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Long-Distance Polyamorous Relationships

Where poly people meet—and how it works to love someone who lives far away.

Long-distance relationships are quite common among polyamorists and others in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships, for several reasons. This is not to say that poly folks don’t have local partners—many of them do. But loads of poly folks have had or currently maintain a relationship with a lover who lives in different state or nation. This can be due to the ways in which poly folks meet their partners, the length of partnerships, and the ease of maintaining a long-distance relationship with technological assistance and some emotional distance.

Meeting People

While research indicates that consensual non-monogamies (CNM) are far more common than previously thought, most people still prefer serial monogamy or cheating to CNM. That can make it difficult for people seeking polyamorous partners to find them locally, especially if the poly person lives in a rural or conservative area. For that reason, lots of poly folks look for partners online or at conventions like the Southwest Love Fest, Sex Down South, Atlanta Poly Weekend, Relatecon, PolyDallas Millennium, Poly Living in Philadelphia or Denver, Endless Poly Summer, or one of the many international polyamory conventions. Finding a new partner at a convention means that they may not live in the same city, state, nation, or even continent.

Image: Multicolored heart with computer circuitry
Source: flickr

Online dating and interactions like gaming or chatting can similarly introduce folks to partners who live hundreds to thousands of miles away. Some people avoid this by specifying in their dating search settings that they will only date someone who lives less than 50 miles away. That small geographical area, of course, is much easier for people living in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, New York, Chicago, or other big cities across the nation.

For folks living in rural Wyoming or Arkansas, though, online dating may be one of the few ways to meet people, and they might have to extend their settings to include large areas of the nation in order to find someone with whom they click. Making these connections with people who live far away necessitates a long-distance relationship. Some of these lovers end up moving to be with each other in the same area (ideally, they wait until they have established a durable relationship, but sometimes people move quickly with often disastrous results), and others establish a long-distance relationship.

Long-Term Relationships

People in the U.S. move around a lot. For work, family, school, and a myriad of other reasons, folks in the U.S. tend to be fairly mobile. If a polyamorous person meets a partner in college and then moves to a different state for graduate school or to take a fantastic new job, they do not necessarily have to break up with their formerly-local partner. Instead, many poly folks are able to maintain very long-term relationships with beloveds who live far away, in large part because they are not prohibited from dating others in their new locale.

Image: Two red heart-shaped balloons against blue sky
Source: Pixabay

Monogamous people who live apart might find it more difficult because they are generally not supposed to date other people while separated from their mate. This can create issues when a partner gets a new opportunity to go to school or take a job elsewhere, or must move back to their city of origin in order to care for family members who are ill or need assistance. The monogamous partner generally must either move with their mate who is relocating, convince their partner to stay in the same place and avoid relocating, or attempt to maintain monogamy with less in-person contact. Any one of these scenarios can put a strain on a relationship.

Polyamorous people, in contrast, have another option to both remain in relationship with their partner from a previous location and seek additional partners in their new location. This can foster very long-term relationships among people who live in different states or even on different continents. Sometimes these relationships remain sexually intimate for decades, and in other cases, people go in and out of sexual contact, sometimes for years at a time.

Absence Makes the NRE Last Longer

In polyamorous lingo, NRE stands for New Relationship Energy: the bubbly, exciting, glowing feeling people get when they are thrilled about a new relationship before they know each others' flaws, when everything the other person says is fascinating, and all of their habits are adorable. People in other kinds of relationships feel it as well, and sometimes call it infatuation or falling in love.

Image: Bathtub with a trail of flower petals
Source: Pixabay

While people in long-distance relationships can sorely miss each other and wish fervently for more contact, they can also sometimes enjoy the emotional, mental, or physical distance from a mate. There is a certain elegance about a relationship that is in perpetual honeymoon mode, especially for people who have daily contact with other lovers. Maybe someone is in love with a person who has terrible politics but is an amazing dancer: in a long-distance relationship, those lovers can see each other occasionally to dance and make love all weekend. They would probably not get along as well if they saw each other often enough for the inevitable political disagreements to bubble to the surface.

People in long-distance relationships can also get pretty creative about using the phone, texting, and all sorts of live chatting apps and programs to stay connected. Even though it does not take the place of in-person contact, the presence of such a rich array of methods for communication makes maintaining a long-distance relationship easier than when writing love letters was the only option.

Finally, people in long-distance relationships visit when possible. Some log many hours flying to see a beloved, and others drive in for visits or meet somewhere between each person's home-base.

More from Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CSE
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