I tried being the third person in a poly relationship—here’s how it went

Sure, dating can be fun. It can also be stressful, confusing, heartbreaking, weird, and…boring. But we still do it, and we want to know how you do it, too. In our series “Adventures in Dating,” one writer documents their love life for three months, and we get a peek into every part of their experience—the fun and the frustrating. Starting us off is N.Y.C.-based sex writer Shelby Sells, who will be telling us all about her summer. (Catch up with Shelby’s summer journey in her first pieces for the series here and here.)

Hot girl summer is in full effect. I got off all the dating apps (the anxiety wasn’t worth it) and was curious to see where that decision would lead me. If you don’t have the honor and privilege of living in New York City, I feel obligated to describe what summer is like here. There is an undeniable sexual energy—everyone is hot and sweaty and wearing next to nothing. The streets are packed. After surviving seven months of winter, we’re all grateful to be outside, soaking up the sun, and getting our flirt on.

Everyone gains a little confidence in the summer. Soon, I was surprised to find myself being asked out by a colleague I used to make out with. We met at Art Basel (classic), bonded over how much we both like butts (lol), and maintained a close friendship over the years. He’s currently in an open and polyamorous relationship—something I’ve always been curious about but never experienced myself.

I realized that this is the third person who has tried to date me while in a poly relationship. Polyamory is the practice of having multiple relationships; loving multiple people at once. This ethical non-monogamous approach to dating is quite popular nowadays, and the difference between an open relationship and a polyamorous one usually has to do with sex, communication, and the boundaries outside the primary relationship.

An open relationship is usually one where two people are in a committed partnership but seek to sexually explore outside of the relationship. I often hear of “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreements where each person in the couple is allowed to hook up with other people, but neither of them wants to know about it. Kind of like, “What you do on your time is none of my business.” Polyamory has the intention of dating other people openly and honestly with a lot of communication involved.

Each relationship that practices ethical non-monogamy creates its own boundaries for a relationship. There is no right or wrong way to practice this type of commitment as long as both partners continue to feel respected and loved. Most of the people I choose to date have no interest in opening up the relationship. It’s refreshing to meet people who are non-traditional in their approach to love.

My colleague and I went on a classic dinner-and-a-movie date. I was dying to see Midsommar, which turned out to be a film about breaking up with your significant other (lol). Before the movie, we filled up on Italian food at a restaurant where he’d made a reservation—a huge turn on for me. I guess that just goes to show how little it takes to impress me in this current dating climate. It’s so sad you have to laugh.

Over dinner, we discussed poly relationships. He said the thought of monogamy made (and these are his words) his “dick soft.” I mean, I get it. Monogamy is not for everyone. Fuck the social constructs that confine us to only one particular way of loving. The nuclear family narrative just isn’t realistic anymore. I do personally believe you can be in love with multiple people, and if you get the chance to be with both of them respectfully, why the hell wouldn’t you?

After the movie, we “broke into” a friend’s apartment building and sat on the rooftop. We talked about how crazy the movie was (you have to see Midsommar if you enjoy trippy visuals and anxiety) and then made out with the city lights surrounding us.

It had all the makings of an indie romance film—until his girlfriend called and they cooed gushy lovebird sentiments to each other for approximately 15 minutes.

No shade, being in love is the coolest thing ever, and I didn’t feel jealous when I listened to them play-argue about who missed the other more. But I have to say (again, excuse the language) that it definitely made my theoretical dick soft. If anything, it made me miss being in love and having that best-friends-best-lovers type of connection. Plus, mouthing “I’m sorry” every few minutes to me while on the phone definitely doesn’t get me in the mood for more.


My love language is pretty traditional, which I think shocks some people who might expect something more alternative from me. When I fall for someone, I fall hard. You know the song “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos? That pretty much sums it up. I usually date multiple people at once when I’m single, but once my heart is settled, it’s a wrap for anyone who isn’t my boo. Who knows, though? I’m open to anything with the right partner.

Speaking of alternative relationships, I have a sex partner who I’ve been with for almost 10 years (when we’re both single respectfully). Usually, in dating dry spells like these, I have no problem hitting him up. That t goes both ways, and it’s a cherished bond. My longest romantic relationship was three years, and it’s strange to think that I’ve been having sex with this person for three times that amount. And I’ve had mixed feelings about this relationship recently. I’m all for sustainable sex (i.e. I’ve had sexual partnerships with a select few over the years), but there’s a part of me that wonders if these types of relationships are truly serving me. If I consistently go back to, and spend my time with, these same people, am I allowing myself room to grow? To see what else is out there that could potentially fulfill all of my desires?

As far as casual sex goes, I don’t think I’m currently in a place where I can (emotionally) handle the responsibility that accompanies it. Casual sex isn’t for everyone. I have a lot of friends who struggle with getting attached, which is natural. On the other hand, casual sex works for some people. It has definitely worked for me, but it’s not what I need right now.

Let’s be honest: What I really want is a romantic partner.

I know that distracting myself with (potentially fun) fuck buddies will not serve me. I made the decision to abstain from hooking up with anyone that I wouldn’t want to be romantically involved with. Right now, that’s what works for me.


Feeling alone, but not hopeless, I spent the next week or so basking in self-love and honoring my relationship with myself. I’ve been going to yoga every other day, eating a balanced diet, and drinking a ton of water (this heat!). I also got my nails done and went for a massage. I deep cleaned my apartment and bought a new plant friend who hangs over my window. I was feeling great, and very confident in my decision-making.

Then, out of nowhere, my crush responded to one of my stories on IG.

We’ve never DM’d but have followed each other for years. I swear, Instagram is the only dating app (besides Twitter) that people need. It’s definitely my favorite one. He doesn’t live here, but he is visiting New York for work and asked to spend time with me. Whatever that entails…I (we) will find out soon. Until next time.

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