take on a new identity that is not determined by your relationships. And deciding to no longer allow partners to meet or spend time with your children can be a choice made out of knowledge of oneself and wanting to keep those aspects of your life separate, or out of courtesy for the child (not wanting them to become attached to new people in your life, or have to deal with relationship drama, etc.). There are a million reasons for wanting to take this road, and they are all valid. Some people stay married, but decide no longer to live together. Others stay living together but decide to get divorced. Any combination of options within this path can work, as long as everyone has a say.
Choosing Not to Escalate
De-escalating can often lead to a pathway of choosing not to escalate in any new relationships. But choosing not to escalate can also be someone’s choice from the get-go. Some people prefer living alone, they don’t want to get married, they don’t want children, and generally don’t want their lives to become too complicatedly intertwined with anybody else’s. Often times people who choose this category consider themselves Solo Polyamorists. Basically, you are putting yourself first. Your needs are priority, and you are choosing to take on your own life. You want full responsibility for yourself, and don’t want to take on responsibility for anybody else. A lot of people who practice solo polyamory choose one or multiple options from this category, in order to keep their lives in the order they want it to be. But you don’t have to be a solo polyamorist in order to choose this pathway or pick options from this category.
Here are some ways you can choose to not escalate your relationships (current of future): you can decide to only do dating and not marriage, you can decide to not have children (whether married or dating), you can decide to not live together with your partner(s) – even if you’re married, and you can decide not to use labels for your relationships, etc. If you’re currently married, you don’t have to change anything in that relationship in order to choose this pathway for your future connections. It’s perfectly fine to stay married to someone and/or live or have children with them, and then decide you simply don’t wish to do that same thing with anybody else. It is your life. These are your relationships. Each choice in each relationship needs to be thought out. What do you really want from your relationship(s)? What don’t you want?
The Concept of Relationship Anarchy
This brings me to my next directional choice. It’s actually not one particular direction. This pathway allows for multiple directions all at once, if that’s what you’d like. You can choose to have multiple relationships that are all completely different, or ones that are mostly all the same, but the general idea is that each one gets to exist within its own entity. It’s own existence. Each relationship develops into it’s own dynamic and structure. Instead of looking at your love life as one framework that fits in multiple pieces, you can look at it as multiple separate works on art framed individually. Relationship anarchy gives you the ability to maneuver a bit more freely, and allow things to flow more naturally. Each and every connection is formed based off of the mutual needs/wants of all parties involved, not the combining of all wants and needs of each individual.
Polyamory, and non-monogamy alike, create a space already where you can form your own dynamics. However, when you prescribe to the ideology of relationship anarchy you are expanding your mind even further. You are letting go of any and all expectations and meeting people where they’re at instead of where you’d like them to be. You can find one thing in one person and another thing in another person, and not sit around waiting for the person who checks all the boxes of what you want. Say you want to be business partners with someone and you’d also like to have a sexual relationship with them, that’s fine. If that’s all it is, that’s fine. As long as both/all people involved are consenting.
Relationship anarchy isn’t so much a give and take, like typical relationship styles. It isn’t the “I’ll do this with you if you do this with me” sort of dynamic. It’s the “if we both don’t want it, then it’s out.” So no matter how badly you want something with someone, if they don’t want it too, then you drop it. You can always decide not to be with someone, and you can always change or transition or adapt a relationship as time goes by, but ultimately it can only include what both people feel will be beneficial. That way no one is disappointed. Everything is very up front. You can come in stating “I want this, this, and this.” The other person can then say “Well, I want this, this, and this.” If you find things that you both said you wanted, then those things (and those things only) can be incorporated into your relationship.
I’d like to state now that relationship anarchy does not necessarily fall under the polyamory umbrella. It is a form of non-monogamy (or it can be, depending), but it isn’t always polyamory. So keep that in mind. You can definitely be a polyamorist who prescribes to relationship anarchy, but it is also possible for you to be a relationship anarchist that doesn’t live polyamorously. However, this pathway is still an option for people who are polyamorous (or living a polyamorous lifestyle). The gist of it is that you individually choose who you do and don’t want to escalate with. You decide together what is best for both/all of you. You make connections naturally as they come along, and you form your relationships based on mutual interests/wants/needs, respect, boundaries, and consent. As with all forms of polyamory, and ethical non-monogamy, consent is key.
Options for Any Path
There are multiple aspects that can be added in or taken out of any relationship, no matter what pathway you choose to go down. It all depends on the people involved. What do you want? What do your partners want? It’s at your own discretion to decide whether or not you want to do any of the following, and how you choose to configure your relationships and setup your dynamics. You can feel free to pick and choose options from multiple different pathways and put them together to create something that works for you and the others involved. It’s 100% your choice.
If you’re looking for more options, you have the choice on whether or not to bring your partner(s) to family-, friend-, work-, etc. related events as your date (or even just as a friend). Some people can’t bring their partner(s) to certain events because of bad discrimination or because they’re worried about losing their job, friends, family, children. Prejudice and discrimination can end up making a lot of decisions for you, if you let it. It just depends on how you prioritize the things in your life. Ultimately, you only need to stay in hiding if you want to. But don’t feel pressured to come out of the closet about your polyamorous relationship(s) sooner than you feel comfortable, either. There are some people who are in more privileged positions than others and are able to flaunt the fact that their polyamory, but don’t make those feel bad who have to keep it secret. These are very personal choices – let’s keep them that way.
Other options are whether you want to spend time with all your partners at the same time, just spend time with all your partners individually, or have a combination of the two. You also have to make the decision about whether to bring your partner(s) around different members of your family, friends, or coworkers. These are things that need to be discussed thoroughly with each partner as some people hope to be invited to every family, friend, or work event, while others intentionally choose not to be a part of those aspects of your life. What are you comfortable with? What are they comfortable? It’s okay to not want to combine romantic relationships with your familial or work connections. And it’s okay if you want to. But it also matters how your partner(s) feel. Don’t force anyone to do, or not do, anything. But Also don’t let anyone force you into anything either. Make sure you’re on the same page so you both can feel fulfilled within the relationship. Different things are important to different people.
Ending or Transitioning a Relationship
And then there are times when you can’t agree on things. There are times when you won’t be compatible with people, even if they are people you love very, very much. No matter how much you care for someone, trying to make a relationship work where the people involved are wanting different things is always going to end in tears. It’s okay to not be compatible. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If things don’t work like you’d hoped they would, that is perfectly alright.
Sometimes you just need to talk things through and compromises can be made, but other times things just need to end so that they can begin again. Nothing lasts forever. Even short-term relationships can be successes. It all depends on how you look at it. If you get to a point in a relationship where you realize it may be time to end or transition the relationship – don’t panic! There are multiple options down this pathway as well. It isn’t cut and dry. Nothing is ever black and white. Ending or transitioning a relationship is just as complex as starting one. So here are some things to consider…
Ways to Separate
If you feel the best thing to do is get some separation, then you have multiple options. What kind of separation is needed? Do you need to legally separate (get a divorce)? Do you need to financially separate (close joint accounts, etc.)? Do you need to physically separate (move apart from each other)? Do you need to emotionally separate (eliminate romantic and or/companionship involvement)? What kind of separation is needed to help create a dynamic that is beneficial to the both of you? Ending or transitioning a relationship does not mean that all ties must be cut. Sometimes they do need to be, sometimes that is what is best for all parties involved. Other times it is not. Other times there are only certain aspects of separation that need to be pursued in order to allow a more peaceful flow between those involved. So, what aspects of separation do you need to pursue?
Ways to Stay Together
Just because you’re ending or transitioning a relationship doesn’t mean everything has to be completely over. In what ways do you still want to stay together? You could stay friends. You could stay lovers. You could stay business partners. You could stay married. You could stay housemates. Often you can separate in some forms and stay together in other forms. Which forms of staying together would be beneficial to you both? All? None? Maybe a couple? Every relationship is different, so this needs to be thought out carefully and discussed with all parties.
Ultimately, ending or transitioning a relationship can really just be one of the dynamic forms under the previous directions/pathways. Choosing ways to separate can be the same as de-escalating, and choosing ways to stay together can be either climbing the relationship escalator, choosing not to escalate, or choosing to stay put on the escalator. Ending a romantic relationship may mean you stop having sex, but perhaps you still want to live or work together or co-parent. Or maybe you don’t want to live together but you decide to continue having sex. Transitioning can be another way to end a relationship. Another way to look at what ending is. A way to have a smooth transition without the intense upset or heartbreak. It can also just mean you’re deciding to change the dynamic of the relationship without ending it. All relationships are individual. In what ways do you want to change or keep your relationship(s) the same?
No matter if you’re single, in a couple, a V, a triad, a quad, or some other form of a polycule. No matter if you are practicing kitchen table polyamory or parallel polyamory, or if you want short- or long-term relationships. There are a lot of aspects at play here. There are a wealth of dynamics and structures. There are plenty of options to satisfy everyone involved. It is up to you to decide what you want for your framework. It is up to you to decide who you truly are and what you truly want. No matter how many people you’re involved with. No matter how new or old you are to the concept of polyamory. No matter where you’re currently at with figuring things out. It is all up to you. So, tell me, what is your next step?