When it comes to non-monogamous terminology, labels like lap-sitting, garden party and kitchen table polyamory can be confusing. What does a piece of furniture have to do with multiple partners? Can you do lap-sitting at a garden party?
What each of these terms describes is a different approach to metamour arrangements in polyamorous relationships. A metamour is your partner’s partner, as in someone who also has a relationship with the same person as you. The partner you have in common is often referred to as the ‘hinge’ as they connect you and your metamour in a V formation.
These approaches to or types of polyamory reflect the differing levels of contact/interaction metamours may have with each other, ranging from all (lap-sitting) to none (parallel). Multiamory’s podcast episode about these different approaches refers to them as levels of ‘entwinement’, which gives a good visual idea of how wrapped up you and your metamour/s may or may not become in each other’s lives.
It’s important to note that the arrangement you have should be defined by you and your metamour – and no one else, especially not your hinge partner. How you approach your relationship with your metamour is your choice.
So, if a new love interest informs you that they only want partners who practice parallel or kitchen table polyamory, then I would proceed with caution until you know that this also feels right for you and your new metamour/s. If it doesn’t, say so.
I view these various approaches to metamour relationships in a similar way to work colleagues. Some people I’ve worked with have become my closest friends. Some I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with when we worked together. Others have been people I mostly chatted to only at the work Christmas party but still quite liked. Some I basically never engaged with, simply because I knew we had little in common beyond working for the same company.
Now, imagine working for a company that expects everyone to be best friends and behave like a tight-knit family. Understandably, your relationship with some colleagues could feel quite forced and awkward. Alternatively, if all of this were to happen organically, then that would feel amazing.
This is why expectations don’t work when it comes to creating bonds with others. We’re all unique, with individual approaches and differing capacities for connection at various points in our lives. So, it would be best if you did what works for you, for now, while also being open to change in the future.
A ‘parallel’ approach to polyamory is where metamours will have little to no contact with each other. They’ll each have relationships with the same partner but won’t spend any time together. So, their relationships will happen concurrently but never intersect, like a pair of railroad tracks.
Parallel polyamory usually gets a bad wrap and is seen as a negative or unhealthy approach to polyamory. Personally, I don’t think it’s that bad as long as it’s something that both metamour want or that one metamour needs and the other understands why and can accept this arrangement.
In her podcast episode When Your Meta Don’t Wanna, Libby Sinback from Making Polyamory Work discusses a situation in a past polyamorous relationship where her metamour wanted a parallel arrangement, which she found difficult to deal with at the time as she wanted to develop a connection. However, Libby later came to understand and appreciate that this particular metamour didn’t have the capacity to invest in their connection at the time for personal reasons. So, be mindful that people can choose this approach for valid reasons.
This arrangement can become harmful when one metamour uses it to pretend that the other partner/s don’t exist. If you’re someone in a multi-partner dynamic who is considering parallel polyamory for this reason, then I urge you to think about why you are doing this and see if you can find a way to acknowledge your metamour/s even if you don’t want any contact with them.
It’s possible to meet your metamour once and/or exchange contact details but never actually have any connection. I think this is a great way of simply acknowledging that you share a partner without having to build a relationship with each other if that’s what you want. Plus, you never know; you may decide to change your approach at some point in the future.
Garden party polyamory
Also known as birthday party polyamory, this approach describes metamours who only spend time together at key events, such as their mutual partner’s birthday. These metamours will usually have a friendly connection with minimal interaction outside of these events.
I quite like this low-key approach to polyamory if you have a metamour that you don’t have much in common with beyond your mutual partner. There can often be a (real or perceived) pressure to form a deep friendship with your metamour, which isn’t always realistic. So, I think this is still a very valid approach.
Garden party polyamory can also be a gentle way to start a metamour relationship if you’re new to polyamory and find the idea of other partners a little overwhelming. This approach can be a stepping stone for growing into another style of polyamory if that’s what you decide you would like.
However, I wouldn’t recommend using an important event as the opportunity to meet a metamour for the first time. It’s often better to get to know each other when there aren’t other distractions or people around. Try reaching out a few weeks in advance and seeing if they’d be up for having a coffee or a drink together first. This could take some of the pressure off on the day and means in the future, when you do see each other once or twice a year, you have already established this bond.
I also think it’s a good idea to check in with each other during the week before any event. Be vulnerable with each other, especially if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, and talk about your expectations. This way, you’ll both be on the same page about how much hang time you’d like to have and if there’s some way you can support each other or your mutual partner on the day.
Kitchen table polyamory
This approach to polyamory describes a connection where metamours and their hinge partner can happily hang out together with some regularity. The kitchen table is meant to indicate that these people are comfortable sharing a meal.
Kitchen table polyamory is often described as the ‘right’ or healthiest way to do polyamory because it’s seen as a positive sign if everyone gets along and can spend time together. However, this means that metamours can often feel pressured to immediately have this connection, even if it doesn’t feel natural.
Personally, I often enjoy spending time with metamours every once in a while. However, if you don’t have a lot in common with this person or the two of you are very different, regularly making time to see each other can feel quite draining. So, don’t force yourself to practice kitchen table polyamory if it doesn’t feel right. It’s ok to ask for something more low-key.
It’s also a good idea to communicate with your metamour about how much time you want to spend together. Some people get very excited about new connections and may want to see each other regularly, while other people may also be excited but less interested in hanging out frequently.
Talk about how often feels good to you both and see if you can find a compromise. For example, as I have a busy schedule, I usually like to catch up every 6-8 weeks with my metamours if we have a kitchen table approach, as this is also how often I see friends.
Regularly spending time together, both with and without your hinge partner, is a great way of getting to know each other. As this connection grows, it’s ok to set some boundaries about what you are and aren’t comfortable discussing.
For example, you may not want to know intimate details about your metamours relationship with your mutual partner, or perhaps you don’t feel like you can be objective about any issues they may be experiencing in their relationship. It’s ok to communicate this so that your metamour is aware, and you should respect any boundaries they may have in return.
This approach to polyamory is when metamours form a deep bond and enjoy spending quite a lot of time together. This can be a close platonic friendship, someone you cohabitate or co-parent with, or someone who becomes a new romantic/sexual partner.
While it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll naturally form a close bond with your metamour, it’s also not surprising considering you date the same person. You’ll often discover you have quite a lot in common, be it your interests or personality type, which can lay the foundation for a really great connection.
I have a former metamour who has become one of my closest friends. It’s not unusual for connections like this to outlive one or both of your relationships with the hinge partner. Together, we have developed such a deep level of honesty and communication that we’re very open to exploring our connection as metamours again in the future.
Again, it’s important to note that this connection should not feel forced. If your new partner tells you that they expect you to have a sexual or romantic connection with your metamour (or even strongly hints at it), I personally think you should run a mile. A good partner listens to and respects your wants and needs, rather than pressure you to do what they want.
If you do choose to engage in a deeper bond with your metamour, in any form, it’s important to communicate about what everyone’s expectations and boundaries are. For example, you could assume that this new romantic connection could mean you, your metamour, and your hinge partner will be forming a triad, but this may not be what the others want. So, take these exciting connections slowly and talk a lot about your wants and needs. That way, you’ll be laying a strong foundation for whatever this grows into.