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.
Linh is a 22-year-old Vietnamese-American women who is bisexual, gray ace, and poly, and lives in the Bay Area. She is in one long-term committed relationship and is casually dating around with the hopes of finding other long-term partners, and works as a full-time content creator for a tech startup by day, writer of fiction and personal essays by night.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Linh: The first time I started exploring polyamory was when I was technically someone’s secondary partner. It was really strange because I went from being a serial monogamist to becoming someone’s secondary partner. It was such a drastic change and it really hurt my self-esteem I think. I don’t think I was emotionally ready to be in that position, and my partner lived really far away and didn’t deserve to deal with my jealousies and issues, so I decided to end that relationship.
It’s not all sad, though. That relationship sparked some discussion of polyamory in my current relationship. I realized that polyamory was perfect for me, but only when I felt ready for it (which I did and do with my current partner).
Carolyn: What was that initial discussion in your current relationship like? Was there a catalyst for it?
Linh: I had started hanging out with my current boyfriend near the end of that initial relationship so he knew that my ex-partner was polyamorous. That kicked off the conversation because he had never heard of polyamory before. We were also talking about our sexualities and he basically wondered if I felt stifled never having had long-term relationships with women (or much experience, really, outside of my first poly relationship). We loved each other, but he didn’t want me to feel like I couldn’t date and fall in love with women just because I was with him. It was a really open, honest, and vulnerable conversation and I was scared because I hear about how bisexual women are stigmatized and objectified, but my boyfriend never made me feel like that. I’m glad I’m exploring polyamory with him!
Carolyn: That’s such a great reaction! How long ago was that? How have things evolved since?
Linh: It’s been around a year now! We opened up our relationship summer of 2015 and it’s been great! Jealousy isn’t really an issue with the two of us so we’ll talk openly about dates and crushes and it’s totally fine. Once in a while I’ll go on a date that, after I tell him how it goes, he’ll tell me it made him uncomfortable and so we’ll talk about why and come up with rules from there. The way we go about evolving our poly relationship is really organic in that way.
As for how dating is going for me personally, it’s been tough to: (a) find queer women to date (though Tinder helps) and (b) find queer women who aren’t looking for a threesome buddy. I’ve met plenty of cool people, but haven’t really had a connection with most so I can’t say I’ve found another partner yet. Being gray ace and an introvert makes it tough for me to find people I click with romantically and sexually so it’s probably gonna take a while before I find another partner haha. It’s been fun, though!
Carolyn: What reasons might there be for developing a new rule? What sort of negotiations take place around them?
Linh: Well, mostly it’s from things that we can’t predict! For example, I went on a date with this woman once and it went pretty well. However, near the end I somehow suddenly ended up hanging out with both her boyfriend and her (I think I was walking her to her car, but then it turned out her boyfriend was there and was expecting to meet me). It made me feel weird because, to me, that’s like if you brought a close family member or your best friend on a first date — it’s just awkward. My boyfriend was uncomfortable because he felt like it wasn’t a date with me and one other person, but rather a date with a couple which is something we never thought to discuss before. From then on, we decided that going on dates with couples, intentionally or unintentionally, was a no-no.
Basically, if someone feels like something’s fishy or weird, then that person’s feelings have to be first priority and decisions are made accordingly. It’s been working out for us so far because we generally have the same vibes given the same situation.
“Basically, if someone feels like something’s fishy or weird, then that person’s feelings have to be first priority.”
Carolyn: How does your relationship shift in any other ways when you date or crush on someone new?
Linh: It involves a lot of playful teasing and advice-giving! We both get super flustered with new crushes (as most people do!) and I find it super cute to see him in that phase again, and I know he finds it charming when I’m all blushy and crushy too. It adds a new layer of excitement to our relationship. Similar to how your best friend would be super excited to hear you have a crush on the local Starbucks barista.
He has a lot more experience flirting with women than I do, so I always ask him for advice on, say, response texts or asking women out. He also comes to me when he wants a second pair of eyes at a flirty message, too.
Carolyn: I love that kind of compersion! What’s the best part? What sometimes feels like a struggle?
Linh: The best part isn’t even the dating, tbh. The best part is feeling open and honest with my best friend/lover! In a different relationship, I can imagine feeling this inner turmoil of never getting to explore my queer identity and further digging myself into this hole of feeling “not queer enough,” all because I’d primarily been in heteronormative relationships and am generally femme-presenting. Being poly with my boyfriend makes me feel like myself in a truly indescribable way.
The struggle is the dating lol.
Like I mentioned before, I’m gray ace and introverted so it takes a while for me to open up to people and it’s hard to even be attracted to people. I think I was a serial monogamist before because once I fall for someone, I fall hard — there’s really no in-between for me. It’s super rare, that’s all. Tinder’s great for helping me find queer girls to date, but it’s a terrible way for me to find someone I could be attracted to so it’s all been a real hit-or-miss for me.
And this is a cliche poly answer for a reason, but the other trouble is time. On top of spending time with my boyfriend, I have lots of side hobbies and family and friends I’d like to spend time with so spreading time between it all is already hard as it is. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to meet up with a stranger who I may or may not hit it off with.
Carolyn: Time management is such a real problem though! When I was first learning about poly I read a lot of things that distill to “infinite love, finite time,” and nothing about that has changed over the years. Do you have any boundaries with how you spend your time, or any ways of managing it across all types of relationships?
Linh: “Infinite love, finite time” describes it perfectly!
I wish I had a more concrete answer to your question, but I don’t think I’ve progressed far enough in my other poly relationships to know the boundaries that will have to be set. So far, all of our rules have been pretty organic so I imagine when the time comes, the boundaries set will come about organically as well.
Carolyn: Above you alluded to something you’ve spoken about a lot on Twitter: the intersection of your queer, Asian-American, femme and gray-ace identities. Where does poly intersect with these?
Linh: I think the idea that all of these identities exist in a single person is all at once radical and stereotypical. For a long time, I was afraid I was living out a stereotype. I was afraid I was a “greedy” bisexual, greedy in the sense that I’m poly. Asian/Asian-American women are sexualized and fetishized as is, so my “greedy bisexual” identity made me feel like I was a “bad queer,” someone who took away from the community more than I could ever possibly give to it. I felt like my identity was false, even though I knew it was my truth.
It took me a while to see my identity as not a stereotypical one, but a radical one. It’s one thing to think bisexuals are “greedy” and that Asian-American women are sex objects. But it’s another to accept that a bisexual, poly, Asian-American woman exists and is in full control of her own sexual and ethnic identity. Being queer, Asian-American, femme, and gray ace — this is my identity and I get to choose that that means to me. Not anybody else. My identity isn’t any less of a queer identity because somebody out there decided to take it and twist it into something else. My identity, and all of its intersections, is just one of the many beautiful identities that exists. And they are all just as valid as any other.
“I felt like my identity was false, even though I knew it was my truth. It took me a while to see my identity as not a stereotypical one, but a radical one.”
I’d like to touch on being gray ace and poly for a second. When people think of polyamory, they usually imagine a huge orgy or someone who’s having sex with a lot of people. In my case, that’s not what’s happening at all (power to the people living their lives like this, though! It’s just not for me). I just know in my heart that I am capable and willing to love more than one person — sex or no sex. I’ve already felt this love for some of my friends while I was in perfectly happy relationships before. I thought it was platonic love before, but looking back now, I’m confident that it was romantic love. None of it escalated to sex, but I was happy regardless with our relationship. Not all poly people are in it for the sex. When I say I am capable of loving more than one person, I really do mean it. Just love would be enough for me.
Carolyn: That is really beautiful! …That is geeky but it’s also true. What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working toward or hoping for?
Linh: Ideally I’d be in a triad with my boyfriend and another woman and we’d be a happy little family! It’d be cool if we were all in love with each other, but if my boyfriend and partner were just good friends I’d be perfectly happy with that too ☺️