Students
Photo by Zuzana Ľudviková

Ilinca is polyamorous

‘You define your own relationships’

Photo by Zuzana Ľudviková
AI student Ilinca is dating two people at the same time and can’t imagine ever settling for just one person. But it does take a lot of work, she says. ‘My constant worry is that I might pay more attention to one than the other.’
21 February om 10:41 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 28 February 2024
om 12:13 uur.
February 21 at 10:41 AM.
Last modified on February 28, 2024
at 12:13 PM.
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Door Veronika Bajnokova

21 February om 10:41 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 28 February 2024
om 12:13 uur.
Avatar photo

By Veronika Bajnokova

February 21 at 10:41 AM.
Last modified on February 28, 2024
at 12:13 PM.

‘When my friends first heard that my girlfriend Lucy got a boyfriend, they asked me if I was also into him.’ That’s just one of the many misconceptions that Ilinca has to deal with in her non-monogamous life. ‘People think it’s like an orgy, but that’s not true. I was not interested in him at all.’

Ilinca Sfrijan-Penciu, a second-year AI student from Romania, is dating two people at the same time. According to research by sexual expertise centre Rutgers and polyamorous knowledge network Pluk de Liefde, she is one of the 65,000 to 140,000 people in the Netherlands who have multiple partners. And even though non-monogamy is becoming increasingly popular, she knows there is still a lot of confusion about how these relationships work in practice.

She has never been in an exclusive relationship with only one person. ‘My parents know about the people I date, but they think that at some point I will choose one of them’, Ilinca says. 

However, she doesn’t believe in the idea of soulmates and says she could never imagine settling down with only one person. ‘There are so many people in this world, how could someone believe that they could find the one in their vicinity?’ 

Misunderstandings

Ilinca is twenty years old now, but even when she was twelve, she would question the rules people establish in their monogamous relationships: ‘I was thinking about what would count as cheating. Is flirting cheating? I would like to continue flirting with people.’

She says one of the biggest misunderstandings with ethical non-monogamy is that people see it as cheating. But for such a relationship to work, the agreement needs to come from both sides and it requires a lot of communication. 

How could someone believe that they could find the one in their vicinity?

Non-monogamy takes different forms. Polyamory refers to multiple loving relationships in which people carry emotional commitments between each other. That is different from, for example, open relationships, where partners agree to have sex with other people, but nothing more. 

Ilinca builds her relationships on deep emotional connections. But despite treating her partners equally, she recognises the stronger bond she has with Lucy, as she’s been with her the longest. They met back in Romania, at a protest for animal rights in Bucharest. 

‘She was struggling to explain to me that she doesn’t want a monogamous relationship’, Ilinca says, recounting the first time she talked to Lucy about getting together. ‘Turns out I was actually the first polyamorous person that she ever met.’

Jealousy

They’ve been together for two years now and during this time, Ilinca has learned a lot about polyamory in practice. Jealousy was one of the first challenges she encountered: ‘The first time Lucy brought her boyfriend over, I felt like she was giving him more attention. That she was being more affectionate with him than with me.’

But in non-monogamous relationships, jealousy is not considered a negative feeling. ‘It’s something you should face.’ Instead of burying it deep down, people need to be responsible for their own feelings and communicate them, and their partners should care about them. ‘So, I told Lucy I was struggling, she offered affection to me and assured me that my feelings were not less important.’

Ilinca still sometimes experiences jealousy, but is continuously learning how to deal with it. ‘I want my partners to tell me how happy they are with their partners’, she says. This is called compersion – a form of happiness from the joy of others. ‘I want them to tell me stories about them and I want to meet them if I can.’

Boundaries

But that doesn’t mean establishing certain boundaries is not important. ‘Lucy told me I crossed a boundary when I was hooking up with too many people last year’, she laughs. ‘So, I stopped doing that.’ 

Lucy told me I was hooking up with too many people, so I stopped doing that 

The problem for Lucy was not the number of people Ilinca dated, though. She was worried about Ilinca getting caught up in the toxic hookup culture in which people are treated as disposable. So instead of hooking up, Ilinca moved on to building meaningful relationships with other people. 

And last September, she just happened to meet Alex, who was selling pins at an activism fair. ‘I wanted to buy one, but I didn’t have any cash.’ Alex gave her the pin anyway. ‘I said we should see each other some other time, so I could give her the money. And she just said I should take her out for a drink instead.’

Four partners

Alex has more experience in non-monogamy than Ilinca, which also means she has more partners. For Ilinca, not being someone’s primary partner was a new experience. ‘On our first date, she just opened up Google Calendar, saying she already has four partners’, Ilinca laughs. 

‘She would have loved to try dating me, but she already was at the limit of her capacities’, she explains. ‘It’s called polysaturation. Love is limitless, but we have limited energy and time. There are some constraints.’  

At first, she and Alex would meet spontaneously, but over time it became more regular. Ilinca now has her own colour in Alex’s Google Calendar and they see each other at least once a week. 

Check-ins

Ilinca says she often does check-ins with both of her partners to make sure no one is being neglected. ‘My constant worry is that I might pay more attention to one than the other.’ When she started dating Alex, she realised she was quickly absorbed by her new relationship: ‘I would stay over at her place for five days in a row and then I thought, oh shit, I’m slowly moving in.’

All she could talk about was Alex. With her friends, with her girlfriend. Until Lucy had to tell her to hit the brakes: ‘She wanted me to be cautious and not to fall in love too quickly’, Ilinca says.

Again, Lucy was not jealous of Alex, but simply looking out for Ilinca. ‘Because I was spending so much time with her, Lucy told me to try to be more independent.’

You already don’t comply with certain societal norms, so why not push it further?

Becoming more independent was something that Ilinca had to learn. ‘This is what happens in most monogamous relationships during the honeymoon phase, you spend so much time with that person that you start identifying with them.’ Polyamorous people may also experience losing themselves in a relationship, but when dating more people, they’re less likely to develop dependent tendencies, Ilinca says.

For her, non-monogamy is closely related to her experience of being a queer person. ‘You already don’t comply with certain societal norms, so why wouldn’t you push it further?’ She says what she likes about non-monogamy the most is that ‘there is no norm, but you define your own relationships the way you like.’ 

Anti-capitalist 

She often sees jokes about polyamory being the new norm for people to be able to afford rent. ‘But love is not based on transactional relationships or profit, like capitalism wants us to think’, Ilinca argues. ‘This, and the hookup culture, those are syndromes of the individualistic society. We don’t treat people with compassion and care anymore.’ 

Ilinca thinks polyamory matches the anti-capitalist ideals that she strives for. ‘I want to live in a community, I want to belong somewhere,’ she says. ‘This is something very radical in our society.’ 

But she says non-monogamy is not for everyone. ‘You have to put a lot of effort into rethinking everything that you’ve learned and you have to be able to communicate well. You face certain challenges with one partner, and more partners does mean more challenges.’

Want to learn more about non-monogamy? Ilinca recommends reading Polysecure by Jessica Fern, The Ethical Slut by Easton and Hardy, or following @polyphiliablog on Instagram.

The names Lucy and Alex are pseudonyms.

Dutch