[Note: This essay originally started out as an answer on Quora.]

Image: Brooke Campbell

One of the enduring evergreen questions I hear time after time about polyamory is “how on earth do polyamorous people find the time and energy for multiple relationships?” And when I hear it, for a long time I’ve had to suppress a little voice inside saying “Wait, what?”

Why would it necessarily require more time and energy than monogamy. I mean, monogamous people presumably have multiple relationships too—friends, family, gaming groups, co-workers—they simply aren’t romantic and/or sexual relationships. So surely people are already familiar with making the time to maintain multiple relationships?

Why would you have time and attention to maintain many relationships that aren’t romantic, but be unable to understand how you do the same thing with romantic relationships? I mean, you already know how to manage multiple relationships, right? Just…do the same thing with your romantic relationships!

And I’d get blank looks when I said that.

The “aha” moment came when I started to understand that, at least from the outside, it seems as if many monogamous people treat “life” and “romantic relationships” as two separate things.

You have the stuff you do in your life, and you have to carve out holes in your life-stuff to do relationship-stuff. Like, if you have 18 hours a day dedicated to life-stuff, that only gives you six hours left for relationship-stuff. If you have two partners, that’s only three for each of them! If you have three partners, there’s only two hours a day you can carve out of your life for each of them!

The polyamorous people I know don’t do that compartmentalization. They’re much more likely to integrate life with relationships. You don’t need to carve time out of your life to have a relationship, you can involve your romantic partners multidimensionally in your life!

For example, I am a writer. It’s what I do for a living. Two of my lovers are also co-authors. When we write together, that’s also relationship time. (I once described the first three Passionate Pantheon novels Eunice and I wrote together as “a 380,000-word love letter.”)

If you read that and assume it must mean “poly people don’t have real relationships,” that’s exactly the kind of separation of life and romantic relationships I’m talking about.

The other secret is that when you’re polyamorous, you don’t necessarily have to spend your “relationship time” one on one with your romantic partners.

For example, I love to travel. But rather than taking four vacations a year, traveling separately with each of them, we all took one vacation together to Barcelona last year.

Any healthy relationship may need some one on one time, of course; my point is that not all relationships require one on one time all the time.

If you see that and say “no, absolutely not, I want my relationship time alone with my lover,” that’s okay—it might simply mean you’re monogamous, that’s all. (And it might not, of course.)

Point is, if you start with the assumption buried deep inside you—-an assumption you might not even consciously be aware of—that romantic relationships must exist in a space separate from the rest of your life, and must always be one on one—it might be easy to look at someone with multiple relationships and say “how on earth do you have the time and energy for that?”

The answer is, that’s not how polyamorous folks see relationships.

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