Polyamory Sadia Azmat Illustration for Hyphen by Heedayah Lockman
Friends in a polyamorous relationship say one of the main issues is sorting out the logistics of how their male partner divides his time between them. Illustration for Hyphen by Heedayah Lockman

Is it always about finding one true love?

Some British women are finding flexibility and freedom in non-monogamous relationships

There’s a saying that goes “sharing is caring”. A good mantra as far as tapas is concerned, perhaps. But when it comes to relationships? Well, that’s a little more complicated.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of people entering non-monogamous partnerships. Examples range from open relationships and ethical non-monogamy, where individuals will engage in other relationships with the consent of their partner, to polyamorous relationships, in which individuals will be romantically involved with multiple people at the same time.

According to a YouGov survey, 7% of British adults have been involved in a non-monogamous relationship, while close to a quarter have said they would be open to non-monogamy.  

I’m pretty convinced that polyamory isn’t for me. But after talking to friends in these kinds of romantic relationships, I was keen to find out what drew them there. After all, I’ve long believed that faithfulness and loyalty are what make a romantic relationship special, and that this was hard enough with just one other person. But when I spoke to two women who are in a polyamorous relationship with the same man, they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they were happy with the arrangement. 

Was something about this guy so special that they didn’t mind sharing him? Had they become so sceptical of a man’s ability to be faithful that they simply accepted a compromise? Surprisingly, they told me they had decided to pursue a polyamorous lifestyle on the grounds that it afforded more flexibility and freedom than traditional monogamy.

That response raised yet more questions for me. Wouldn’t an open arrangement threaten the stability of a romantic relationship? Wouldn’t the inevitable jealousy threaten to tear it all apart?

Remarkably, they insisted that those things were the least of their concerns. In fact, when it came to managing their relationship, their main issue was dealing with the administrative side — particularly organising how they would divide time between each other.

Attempting to explain the logistics of their relationship, my friend explained how their male partner would split his time between both women, navigating around their work and social schedules. It means that sometimes he spends time with both women equally, while at others  he would “spend four consecutive days with my friend every two weeks, and the rest of the time with me”.

Honestly, even trying to keep track sounds exhausting. 

While my friends keep their intimate lives private, I was shocked when they told me they’d recently gone out together to buy their male partner a surprise birthday gift. If they have shown me anything,  it’s that managing multiple lovers requires a thirst for spontaneous romance alongside a knack for project management.

While polyamorous relationships are still relatively rare in the UK, it’s likely you’ll know a few people in messy, non-monogamous arrangements. Take, for example, “situationships” – a relatively recent term for romantic relationships that remain undefined. Or even the classic friends-with-benefits scenario, where any notion of romantic love is supposed to be avoided. 

While researching this column, I came across many more women in those kinds of arrangements. Most are highly accomplished, in professional fields such as law, medicine and accountancy. Perhaps such relationships worked for them because of their busy and demanding schedules, ticking the relationship box but not demanding emotional commitment?

While I can understand that could be the case I still can’t help but feel a little sad for them. That such intelligent and beautiful women are turning to uncommitted relationships for what passes for intimacy is a damning indictment of the current dating scene, within which women with established careers are often considered less romantically desirable.

In Muslim communities, there has also been a marked increase of interest in non-monogamy among some men. In part, this is because polygyny, where a man is permitted to have multiple wives, is technically permitted in Islam. Though rare, these arrangements are also legal in many Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

In the west, polygyny is of particular interest among Muslim male social media influencers, who believe that the Islamic permissibility of polygynous relationships reflects the inherent male desire for multiple sexual partners.

But the roots of this polygyny in Islam have little to do with sex. They date back to the fifth century, after the Battle of Uhud, which left behind many widows and orphans. It is said that after the battle, Allah granted permission to Muslim men to marry more than one woman, in order to provide these widows and orphans with protection and care.

Islamic polygyny comes with strict conditions – including that men must be able to provide, both financially and emotionally, for all their wives and children in equal measure. In the current economic climate, it’s unlikely that many men would be able to provide for multiple families on a single income. Which leads me to believe that the appeal of multiple wives may actually be the result of male boredom, along with a mixture of complacency, temptation, curiosity and, of course, the notion that one’s masculinity is determined by notches on the bed post.

Still, that’s not to say that monogamous couples can’t learn a thing or two from polyamorous relationships. Polyamory requires a lot more emotional maturity than we may at first appreciate. Partners have to be more attentive to each other’s needs. They must communicate with empathy and patience. Large amounts of emotional labour are required to make everyone feel safe and secure. Ultimately, if any kind of polyamorous relationship is to work, it requires total transparency from all parties.

While I don’t plan on entering into such a relationship any time soon, the conversations I’ve had about them have made me consider what I want from an exclusive partnership. It all boils down to honesty, trust and mutual respect. However, even if finding that one true love is difficult, I still believe it’s a hope worth pursuing. Besides, as another old saying goes, two’s company, but three’s a crowd. 


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