There’s not one “right” way to be polyamorous. That’s partly what can make polyamory—an openness to having multiple romantic relationships at the same time—so confusing. Poly people might go through periods with zero partners, often referred to as “single poly.” Others might have a spouse and/or multiple partners, which can lead to questions about how all those partners might interact with each other.
Given the various configurations polyamory can take, I’ve made an effort to break down some of the more common polyamorous relationships styles and identities—one of which is kitchen table polyamory.
Let’s say you have a wife and a boyfriend, but your wife and your boyfriend aren’t dating each other. Your wife might not want to meet your BF, or even hear all that much about your relationship with him. Conversely, she might want to be BFFs with him, even if they’re not dating—that’s where kitchen table polyamory comes in.
What does kitchen table polyamory mean?
When people opt to have some form of relationship with their partner’s other partner (a.k.a. their metamour), they’re engaging in kitchen table polyamory. “The name kitchen table polyamory came from the idea that you get along with your partners and their partners so well that all of you can sit around a kitchen table and comfortably have a chat together,” polyamory educator Leanne Yau explains.
As someone who currently practices kitchen table polyamory, I know the idea of meeting your partner’s partner can be anxiety-inducing. Sure, jealousy can arise, and you have to be careful not to compare yourself to your metamour. But once you meet them, you might find the “lore” you built up around them goes away. They become a real person—someone you might actually get along with.
In my experience, kitchen table polyamory can hep you better support your parter. My boyfriend has another serious partner. When he’s having a rough day and I don’t have the bandwidth to support him—be it from work, family drama, or some other fire to put out—I shoot a text to my metamour asking if he can be there for him today since I can’t. It’s important for me to know my boyfriend is getting the support he needs.
What are the alternatives to kitchen table polyamory?
If you don’t want anything to do with your metamour(s), you may be more interested in parallel polyamory, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from kitchen table polyamory. With parallel polyamory, “the metamours do not have any kind of relationship between one another,” says Zhana Vrangalova, PhD., a sex and relationship scientist who teaches an ethical non-monogamy course called Open Smarter. They don’t have a romantic relationship, or even a friendship. Like parallel lines, their lives never intersect—hence the name of this style of polyamory.
Parallel polyamory doesn’t mean your partners keep their other relationships a secret. Whether you’re practicing kitchen table or parallel polyamory, everyone is at least aware of all parties involved in the polycule (the group of people connected through romantic relationships). “However, [with parallel polyamory], there is no expectation that they would ever meet, hang out and be friends or even be friendly,” Vrangalova says.
Garden party polyamory
Some people prefer kitchen table polyamory because it can be challenging to keep your lives with each partner separate, Yau says. Even if you’re able to do so, it can almost feel like you’re living a double life.
Let’s say you live with your wife, and you also see your girlfriend three times a week. It’s going to require a lot of advanced planning to make sure your partners never meet. And if your wife doesn’t want to hear you talk about your girlfriend often, you might struggle to share how your day went if you spent it in your GF’s company.
That’s why some poly people—even those nervous about meeting their partner’s partner—attempt to have some type of amicable relationship with their metamour. If they can manage that, it’s called garden party polyamory. Garden party poly is ideal for those who don’t want to be friends with their metamour (thus aren’t into kitchen table poly), but also recognize how challenging keeping two partners separate can be. Metamours who practice garden party polyamory might only see one another a few times a year at a birthday party, graduation, etc.
No type of polyamory is superior, and each comes with its own unique set of challenges. But if you ask me, there is something heartwarming about kitchen table polyamory, and the idea of being one big, happy family that supports and loves each other. One of the best parts of being polyamorous is the poly community that you cultivate. And with parallel and garden party polyamory, you’re not quite getting that “family” that you get with kitchen table poly.
Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment.
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