Since I “became polyamorous” I’ve been through several breakups. I use quotes because really I’ve always been of a poly mindset and never understood, even in high school dating life, why you could only date one person, why you couldn’t be friends with exes, and why you couldn’t be friends with your partner’s exes or other people they were interested in, etc etc.
One of the things that I’ve heard from people in the general population and *sometimes* from a well-meaning acquaintance is “Well at least you have your other partners.” This statement is usually meant to be helpful, and I have no doubt that people aren’t saying it to be cruel. However, it’s the equivalent of telling a monogamous person that at least they have their friend or sibling or something. Or let’s take a more extreme example – telling a parent who’s lost a child that at least they have their other child or children. Life doesn’t really work like that. Not that breaking up with someone is as bad as losing a child or a death, but … it can feel that way sometimes. The stages of grief are similar.
A good place to start is simply listening and sympathizing. If the break up was fairly standard and just between two people who didn’t get along well or couldn’t make their relationship work, offering encouragement and reminders about how healthy the break up was can be helpful. In polyamory, even more so than in monogamy, a relationship can still be considered “successful” even after a break up. It simply ran its course and was still an important part of those people’s lives.
If the break up didn’t go well or was unhealthy in some way (the person or people had unresolved trauma, mental health issues, the relationship was physically or emotionally abusive), reminding your friend that they are safe now and allowing them to vent about their experiences is helpful. Shutting conversation down by not responding at all or by telling them something dismissive to their situation is a good way to make your friend feel as though they can’t talk to you about these subjects.
Another thing to keep in mind is to not judge your friend for how quickly they “get back in the game” so to speak. It’s important to remember that people who are polyamorous have multiple partners already so to expect them not to date for some standard amount of time is rather impractical. We are already IN relationships. We are already maintaining multiple relationships while going through a break up. Adding another relationship is not that unusual. Some people choose to wait for quite some time, and others are ready to start dating again because it helps them in some way or they meet someone who just clicks with them and the two aren’t willing to wait for society’s definition of how long you should stay “single” before dating again. There are many scenarios here.
Instead you could remind them of “green flags” or “red flags” when they become interested in someone new.
Some green flags could be:
*They can sit in silence comfortably with this person.
*This person communicates in similar or complementary ways to how your friend communicates.
*This person has been in polyamorous or open relationships before.
*When your friend brings up an issue with this new person, it is met with “how can we solve this” and not blame or upset.
*This person does not play games with their relationships. Your friend is free to call or text anytime and does not have to pretend they aren’t interested in said person.
*This person is out of the poly closet.
*This person and your friend can have healthy disagreements together.
Red flags in poly relationships are similar to and sometimes the same as red flags in any relationship. I won’t bother to list them all in this post, but most will be obvious. Especially if the person has unhealthy coping mechanisms or handles conflict in an angry way.
It should also be mentioned that being in the poly closet is neither a red or green flag to some. Many polyamorous people are okay with dating someone who is not “out” about their life. Many are not.
Basically, taking any tips and tricks you’ve learned from monogamous breakups and applying them to polyamory, while subtracting the urge to tell your friend they shouldn’t rush into dating someone else or that because they are already with other partners that the break up shouldn’t matter, should be sufficient to help your friend through this loss in their life.
We don’t always have to understand exactly what someone is going through in order to be equipped to help them. That’s why sympathy and empathy both exist and are two different things. But being open to someone else’s choices and lifestyle means we are at least *better* equipped to help them and be open minded enough to accomplish this task.