I’m New To Polyamory — So Why Do I Feel So Judged For Creating Boundaries?

I’ve normally been a pretty strictly monogamous girlie. I’ve always joked that I’m a serious slow-burn romance girl who was born in the wrong era, but I haven’t let that stop me from the possibilities of casual dating and the exploration that becomes available from it. 
Since moving to Sydney’s Inner West over a year ago, I’ve cycled through the main dating apps — Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. However, a new name soon appeared on my radar: Feeld. Feeld markets itself as a more ‘progressive’ dating app that includes over 20 search options across multiple sexuality, gender and relationship dynamics. 
Quickly, a pattern began to appear. 
Polyamorous, ENM, monogamish, open, solo-poly — the list goes on! Swiping through and even talking at irl social events, it quickly seemed like every other young person in the Inner West was aligned to some type of non-monogamous dynamic. As a queer person who has been chronically online since the 2010s, things outside the strict traditional constructions of a relationship didn’t spook me, but the overwhelming saturation within my age group and geographic space honestly did surprise me. 
But is there an actual increase in non-monogamy, or is it just more widely reported these days? 
Christine Rafe, who has been working as a sex therapist for the last seven years and is a Sex and Relationship Expert for LoveHoney, tells Refinery29 Australia that she thinks there's definitely been an increasing interest in non-monogamous relationships over the last few years. "Definitely in the last three-ish years, there's been a huge surge in people wanting to know more about ethical non-monogamy and everything that comes underneath that. I think it’s certainly something that is popular among Gen Z,” she says.

More recently, people are kind of questioning like, well, hang on — what I want maybe is a bit different to what I've been told that I should want.

Christine Rafe, sex therapist
However, the growing interest and practice is not just restricted to my age group. Rafe says, “I'm also seeing in [my private practice] couples who have been married for 20 years, who have kids, etc. People who've really followed the traditional monogamous relationship, linear sort of framework that are actually now questioning and being curious about exploring non monogamy. So I don't think it's just a Gen Z thing but it's certainly more normalised, I think, in the younger generations.”
“More recently, people are kind of questioning like, well, hang on — what I want maybe is a bit different to what I've been told that I should want.”
I decided to give it a crack. I was honest with anyone I started seeing regularly that, while I’m not completely sure how non-monogamy makes me feel, they should just stay honest with me and I can figure it out along the way. 

I started to wonder whether questioning what was happening in the non-monogamous pairings I found myself in would make me a traditionalist, a prude, a conservative or even a “bad queer”.

However, I’ve begun noticing tension when trying to talk through relationship dynamics and possible boundariesshock horror that a normally monogamous person would need to ask questions about a new relationship dynamic. I had been hitting roadblocks and it started to affect my confidence. In a dynamic where I thought it was encouraged to communicate, I was feeling overwhelmingly shut down. 
If this is what non-monogamy is meant to be, why did I feel like people were getting disappointed and frustrated when I had different boundaries than theirs? I started to wonder whether questioning what was happening in the non-monogamous pairings I found myself in would make me a traditionalist, a prude, a conservative or even a “bad queer”.
Rafe was quick to settle the facts. She said what was happening in my relationships was not how ethical non-monogamy is meant to be practised. She says, “The thing that's concerning is that if you're in a non-monogamous community and you are ethically engaging in non-monogamy, consent and boundaries is like number one. If you're speaking to someone who's like, “I'm non monogamous” and when you're talking about boundaries says you’re “being traditionalist” or “being judgemental” etc., those people are not engaging in ethical, non-monogamous practices, because anyone who is would be really open and receptive to hearing about what are your boundaries. They might not fit, or your boundaries might not be the same as someone else's and so it might not be necessarily a good match. But if someone's going to shut you down for having a boundary, then they're not someone that you want to be engaging in monogamous or non monogamous relationships with.”
I asked Rafe whether she had any advice for people like myself who are navigating new relationship dynamics and aren’t quite sure of how to handle situations and might be using your lack of experience for evil. 
Rafe advises, “On an individual level, get really clear about your intention for dating and for exploring non monogamy. For some people, they feel that they have to explore non-monogamy if there's so many people that are saying, “Yeah, this is my lifestyle”. [Ask yourself] actually, what do you want from a dating experience or from a relationship? Are you really open to non-monogamy? And if so, what type like what does that look like? Is it monogamish; is it poly? Is it casual sex or having one predominant partner? We don't want to end up in a situation where we're being coerced into a non-monogamous relationship, with boundaries that we don't necessarily feel comfortable with, because that's what we feel is available to us. ”
Rafe also cautions people to not feel restricted by all the labels. She says, “Relationship agreements are unique to each relationship, so you might have a different agreement with one person, and then the next relationship will have something different. So you can have your own unique version of what non-monogamy looks like for you…And so I think that that can maybe be helpful for people to think about, like, I don't have to be one or the other in a version of non-monogamy. I can ask myself, “Well, what do I actually want”?"
She concludes by reiterating, “I think it can be a bit of a minefield when you're dating but, yeah, boundaries are essential. Have fun and if they’re not respecting them, then move on.” 
While preconceived ideas are healthy to interrogate, we inherit many social concepts that may not actually align with us. I felt affirmed that wanting to discuss boundaries is not inherently anti-progressive. Non-monogamy isn’t a blanket “We have no commitment, therefore I can do what I want”, and often it requires more explicit negotiation from its participants. Trying new things should be fun, and not be a source of shame or anxiety. 
Have the hard conversations, sit down and make time for open discussions. And if anyone makes you feel bad or uncomfortable for doing so, they’re probably not someone you should be around. What a great learning curve for a monogamous girlie traversing the dating landscape. 
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