Three’s company: the inside story of a polyamorous relationship

Polyamorous image posed by models
Picture posed by models. Image by cottonbro studio on Pexels

By Thomas Carter

They say ‘two’s company and three’s a crowd’ – but for Hayley, Mike and Ian it’s a real-life relationship. They are a happy polyamorous unit. How does that work? The trio let Thomas Carter into their life of love without limits.

It’s a rainy lunchtime in an East London coffee shop and a half-eaten sandwich lies on the table. The triple all-day breakfast sandwich is too much for one person. This is not the case, however, for the people sat opposite.

They subscribe to the belief that most things in life are better in threes – especially when it comes to love.

Hayley, Mike and Ian are in a polyamorous relationship, having made the decision seven years ago to ditch conventional monogamy in favour of a new domestic arrangement.

Polyamory is the practice of having more than one intimate romantic partner, a way of life built on the ideals of consensual promiscuity, freedom and sexual exploration.

“People think we’re crazy, but they just don’t understand what being poly is like,” says Hayley, 39, a former teacher from Liverpool. 

Hayley is a short woman, naturally warm and intelligent. She looks like a normal, regular person which, she insists, she is – she just has an unconventional love life.

“We walk through town holding hands and see people stare, sometimes even laugh at us. You just have to brush it off,” she says.

This unusual story began when Hayley met Mike at university, and the two were together for nine years before she “came out” as polyamorous – much to the surprise of Mike.

“I was definitely shocked,” laughs Mike, 40, a smartly-dressed yet slightly nervous IT consultant.

“I mean, what do you say when your girlfriend tells you she wants to see another man?”

This is where those outside the world of polyamory tend to take issue with the culture, says Mike.

One could easily make the point that the addition of another person to a couple isn’t a relationship anymore, and romantic activity outside that couple is surely cheating. For this triad, the reality is quite the opposite, they all insist.

Hayley claims she “never fell out of love with Mike”, but instead felt she had “more affection to give and needs to be satisfied.” This is where 42-year old marketing manager Ian entered the relationship.

“I never knew I was poly growing up. It wasn’t something I knew about or even considered until I met Hayley,” he says, holding her hand and smiling.

“It can’t have been easy for Mike to see me arrive, but we all had a long talk and decided we loved her too much to both lose her. He allowed this arrangement to happen, and for that I respect him a lot.”

Mike is also holding Hayley’s hand. He smiles, but says nothing.

“Not many people were supportive of our choice,” says Hayley. This was especially true for her parents. Having grown up in a Catholic home opposed to anything but male-female monogamy, it was clear she found comfort in sharing her story to someone who wanted to listen. The coffee shop today, and this interview, almost acts as her confessional.

“Knowing my family would reject my lifestyle was really difficult. It held me back for so long, but now I have a life filled with love, the way I want to live it, regardless of how my parents feel,” Hayley says.

Of all the factors that make this trio intriguing, their observation of ‘kitchen table poly’ (a system whereby all members of a polyamourous relationship can coexist in the same room) is arguably the most unique.

“Everyone always finds this weird,” chuckles Mike, his partners joining in the laughter.

“I’ll admit it was a little strange at first, but now we have one big bed and we’ve all got our spots. I couldn’t imagine it being another way.”

The three sleep with Hayley in the middle, flanked by her two boyfriends. Perhaps instinctively, they sit at the table in the same position.

“Intimacy was our biggest hurdle,” explains Ian, looking to the group for mutual agreement.

“There were a lot of things to figure out, like how long we’d each get with Hayley. It can be complicated, but we do our best to divide up times that fit everyone’s needs.”

Out of the two men Ian is the ‘meta’, meaning he is the newest addition to the group, which makes Mike the ‘alpha’- a peculiar naming system for a relationship that Hayley maintains is “non-hierarchical.”

“We use the labels when discussing our relationship with others who are poly, but they mean nothing in practice,” she says, as if to reassure the partners beside her.

“I love both of them equally. Neither come above one another, and that’s how it will always be. We’re a team, a family.”

The use of this phrase was particularly thought-provoking.

While this trio is not conventional, the love on show here is clearly boundless, in every sense of the word. At no point during our conversation did they ever stop holding hands.

As the interview came to a close, it was obvious Hayley, Mike and Ian only ask of  “acceptance and respect” for their choice – to show that three can be the perfect number.

They even picked up a triple sandwich as they left.

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