I’ve been curious about the trend of ‘quiet quitting’, which gained popularity post-lockdown. Quiet quitting is the practice of showing up to your job only to collect a paycheck without doing anything more than you absolutely need. This phenomenon can be attributed to poor labor conditions, inequitable wealth distribution, and the general feeling of burnout. While I’m not here to give anyone career advice, I want to discuss why I’m taking a similar approach and quiet-quitting polyamory. By this I mean taking the laziest possible approach to ethical non-monogamy to avoid burnout.
Labor of Love
I can’t count how many times I’ve written “polyamory takes a lot of work” at this point in my career. It sounds like a platitude but many folks, especially those bright-eyed couples who have just started their opening journey, simply can’t grasp the amount of time, energy and money that goes into maintaining and managing many simultaneous relationships.
Let’s start with dating… For one, meeting new people usually doesn’t happen immediately. We have to go on lots of meh dates before we meet folks that we’re interested in pursuing. Factor in our existing partner, who may also be dating others, and scheduling alone can turn into a part-time administrative job. Then there are the necessary processing conversations about spicy emotions. Even the healthiest couples can be taken aback by how strongly they experience jealousy.
Any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous, has to work through conflict; the key difference is that monogamous folks only have to do this with one partner while ENM couples have to do this with many partners and metamours. Add to that the time and money we spend on couples’ therapy to help create secure attachments. And, of course, a relationship isn’t much fun if it’s all processing and scheduling – inevitably, we need to have positive interactions. Planning quality time with our established partners also requires time, energy and money.
Any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous, has to work through conflict; the key difference is that monogamous folks only have to do this with one partner.
Without overstating the obvious, having multiple partners may sound good in theory but it does necessitate more time and energy than having a single partner. I’ve seen a lot of couples, myself included, hit polyamory burnout pretty quickly. It can feel like we have no time, energy or money to spend on anything other than non-monogamy. Ironically, many ENM folks’ friendships end up taking the backburner to new partners. If we’re not careful, what started as a quest for more freedom and love can turn into an overwhelming endeavor that consumes our entire lives. Some of us realize we don’t have the ability, or the desire, to sustain many partnerships at once.
Here’s the conundrum: not having the time or energy for multiple partners doesn’t mean that monogamy is a good fit either. Unfortunately, often folks who open their relationships feel both internal and external pressure to continue dating many people to ‘prove’ that they are polyamorous enough, even if they’re too tired to be great partners. Since opening a relationship can be difficult and garner varying degrees of social scorn, the decision to tap out can be perceived as defeat. This can leave folks feeling like they cannot take a break from dating, even if they’re depleted. For others, like myself, monogamy doesn’t really work as a concept or in practice. No matter how much I love my girlfriend, I know that long term we need freedom and space to explore other connections. Polyamory as a framework will always feel more aligned with how I move through the world. But in practice, I needed a fucking break.
Polyamory as a framework will always feel more aligned with how I move through the world. But in practice, I needed a fucking break.
My tipping point came when my girlfriend recently wanted to start dating someone new. Only two processing conversations in, I realized that since I already spend my entire days talking to other people about non-monogamy, I didn’t want to have those conversations during my personal time too. I didn’t have the bandwidth to be as compassionate as I wanted after expending all of my emotional energy at work. Plus, I had just started taking ceramics classes, had returned to ballet, was learning Portuguese, and joined a rock-climbing group. I had a lot of exciting activities that demanded my time and energy. It quickly became evident that I couldn’t do everything I was passionate about if I was spending all my free time discussing agreements and managing jealousy with my partner.
Initially, I thought that I was just being resistant to a new meta, that my desire for a dyadic relationship was a new secret manifestation of jealousy. But ironically, just a couple weeks later I went on a date with someone to whom I was really attracted. At any other point in my life, I would’ve been eager to start dating this person. Yet, I came to the same conclusion that I didn’t want to go through the emotionally draining process of introducing a new meta when it was my turn to tell my girlfriend about her. I wanted to reallocate my time and energy away from non-monogamy towards my friends and activities instead. But the decision to be monogamous sent me into a week-long spiral. I knew deep down I didn’t want to commit to a ‘forever wife’ life. And so, I decided to quiet-quit polyamory instead, remaining open in theory, but not going out of my way to date anyone new. It took me a while to figure out exactly what it meant to quiet-quit polyamory, but obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this article unless I had found some answers!
Without further ado, may I present the five simple principles of quiet-quitting ethical non-monogamy…
1. Remember, Monogamy Can Be Temporary and Polyamory Can Be Occasional
When I initially opened my relationship, I was adamant that I needed to pick a structure and stick with it. Ha! Years of practice under my belt showed me how wrong I was to believe life and love could be that simple. The truth is, none of us are confined to a single relationship structure, nor can we predict the future. What works now may not work in a month, and that’s okay. If you told me three years ago that I would be micro-dosing monogamy, I would’ve laughed in disbelief. But our needs change over time and that’s normal. Giving ourselves permission to change the relationship structure to best suit our current desires feels liberating. I’ve started to realize that I like periods of exclusivity to relax, enjoy some simplicity, and build up some energy. However, that also gets boring after a while, so being able to transition to periods of non-exclusivity is necessary too. Of course, adopting this hybrid model can get tricky when there are other pals and metas in the mix – as always, the decisions we make will be situational and require empathy towards everyone who is potentially impacted.
2. Make Your Own Rules for a Dyadic Partnership
I personally prefer the term ‘dyadic’ to ‘monogamous’ when describing my partnership. I don’t want to split hairs but to me, monogamy holds a lot of packaged expectations about what is and isn’t okay for partners to do. While a partnership can be made up of two people, you still have the freedom to form agreements that make sense for you. My girlfriend and I currently like the simplicity of being each other’s only romantic partners but we don’t accept or follow the logic of monogamy. For example, I don’t believe that I have ownership over her. I don’t even believe she’s the only person out there for me. I don’t expect her to meet all my needs. I give her plenty of space to form other meaningful connections that enrich her life. Our main agreement when it comes to exclusivity is that we will discuss any potential romantic connections outside of our partnership with each other. How open we are is largely situational. We don’t have super rigid rules about what the other can’t do as long as we’re not lying to each other. The ability to view a two-person partnership through the lens of ethical non-monogamy means we don’t feel constrained by rules that we didn’t create ourselves.
3. Find Types of Non-Monogamy That Feel Easier
Here’s something I’ve been telling my clients lately: “All the different types of non-monogamous structures are valid, but they aren’t all right for you.” We all have different jealousy triggers, which means that certain ENM structures will be harder for us to navigate than others. As I said, quiet-quitting non-monogamy doesn’t mean that we have to go back to an exclusive monogamous partnership but it does mean finding ways to expend less energy. This is why we need to separate ideal theory from practical reality. In theory, I love a kitchen table polyamory setup, but that also requires a ton of emotional labor. In practice, I personally find casual hookups easiest for me. But that’s just me; this is obviously not the same for demisexual polyam folks. Again, all types of non-monogamy are valid, but it doesn’t mean everything works for you. What you might want may unfortunately not be realistic. Developing an understanding of what feels activating and what doesn’t can make it easier to pick structures that are low impact. Of course, going back to point one, your current choice is subject to change in the future, so don’t feel locked in.
Giving ourselves permission to change the relationship structure to best suit our current desires feels liberating.
4. Allocate Time and Energy to What You’re Passionate About
The entire point of quiet-quitting is to avoid burnout and to make time for things you love other than non-monogamy. Use the time and energy that you’re not spending having processing conversations with your partners to do enjoyable activities. I have many clients who get so sucked into non-monogamy that it becomes their entire identity and they seem to forget who they are outside of their relationships. I talk to folks who’ve read all of the ENM books, but haven’t read anything outside of that genre in months (if not years). If you’re quiet-quitting, don’t do so much! It’s okay to take a break from bettering yourself. It’s okay not to be doing workbooks. You can <gasp!> skip your relationship check-ins. Not everything in life revolves around attachment theory. You’re allowed to focus on things that have nothing to do with interpersonal relations. Learn something new just for fun!
5. Don’t Mind the Haters
There will always be people who feel entitled to judge others. The people in your life who gave you grief about opening your relationship will probably have something equally unproductive to say about you quiet-quitting – let them. There are absolutely going to be people online who tell you that you’re not polyam anymore if you don’t actively have multiple partners – that’s their problem. Making choices that are aligned with your integrity will always be a hotter move than listening to people who want to act as if they know what’s best for you. You deserve a break if you need a break. Trust me, you’ll be a better partner to a single person if you guard your energy. You’ll be a better partner to multiple pals if you’ve taken the time to rest and recuperate. There’s absolutely nothing shameful or weird about making decisions that help you show up as a better human.
At the end of the day, polyamory has taught me to be more flexible and empathetic, which also applies to my own needs. I know that a period of rest and focus on things besides non-monogamy is necessary. I’m quiet-quitting because I have to attend to my other passions!