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Session 182: Consensual Non-Monogamy

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Today we’re digging into the topic of consensual non-monogamy. While monogamous relationships may be the relationship types we hear about most often, they’re not the only relationships types that exist. To break it all down for us, I was joined by Ruby B. Johnson, LCSW, LCDC. Ruby and I discussed some of the most common misconceptions about consensual non-monogamy, how to determine whether a polyamorous relationship is a good fit for you, some considerations in a polyamorous relationship, how to unpack some of the stigma related to consensual non-monogamy, and of course she shares some of her favorite resources.

Resources Mentioned
Visit our Amazon Store for all the books mentioned on the podcast!
Multiamory podcast
Poly Weekly podcast
Normalizing Nonmonogamy podcast
Monogamish podcast
Poly Love Documentary

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Read Full Transcript

Session 182: Consensual Non-Monogamy

Dr. Joy: Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 182 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. Today, we’re digging into the topic of consensual non-monogamy. While monogamous relationships may be the relationship types we hear about most often, they’re definitely not the only relationship types that exist. Here to help us break it all down is an expert in this area, Ruby B. Johnson.

Ruby has been a therapist for over 19 years and a sex therapist for six years. She is in private practice in Plano, Texas and identifies as a queer and polyamorous woman. She specializes in ethically non-monogamous partnerships and families, kink and BDSM, desire discrepancy, and infidelity. Outside of therapy, her passions are speaking and writing.

Ruby and I discuss some of the most common misconceptions about consensual non- monogamy, how to determine whether a polyamorous relationship is a good fit for you, some considerations in a polyamorous relationship, how to unpack some of the stigma related to consensual non-monogamy, and of course, she shares some of her favorite resources. If anything stands out to you while enjoying our conversation, please be sure to share it with us using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here’s our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Ruby.

Ruby: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Joy: I'm very excited. This has been a widely requested topic. The community has wanted me to find someone to come on and talk about polyamorous relationships, open relationships, and so I heard through colleagues that you were the expert in this area, so I'm thrilled that you were able to...

Ruby: I don’t know about that but thank you!

Dr. Joy: How did you get into this as your specialty?

Ruby: I got into private practice in 2014. Before that, I started identifying as polyamorous myself at age 38, so it was about 10 years ago. When I got into private practice, I found that many people who are polyamorous, who are in open relationships, did not have the best experiences with therapists. The therapists were not necessarily competent in the area: they thought what they did with a monogamous couple, they can do with polyamorous partnerships, and they were just not having good experiences with stigma and all of that stuff so I decided, you know what? This is the community that I live in so I'll start working with that community as my niche.

Dr. Joy: I always find it so interesting that I think a lot of therapists have that same story. Is that we identify as a part of a community or we have a certain struggle ourselves, and then that becomes a part of our story as a clinician.

Ruby: Yeah, absolutely. It extends beyond polyamory. There's also the queer community, the kink community and so with me having those various identities myself, I feel like I have a certain passion about it. I have a level of putting attention to it and recognizing that, not only is it that therapeutic intervention in a way of modalities and theories, but it's also the socio-political angle that comes into it which I think we sometimes forget, that we operate in this vast system.

Dr. Joy: Like you can't necessarily separate the things. Can you give us a crash course on some of the language? I mean the terms that people in the community use or things that people might need to be aware of. You've already said ethical non-monogamy, so is that kind of like the umbrella term?

Ruby: Yes. There’s ethical non-monogamy or consensual non-monogamy, that's the broad umbrella. And then underneath that, you have open relationships, you have people who have what we call designer relationships, you have polyamorous relationships, you have people in the lifestyle. There's like solo polyamory, there's all of these vast relationship dynamics or constellations or ways that you can be in your lovestyle underneath consensual non-monogamy or ethical non-monogamy.

I'm going to talk about polyamory specifically, and the way we define polyamory is many loves. A hard definition that I like to use is multiple simultaneous relationships that can either be committed or romantic, where everyone consents and everyone is aware of what's going on and what is happening. And so that's the working definition that I have within my practice. There's the common triad which is three people within a relationship. Sometimes it can be a couple wanting to have what we call a third, make a throuple.

And there's these different types of constellation. There's the quad where it's two couples together, there is what we call the polyamorous or the polycule where you have the people who are in relationships and all their partners. And so it is a huge lexicon, really huge.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. So there's a difference between being in a polyamorous relationship and an open relationship; can you talk about that difference?

Ruby: A polyamorous relationship, I like to tell people that you can view it as a type of open relationship but it's not necessarily what they call an open relationship because there's a focus on those romantic long-term connections. Within an open relationship, you can design it to look any way you want: you're open to multiple partners, you’re open to multiple sexual relationships, some people put the lifestyle or swinging underneath open relationships. It doesn't have to specifically focus on having those long-term romantic connections. Someone who is open is just welcoming to emotional and physical connections, but not necessarily long term.

Dr. Joy: Okay, so that's kind of like the defining characteristic, is the long-term nature of the relationships?

Ruby: Yes.

Dr. Joy: Got it, okay. And so you mentioned another term that I had not heard of, did you say solo polyamorous relationship?

Ruby: Yes, solo polyamory.

Dr. Joy: Can you say more about that?

Ruby: Solo polyamorous is an individual who lives alone typically, then they have the separation of finances and they have other relationships where they're not hierarchical in nature. They are with people but there's not any cohabitating or commingling of finances and, per se, living space. The solo polyamorous like to say that they're their primary partner. They're the one that they're in a primary relationship with. They come first and then they have the other relationships around them.

Dr. Joy: Got it, okay. And you mentioned the term designer relationship. Is that just kind of designing what you would like your relationship to look like or is that something different?

Ruby: Yes, that’s designing what you would like your relationship to look like. There's all types of ways that people do relationships. I have clients who they have what we call social monogamy and how they present to the world is as a monogamous couple with family, etc. But what they do outside of that, they don't have physical monogamy. They have other outside relationships or friends with benefits or hookups, but it doesn't disrupt the social representation of who they are as a family or as a couple.

And so you have that way that you can design your relationship to look like that. There's a great book called Designer Relationships by Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, and they actually talk about, in that book, how you can define what you want your relationship to look like and some parameters and ideas on how to do that.

Dr. Joy: Got it. I am curious to hear, Ruby... You said that you began to identify yourself, 10 years ago, as being in or wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship. Can you give us a sense of the timeline for like when this became something that more people were talking about? Because basically, what you're saying is that relationships don't have to look just one way and I think when you say it, it seems really like, yeah, duh, they can look however we want. But of course, societally, that is not how it has been so at what point did this become something that more people were talking about and exploring?

Ruby: I would say over the last decade, decade and a half, it has become. Back when I was 38, so that was like 2010, 2011, somewhere around there, polyamory wasn't in my preview. I didn't know what the term was until I met this person that I started dating and they introduced me to it. And so over the last decade, the prevalence, the visibility, the representation of polyamory has shifted. There was a whole lot of stigma attached to actually what it was, like was it polygamy? Was it always about a couple wanting to find a third? And so it was viewed with a whole lot of stigma but slowly over the last decade, we've had people come out with more books, we have folks like this doing more interviews on podcasts. It’s started to become seen as a viable relationship choice other than monogamy and so I would say it has increased over the last decade.

Dr. Joy: Got it. What are some of the common myths that you hear, Ruby, related to ethical non-monogamy? Probably tons!

Ruby: Yes! One of them is that it's all about sex, and it's not all about sex when it comes to polyamorous relationships so that's one I'm going to focus on there. But also, there are some aspects where it is about sex but that is in the lifestyle. It's important that we separate the lifestyle or swinging from polyamory but sometimes people conflate the two together. And so one of them is that it's all about sex, which is not true. Sex is a part of it, but it's more about the relational and emotional connection.

Another one is that people who are polyamorous are non-committal, that means that there's a struggle with committing to one particular person. And so it's not necessarily non-committal; it’s the way we do commitment is different. It's not commitment to one person without being able to commit to another person. It's a lot more broad in the definition of commitment. Another one is that people who are polyamorous are full of disease, sexually transmitted diseases, it's not true. Actually, people who are polyamorous are more conscious about safer sex practices than many other groups.

Another one is that (I'm going to take a risk in saying this) this is a white folks thing. I'm like, no, there's a whole community of black people that are polyamorous. And so its representation may have it as white, affluent–that's what polyamorous couples look like–but actually, there's a strong black and poly community that is out there, which is what I'm a part of. And so those are a few of the myths that are out there about it.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that because I do think that, like anything, when not a lot of people have been talking about it or it is newer to the lexicon, then people have all kinds of misconceptions about what this means.

Ruby: Right. Yeah, they have a lot of misconceptions and it's usually based upon media representation, is what is being fed to us about something. Because our information tends to come from what people feed us, rather than what we go and search for. I know for me, I had my own stigmas and myths, misconceptions and misrepresentations myself, so I had to go and do my own independent research for myself. I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking to a lot of people and so me, immersing myself within the community, was the best thing that I could do because then I got a real flavor for what was going on and what was happening and allowed myself to be open to it.

Dr. Joy: Right. Let's say that there is someone listening or consuming this interview and they are curious and thinking maybe I want to talk with my current partner about us being open to consensual non-monogamy. How might they bring that up with a partner?

Ruby: That's a good one. Carefully. Yes, one of the things that I encourage is that you get your education first. Start doing your own research and present it to your partner as something that is a curiosity, present it to them as something, “Hey, this is what I read about, I'm thinking about. What are your thoughts about it?” But kind of do it in that way that is informed as much as possible and present it as an idea, not as this is what I want to do. That's my biggest suggestion.

When couples come to me and they're wanting to open their relationship up, the first thing that I have them do is read. Get some education, is this what you want to do? Read this book, read that book, look at the pitfalls here, look at how this would change the relationship. There's a great book I like to recommend for clients, which is Rewriting the Rules and it actually talks about how you redefine commitment, monogamy, all of those terms. Just kind of ease into it and be inquisitive more than anything at first.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And would you say, in your experience, that there is something that is kind of like the point at which couples begin having these conversations? Or is it a different entry point for different people?

Ruby: Different entry point for different people. From the couple who's been together for 30 years and they're like, “we want to do something different,” to the couple who is brand new but they don't know if they want to stay in a monogamous relationship and they'd want to start out with it being open, and what does that look like for them? It's just different places in your life, different relationship places on how you want to do it.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. It sounds like this is a large part of what you do with your clients when they're coming to you, trying to figure this out. What kinds of questions do you feel like you should ask yourself and maybe your partner, if this is something that you're considering?

Ruby: Some of it, ask what is your intention? What is the end goal here? What are you looking to do when opening your relationship? And that's a really important thing because it kind of drives which direction you want to go. A lot of times people don't realize that going from a monogamous paradigm and that mono normative way of being, and shifting to polyamorous is you're shifting a whole lot of ideology, you're shifting a whole lot of social constructs. You're just shifting a whole lot of stuff.

And ask yourself, are you ready to take that journey in opening your relationship? Because it changes family dynamic, how you interact with your family, this is a big shift and it's against the norm. And so ask yourself, is this something that I want to do? I know, for me, personally, it wasn't something necessarily I asked myself a whole lot of questions about. I was 38, I'm like I'm living my life, right? So I was at a different place in my life to where I knew what I was doing wasn't fulfilling for me, wasn't giving me where I wanted to be within my relationships and then so I took my own personal journey there.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. I think one thing that I often hear, Ruby, that I would love to hear your thoughts about, it feels like there are instances where some couples begin to explore what this might look like after there has been some infidelity. I’d love to know... I would imagine just like lots of couples stay together after infidelity, it's not that it can't work, but it does often feel sometimes like, okay, well let's try this. And so I would love to hear just like how you might work with a couple or things that you would suggest to someone who may be considering this after there's been infidelity in the relationship.

Ruby: Yeah, that's a real big one. And the reason that I say that, I have like three clients I'm working with that right now. I tend to get a lot of that for some reason and they want to open the relationship by way of wanting to be able to maintain a relationship with the person that they were having an affair with. Which is really difficult and it's very hard because you're basically wanting to open your relationship and say, “Okay, I love this person; I also love my wife.” Or I love my husband, I don't want to end the relationship–or my partner, because it happens with same sex partners also–and I don't want to end my relationship with them and I don't want to end my relationship with this other person.

But then you're dealing with, on the other partner’s side, you're dealing with betrayal, you’re dealing with hurt, you’re dealing with this person represents that this is the harm that happened within our relationship. It takes a whole lot of fortitude, a whole lot of hard decisions. And can it happen? Absolutely. I've seen it happen and I've seen people go on and have happy relationships. Does it hurt? Absolutely. Can it not work? Can it be like we don't want to use polyamory as a justification for doing stuff that is a violation of the commitment within a relationship. So that's a very good question. It's also very complex because it involves matters of the heart that are in betrayal and so that's real difficult. Because the whole basis of being in polyamorous relationships is consent and awareness, and so if you don't have consent and you don't have awareness of what's going on, that's going to be real difficult to build that trust and get back to.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And so for people who are, say you've had this conversation with your partner and you decided, okay, we want to maybe decide that we have an ethically non-monogamous relationship, what are some of the rules or the boundaries that you do want to set? Because now you're adding more people. We know how communication can sometimes be difficult with just two people and so now we’re adding more people, what are some of the rules and boundaries that people need to be mindful of?

Ruby: Some of the pitfalls is that there isn't that consistent check-in with your partner about what is going on and what is happening. The way that being in polyamorous relationships, how you are successful is based a lot upon awareness and shared meaning. And when I say shared, meaning it’s kind of like do we both have an understanding of what this agreement is? Do we both have an understanding of what this expectation is? Is it a realistic expectation?

One of the first things that I have the client do in the very beginning is define polyamory for each person, define what commitment is, define what trust is, define what communication is. To start defining things because once you get that foundation of shared meaning, then you're able to build your agreements, then you're able to build the agreements of when do I let you know that I'm interested in someone? Do I tell you from the jot that I'm interested or is it do I tell you when I start flirting? Those types of things.

How often are we going to have our meetings as a couple? What are going to be our sacred moments together? What are we going to have that's just ours? Those types of conversations where you try to preserve what you have as a unit but still invite other people into your life. And so it's not about losing what you have with your partner; it's about enhancing the individual lives which in turn enhance the partnerships or the couple's lives.

Dr. Joy: And are there other pitfalls that you would say you've seen happen for clients?

Ruby: Yes, I've seen. One of them is lack of awareness, which is a big one. Lack of fluid communication. Also, operating in secrecy versus privacy. Sometimes you have your private things, your private moments, some things you want to keep to yourself; there's a difference between secrecy, privacy, and transparency and understanding how those operate within relationships.

Because when we're in a monogamous relationship and we go to shift on into a polyamorous relationship, some of the ways that we view secrecy, privacy and transparency are going to shift. Privacy is that I have discernment of who I share my stuff with; secrecy is that I'm doing something that I'm not supposed to be doing and I just don't want to tell you–that's that shame piece. And transparency, for some people, means that I get to know each and every detail of your thoughts and what's going on and what’s happening. And so some of the pitfalls come into a misunderstanding of how that awareness, what it looks like and what consent looks like operating in those spaces.

Another one is to have to have the idea that, okay, we're going to date as a couple or we're going to date individually, and not having that conversation on what that looks like. I have a client right now that I'm working with and they've been together 10 years and they decided to open their relationship. His idea of opening a relationship was them getting a third and dating as a couple. Her idea of opening a relationship was her starting her own individual relationships and that happened, and they didn't have an understanding of where they were going and what they were doing. They ended up in therapy because there was some infidelity that happened. There's also great successes.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and the other thing that I'm thinking is what happens if you do decide to open up your relationship and you try it and then let's say some months or years later you decide, this isn't actually what I want anymore? But you've opened it now so I would imagine that it requires a conversation, but you might not be in the same place now, in terms of *[inaudible 0:26:11]

Ruby: Exactly. That happens. At different phases of your life, you want different things and so recognizing, though, that your partner may have a different perspective and a different point of view, and how do you have that conversation? Do monogamous and polyamorous, what I call mixed orientation relationships, mono-poly relationships work? Absolutely. But it requires a whole lot of conversation and a whole lot of maturity and saying, okay, I want my partner to be happy and I want me to be happy, so what can I do for us to contribute to both of our happiness without losing myself? And that's that grown folk stuff.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, right. That requires a kind of deep communication that would be required in any constellation...

Ruby: It does. You know, and polyamorous is a lot of fun. It can be a lot of fun and people like to focus on... Like, I like these questions, because it's kind of like, what are the pitfalls? How can you be successful? What are some things to look for? What are some questions to ask? What I love about it is that there's an opportunity for you to grow as an individual.

The most beautiful thing that I witness with clients is when they open their relationship and they discover new things about themselves. Wow, I didn't know that I had that creativity; I didn't know that I wanted to start exploring this with this new person; I didn't know that I like Japanese food. You're exposed to different things based upon the people that you're with. So that's a great positive piece of being in a polyamorous relationship or opening your relationship, is that you get to have your own self-discovery, which is a whole lot of fun.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, yeah. And I think it's really interesting sometimes too, that there are lots of pieces of ourselves that we cannot uncover individually. There's a lot of stuff that only happens in relationship.

Ruby: Absolutely.

Dr. Joy: So I can see how you are stretching and learning new things about yourself in this way. You've already mentioned the importance of community and shared that it has been really difficult for people and even you individually to kind of find community around being polyamorous or in ethically non-monogamous relationships. Where should people begin to look to kind of find more resources or have conversations with people who are a part of the community?

Ruby: Join and if you want to meet people, start going to some of those meetings that they have. Because here in Plano, I used to have a meetup group where people would come who are curious about non-monogamous relationships, so you just can come and ask questions of people who are experienced. Search on Facebook, you can find various groups, various meetups, you can find people having lots of interesting conversations. You can even google, like for good books to read, just so you get your own understanding of the language so you know what to search for.

But it's going to be something that you intentionally look for because, unfortunately, people are not out about being polyamorous because there is still some stigma that's attached to it and people have a lot to risk and a lot to lose, especially when they're around children and etc. So you're going to have to go out and search for these groups and these people and where they are.

For me, when I first started doing this, I was looking into groups that were not people who look like me. And so for me, it was very important that I find people who look like me who are practicing polyamory, so I went out and I found that community. I went out and I found the black and poly community. There's an entire group on Facebook with like 16,000 members who are black and polyamorous and there's other little small groups that are spin offs from that. But the community is out there, you have to search for it, word of mouth. But you're not alone if it's something that you're curious about.

Dr. Joy: You mentioned another term, Ruby, that I hadn't heard before in terms of a couple maybe being socially monogamous, where maybe they are outwardly (to family and friends) monogamous, but then in private are having very different kinds of relationships. I'm curious to hear: if you do want to share this with friends and family, how do you have those conversations?

Ruby: The thing is, in having those conversations, you can't really protect people from their discomfort. You know what I mean? And so, being honest and forthright. What I tell clients all the time and it’s what I did with my family, being authentic is all you got and being who you are is the greatest gift. And so sitting down, doing it, you know, having the usual. Have good timing, being careful with your words, knowing their personality but it's up to you when, where and how you want to disclose to your family. And recognizing that everyone is going to support you in some of your life choices and decisions that you make.

There's different types of ways of being monogamous. I mentioned socially monogamous, there's also emotionally monogamous, there's physically monogamous. And there's just different ways that some people, they don't necessarily have to be sexually monogamous, but they want to be emotionally monogamous. And so some people explaining that to family members may not be something that's necessary for them because it's not an emotional connection. But for some people it is because they may want to bring someone who they're physically having a relationship with to an event. It just depends.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. You mentioned also just the stigmas that lots of people still have related to non-monogamous or ethically non-monogamous relationships. How do you go about unpacking some of these stigmas that you might have? I mean, all of us have grown up like we talked about, in a society where this was not something that lots of people were talking about. I would imagine lots of us have stigmas that we need to unpack related to this.

Ruby: Oh, yeah, a lot of us do. It’s that internalized bias, that you have your own internalized phobias and -isms and fears around it. And it’s because there was such a fear that was put into us that someone is threatening our relationship at all the time. It’s that fear and so a lot of the unpacking that I do with clients is centered around fear: what are you afraid of? What are you afraid of losing? Are you fearful of abandonment? Are you fearful of being rejected? You kind of get to the source of where that stigma is coming from. Is it rooted in those particular fears?

Also, it’s rooted in the appearance. You want to have the appearance of the heterosexual couple with 2.2 kids and the house and all of that, and what is going to mix up that American dream. And that can be a stigma because stigma is designed to keep you in place, keep you running with the social norm of what it’s supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to be, when there's no such thing as a norm, actually.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I mean it can look however we decide we want it to look.

Ruby: Mm hmm.

Dr. Joy: Something else you mentioned, Ruby, is that a lot of our ideas about relationships come from media. Do you feel like there have been any examples that have done a really good job of portraying ethical non-monogamy well?

Ruby: Hmm, that's a good question. And I can't think of the documentary right now and I will send it to you later. There's a documentary done with Evita Sawyers; she's a polyamorous coach and that was a good representation of it. There's a show called Wanderlust that was on Netflix, which is a good representation. There's been a couple of documentaries and a couple of series done that actually nailed it really well, on the basics of what opening a relationship looks like and how it doesn't have to look like the male-female-female dynamic. You know, it's a lot more than three people. It's an actual family that's involved and that's what I liked about those representations.

But when media has it represented like in the show Insecure, they had it represented as something that was basically infidelity in that show, the show Insecure, it wasn't represented that well. There's another... what was it? Love & Hip Hop? Look, I'm older so... I think it was Love & Hip Hop, someone told me they had it misrepresented and not represented very well. And so that's the big thing for me, is that this popular culture is so powerful for individuals and how they do relationships. They get their ideas of how to be in relationships from popular culture. What it looks like is very important and that we're representing it as something that is a viable relationship choice.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And I am interested to check out the documentaries that you shared, because I do think when we see it in popular culture, you never really see the conversations around boundary setting, right? And like, these are the things that we're keeping for our primary relationship and this is what our other relationships are going to look like. You don't typically see those conversations.

Ruby: No, you don't. You don't see conversations around boundaries and agreements, period. Other than there's conversation around use a condom, that kind of stuff. But there's not conversations around the emotional and mental aspects of opening your relationship. Because it's a mental thing, you’re going against the grain of what has been indoctrinated within you on what relationships look like.

For me, I grew up with one of the things my mama used to say was that, “You better keep your man satisfied at home or he gonna go find it somewhere in the streets.” That kind of stuff, you know, that kind of stuff. And for me to go against saying, well, it's okay, if he goes and find something else in the streets.

Dr. Joy: Right, because it would have been a discussion. Yeah. The other thing, as I'm thinking about it, Ruby, I would imagine that a lot of what needs to be unpacked and undone related to people who are considering this, is the sense of possessiveness that comes with sometimes being with a partner. Like just the idea that they're talking to someone else or like what are y'all saying? And, you know, is this still special? How do you work with someone to kind of begin to unpack some of that?

Ruby: Oh, now that's the biggest conversation. Being possessive and territorial which brings up jealousy and envy, and so that is a big conversation. And you really have to get down to the root of and unpacking that “what do you fear you're going to lose or miss out on?” That FOMO, fear of missing out. What is it that this person being with this person, what is it saying about you? Do you feel like you're not enough? Do you feel like your partner is wanting to be with someone else because they're comparing them to you? Like you're not doing this so I'm going to go get it over here. And it's those types of competition. It's possessiveness, it’s being territorial, which brings on the jealousy and the envy.

And so having conversations around those three things are really important. And we have a term for that: it's called polyagony. Because it can be agonizing for people to share their mate, to feel displaced within a relationship. So the emotional shift, that primal panic that happens with the idea that your mate is going to see someone else, that is, I think, the biggest conversation that we have in the very beginning.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm, yeah. And I would imagine, like with a lot of things, you can talk about stuff and then it's very different in practice. I would imagine there's a conversation kind of leading up to opening the relationship and then continuing conversations as it continues.

Ruby: Right, exactly. Because theory and practice are two different things. Exactly.

Dr. Joy: Right. We're gonna take a quick break and then come back with some community questions.

[Sponsor announcement]

Dr. Joy: Ruby, we do have a couple of questions submitted from our community members that we would love for you to weigh in on. The first question is: How do you manage being polyamorous in a pandemic?

Ruby: That’s an awesome question, I've been having that question a lot. With creativity. For those who have established relationships already, that's been a lot of fun. Just recognizing that a lot of the communal aspects and the physical connection that is involved within polyamorous relationships and keeping them nurtured, there's more creativity that happens. And so there is a lot of people who feel touch-deprived because if you're solo polyamorous and you're living alone and you're not having anyone with you and you're used to going to your mate’s house or seeing them and then you don't have it, there's that level of isolation. And being creative and creating low-risk connections.

For those in established relationships, it’s having to break down barriers and boundaries and then build new ones in different ways. And so in itself, it has brought some challenges. Some relationships haven't survived because you get an opportunity to figure out what is our relationship based upon? But I think it has created a new shift in how we do relationships, overall, as a society, but especially in polyamorous polycules because, you know... I have a client who they hadn't seen their partner. They're used to seeing their partner every weekend but haven't seen them in three months and the sadness and the grief that comes from not being able to see their partner, and then leaning on another partner for help with that but then they're feeling their sadness and their own grief. It's been interesting with those established relationships.

Now, for those who are wanting to date, who are polyamorous and date in a pandemic, that's been interesting also because I'm one of those people. I have not met anyone in person at all because my mom is sick, so I don't risk anything when it comes to her. But for individuals who are establishing new ways of connecting, there's new creative ways of online dating, which I'm sure you've talked about in your podcast before. But there is a lot of community being built around speed dating, there's entire events that happen in the poly community about still building connection because we are a community that knows how to do long distance relationship well. We already have that skill set and so how do we expand on that skill set in a time of a pandemic and in a time of emergency?

There's been a shift of priorities. For some people being polyamorous, they have shifted and started to focus on just being... They’re not any less polyamorous but they have shifted and just focusing on their primary relationship. That's a very complex thing. Typically, when I have the conversations, I've been doing podcasts with people having conversations about being black, polyamorous and in a time of uprisings.

This is probably too much information but I work a lot with people who are involved in frontline uprisings–BYP, BLM–and within those communities, polyamory is a natural, you'd be surprised. Especially the BYP movement are young people, they have activist pods around being polyamorous and what does that look like? How it has helped, having those loving relationships during this pandemic and in a time of protest and in a time of uprising. So that is a podcast in itself, talking about ways within communities (that) the pandemic has strengthened and revealed a whole lot.

Dr. Joy: Hmm, that is interesting. I appreciate you sharing that. And I would imagine, I'm actually not surprised because I think young people just are younger, so they are not as caught up in all of the ideas about what relationships have to look like, anyway. I think they feel much freer to kind of describe and be in relationships in the way that they choose.

Ruby: Right. It's a beautiful thing to watch how leaning on multiple loves within these times have actually been a great asset for many people.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I would imagine. A second question we have, and I think you kind of touched on this but we want to be sure the question is answered: Can someone identify as polyamorous and be in a monogamous relationship, but have polyamorous relationships outside of it?

Ruby: Yeah, you can. I call that the mixed orientation relationship, is what I'm hearing. It’s that, yeah, they're polyamorous, they’re dating someone who is monogamous but they still want to have other polyamorous relationships. Yes, that is possible.

Dr. Joy: Right, but of course it would still require a conversation with the monogamous partner about what's happening.

Ruby: Yes, exactly. Everybody has to agree that this is going to happen. What’s challenging with someone who's monogamous dating someone who's polyamorous is what I call limited consent. Because ultimately, most people don't *[inaudible 0:45:40] their polyamorous partner to date other people, but do they really have full consent in that? You know what I'm saying? There is a limitation to their consenting but it's like a limited consent in that their partners want to do what they're going to do and if they want to be with that partner, they're going to have acceptance of who that partner is.

Dr. Joy: Okay, got it. Yeah, but still, even though I don't want people to get that confused into like a manipulation kind of thing, because I don't think that's what it is. And not like an ultimatum. It's an understanding like, yeah, I don't really love this but I love you, kind of like you talked about earlier. I want you to be happy and so I'm giving a limited consent to this.

Ruby: Yes, yes, that is it. There's no coercion, it's not about power dynamic, it's about I love you and I want to support you, and I do have a choice if I want to be in a relationship with you. That’s the thing, yes.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Got it.

Ruby: That's the differentiation.

Dr. Joy: Okay. Ruby, you have already given us some great resources. You mentioned Designer Relationships and Rewriting the Rules: are there other favorite books that you have that you find yourself recommending pretty frequently?

Ruby: More Than Two is another good book I like to recommend and Opening Up is another good book. More Than Two is by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux. Opening Up is by Tristan Taormino. Love's Not Color Blind is the only book (well, not the only one, there's one other person) that’s written by a black man. There’s very few black authors on polyamory and so that's Love's Not Color Blind and it’s written by Kevin Patterson. Those are some books that I like to recommend.

Dr. Joy: Okay. And any other documentaries or podcasts that you suggested?

Ruby: Yeah, I would like to send you the names of those documentaries but the podcasts include Monogamish which is with Jhen. There's another one called Normalizing Non-monogamy, there's Multiamory and one more which is Poly Weekly.

Dr. Joy: Okay, perfect. And we will include all of those in the show notes. If somebody wants to learn more about you and your work, would you share your website as well as any social media handles you’d like?

Ruby: Yes. My website is and you can find me at @BlackSexGeek on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also, I run a conference called PolyDallas Millennium, it’s our fifth year and it's a polyamorous conference that centers folks of color who are non-binary, trans and gender queer. And our next one is November 6th through the 8th and it's online. It’s Open To Love: The Virtual Experience and you can go to for that one.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for sharing with us today, Ruby. I really appreciate it.

Ruby: Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.

Dr. Joy: I’m so glad Ruby was able to join us for today's conversation. To learn more about her practice or the resources that she shared, be sure to visit the show notes at and be sure to text two sisters that might enjoy this episode right now. If there's a topic you'd like to have covered on the podcast, please submit it to us at

And if you're looking for a therapist in your area, don't forget to check out our therapist directory at If you want to continue digging into this topic and connect with some other sisters in your area, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at Thank y'all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all, real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

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Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here