Polyamory in a pandemic

March 2020 – I started writing this on 24th March, the day after the UK Government finally stepped up and put the country in a 3 week lock down. It’s taken me a few days to reflect and say what I want to, for now…

Here I am, living a life filled with abundant love, multiple romantic connections, amazing friends and support networks… alone in my home with my daughter, physically far from everyone else that I love – my blood family and the people who I choose to call family.

As Boris Johnson announced the lockdown, I was text chatting online with my long distance partner, who was due to visit me this weekend. For the almost 3 years we’ve been together we’ve seen each other every 2-3 weeks at least… if the lockdowns stop when planned, our next time together will be after almost 5 weeks apart – but extensions to the lockdown look likely, so we’ll probably be apart longer. 

Meanwhile, someone else I love returned last week from a year of living in the States. I’ve missed her and can’t wait to see her in person after a year of sporadic text and video contact. When she returned she was in a 2 week quarantine, just a 20 minute train ride from me, and I don’t know when I’ll see her in person either.

There I was, snuggled up on the sofa watching a movie with my 9 year old daughter, who has a cough, which meant we were already a couple of days in to what we knew would be around 14 days of quarantine. We don’t know if it’s Covid or just a cough, but because of it the person I am often snuggled up on the sofa with is the other side of town, self isolated in their own flat alone. They are in an ‘at risk’ group and it’s safest for them to be there instead of risking exposure to the virus as my daughter was coming and going from her Dad’s place, so my home does present a risk. When her cough started, they left. It’s so strange being apart from someone who’s been a big part of my everyday life for over a year.

This isn’t a challenge exclusive to polyamorous folks, of course. People in one romantic relationship or none still have to make choices about who they want to isolate with in their household – and for some there will be limited or no choices, or ones that leave them vulnerable to abuse, violence, or further risk of exposure to the virus. I’m conscious of my privilege to isolate in a warm home with my child, in a neighbourhood that feels fairly safe, and with supportive people nearby.

It’s just that we live in a mononormative world, and assumptions about my relationship choices don’t fit. Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer had this advice: “If the two halves of a couple are currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households… The alternative might be that, for quite a significant period going forwards, they should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household.” And Matt Hancock, the health secretary, added: “There you go. Make your choice and stick with it.”

The choices that myself, my partners, metamours and friends have made, so far, are the right ones for us. We’re all pretty committed to a non-hierarchical approach to polyamory – and most of us are pretty good when we’re solo (in fact some of us prefer it). We don’t need the world to pity us and assume we are lonely, just because we appear to be alone. But I know many polyamorous folk who are feeling themselves compromised by having to isolate with one partner away from another, or who are isolated away from partners, like me, but feeling envious that their partner/s are locked down with another love. 

And what if someone gets sick? My polyam friend has been sick with suspected Covid, isolating in a house with a partner who started similar symptoms a few days earlier, and away from another partner who also has the same symptoms but who is staying away rather than risk infecting them… just in case they’re not actually carrying the same virus. 

If my local partner does get sick and needs help, I will want to bring them here – and dispatch my daughter to the safety of her Dad’s house. 

My long distance partner had a friend staying when the lockdown started – thankfully they get on well and the house is big enough for them to share for the long haul. And I’m glad my partner has their company, especially if he gets sick – being so far away I’d be no practical help at all.

One thing polyam people are often quite good at is assessing risk of exposure to infection – if you’re going to have intimate contact with multiple people, then you’re going to have to get good at having honest conversations about the risks that presents. Sexually transmitted infections are no different than respiratory viruses, in the end – they just transmit by different kinds of contact. And when cold germs have spread across polyamorous communities, most of us have shared a joke or two about the ‘poly plague’ and ‘patient zero’. So that’s an advantage, I guess.

And we have community – having multiple loves means that, in theory at the very least, there are many people who care about us, and would care for us, if we needed them to.

But we also have more people to keep in contact… more relationships to lean on and to nurture…more people to miss. I’ve become quite practiced at missing people – one of the most difficult things for me to get used to as I adapted from monogamy to polyamory was that I’m almost always missing someone. But this is tougher, I think – because I really don’t know when I’ll see them next… and in the darkest corners of my anxious brain I know this is a virus that can kill, so it’s possible that time with them is even more precious than any of us thought.

The other thing that polyamory has helped me learn to live with, though, is acceptance of uncertainty. The only certainty is change – and this too shall pass. We’re all in this, separately, together. And I can live with that.

© JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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