This week’s prompt it about discovery – specifically discovering sexuality. I’m going to focus on polyamory. Why? Because later tonight I have a date and my husband knows (and is totally ok with it), and I had a date on Monday (that I went really well), and yesterday I spent the afternoon in bed with someone I am certainly developing feelings for. – And everyone involved is ok with this.
My first exposure to the idea of poly – or at least multiple relationships – came from books. I cannot honestly say if it was Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, or Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Forbidden Tower that come first. If I had to guess, it was probably Forbidden Tower. BY this time in my life, my late teens, I already knew that I consistently fell in love with multiple people at the same time. What both these books showed me was 1. Other people had at least imagined this and 2. Maybe it wasn’t a terrible thing.
But I didn’t have the vocabulary for poly, and the internet wasn’t the internet we have today. I’m sure there were probably bulletin boards and later chat rooms about it, but I didn’t know how to find them. I began a brief cycle of entering into a relationship, falling in love… then falling for (or at least developing romantic feelings for) someone else. I didn’t feel less for my existing partner, but I also didn’t know how to approach a non-monogamous relationship, so I would end my relationship (convincing myself that I must not really love my current partner.
After a while, I began to only have casual relationships because of this. Eventually, I learned about open relationships and ethical non-monogamy. Coming to understand new relationship models was life changing, to say the least.
Was it easy to move from monogamy to non-monogamy? No. It took a lot of soul searching on my part because I genuinely believed it would end my marriage (it didn’t). It required a lot of conversations, which at the time, were incredibly hard to have. Thinking back, I can recall how terrified I was to start that conversation – and how hard it was to find the words I needed. Writing this, I’m thinking about the hundreds of “hard” conversations I’ve had with partners, friends, and even strangers about topics I formally considered too taboo to ever talk about. I think the first time my husband made a sex joke about me and a boyfriend I had was the first time I really knew it was going to work for us. Side note: I cannot for the life of me remember the joke, only that we were parked somewhere – and I was stunned that he’d made the joke.
Of course when this started, I wasn’t really thinking about falling in love. Even knowing that it could happen, I was still terrified when I realized it. All my old (and frankly terrible) ideas about “real” love came back. How could I love both of them? I had a small group of supportive friends, who knew and understood – but most of the people I was around were not. They all jumped to questions about divorce and/or ending my other relationship. Those attitudes and responses were so harmful to me at the time. I was new to poly, and I didn’t know enough to explain it to mono people (and I understand now that many mono people will never understand it no matter what I say). I worked through my fears and came to realize that loving more than one person was easy for me. It ultimately felt natural and still does. I love watching a partner as they fall for a new partner – that happiness is infectious.
It’s also probably important to note here, that I do not struggle a great deal with jealousy. I know this ended my early monogamous relationships, when a man I was dating would try to make me jealous, and it didn’t work. More than one boyfriend took this as a sign that I “didn’t really care.” – I did care, and in some instances, I cared about the person very much. I simply began from the premise that if someone wanted to be with me, they would. No one could “steal” a partner away from me – that person would make a choice, and there was really nothing I could do to make them stay with me. Just writing this makes me so glad I don’t date mono-men anymore. All their antics were such a waste of time and energy for them.
My next big poly lesson was a breakup. For some reason, I felt like I couldn’t possibly share my heartbreak with my NP. But eventually there we were on the couch, him holding me while I cried over the breakup. That wasn’t the first time, and I suspect it won’t be the last.
Since that initial relationship, I’ve learned so much more about poly – and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I know I’ve hurt people along the way. Now I strive to conduct my relationships as ethically as possible (hence my choice to use Nesting Partner instead of spouse/husband). I am, in principle, non-hierarchical, and I negotiate each of my relationships on their own terms. I’ve learned after a number of awful experiences that I am better off *not* dating people new to poly, as they inevitably decide they really do want monogamy. Which is fine for them, but they decide they want me to be monogamous with them… and that is not fine.
I’ve learned how hard it is to date while over 40. I use the only online dating app that allows one to list non-monogamy as a relationship criterion. I get a lot of messages from men looking for a midlife crisis – at least that’s how I put it. They are looking for a vacation girlfriend. It’s all cool until I mention my NP or other partners, or it’s cool until they are forced to recognize that I am an actual person, who has good and bad days and wants to talk about work or current events.
There’s a joke among poly people that we spend far more time talking and scheduling than being in relationships – and there is some truth to that. I’m lost without my calendar.
But more importantly, I’ve gotten a lot better at the hard conversations. At this point, nothing is hard to talk about or feels like it should be “off limits.” If I can talk to my boyfriend about the sex I’m having with someone else, I can talk about anything.
I am most proud of my ability to set and maintain my boundaries. I have struggled with this most of my life. I let toxic people stay in my life for far too long, and I would excuse their transgressions, even those that hurt me so deeply. Now, I am confident in setting my boundaries, and when it is necessary to cut ties with people who do not respect my boundaries, I can do this – at least far sooner and with more ease than I ever could before.
Sometimes it is strange to think about the fact that I’ve been seeing the same person for two years – and the odd relationship we have is wonderful and fulfilling to both of us, even if from the outside, I don’t think many people would even view it as a relationship. Most of my mono friends assume that no matter what, if I am going out alone, I am going on a date. And some, I know, are still waiting for what they believe to be my inevitable divorce. Yet, tonight, after my date, I will go home to be with my nesting partner. He will ask how the night went, and I’ll tell him – honestly and openly. Tomorrow, my NP and I have a date – we almost always have a date on Thursdays. And we will get dinner and talk about enjoy each other’s company, the same way we have for over 15 years.