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.
Nicole Quinones is a 20-year-old Latina queer polyamorous femme living in Philadelphia. She is single and works as a nonprofit employee and fetish model.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Nicole: I first explored what I would call non-monogamy (and not necessarily polyamory) about two years ago when I started dating my last partner. We began our relationship as friends who casually hooked up non-exclusively, and eventually our relationship became more serious but we explicitly decided to remain in an open relationship.
We had started our relationship in an open way, and we developed feelings for each other regardless of the fact that we were still hooking up with other people. We also decided this was the best choice for us because we both recognized that we had a hard time being faithful in past relationships.
Carolyn: What initially felt exciting about non-monogamy? What felt challenging?
Nicole: It was exciting because I felt like I didn’t have to either lie to my partner or hold myself back from being attracted to others (and acting on it). It was a completely different configuration and relationship dynamic than I had ever experienced, and it stopped the guilt that I would normally feel in a monogamous relationship. In terms of challenges, I would say that jealousy was the biggest. My ex and I enjoyed setting our own, personalized boundaries and we decided that we would only hook up with other people if it wasn’t something consistent, like dating the other person, or if it wasn’t someone we had some sort of romantic history with. We also would only disclose any hookups we had if the other asked. In my case, I preferred not to know if they had been with someone, because I knew it would ignite my jealousy unnecessarily. They, on the other hand, felt more comfortable knowing, so they would ask me and I would honestly answer.
Right now I am single, but am open to meeting people and am also casually seeing two women, who I have disclosed my polyamory to.
Carolyn: Above you mentioned experiencing jealousy, and handling it one way in your previous relationship (i.e., by not wanting to know about things). Do you experience jealousy now? If so, how do you handle it? How do you prevent it?
Nicole: Since I haven’t been in a serious relationship since my last one ended about a year ago, I don’t believe I’ve been in situations to experience jealousy as strongly as I would have in a relationship. When people I date mention their past partners, I usually get this random slight pang of jealousy, but it’s not very significant. I try to prevent jealous thoughts by putting myself in the other person’s shoes, and realizing that I would not want them to be jealous nor see the need for them to be if the situation were reversed.
I try to prevent jealous thoughts by putting myself in the other person’s shoes, and realizing that I would not want them to be jealous nor see the need for them to be if the situation were reversed.
Carolyn: How would you characterize your attitude toward relationships generally?
Nicole: I think of relationships as occurring in all kinds of dynamics and configurations. I consider platonic relationships just as important as romantic ones and just as relevant as sexual ones. I see all relationships in a non-hierarchical way. I reject the ideas of exclusivity and expectation. In general, I am open to experiencing all kinds of mixed dynamics with others, as long as there is explicit communication. I am usually very wary and almost cynical of pursuing sexual or romantic relationships with people who are not polyamorous themselves, because from my experience I’ve noticed that most expect me to just change and be monogamous once in a relationship with them.
Carolyn: That’s happened to me too! Makes me wary of dating anyone who doesn’t already have a partner or few, because if they do it’s more likely they’ve had some practice with poly before.
Nicole: Exactly. It’s difficult to come across a monogamous person who will really be okay with their partner being poly.
Carolyn: How does polyamory function within your understanding of yourself?
Nicole: I identify with polyamory so intensely because I do not believe that love is something that is limited and can only be shared with one person at a time. I also believe that love is about appreciation and not possession. Someone’s separate relationships should not affect how I feel about them. People have different aspects of themselves, and sometimes, those aspects can only all be satisfied by different people. I really identify with the term relationship anarchy, because I believe it’s about having whatever kind of relationships you want, no matter how unusual or socially unacceptable they may seem, as long as the elements of communication and consent are present.
I consider platonic relationships just as important as romantic ones and just as relevant as sexual ones. I see all relationships in a non-hierarchical way. I reject the ideas of exclusivity and expectation.
Carolyn: Tell me more about how you approach relationship anarchy! I’ve heard it discussed as anywhere from “oh we just don’t have a hierarchy” to “no rules no boundaries no partners anyone can do anything and no one cares” and how successful it is seems to vary. (A previous interview also touched on this.)
Nicole: I guess I would say a little bit of both. I don’t want to hierarchize my relationships, and I’ve moved past the point where I’m only interested in an open relationship. I currently am open to anything: having more than one relationship at a time, being in one relationship with more than one person, being satisfied with only platonic relationships, etc. I’m into whatever works for me at any given time, and I recognize that that can change. I would say relationship anarchy is about questioning everything and not taking any relationship norms for granted, and this includes things like gender roles, jealousy and attachment.
I like asking questions like, “Why do we have to cohabitate as partners? If we do cohabitate, why do we have to share a room? Why do we eventually have to have kids? Why do we eventually have to get married? Why am I jealous of you hanging out with your ex-partner?” etc.
Carolyn: So sort of questioning the way “traditional”/escalator relationships go and your own notions of what feels/should feel good or not good?
Nicole: Exactly. Dropping any pre-set expectations and norms and starting from scratch.
Carolyn: You mentioned in an earlier conversation that you do sex work — what role does that play in how you do poly, if any?
Nicole: The fact that I’m a sex worker I feel has a significant effect on how I do poly because, before anything, my prospective partner needs to at least have some concept of poly so that they don’t consider my job as being unfaithful. I would not stop doing sex work for any partner, because it is something I enjoy doing and I don’t understand the need for jealousy towards my clients. It would be like if I worked at a restaurant and my partner was jealous of the customers who I served food to. Like any other job, there is the employee providing the service for compensation, and there is the customer paying for the service. That is the extent of the relationship, and I could never be with someone who had a problem with my sex work.
Carolyn: Are there any boundaries or structures you set for yourself that make you feel more successful at being poly?
Nicole: My biggest aids to maintaining a healthy mindset are practicing honesty and eradicating expectations. I usually try to stop myself by daydreaming about future expectations with anyone, because I am a strong believer in the inevitable disappointment that expectations bring. Expectations never line up with reality because they are essentially fantasies.
Carolyn: Thinking beyond any specific person, then, what do you want your future to look like?
Nicole: I want to feel both safe and free in my future relationships. I want to experience raw and genuine human connection with others, where I can be honest not only about my other relationships but about myself and not be afraid of any judgment. I want my future relationships to flow naturally, as in begin and end with the flow of what we feel, instead of forcing anything.