“If you’re stuck in quarantine with one of your poly partners, and you won’t be able to see any of your other partners for the foreseeable future, what do you do?”
This is a question posed on the Tumblr page, one of several in a post titled “Pandemic Poly Problems.” The post, dated March 30, muses about what a polyamorous person should do if they are staying at home with one partner but want to foster their other relationships. Can you have phone sex with one partner while another is in the room? What if the partners don’t know each other well?
For polyamorous people who have multiple partners — whether with them or not — social distancing adds another ripple into the fabric of these relationships.
Different struggles for different dynamics
There are four types of dynamics going on right now according to relationship coach Effy Blue: People staying at home with partners but separated from other partners; people separated from all their partners, primary or otherwise; those polycules who decided to come together under one roof for social distancing; and people living alone.
Blue’s coaching specializes in non-monogamy and polyamory. She’s also the creator of Curious Fox, a community organization that aims to challenge the status quo in terms of love, sex, and relationships. “Everyone’s having their own challenges,” said Blue. Among her clients and the broader community, Blue has noticed a kind of mourning ( to those who are polyamorous).
She guessed that solo polyamorous people are struggling the most, especially if they have partners who are with their families or other partners themselves. “There’s an exacerbated sense of loneliness,” Blue said.
“There’s an exacerbated sense of loneliness.”
Ashley Ray, a comedian in Los Angeles, is solo polyamorous, and has been since 2013. “Even, for me, given that background, I’ve really been struggling,” she said. “If you’re like me, you’re going insane and you’re just trying to video chat everyone you can.”
Not only is Ray living alone, but she’s speaking to partners who are far from alone. “I did have one partner who very much wanted to detail the fun crazy quarantined sex he and his partner are having,” she said, “and I was just like, ‘Come on, you gotta shut up.'”
“I am literally in a place where I can talk to my partners all I want but I can’t go see them,” Ray continued, “and it’s even more unclear for people who are solo poly, really — when can I see my partners again?”
That doesn’t mean, however, that people who are coupled at home aren’t having their own unique troubles. For those who are staying at home with one partner (their immediate partner, as Blue referenced) and away from other partners (their auxiliary partners), there’s the balance of maintaining those relationships while adhering to the needs of the person you’re living with. People focusing all their attention on their auxiliary partners because they can’t be with them, for example, could cause tension with their immediate partner.
Ray said she’s dealing with this from the other side — of establishing boundaries with partners who are with their respective partners. She used an example of how designated days to see a partner don’t work under these circumstances. “In a quarantine, you know we’re not just gonna see each other on Thursday,” she said, “We can literally FaceTime each other every single day if we want to and text all the time.”
But that increased time spent with Ray can impact that person’s other partners, so she’s had to reconsider boundaries and take others’ needs into consideration.
Steve Dean, online dating consultant at , a dating coaching and consulting business, told Mashable that he’s staying at home with one partner and communicating with others virtually. He and his in-person partner lived in separate apartments before New York’s stay-at-home statutes were put in place, but he relocated so they could be together.
In some cases, Dean said, social distancing has brought him closer with other partners, even those who even in normal circumstances live in different countries. “I’m still staying in touch — and in some ways in closer touch — with my other partners,” he said. “If anything, now that I have fewer things going on, every night I have more time that I can set aside for intentional heart-to-hearts and virtual chats with partners who are abroad.”
Whereas for Ray, the emotional labor of being polyamorous during the pandemic had to do with considering other people’s boundaries, Dean’s has to do with shifting displays of affection. Our current moment has led to uncharted emotional territory, according to Dean, as he and his partners had had to rely on words of affirmation over other love languages like touch.
He’s also noticed higher-quality nudes. “Now that you’re cooped up at home, you can have time to set up some good lighting and think of various ways of portraying yourself in that light,” said Dean.
living in one home, too, can have their own issues. They may be dealing with dynamics they never had to before and different distributions of labor. Since they cannot go to someone else’s house, they all have to learn how to run a household together, according to Blue.
“There’s a lot of work to be done there,” said Blue, though she noted she’s mostly seen positive impacts from a polycule being in one place. If relationship issues had previously gone unavoided, they’re bubbling up to the surface now. “People feel like they have time to talk about things without feeling like it has to be solved then and there,” she said, “Because there’s a sense that we’re all going to be here for awhile.”
How to cope with social distanced-polyamory
Blue had tips for polyamorous people in these varying situations. Beyond connecting with the polyamorous community, friends, and family, solo polyamorous people could also use weighted blankets or self-massage if they’re missing the physicality of being with others.
One consideration Blue gave in terms of talking to partners is adding cadence, or variety, to both their days and conversations. Since people are having monotonous days, partners both near and far may be having monotonous conversations — all about the coronavirus, current events, and the like over and over. “The human brain likes variety,” said Blue, “Especially poly folk like variety — that’s why they tend to choose [the lifestyle] they’ve chosen.”
If partners are together, Blue recommended setting aside time to be present with them. This includes activities like a game or “sexy time” — which doesn’t have to be just sex, but learning about each others’ preferences. “Can you gamify your experience a little bit? Bring some joy and humor into it,” Blue said.
“If you’re in quarantine with a partner, sex is a great hobby,” she added.
In normal circumstances, Curious Fox provides year-round programming — anything from panels to workshops to socials — but they have since moved their programming online. They’ve adapted to a space they call their “virtual curiosity salon,” bringing expert speakers to discuss various topics in the realm of relationships. Similar to dating event company , Curious Fox also hosts virtual socials where participants can get to know each other.
Dean, who himself was a guest for one of Curious Fox’s virtual salons, also mentioned the boom in video calls. He called the live video chatting app a godsend.
Ray also has been figuring out different ways to connect with partners, say exchanging emails or starting a meme group as opposed to having a movie night or date day. “It’s been finding new ways to interact, which is kind of fun,” she said, “and I guess a new way to do polyamory for me.”
As with any other relationship, people may wonder how their polycule or the overarching polyamorous community will change in a post-coronavirus world. In terms of the community, Blue herself would like to continue virtual Curious Fox events as she’s able to get speakers who are not in the New York area.
“This current situation is going to cause a leap in adopting technology,” Blue predicted. “People who otherwise wouldn’t even dream of sitting in Zoom meetings are now sitting in Zoom meetings.” Virtual mixers that are a necessity now may become a luxury in the future, an alternative to a Netflix night.
Beyond larger shifts, individual relationships may change too. How it plays out will vary from person to person, but Blue believes that longtime, established polyamorous relationships will fare just fine. She compared them to lava lamps: frequently morphing and changing within an established framework.
She also predicted more monogamous couples will open up their relationships post-social distancing. “I can also imagine relationships opening up because having spent so much concentrated time together,” she said, “I can see people that are coming out of that going, ‘I love you and I just need other things.'”
Blue went on to say that people who may be single may be sick of it once this social distancing period is over. “I definitely think that the gleam of the single life — especially in urban areas, New Yorkers love to be single — is definitely fading fast,” she said.
“The nature of how we relate to one another has entirely changed even just in the past month.”
While Blue predicted that this will cause singles to couple up, Ray is firm that she will stay solo polyamorous. While she misses her partners, she still enjoys being on her own. “I’m solo poly because I really value my autonomy and independence,” she said.
In addition to relationship dynamics, the ways that partners communicate and connect may also change when social distancing is over. Ray said that the pandemic has forced important conversations to happen a lot sooner than they would previously, such as what polyamory means to them or what rules or boundaries a potential partner may have.
“The nature of how we relate to one another has entirely changed even just in the past month,” Dean said. “Holding space for one another has skyrocketed in terms of how much we prioritize it.” People have been showing up and listening more intently, according to Dean; it’s pretty easy for one to see you’re not paying attention during a Zoom call.
For Ray, this experience proves that polyamory is about the love of drama, intense discussions, and emotional intimacy. “A lot of people think polyamory is just about the sex,” Ray said. “And it can’t be about the sex now right now.”