What’s the key to a successful non-monogamous relationship?

What's the key to a successful non-monogamous relationship? | Soho House

This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter shares the secret to nailing ‘ENM’, otherwise knowns as ‘Ethical Non-Monogamy’

Friday 23 December 2022   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Vasya Kolotusha

Everywhere I look right now, I see non-monogamy. It’s the subject du jour at every dinner party I go to. The focus of every podcast I listen to. The thing I’m asked to discuss at events. Heck, it was even a plot line in The White Lotus -ish. Ethical Non-Monogamy, or ‘ENM’ as those in the know call it, is on the rise. In fact, it has been for some time, but it’s only this year that this new relationship dynamic appears to have truly infiltrated the zeitgeist to the point where you’d struggle to find someone who hasn’t heard of it.

Just in case, though, here’s an explanation: ENM is a non-monogamous style of relationship whereby you engage in romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners, all of whom are aware and agree to this dynamic. It’s revolutionary in a society in which monogamy has long been considered the default modality for all romantic relationships. 

A long-awaited antidote to traditions that don’t suit everyone, ENM defies everything we’ve been conditioned to believe about love. That it’s about two people. That it’s about exclusivity. And that its success is predicated on whether or not it results in marriage. There are many reasons why this path doesn’t suit everyone, not least because so much of it is rooted in heteronormative ideals. 

But this is all changing. In 2016, one study in the US found that 20% of people have been involved in non-monogamous relationships. Meanwhile, last month, Hinge added ‘non-monogamy’ to its list of relationship types, meaning users can now specify that this is what they’re looking for on the app. This is a huge step forward, as ENM is slowly becoming more mainstream.

Back to your question, though. If you are entering into an ENM relationship, there are many factors to consider. It’s not something I’ve done myself, having only ever been in one monogamous relationship, but as I navigate the dating scene for the first time in four years, I’m realising that ENM is far more common than I thought. And I recently swiped right on someone whose profile stated that they were in an open marriage – so who knows what the future could bring?

As for advice, I’ll be looking to some of the sex educators and friends who have been in ENM relationships. Like Ruby Rare, who regularly posts about ENM on social media. Her tips include doing your research, ‘but don’t take the books and podcasts as gospel. This is about finding out what works for you’. She also advocates dating people who want to date you according to your relationship style, adding, ‘it’s not fun catching feels for someone whose relationship style isn’t compatible with yours’.

The most important thing, though, is communication – because open and honest conversations are integral to any ENM relationship. If you’re feeling jealous of one partner’s partner, for example, Rare says that you shouldn’t suppress it, because ‘it’s often trying to tell you something about what you need in that moment. Another helpful tip is to ‘find your community’. You can do this by following people like Rare on Instagram, where you’ll find ample people talking about ENM, including @polyphiliablog, @dkleather, @sophiedukebox, and more. 

If you’re considering ENM, you’re doing so for a reason. Trust your instincts and embrace what comes your way.

The quick-fire round

How do I overcome the feeling of rejection from a guy I really like?
This is painful. And I’m afraid there are no two ways about it. All you can do is tell yourself that if this person rejected you, then they weren’t meant for you. Yes, that can be hard to accept and it can take time. But someone better, and more suited to you, is out there. You just have to be patient.

How do I maintain a healthy balance between self-disclosure and personal privacy?
This is definitely something I need to work on; I spill my entire life story out to potential dates without even realising, particularly if alcohol is involved. Vulnerability breeds intimacy, so you need a degree of self-disclosure to form a bond with someone. But remember that it’s healthy to have boundaries, and that means keeping some things to yourself, at least in the early stages of dating. It’s a balancing act.

If you want to get in touch, please email me at dearolivia@sohohouse.com. All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate