Emma Elliott, 40, from Staffordshire, lives with her partner James Aberley, 41, CEO of a marketing company. Their polyamorous relationship means James accepts Emma has a long-term girlfriend, a male lover and a 'hug buddy'. Emma, who works as a virtual assistant, also allows James to have a girlfriend. Emma has three children, aged 19, 13 and 11, who live with her ex and James has a 15-year-old daughter.
A couple of weeks ago, my partner James said he'd like to go away on a romantic weekend to Amsterdam next month. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go for the culture, the bike rides and the people. Unfortunately, I won’t experience the sights and sounds of this beautiful city this time as James is taking someone else – his other girlfriend, Jane*.
Most people will be shocked to learn that James not only has a girlfriend but talks openly to me – his live-in partner – about her. But that’s life in the polyamory community. We believe that someone can have the ability to love more than one person and have more than one relationship at a time.
One woman, three different 'companions'
I’m not lonely in our little ‘polycule’ – a group of people in a polyamorous relationship. While James has his partner, I also have a girlfriend Gin, as well as a male lover I see once every couple of months and another male ‘companion’ who I share cosy nights in with every couple of weeks. It may not be a conventional set-up and I admit it can involve a rollercoaster of jealousy and mixed emotions at times. But most of the time, we’re perfectly happy.
I’ve known from a young age that I'm not meant to be with only one person. I grew up in Manchester with my younger brother in a home that had a very traditional set-up – in fact, Mum and Dad are still married after 40 years together. Yet I never felt it was the right path for me.
Emerging as bisexual
As a teenager, I began to develop my first crushes on both boys and girls, so I’ve always known I’m bisexual, but I didn’t feel any urge to be with only one of them. I couldn’t understand how one person could give you everything you needed, emotionally, sexually and romantically.
It’s not that I don’t believe in true love. For many people, being with one person is the dream and it works for them. But deep down, it’s not for me and I can’t explain why. It’s simply something I’ve always known about myself but never knew there was a word for it until much later in life.
Most people would be shocked to learn that James has a girlfriend and talks openly to me – his live-in partner – about her.
I met my first girlfriend, Caroline, at 18 and it was fairly casual. I used to see her a few times a week but then started seeing a guy at the same time. Caroline knew all about it. So, I suppose that was my first experience of polyamory.
Motherhood and marriage
I had a few relationships after that but in my early twenties I met Michael* on a messaging board about Glastonbury festival. I was completely single at the time, having had a rather up and down relationship previously. Michael seemed to offer me the stability and the security I needed at the time.
I told him I was polyamorous but in fact, as we got to know each other, I found I didn’t need to be with someone else, so we married and lived monogamously for many years.
I’ve known from a young age that I'm not meant to be with only one person – I was married for 13 years to a man, but I knew I wanted more
We had three children together and were happy. But as the kids grew up, I started to feel like I needed other partners again. We decided to try ‘ethical non-monogamy’ which is when you can sleep with other people (not getting involved in deeper relationships) but you have the full consent of your partner.
It worked for a while. But while Michael tried to date other people, I don’t think he was really into it. And I could tell from his reaction that he wasn’t pleased when I went out on dates. Although he said he could accept it, he never offered any ‘joy’ about the fact I’d been out with someone else and was clearly jealous.
I met my current partner James in 2021 when we met through a dating site. It’s really easy to be open about whether you’re monogamous or not on dating sites and I was always honest from the start.
Meeting our lovers
James was married too but we got chatting online and hit it off and within five months of seeing each other we both decided to leave our relationships. James had been married for 20 years and by this point I had been married for 13 years but I knew I needed something more. It was a hard decision because my children stayed with my ex. But it was the right thing to do for everyone’s happiness and now my ex is with a lovely partner too.
As a teenager, I developed my first crushes on both boys and girls, so I’ve always known I’m bisexual
James and I have always been open about having other relationships and have been on dating sites looking for other partners since we met. But it wasn’t until February of this year that we both – randomly – started seeing other people. James’s other partner lives about half an hour away and he sees her two or three times a week, while I’ve got a girlfriend called Gin – who is also married with two kids. She lives an hour away and I see her two or three times a month.
I won’t lie and say it’s always easy emotionally and I can get jealous. For instance, when he mentioned the trip he wanted to go on, I said it was unfair and why couldn’t we go together? But, as he rightly said, we can. Just another time. I had let myself get into ‘monogamous thinking’ and that’s not good for our relationship.
It's also tough when I’ve had a difficult day at work and simply want to go home to cuddle my partner and he’s off out on a date. But I’ll run myself a bath, snuggle up on the sofa and I know that he will still choose to come home to me. Once or twice he’s called me the wrong name in bed but we just laugh it off.
I won’t lie and say being in a polyamorous set-up is easy – it can involve a rollercoaster of jealousy and mixed emotions at times
The biggest joke in the polyamorous community is that we all have to live by Google calendar because we all have busy lives. The logistics of trying to see everyone can be overwhelming. I’d love to see more of Gin but can’t because of the circumstances and that can be difficult at times.
Plus, the more people we add in, the more difficult it can be – for instance, I have a lover I see every few weeks as well as a man I called my ‘hug buddy’ who I hang out with when we have cosy nights in. James has also recently started chatting to another man on a dating site so that may go somewhere too... He has always been bisexual, but hasn't acted on it before now as the opportunity didn't really present itself.
Telling my children
I’m a big advocate of relationship therapy because polyamory is a tricky landscape to navigate and sometimes you need an ‘outsider’ to mediate – particularly about timings.
When it comes to my children, I waited a while after splitting up from my ex to tell them I was polyamorous and was very wary of telling the younger two but they accepted it well. I explained that my heart was big enough to love more than one person and encouraged them to ask questions but they said, “Ah that makes sense” and they don’t seem to have a problem with it.
There are tens of thousands of polyamorous couples in the UK and there are strict rules about safety. In our little polycule we all get regularly tested for sexually transmitted diseases and if you want to ‘fluid bond’ with a partner (have unprotected sex) that has to be discussed with your other partners first.
There is a mutual level of respect and honesty that I really appreciate in a polyamorous relationship – it’s often more honest than many marriages.
I can’t see myself being in a monogamous relationship ever again. It’s not that I don’t believe in true love – in fact I deeply love James and Gin – but I can’t see myself ever settling down with one person. It would never be enough for me.
When people ask me how I feel about growing old with someone I actually think I’m quite lucky. Because when I grow old and grey, I could be sitting on a park bench with two people at my side, not just the one.
For more details of polyamorous dating see Polyamoryuk.co.uk
*Some names have been changed to protect identities.
Watch: How Margate became the polyamory capital of England