Asking for a Friend is the series where we answer the questions that you’re too embarrassed to ask.
Generally speaking, the idea of loving two people at the same time, in the romantic sense, is outlandish.
After all, it’s generally accepted that you can’t love someone new without hurting the person you loved first – that would surely require emotional cheating, after all – and how could you possibly do that to someone you love?
But time and time again, people find themselves in this predicament, stuck between two lovers, with genuine feelings for both of them.
So, what gives? Does that mean you don’t really love either of them? Or is it actually possible to love more than one person at a time?
What does psychology say?
The short answer is yes, on a psychological level, you can love more than one person at a time.
Afterall, love is no more than a chemical reaction – a ‘neurochemical high’ – and those reactions aren’t bound by societal restraints or expectations.
‘When we fall in love, certain chemicals, such as dopamine and oxytocin, get released that are associated with feelings of pleasure, warmth and excitement,’ explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
‘There is almost a chemical explosion; they produce that strong feeling of excitement and desire for another person, as well as (potentially) a desire for sexual intimacy too.’
What does society say?
According to Elena, it’s rare we’ll have the space to fall in love with another person if our needs are being completely met.
‘It tends to be when our needs are not being met that the psychological space is created for another romantic attachment to develop,’ she says.
But is it realistic to assume you’ll get all your needs from one person? In a monogamous society, you’d expect the answer to be yes (although it’s healthy to move away from this belief), but the question of whether humans are monogamous by nature or nurture is entirely up for debate.
For Dr Eli Sheff, a sociologist and one of a handful of global academic experts on polyamory, monogamy as we know it is a social construct.
‘Monogamy used to mean being with literally one partner in your entire life,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘You were married as a virgin, and if your spouse died before you, you were celibate the rest of your life, especially if you were a woman.
‘That’s not what people mean by monogamy anymore – now, it means being with one person at a time… partially because our lifespans are so much longer.’
Our definition of monogamy has shifted in line with our changing society, meaning it’s more likely to be a social construct than an inherent human quality – and for polyamorous people, it’s certainly possible to love more than one person at a time.
What does loving two people at once entail?
‘I think of it like an extension cord, but rather than electricity, the sockets provide love,’ says Eli.
‘Some people have one plug and they’re at full capacity, some people have two or three and when they’re all filled up at the same time, they’re completely saturated, and others have an unlimited amount of plug sockets.’
For those in non-monogamous relationships, she adds, loving multiple people is similar to how parents love their children.
‘You can love your kid, have another kid and still love the first kid.
‘Maybe you love those kids differently – one of them is super cuddly and needy, and the other is really independent and just wants the keys to your car – and you have a different relationship with both, but you don’t love either any less .’
This is something Poppy, who is currently in a non-monogamous relationship, echoes.
‘I don’t think you can quantify how much you love someone or how you love them,’ she says.
‘Just the same as if you were pursuing monogamous relationships one after the other, the way you feel is going to be different with each person.
‘It’s not a case of loving more or less but loving uniquely.’
This brings us back to Elena’s comment about needs: for many people in polyamorous relationships, being able to get different things from different partners is one of the benefits.
Elise*, 25, was in an open relationship when she was younger – except for the caveat that only one of her partners knew about the other.
‘I loved them both for very different reasons,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘They each brought out a different side of me, but I knew I didn’t love them either enough to just be with one of them.’
And, on the question of whether you can really love someone if you’re willing to hurt them, Eli says, hurting the people we love is a ‘well worn human tradition’.
The verdict: Can you be in love with two people at once?
While it’s clearly possible, loving two people at once is still pretty taboo – and it’s more important to think about how you act on those feelings.
Cheating, emotionally or physically, is one thing, and attempting to embark on a consensually open relationship is another.
As Elise says: ‘One thing I wish I did differently was actively choose partners that are interested in non-monogamy, because there is less chance of causing emotional discomfort.’
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