Lately I’ve been crossing paths with quite a few polyamorous people as more and more friends have been coming out as poly and introducing me to their poly circles. I started to notice that most of the people I’ve met who are or were in a polyamorous relationship share a few common personality traits. So I set off to learn the true reason for this — was it just coincidence? Or is there actually any research that would indicate a correlation?
What triggered my curiosity in the first place was a conversation I had with a friend of mine after she came back from a date with a polyamorous person. She asked “Are all poly people that open??” I asked her to elaborate. She said that her date had no reservations about sharing personal life details with her — things she wouldn’t expect to hear from someone she had just met. I then realized that most poly people I’ve met tend to share quite a bit in the first few minutes of conversation. Including myself. I get so excited when I meet like-minded poly people that I often pour my heart out to them in the first half hour of conversation. It got me thinking — is openness the only trait poly people have in common?
First of all, let me say this — there is not enough academic research on polyamory v. personality. Most of the data I found appeared in online discussions on Reddit and Quora, random PsychologyToday articles, and blog posts written by poly people sharing their personal experiences. There is one old study focusing on consensual non-monogamy and its correlation to the big 5 personality factors among LGBTQ individuals, which found that participants who were in open relationships scored higher on “openness to experience” and lower on “neuroticism” subscales than those in monogamous relationships (according to Elizabeth Retief). And that’s about it for academic research on this topic. Maybe I should get a PhD in sociology and write a paper on it myself, ha!
Anyways, based on the unofficial interviews of my own poly network, this and this Quora discussion, this subreddit, and a whole bunch of other random articles (1, 2, 3 and 4), the top traits that many polyamorous people share are:
Openness and honesty. In polyamory it is very important to be open and honest with ourselves and all our partners about how we are feeling. Openness to new experiences helps quite a bit too!
Flexibility and adaptability. When we have more than one person in our life that we care about, we have to learn to accept them and their needs to make space for them. The “making space” part may require some degree of flexibility.
Non-conformance to tradition. Both my friends and the research identified this trait as being pretty common among poly people. We tend to question the norms and not care as much about rules and traditions.
Empathy. Being empathetic to others’ needs is crucial in any relationship. With polyamory, since more people are involved, there are more needs and feelings to consider. Having said that, sense of worth and knowing our own boundaries are also very important, because it’s hard to sustain a relationship while consistently deprioritizing your own needs.
Patience. I have seen this in my relationship with my husband — my pace in relationships (and generally in life) is way faster than his, so I had to slow down and adjust, to give him space and time to process and get used to things on multiple occasions.
You have to be an engineer. Just kidding. But according to this article there are significantly more engineers among people that self-identified as poly. I’ve also seen “geekiness” and creativity mentioned in a couple of threads on Reddit, so there’s got to be something to it… It definitely takes some creativity to figure out how to dedicate enough quality time to all the partners and meet at least some of their needs!
I feel like another common trait that has not come up in articles is the thirst for self-exploration and growth. I find that I can discuss spirituality and mindfulness with my poly friends more deeply than with my friends who prefer monogamy, for example. But maybe that’s a coincidence.
Have you seen any other personality traits that are especially important to polyamorous relationships that I haven’t covered?