You think you've got it rough on Valentine's Day? What would you do if you had to find the perfect gift for two lovers? Or needed to plan a sex-romp weekend for six? Because they clearly have relationship superpowers, we asked a few polyamorous people how they manage to please multiple partners.
Love Is a Battlefield; Prepare Like It's War
"Ever try to get four adults together on one night for a board game?" says a soldier—we'll call him B.—who is currently deployed in the Middle East. "Imagine how hard it is to coordinate everyone for a trip to Europe." Before B. returned to duty, his quad—two men and two women ranging in age from 18 to 26—didn't like to "get busy" without everyone present. That means they're due for a memorable reunion. Your plans may not be as elaborate as theirs (they'll start in Amsterdam, then visit Frankfurt and Florence with side trips via ferry to Corsica and Sardinia, before ending up in Spain for a gay wedding), but not mapping out every detail could lead to couple armageddon.
The Rule: Would you go out on a date without bringing protection? Same directive applies: Plan out the night ahead of time or you'll also end up going home without getting any.
Teleportation hasn't been perfected (yet), but while we're waiting, there is a way for long-distance couples to see each other on the big day. Jessica Karels, 30, who has two poly websites (Modern Poly and Young Metro Poly), has been married to husband Corey, 32, for seven years and has been dating boyfriend Dale, 32, for a year and a half. While Corey will return from a trip just in time to spend Valentine's Day with Jessica, Dale will be far away at school in Delaware. "Web cameras are an awesome, awesome thing," Jessica says, vowing to spend "virtual hot-and-steamy time" privately with her boyfriend before the holiday. Digital love took some getting used to. It was funny at first, she says, trying to figure out how to position the camera just-so to get the action, um, flowing. "You're essentially doing interactive porn," she adds, telling each other, "Okay, do this! Do that! I want you to move this way!"
The Rule: Screw the adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder"—use modern tech to be together (by way of sexting, webcam, or dirty e-mails), even while miles apart.
Don't Be a Dick in a Box Who doesn't get a thrill from unwrapping a box and seeing Tiffany or Saks on the label—but pricey gifts don't really say "I get you, soul mate." Michael McGrath, 32, and his quad of three other men—Cake, 40; Jeff Pfaff, 29; and D., 24—made that mistake. For one holiday, everyone overspent on one another for presents, yet when it came time to find out what they were getting, the overall response was "Oh, I don't care," Michael recalls. For as close as they are, the right gift still takes a lot of work. Cake is an artist who once did a painting for D., while D. likes to give presents that let them all do things together, like tickets to see Lady Gaga. They've also given each other tattoos—not literally, but as presents, an idea that's both personal and bonding.
The Rule: Whipping out the platinum AmEx isn't a bad thing, but gifts lacking a personal touch will feel the same as an actual credit card: flat and cold.
A Threesome (or More) Can Be a Better Time
Jenny Block, 39, author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, has a lot of love in her life but doesn't much care for Valentine's Day. "I remember the fights I used to have with boyfriends. It wasn't an expensive enough dinner, or why didn't they buy me a piece of jewelry, or 'So-and-so's boyfriend is doing blah blah blah," and I stepped back and said, "Really, Jenny, that's who you want to be? Hallmark has decided for you what the barometer of love is? Gross!" Her attitude toward holidays—V Day included—is now "the more the merrier." Her holiday will include a brunch with her husband, Christopher, 45; their daughter; and Jenny's girlfriend, Jemma, 28. The Rule: If you are the anti–V Day type, don't ignore the holiday—make it into a party (and earn karma points by inviting the singles.)
Give Some Lip Service
What's more important to your relationship than a sweaty night between the sheets? Honest communication. That's a poly mantra. Sterling Bates, 36, found his only Valentine's glitch when a girlfriend said the holiday wasn't that important to her, so he planned an alternate date with her and spent the actual day with another girlfriend. Turned out "not that important" meant "still wanted to do something," which he could have arranged if he'd known better. So it pays to be up front and to do a little prodding. ("Are you sure you're okay with Chipotle and Netflix? Sure? Sure? On a scale of one to 10, how sure?') And, if you're afraid of your partner's response to any of your V Day quandaries, consider this: These people had the 'nads to tell others "I want an open relationship."
The Rule: This is what Valentine's Day is all about: love, sharing, and . . . a well-played defense.