I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing I get more excited about than big, affectionate gestures, so even when I didn’t have a partner, I’d love to surprise my friends with a silly heart-shaped box of drugstore chocolates or a few roses I’d picked up just for them. It’s too easy to take relationships for granted—romantic or platonic—and having a holiday to pause and recognize the importance of those relationships has historically seemed like a great idea to me.
Unfortunately, I’m also a highly anxious person who just wants the people in my life to be happy.
Specifically, to be happy with me. So when I started seriously dating more than one person at once, Valentine’s Day instead became an opportunity to worry about letting my loved ones down. I’m polyamorous and currently have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend; what if they each wanted to go out to a fancy dinner on Valentine’s evening? What if my boyfriend was expecting me to surprise him at work with a card, and I was too busy scrolling through Twitter on the couch with my girlfriend to pick up his hints? What if they compared notes and my girlfriend thought the flowers I’d gotten my boyfriend were nicer than the candy I’d gotten for her? (This is not in character for either of them, but welcome to the carnival haunted house that is my brain.)
I was curious as to whether other polyamorous folks felt the same push-pull of excitement and nerves, so I asked a few friends and acquaintances who are dating multiple people what they were doing for the holiday.
Emily, 27, told me she’s not set on celebrating Valentine’s Day on the day itself. She plans to see a Valentine’s Day-themed show on the 14th with her foundational partner, “but that's because Fridays are my date night with him,” she explains. “The following day, I'm going to do some sort of cute date with my new partner—probably ax throwing or going to queer contra dancing. It'll be an activity, but not exclusively a Valentine's activity. I probably will get them a card or candy or something since they recently got me cute socks with my dog's face on them.”
Griffin*, 30, has been married for five years and dating his partner for seven months. Since this is his first Valentine’s Day with his partner, the two of them “found an AirBNB in a town that neither of us knows anything about within about an hour’s drive from the city. We’re going to be hanging out for the weekend, exploring that town, and seeing what there is to see!”
He and his spouse don’t usually do a lot for Valentine’s Day, because their dating anniversary is just a few weeks before. “This year,” he says, “since I will be out and about for the weekend, she did request a specific thing—she wants me to write a tiny love story for her.”
And for Amber, 32, “What I'm really excited about this year is that I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful polycule.” (A polycule, as she describes it, is a shorthand way of describing a number of people in non-monogamous relationships that are connected to one another in some way.) “B. and I are committed. I'm committed to R. And R. is committed to M. But all of us get along fantastically well and enjoy spending time with one another.’
“I've never felt the level of trust and comfort that I do with these three other humans. It feels really special. To celebrate Valentine's Day, we're getting couples’ massages together, then going to R.'s apartment and cooking a big dinner,” she continues. “I suppose we could do this on any weekend, but it feels extra tender and cute to be celebrating together on this weekend in particular,” she says.
Hannah Rose, 26, says, “I’m going to be spending the day at the beach with my girlfriend, and then I’ll go to my boyfriend’s house and he’s going to cook me dinner.” Since she’d been in a relationship with her girlfriend longer, she checked in with her first: “Do you want this to just be our day?” But her girlfriend said she was happy to share.
Jeffrey, 34, says Valentine’s Day has caused them a lot of anxiety in the past. “I often put a lot of pressure on it and worry that I’m not going to do enough, and I’m not going to make it important enough.” Early in their non-monogamous relationships, they say, they felt “a worry or pressure about who to spend it with.”
Jeffrey’s anxiety has dissuaded now—largely because their two primary partners don’t really care about the holiday! “Cooking is one of my biggest love languages, so often we’ll make some kind of big special meal together,” they say.
Just like in any relationship, the best way to address my concerns about Valentine’s Day with multiple partners is to talk about it head-on like an adult. By communicating expectations with each other, we can do our best to avoid hurt feelings and focus on appreciating each other.
And I can’t help but agree with Amber, who says, “I think that although it's wonderful to have a holiday about romantic love, as cheesy as it sounds, every day is an opportunity to show your loved ones what they mean to you…even if it's just another day in the year to me, it's also just another day that I want to do right by my partners." And that's exactly the kind of romance this holiday is made to celebrate.
*name has been changed
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