Poly Pocket: The Communication Cushion

When there aren’t any models for how you want to move through the world, it’s harder to move through the world. There’s no one right way to do ethical non-monogamy, just as there’s no one right way to do ethical monogamy, and no way is better or worse than any other, just better or worse for those involved. Poly Pocket looks at all the ways queer people do polyamory: what it looks like, how we think about it, how it functions (or doesn’t), how it feels, because when you don’t have models you have to create your own.

Mona is a 28-year-old Arab-American, queer, demisexual, ethically non-monogamous, cis woman living in the urban Midwest. She is in a primary partnership and is a social science PhD student. “Mona” is a pseudonym.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?

Mona: I moved to the East Coast from the Midwest four years ago. Shortly after my move, I began trying things, namely kink and polyamory, that I had wanted to try for some time but didn’t feel were possible before. I started meeting people off of OKCupid, who then introduced me to their friends and a broader community of folks who practice ethical non-monogamy. Everything snowballed from there.

Carolyn: What does your relationships relationship look like right now?

Mona: My current relationship and my approach to building new relationships are shaped by agreements I’ve made with my primary partner over the course of our three-year relationship. While we started our relationship with no rules, no expectations, and no hierarchy, we agreed a year ago to transition into a primary partnership, something more hierarchical, before we moved in together. We both date other people, but at the end of the day, we come home to one another.

“Building my relationships from scratch is the most exciting part of all of this. There are no predetermined expectations, only principles: respect and transparency.”

Carolyn: Why did you decide to make that transition?

Mona: I decided to ask for that transition based on some really intense feelings — fear, jealousy, anger. I want kids, I want something very long-term, and, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want that with a group of people. I want that with one other person. On top of that, I didn’t want to be my metamours’ equal. I wanted to be #1. So I was having all of these intense and negative feelings based on long-term relationship goals and our relationship agreements at that moment. So I went to my partner and said, “Hey, these are the things I want and am feeling. Can we be primaries now?” And he was like, “Yeah, cool. I feel like that’s what we’re doing in practice anyway.”

Carolyn: What about that has been a struggle? What about it has been most exciting?

Mona: It’s been difficult since day one to determine when my feelings are my problem or someone else’s. Like is this coming from a place of insecurity or past trauma totally unrelated to this relationship? Or did my partner actually wrong me in some way? The answer to those questions determines how I approach communicating my feelings and needs to my partner. It gets easier with practice, but it’s still not easy.

Building my relationships from scratch is the most exciting part of all of this. There are no predetermined expectations, only principles: respect and transparency. All expectations must be articulated and agreed upon. I love that. I feel truly free in my relationships.

Carolyn: How does your primary relationship shift when you date or sleep with someone new?

Mona: So far, it hasn’t shifted. It just stays the same. But it wasn’t always that way. Like I said, I used to have all sorts of strong, bad feelings. But over time, we have figured out how to communicate with one another about new partners. We both have different wants and needs on that front. I want to know who that person is, when they were last tested, what their intentions are, what my partner’s intentions are, and if and when those intentions change. My partner is fine knowing much less. The ways of communicating that we’ve developed over time have cushioned our primary relationship, so far, from the impact of new connections.

Carolyn: On your form you wrote you’d just moved to your city, and were planning to date to make friends there. How’s that going?

Mona: Hah! It’s going. I’ve been on two dates. They were both nice. I’ve maintained a connection with one of the people. Actually, she taught me how to knit last week and I knit my partner a scarf! So building meaningful relationships here is happening, but slowly.

“I want to maintain healthy romantic and sexual relationships through everything life has to throw at me. I think that so long as I have my people by my side, I can get through.”

Carolyn: Do you usually incorporate building relationships through poly and dating into the way you make friends, or is that new to this city?

Mona: It’s what I did by accident when I moved to the East Coast. In fact, most of my friends there I met through online dating sites, though not directly. It was this huge network of people who met that way. I met some of my closest friends through friends who were really good at online dating, so I figured I’d try it here.

Carolyn: Where does poly intersect with other elements of your identity? How does it function within your understanding of yourself?

Mona: I think if you asked me that a year ago or two years ago, I would have said it’s central to my understanding of myself in the same ways that my class background, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are. But now I’m not so sure. Those other elements of my identity and social position have a much greater bearing on my everyday life. That’s in part the product of my disengagement with a predominately white, wealthy, hetero poly scene. It’s also because I haven’t had the time or desire to date; I just want to spend my time with people I already know and love.

Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working towards or hoping for?

Mona: Very broadly, I want to be happy and healthy. I intend to do everything in my power to see that through. More specific to this interview, I want to maintain healthy romantic and sexual relationships through everything life has to throw at me. I think that so long as I have my people by my side, I can get through this PhD program, a job search, having and raising children, any illness I’m affected by, etc. I will continue to build and maintain the close relationships I need by practicing relationships that are guided by principles of respect and transparency, where every expectation is articulated and agreed upon by all parties.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. I kind of feel like making myself a pillow and stitching ‘Communication Cushion’ on it for hard times – like a talking feather, but cuddlier.

  2. I have struggled on and off with my poly identity for a while because I wasn’t seeing anyone who practiced it the way I need to in order to feel safe and healthy.

    A lot of advice I see online and the stories I hear make me feel like I must just be a jealous bitch for wanting to stay super informed and aware, and for practicing in a hierarchical way.

    But this made me feel much less alone and shitty about things.

    Thank you so much!

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