How A Divorcée Who Once Swore Off Relationships Discovered Polyamory

Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
From time to time, The Bed Post features other voices opening up about what gets in the way of good sex. This week, I speak with relationship coach Effy Blue.

Effy Blue does not believe that one relationship size fits all. It's a belief that is hard-won from her repeat attempts — and failures — to adhere to the dictates of monogamy. After her marriage crumbled in the wake of infidelity on her part, Turkish-born and U.K.-raised Effy gave up on relationships altogether. "I poured myself into my career, and I had this great job [at a marketing agency] that took me around the world, which also helped me not build relationships because I was moving from country to country about every six to eight months or a year," she tells me.

When Effy eventually settled in New York City and discovered the city's sex-positive community, she recognized her own sexual and romantic identity in the polyamorists she met. Now a relationship coach, she helps couples design consensually non-monogamous arrangements in pursuit of the fulfillment Effy finally enjoys in her own relationships — emphasis on the plural. As she writes on her website, "A romantic relationship is collaboration, a joint creative project to build something as unique and individual as the people creating it." And Effy practices what she preaches. I spoke with Effy about her journey from married monogamy to polyamory, her coaching practice, and why polyamorists' most difficult challenge isn't jealousy (it's scheduling).
What do you do as a relationship coach?
"I focus on very hands-on, practical, problem-solving guiding and facilitation. I predominantly focus on couples who are either transitioning or curious about ethical non-monogamy. I also have some single clients who are looking to develop a relationship that is ethically non-monogamous, and I work with them also on figuring out what that is."
How did you find your way to this work?
"I’d been married and divorced, and one of the recurring questions that I was having in my relationships is that I would go in a relationship, I would settle in the relationship, I would be very, very happy and content in that relationship, and then I would cheat.

"And then I would go back to my partner and confess and say, 'Look, I’m sorry this happened, I still love you, but this is just something that I’ve done and I’m not proud of it.' And it would end in tears and it would end in heartbreak and this kept happening and happening and happening, and then I sort of gave up on relationships and I figured that they just weren’t for me. In one of the discussions with my ex-partner, I remember in the middle of an argument, he was like, ‘How do you think I feel?' I was like, 'I don’t know, maybe you feel okay about it?' and he was like ‘Are you out of your mind?' I remember that moment very clearly — Are you out of your mind? My gut was like, I don’t think I am, but I see what you’re saying — maybe I am.

"Then I came to New York, and I decided that New York was going to be home, that I wasn’t going to travel anymore, and one of the things that I was really interested in exploring was my kinky side. I was so off relationships, but I really wanted to explore my sexual expression, and through the world of kink, I was introduced to polyamory. And I met polyamorous people and I listened into their conversations and learned about their relationships and just a lightbulb went off. It was like Oh, I’m not the only person that thinks she can do this.

"It was a huge shift in my life. I realized that there were a bunch of people who felt the same way as I did, that they could have multiple relationships and still sustain one special one and that relationships came in all the shapes and sizes, and that monogamy as we know it is just one way of doing it — it’s just very heavily prescribed, so that’s the only way we know how to do it.

Monogamy as we know it is just one way of doing it — it’s just very heavily prescribed

"But there were these people who were having all these different types of relationships, and during that shift, I actually decided to take a two-year sabbatical from work, and I poured myself into learning about this, learning about relationships, about psychology behind relationships. I then met people that I really connected with and started having my own relationships. I currently have a great relationship with one of my partners who is getting married to his fiancée in a couple of weeks. They asked me to be in the wedding, I threw them a bachelor-bachelorette party last weekend — I’m having this experience of multiple loves, being able to do that and not feel that I’m shut in one relationship.

"What started happening is as I was learning and sharing my experiences with other people, I had people come up to me and say 'Can we talk about this? I’m thinking about a non-monogamous relationship and you seem very vocal about it.' It kept happening and kept happening, and then I met Reid Mihalko, an excellent sex educator and relationship coach, and he hosts this thing called the Sex Geek Summer Camp, a training ground for people who want to be a professional in the field of sex, sexuality, and relationships. And I went through that and came out the other side and started to building my business, so I’ve been actively doing that now for about eight months, and I have a bunch of clients and do regular workshops."
One of these workshops is on conduct at play parties — what do you teach in that one?
"The workshop that has always picked up the most attention is the sex party etiquette one. I find that [sex parties are a] great place for couples to dip their toes into expanding their relationship. It doesn’t mean that you have to go there and have sex with everybody, but it is a great place to go and experience what it is like to share your relationship with other people and see how other people share their relationship, and then see how you feel about it.

"At the beginning of my workshop, what I tend to do is I show people Buckingham Palace and the Queen, and suggest that if you were going to have dinner with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, you would have to know how to conduct yourself, right? You’d have to know some sort of etiquette because it’s an unfamiliar ground, and sex parties are the same. They have their own rules and etiquette, so we’ll go through those. I explain to people what types of sex parties there are and help them figure out the one that would suit them. Some couples want to try a more swinger type of environment where it’s very couple-based, and others go for more open, poly, community ones.

If you were going to have dinner with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, you would have to know how to conduct yourself, right? Sex parties are the same

"BID — boundaries, intentions and desires — is a great tool that I actually got from a very good friend of mine in my community. The BID is great for preparing for sex parties, it’s great for preparing for difficult conversations, it’s great for preparing for anything that is out of the ordinary. It’s even great for job interviews. Boundaries are things that are not okay. In the sex party context, let’s say for a couple, it might be that their boundary is not to separate during a party and play with separate people. The intentions part of it is a bit like setting your intention on a yoga mat. It’s the mindset you want to have. It could be something like, 'During this party, I would like to build connections with people and express my desires.'

"Desires are things you want to do without it being goal-oriented, and not in a way that if you have a desire for something and it doesn’t happen, then your experience was not good. It could be something like 'I want to make out with somebody of my own gender,' or 'I want to have a threesome,' or 'I want to see my partner hook up with somebody else.' What I suggest to people who are going to these parties together is to do their BIDs personally and individually, so you have it set for yourself, and then to share those boundaries, intentions, and desires with each other, and then come up with a set that is for the couple."
It's interesting that the communication tools you're describing could be helpful for monogamous couples, too.
"The monogamous structure is heavily prescribed, and it’s a structure that has a bunch of default settings, so you don’t have to have a lot of conversation. In fact, you can get away with having a monogamous relationship without much communication at all, because the structure itself keeps you together. Once you open up your relationship, those default settings are no longer viable. That’s when people are like ‘Whoa, we now have to have all these conversations that we didn’t have to have before!’

"Ideally, if we can get into those conversations in monogamous relationships as well, and make those relationships conscious, there’s an improvement in those relationships also — it’s just that we rely so heavily on the default settings of monogamy that we don’t develop tools for conversation. People don’t feel like they can bring things up with one another."

you can get away with having a monogamous relationship without much communication at all

What are some of the main kinds of non-monogamous relationships?
"Polyamorous people tend to have relationships with a lot of connection. I identify that way, so let me give you an example from my own relationships. A primary relationship, a life partner, is something that is part of my structure, and then I have relationships with a few other partners that are deep, long-term relationships and connections that I actively nurture. For example, my partner that I mentioned who is getting married, he and I have been dating for three years.

"And then I have people whom I call ‘play partners.’ They are my friends first and foremost, and then we have a sexual connection, so we have sex when it comes up. Some people do non-hierarchical polyamory, in which all relationships are equal and connected; open relationships tend to be more sex-based, the couple will connect with more people mostly for sex. Swingers identify with being physically non-monogamous but emotionally monogamous — they keep that connection exclusive to the relationship. In between that, there are a gazillion variations of what relationships can look like, are like, how they function, what kind of structure they have."

What are the biggest misconceptions about non-monogamy you encounter?
"People think that people who are non-monogamous have commitment issues. My experience is actually quite the opposite: I find that people who are in healthy, functioning non-monogamous relationships are very committed, very communicative. They happen to commit to more than one person.

"The other thing is, this is kind of a funny one, they think that non-monogamous people are just fucking all the time, and actually, we’re talking all the time! We spend most of our time talking, and then whatever’s left we get to fuck. But having a bunch of relationships requires a lot of talking, a lot of negotiating, a lot of open communication. The other misconception that I hear a lot is some people think we don’t have jealousy, and that’s not true. We just accept jealousy as another emotion — like happiness, sadness, anger — and we delve into why it’s happening.

"The biggest issue is not jealousy; the biggest issue is scheduling. We have too many calendars syncing to each other, and we try to make time for each other."
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.

More from Sex & Relationships