Connections in the Cold: Polyamory & community in Winter
It's getting pretty cold and 'cuffing season' is here – but monogamy isn't the only relationship structure that can bring us warmth. We speak to some folk about their experiences of polyamory and the intimacy it can offer, in winter and beyond
Enter the season of six-hour days: layers fail to warm the bones, electric blankets buzz and darkness bookends a nine-to-five a little tighter each day. Naturally, we turn inwards, looking for comfort and companionship rather than yet another failing first date. This is the origin story of ‘cuffing season’ – the single-person dash to secure romantic partnership in weathering the colder months.
Meanwhile, something less carceral-sounding is afoot. The world of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) and polyamory endures its own winter season, where radical relationship structures offer different ways of moving through isolation and gloom – sometimes even toward different political horizons.
Josie, 26, an arts worker living in Edinburgh, says her polyamory practice is grounded in “expanding the multiplicity of love wherever [she] can.” Josie has been practicing polyamory for eight years, currently with two life partners and a collection of deep friendships. She stresses that she approaches polyamory with a lot of love and honesty that makes room for people’s freedoms.
And such creation of space is key. There is an emerging trope that envisions polyamorous people around a kitchen table in constant communication, negotiating schedules and boundaries with partners and their partners’ partners. But such effort allows for relationships of vulnerability and understanding – something Kima says has been crucial, especially during isolating winter months.
Kima, 35, an intimacy coordinator living between Edinburgh and Glasgow, speaks of a unique security within non-monogamy. The feeling that she’s “always looked out for” means she can feel rested in the community she has built over ten years of practice. Kima says that last year, when a family member of hers fell ill, this community banded together to raise over £1000 so that she could visit home. In winter, a time of year when families of origin can feel thorny – especially for queer people – polyamorous communities can create new webs of care.
In Kima’s community, support and solidarity are central. “If there was a zombie apocalypse, I would have to call everyone I’ve ever been close with like, 'Where are you? I’m coming to get you,'’’ she says.
These are not not apocalyptic times – and winter is often the time of year when the things we struggle with bite harder. Energy bills skyrocket, seasonal depression takes hold, and reminders of family estrangement seem to crop up with every last piece of holiday marketing. Polyamory is unfortunately no cure for winter, for sadness, for isolation or for crisis – but when thoughtfully considered, it might point us toward expansions of love and solidarity that make it all a bit easier. Radical relationship structures like ENM, polyamory and relationship anarchy (the umbrella under which revolutionary politics meets relationships) can embolden us against these shadowy times through community-building. With people to lean on, we can share and strengthen bonds in a hot flirty summer, or in the cold dark.
For Edinburgh-based cultural worker Tash*, 28, non-monogamy is “rooted in de-hierarchisation of relationships, which allows for the kind of world I want for myself and others.” Within monogamous hierarchies, the nuclear family is primary. It is afforded the systemic support and resources denied to relationships that fall outside these normative bounds. Through de-hierarchisation – which Tash describes as valuing friends, lovers, and even spaces and lands as much as you might value a romantic partner within monogamy – ENM opens up possibilities of a world that is interconnected and self-sustaining beyond the silos of nuclear families. For Tash, this dreaming begins at home, “in [their] intimate relational spaces.”
Despite such loving, caring practices, non-monogamous communities can face their own struggles and come up against their own harmful patterns. Fears of jealousy and FOMO for time or intimacy with certain partners are common rebuttals against polyamorous relationships, and not completely without merit. These frictions are a predictable struggle in building strong bonds under the isolating systems of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. Moving through these frictions with openness and honesty can be transformative work.
In resisting these things, however, polyamorous communities might fall into the habit of equating 'free love' with political action. Josie notes that loving non-monogamously doesn’t inherently make us activists. It does, however, widen our aperture for what a world liberated from intersecting oppressive systems might look like. “With more people,” says Josie, “you can make a bigger banner.”
When asked about what they see for their polyamory practice this winter, Tash says it’s about seeding values, connection and dreams for the future. “I see lots of physical intimacy – not necessarily sexual – but body warmth and connection. Also, times of rest and hibernation bring out reflection and imagination in me,” they say. “In my relationship structure this winter, I see this framework giving me access to other imaginations of the future. I can imagine a world next year where all this intimacy and love can only grow.”
‘Cuffing season’ might be having its moment once again – but polyamorous people are moving away from a scarcity mindset in searching for a partner to ‘lock down’. Instead, many are building and leaning into a quiet, multiplied web of love and support – not without challenge, not without conversation, but certainly with care.
*Name has been changed to protect identity