How a polyamorous Toronto man is managing his four romantic relationships remotely
Toronto Life spoke to a polyamorous tech worker—who prefers to remain anonymous—about being forced to keep away from his multiple partners during the pandemic, the ins and outs of Zoom dating and his hopes for a poly bubble in the near future.
As told to Isabel B. Slone
“I’ve been polyamorous my whole life. I just didn’t know there was a term for it until recently. I was in a monogamous marriage for 15 years, and my ex-wife and I had two kids—a daughter, who’s now 11, and a son, who’s nine. But I always craved multiple relationships. I spent a lot of time in therapy trying to figure out what was wrong with me. After six and a half years trying to come to terms with it, I eventually became comfortable with the fact that I am polyamorous. Everyone has their own definition of polyamory, but mine is pretty literal—it’s about having many loves. My ex-wife and I eventually split because we realized we were different species: she wanted monogamy and I didn’t. We’ve stayed friendly; she can tell I’m happier now.
“Around six years ago, when my ex-wife and I were in the end stages of our relationship, we had a don’t-ask-don’t-tell agreement about seeing people outside the relationship. I work for a tech company, and on a work trip to San Francisco, a friend suggested I meet Tabitha, a woman he knew who was non-monogamous. (I’m using pseudonyms for Tabitha and the other women in the story to protect their privacy). I immediately noticed how beautiful she was and how she didn’t hide her emotions. I find that honesty incredibly attractive. We started dating pretty much the next day, and thus my first polyamorous relationship began.
“Funny story: my dad is also polyamorous. After I formalized my separation from my ex-wife, I decided that I wanted to live with as much honesty as possible. I met my dad at a bar in Toronto and said, ‘Listen, Dad, this is the situation. My wife and I have decided to separate. Oh by the way, I’m polyamorous. Do you know what that is?’ He looks at me and goes, ‘I’m a senior member of a Canadian polyamory Facebook group.’ I had a bit of a head-explosion moment. He’s been poly for the better part of 25 years. Growing up, I had no idea. My mom passed away when I was very young, and after that he tried a couple relationships and started to realize who he was. Since telling me, he has also come out to my siblings as solo poly—that means he has multiple partners but no nesting partner, which refers to the partner you life with.
“Currently, I have four romantic partners. There’s my wife, or my nesting partner, who I’ll call Jane. We got married in 2016, and she’s now seven months pregnant with twins. We met by fluke: I was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at Pearson, about to head off on a business trip, and I was swiping on Tinder; she lived in Mississauga when we matched. We started chatting, and I learned she’s also polyamorous. When I got back to Toronto, we went on a date and have been together ever since. I’m also still seeing Tabitha, who lives in Portland, Oregon, in a triad with her two nesting partners and their kids. The three of them were planning on having a ceremonial marriage at the beginning of April, but that was delayed due to Covid-19. Then there’s Annabelle, who I met online through OKCupid and started seeing two and a half years ago, and Cassidy, who I met through Tinder and started seeing a year and a half ago.
“Each relationship nourishes different aspects of my life. For example, Jane fulfills the deep need for a sense of home and family. Annabelle is be more interested in opera and the arts, and we can have in-depth abstract conversations, while Cassidy and I go rock climbing and out to events. I practise kitchen-table polyamory, which means all of my partners, and their partners, too, are friendly with one another. We all hang out at my cottage, or have dinner together, socialize and chat. Normally I have a standing date night once a week with each of my partners, and I try to see them multiple times for coffees and lunches throughout the week. Because of Covid, all that disappeared quickly.
“I have a cottage in Lanark County so I can be closer to my kids, who live primarily with my ex-wife in Ottawa. They’re with me every two weeks for a weekend and then for a full week every month and a half. When Covid hit, Jane and I were at the cottage spending time with my kids for March Break. We decided pretty quickly to form a bubble: it would be the kids, me and Jane, my ex-wife and her partner, and my father, who is 69 and recently underwent heart surgery. When the world went into lockdown, I got my dad out of Toronto and drove him to the lake house to stay with us. My ex-wife and her partner live at their house in Ottawa, I live with Jane and my dad at the lake house, and the kids travel back and forth.
“Because Jane is pregnant and my dad is immunocompromised, we all decided that no one in our bubble would interact with anybody outside that circle—and that included my other partners. In tech, we call it limiting the blast radius. When I told my partners what we were doing, everyone was on the same page. Annabelle literally said, “I don’t think I could forgive myself if your kids got sick.”
“Physical distance has been a challenge. I miss the sex, and even more than that I miss the quiet time cuddling and watching a movie. I’m naturally introverted, but I find that spending time with my partners energizes me. I’ve had to rely heavily on video chats and daily phone calls to keep them close. I’m coming up with creative ways to be flirtatious and romantic. If we were together, we’d be able to kiss and hold hands and show our attraction that way, but now I have to be more vocal about what I miss about them. Without turning this into erotica, I can say we’re transparent about our fantasies and desires. It hasn’t been that hard because communication is priority number one in polyamorous relationships. You can’t do polyamory without talking about feelings.
“We’ve been doing lots of check-ins. I ask my partners how they’re feeling, what I could be doing better. I recently had a check-in with Cassidy around two weeks ago because I was super-busy with work, and we were often only talking twice a week instead of every day. She flagged that, so I’ve proactively started slotting conversations with her in my calendar every day that my colleagues can’t book.
“Blending our family bubbles together was pretty easy because we’re all on the same page in terms of safety protocol. Jane and I wash our groceries, and we leave deliveries in a holding zone outside the house for 48 hours before bringing them in the house. My ex-wife leaves her packages outside for three whole days. My dad is the one who’s caused the most anxiety: we keep having to tell him that he has to be more careful. For example, he might allow food to touch a surface that hadn’t been cleaned yet.
“Jane and I have gone back to Toronto three times since the pandemic began, twice for prenatal doctor’s appointments and once to clean out all of the food on our shelves and bring as much as we could back to the cottage. While we were there, I had a socially distanced walk with Cassidy. We found a rail path in the Junction and walked six feet apart talking the entire time, catching up and stealing glances. It was emotionally challenging. The whole time I kept thinking about how I wanted to hold her hand and give her a hug. There are so many rituals that are built into our relationships that are no longer available to us. In the next few weeks, I’m planning a socially distanced bike ride with Cassidy. We’re going to meet somewhere between Toronto and Ottawa, maybe Belleville, and go on a three-hour bike ride so we can be together and apart at the same time. I’m excited to see her, but we’re going in with the understanding that there will be no touching, no kissing. It’s going to be tough.
“My kids don’t know I’m polyamorous, but they’re getting to the age where I’m going to have to tell them soon. They look over my shoulder when I send text messages, and it could be confusing for them if they read something romantic. When they were younger, it was fine, but now they’re able to absorb everything they see on the screen in a fraction of a second before I can close it.
“The most difficult part of the pandemic so far hasn’t even been the separation from my partners—it’s keeping my kids entertained. Jane and I both have busy jobs—she works in IT—so trying to keep the kids engaged while we deal with meetings has been a challenge. My ex-wife’s father is teaching my son how to build a robot over Zoom. Every Monday, I spend two hours teaching my kids the basics of computer science. They’re learning about AND/OR gates and exclusive OR gates and doing binary addition. I’m actually teaching them university-level computer science, and they’re picking it up. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
“I’m a data-driven person, so when I start seeing Covid-related deaths in Canada drop and trend down for a four-week period, that’s when we’ll have a conversation about opening up our bubble. The first thing I will do is talk to my ex-wife to see how she feels about me seeing my partners again. I don’t want to introduce any dissent into the working relationship that we have. I think we’ll start with outside social distance time, then potentially go inside their houses for dinner but still leave plenty of space. There will likely be a longer period of time before we start having sex again. I respect my ex-wife and will take her feedback into consideration; if she’s super-uncomfortable with it, then I’ll delay things a little bit longer. Right now we’re taking it week by week.
“It would have been so much easier for us to be irresponsible. I miss my partners like crazy and we’re all doing our best to cope. There’s nothing really preventing me from jumping in my car and driving to go see them. We could have decided to form a bigger bubble that included my partners, but then if one of us got infected, that would create a broad network of people who could potentially get sick. When I see people at the grocery store disrespect social distancing, or photos of people gathering at Trinity Bellwoods, I feel like they don’t understand the sacrifices that other people are making.
“At the same time, I have to acknowledge how lucky I am as a human. I was listening to a podcast, and they were talking about headwinds and tailwinds. For example, when you’re on a bicycle and the wind is at your face it feels like the worst thing in the world. But when the wind is behind you, it feels incredible. I try hard to acknowledge all of the tailwinds that have made my life what it is today. I’m just grateful that my partners still want to video call me and keep committing and trying. That’s a big deal.”