You, me + them: The reality of polyamorous relationships beyond stereotypes and misconceptions

Evident on first impression, by the reassuring glances and smiles they dart between one another, Tina Khatri and Elise Brown are, without question, friends. Their five-year relationship, which is rooted in this friendship, is complimentary, multifaceted, and polyamorous. Between them, they highlight the private reality of polyamory beyond its usual misconceptions and stereotypes.

Photographer: Sibelle Saglam

In fact, Khatri explains polyamory as a sort of extension of friendship. "People have best friends, some of us have multiple best friends, now just add sex and romance. You don’t even necessarily need to have the sex, you don’t even necessarily need to have the romance, it’s all different levels of friendship and intimacy. How you decide to have your relationships is the same as how you decide to have your friendships. Everyone is different."

As if to prove this correct, they have had varying journeys, bringing them to the point they are now.

For Khatri - her experience of polyamory began with her very first relationship. She explained that this relationship grew from what was a 'friends with benefits' situation into a relationship where monogamy was never discussed. After both falling for the same girl, Khatri and her then partner found themselves in a triad. It is from here that Khatri’s polyamory evolved, and she explains that she has "never really been monogamous".

For Brown, however, polyamory began with Khatri. "When Tina and I met, she had a boyfriend. They were poly and I didn’t know what the f*ck that was, but I fancied Tina," they say.

Despite originally not being aware of what it was, Brown believes it was polyamory that enabled them to develop a deeper connection early on. "Because we started seeing each other when she had a partner, I didn’t have to fulfil too much, making it easier to get to know each other in a genuine way," they say.

From here, their relationship has developed into something that suits them, allowing them to be the best possible versions of themselves.

Brown says: "In a lot of polyamorous relationships, they all date each other. But with us - I want to meet people, she wants to meet people, and we would be happy to live with respective partners, but we don’t date together."

Khatri expanded on this idea, highlighting how dating separately works better for them.

"We are each other’s nesting partners - we live together - it’s nice to have that security around us, but we are open to anyone else coming into our lives," she says.

You, me + them: The reality  of polyamorous relationships beyond stereotypes and misconceptions
Photographer: Sibelle Saglam

The pair of them take very different approaches to sharing details about their relationship. For Khatri, it is something that she addresses early on. With her partially shaved head and pink curls - she wears her identity on her sleeve. "I never really came out as poly - I’ve never really come out as anything ever. When you tell someone, they’ll ask like 101 questions, and then they don’t really talk about it again," she says.

Brown, however, often finds it difficult to tell people, when you say that you are in a five-year relationship they are amazed, but when you explain that it is poly they often question your commitment.

They sometimes find it is easier to slip the information a month after knowing someone.

They say: "That way they get to know our relationship before they can question its worth. It’s the same approach I take towards my sexuality, I’ll leave it for a moment and say partner before I say girlfriend."

Their approaches, while very different, are shaped by the fact that they often come across stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding their relationship. These stereotypes and misconceptions unfortunately often come from people who know and love them.

"We have certain groups of friends that don’t see it as valid if we aren’t being actively polyamorous. So, if we aren’t seeing anyone for long periods of time they’ll be like, 'Well you guys aren’t even poly anymore',” they say. "Some of our friends also don’t like the idea of us seeing other people because they consider us a very established couple."

Brown explains this as somewhat of a second-hand jealousy. "They feel like they are involved in our relationship, which is weird, but I guess it’s a compliment in a way because they like us that much," they say.

One of the largest misconceptions surrounding polyamory is, as Brown explains, the idea that to be polyamorous you must always be actively poly, which means seeing more than one person.

"At the moment I’m seeing someone but in a casual sense and Tina isn’t. We’ve been together now for such a long time that we get little snippets like that."

Photographer: Sibelle Saglam

The pair explained that there is this idea that polyamory is a synonym for non-committal. "I think there’s a misconception that it’s just for fun - that we don’t feel jealousy," says Khatri.

"Communication is the point of it. You’ll just spend hours talking about the same thing but in different ways, different scenarios, creating 101 boundaries that are constantly moving. I feel like that’s the bulk of your relationship, scheduling and communicating, rather than you know - gallivanting," Khatri says.

She added that there is a stereotype that if you are polyamorous, you are open to everyone all the time, "everyone just assumes that you are ready to fall for every single person you meet, that we’re gagging for everything, like the bisexual stereotype".

In terms of combating these stereotypes and misconceptions, Tina and Elise agree that things will only start to change if we start to see more positive representation. They explained that when polyamory is seen in the media it’s often very toxic, male-focused, and hinging on jealousy.

With their characteristic honesty, Elise explained that there are "sh*t bits" and "days when we both feel jealous". They add that it’s important to show people that polyamory has got a lot more positives than the media would suggest.

This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.