On Polyamory

After so many difficult emotions and thought processes related to the idea, I would now comfortably call myself polyamorous. I feel I love through a polyamorous lens, I feel so happy in a polyamorous relationship, and I’m excited for I and my partner to share love with each other and so many people over the course of our lives.

It has been a long journey to get here for me, and I would say the journey is never really done. The emotions have been strong and hard to deal with many times, and the shift into living and loving like this has come gradually and tied to so many other aspects of my life.

This is my polyamory story:

I don’t remember when I first heard of the idea of polyamory. I’d had polyamorous friends over the years, and the only thing that I really knew about it was the whole, “it’s not pieces of the pie, it’s a whole ‘nother pie” thing. The idea that the love you have for one person does not diminish or detract from the love you have for another.

For some reason, when I picture this metaphor, it’s always pizza instead of pie. That is probably irrelevant.

For a long time, my main issue with polyamory in myself was this: I am a piece of pie person. When I’m dating or interested in someone, the interest or attraction I have for others actively detracts from the first person.

Like: I like Steve. Oh look, there’s Bob. Hi Bob. Steve who?

The first thing I read on polyamory that made it click on some profound level for me was in early 2015. I don’t know think this was the exact article, but it was along these lines:
Scarcity Value and Monogamy

Me being me, it clicked because the language it used related to critiques of capitalism. The idea of monogamy being necessary cultivates scarcity. Love becomes a finite object, something that must be made scarce in order to have value. So, what if we changed our thinking about love? That it does not need to be finite in order to exist. That it can be abundant and expansive, that sharing love with more than one person just increases the whole level of love?

I liked this idea a lot. At the time, I was in a relationship that was technically non-monogamous, though neither of us had any other regular partners. In my mind, we were monogamous. In theirs, the possibility lay open, though I don’t believe they felt strongly compelled at the time to have other partners. I’d said when we entered the relationship that I was fine with it being open, but I never fully admitted that I wasn’t. I wasn’t honest about that, with my partner or with myself.

A large part of the reason I ended that relationship was jealousy, seeing my partner at the time have what I felt were strong feelings towards someone other than me. I’ve never been honest with them about that as a reason for why I broke it off. We never talked about it. I was too scared.

We’ll come back to the issue of honesty later.

The next experience I’d say I had with polyamory was in the spring and summer of 2016. I wasn’t in any defined relationship with anyone, but I had three regular people-of-that-ilk in my life who occupied different roles. One we’ll call M, was a fuck buddy/friend with benefits with whom I’d get high, have sex and argue about anarchist philosophy. One we’ll call J, was a casual datey-sex thing with whom I’d go out on occasion, be cute and silly, and have sex. One we’ll call D, was a very close friend I genuinely love(d) with whom I shared profound emotional and spiritual kinship, and sometimes we’d kiss, but we weren’t sexual.

For a while, the situation was ideal. I had various people for various needs, I had all the needs of a relationship being satisfied, without any commitment to one monogamous partner.

My sense of satisfaction with that situation fell apart for a variety of reasons. First, I had this story in my head that this was all “dating around” so-to-speak, the lead-up to some more concrete monogamous relationship with one of those people or someone else entirely. Second, there wasn’t much fluidity in the interactions. With M, I could philosophize and chill and fuck, but not be cute or emotional or non-sexually affectionate. With D, I could hold hands and kiss and spill about my emotions and go on adventures and connect on a deep level, but we didn’t fuck. I liked J the most at the time I think because there was the most fluidity in that interaction, but still, we didn’t connect on any profound level either mentally or emotionally.

Eventually, for related and unrelated reasons, the situation fell apart. I don’t talk to J anymore, M and I are slightly-tense friends, and here’s what happened with D:

My next real shift in feelings towards polyamory came in September, and relates strongly to my dear D. When we met, he was openly polyamorous, had several partners, and I was just single. For a variety of reasons, some relating to his polyamory, mostly just where I was at in my life, I decided early into knowing him that we would be ‘just friends.’ He was absolutely fine with this, though we acknowledged from the get go that I was the one who had closed the door, so to speak, on us having sex. He left London to go traveling in September, and shortly before he left, I had this strange new feeling that I wanted to have sex with him. We talked about it, in the end didn’t have sex at that time, but decided that could be a component of our interaction now.

For me, allowing sex into my sphere of interaction with him opened a floodgate. I already loved him as a person, but adding in sex suddenly meant that I was now IN LOVE with him. I drew that distinction at the time. Most people agree there is a palpably different sensation to the two, loving or being in love with, but I wonder how much of that is related to the stories we tell about love (more on that later).

It was also around this time, at his going away party, that I had my first real experience with what is known in the polyamory world as ‘compersion’: a sense of joy from seeing your partner sharing love with other partners. Seeing D kissing other partners of his, I was genuinely happy. Not just okay with it, actively happy. Seeing someone I love being happy and in love is like, kind of the best thing. Or it can be, when you detach love from all the things that are so often confused with love.

Side note: the polyamory world seems to love vocabulary. The word for another partner of your partner is ‘metamour,’ which I think is lovely.

Anyway, D and I ended up in a sexual relationship several weeks later, and I found myself struggling a lot with his polyamory. He loved me, he was in love with me, but he also was in love with other people. And it kind of sucked.

At the time, I felt that I could have sex with others, or like others, but love was where I drew the line. I was a tunnel-vision person, I said. When I really love one person, it’s only them.

I started having a lot of conversations about polyamory, usually quite randomly. I kept meeting polyamorous people. I’d decided that opening myself to polyamory fully was something I wanted to do. I realized that, naturally, the process of really doing that emotionally in myself had to start with me being honest with myself.

The main issue I had with D’s polyamory was this: maybe there is more than one pizza pie, but there’s a finite amount of space in the oven. In that sense, it might as well be pieces of a pie. What I mean is, emotional capacity is just that: a capacity. It fills up. And even if you’re Super Jesus of Infinite Emotional Capacity, your time is still a zero-sum game. The time you devote to one partner detracts from time you could devote to another. The same goes for energy and effort.

I told D in December that I didn’t want to speak to him again, and set off traveling myself. In January, after I’d dealt with a lot of things in myself largely unrelated to him or polyamory, I decided I did want to speak to him again. In the beginning of February, we spoke for the first time in two months. At the end of February, he got on a plane from Marrakech and came to meet me in Granada. I openly discussed my trepidations around polyamory with him for the first time since we’d “gotten together” so-to-speak, and told him I was in a very different place with it than I had been before.

Namely, this: that the spiritual, philosophical, emotional, even political work and thinking I’ve been doing these days lines up so much with polyamory. It always has, but I’m feeling the things I think in a way I haven’t before. They are personal, intrinsic and emotional rather than only intellectual.

The idea that love can be expanded instead of limited, abundant instead of scarce, means something new to me. The idea that it is the love we give, not the love we receive, that strengthens us, that makes love itself stronger.

Going back to the idea that when I like someone else, the feelings I have for one person are diminished, that itself is a story I told. It is a story told by a monogamous culture. I can love Bob and also Steve, and just because I’m not actively thinking about Bob when I’m with Steve does not, actually, mean I don’t love Steve. It just means the love isn’t defined by me thinking about it constantly.

The time one is still tricky for me. Life is finite, time spent in a day is finite. But I think about it like gardening. If you plant the same crop again and again in the same soil, you exhaust the soil. It becomes barren. If you switch up the crops, the soil stays fresh and healthy and able to grow better food.

What I mean is: It’s nice to have multiple people in your day to share things with. In fact, it often means you have more energy for each person. Imagine only talking to one person. Imagine relying on only one person for all of your emotional connection. No other friends, no family, no one. Just one person, for everything.

Now pull that out a bit: why is sex where we draw the line? Or emotional openness? We accept it as normal to have friends you talk to about your life and feelings outside of a romantic relationship. What makes sex the thing you can only have with one person? Why draw a line at all?

Yes, going to Bob’s evening yoga class on Sunday means I can’t go to Steve’s gallery opening (yes all my imaginary boyfriends have awesome lives). But maybe, going to Bob’s evening yoga class means when I see Steve on Monday, I’m bursting with love and affection for him in a way I wouldn’t be if I’d just seen him the night before.

In terms of emotional capacity, I feel like it’s about the love you give. It’s about loving, not being loved. The more love I feel I give, the more love I seem to receive, though not always from the people I expect it to come from. I feel that in giving love, there is actually more love out there. I can love more, I can be loved more. It grows the more I do it.

The problems I’ve had with the idea of polyamory largely stem out of the issue of equating love with so many things that aren’t love. Love is not attention, love is not commitment, love is not monogamy, love is not sex.

Love is just love. That’s why we have a different word for it.

It is what it is, and it is at the core of so much, but the problem arises when we confuse love with things that are not love. Attachment, possessiveness, even a romantic relationship are not the same thing as love.

Love isn’t fragile. The idea of love as scarce hinges on the idea that it is. That it can be chipped at and broken. Certain kinds of relationships are fragile: you subject them to a shock, they break. When you change them, they are no more, because they exist as a certain kind of thing. When you change it, it’s not the thing it was.

But Love is amorphous and singular, ever shifting in how can manifest, yet always remains love. The manifestation of love is not the same thing as love. Love is, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say, antifragile. When subjected to changes, it only becomes more of what it is.

Think of trying not to love someone you love. The harder you try not to be, the more in love you seem to find yourself.

All of this is at best an approximation of my process. The things that shifted in me were not so much my understanding of polyamory, not even my feelings towards it, but my feelings in it. I feel comfortably polyamorous now not because something clicked in my brain, but, if I may be so bold, something clicked in my heart. More than that, something clicked in me, in the whole way I see the world and my place in it.

I found the feeling in finding love that isn’t about anything other than love. In finding truth that doesn’t need to be absolute. In trusting myself. In taking responsibility for myself. In feeling secure in myself and my relationships with both my current partner and other people. In being honest with my partner about my needs and feelings. Most of all, in being honest with myself.

I don’t have what I’d call any other ‘partners’ right now, maybe a sometimes-lover in another country and some flirtations here and there, but I feel comfortable in how I relate to people in general in a way I never have before. I feel I can be honest and open in a way I haven’t fully been before. With romantic or sexual partners, or even just platonic friends, I feel I can speak without subterfuge or calculation. I ask for what I ask for. I say what I mean. Whether I’m interpreted how I hope to be is not my problem, it is theirs, and I take people at their word because I feel I’m better at opening a space for honesty.

Being honest about your emotions and needs is like, super fucking important, especially in a relationship (in case you didn’t know.) It sounds obvious, but for years, I didn’t fully know that. Many partners I’ve had didn’t. I’m still learning it fully, but damn, have I come a long way.

Being honest with myself first was absolutely crucial. Honesty is so often a vulnerable thing to do, but vulnerability is what allows safety. Doing the thing you fear to do not in spite of your fear, but because of it. Saying the thing you fear to say. Loving, regardless of whether you’re loved back in the way you think you ought to be. Taking emotional responsibility for your own feelings. Not relying on others to meet your emotional needs.

I did not miraculously become some Zen Buddha of non-attachment to my partner. It’s not about destroying desire for me. It’s about fully understanding, fully feeling, that love is not about anything other than love. That commitment is its own beast. That relationships don’t have to look the way we’re told they should look. That the only rules that matter between two people are the rules they both openly agree to, and that honesty is so, so crucial.

I’ve found that honesty can start most easily with yourself, and even then, it still isn’t easy.

There are polyamory “steps” I haven’t yet faced. I haven’t balanced having more than one active partner at a time. Since moving in together, I haven’t seen my partner physically interact with any of his other partners. I don’t know if I’ll feel difficult emotions if/when that does happen. I probably will, but I have a framework for understanding those feelings. First, that my feelings are okay. I’m allowed to be sad, or angry, or anything. It doesn’t make me a bad person, or even a bad polyamorous person. Everything I feel, I’m allowed to feel.

Second, that I believe it to be a good thing. The love I share with my current partner is self-reflexive, constantly created and destroyed, and utterly antifragile. It is not about our relationship, which has already taken on so many forms. It’s about love. About the love we share with each other, with ourselves, with life. Changes to it can only make it more of what it is, because what it is, is change. The goal for us is to turn this towards society in some way, to bring love and freedom like this into the world in every way we can. If that happens for either of us by being with another partner, then that is a beautiful and necessary part of a beautiful and necessary thing.

Third, I have trust in myself and in my partner. I feel that when I interact with other people, I don’t love him any less. I have trust that he means it when he says he feels that too, and will tell me if ever he doesn’t. I trust myself to be honest with myself and with him in turn. I know that what I feel, this antifragile love, is real. The more I doubt it, the realer it gets. I trust that it is real enough that the biggest doubts of all can only make it more of what it is.

I may not be able to sustain this romantic relationship long-term with other partners involved. That is okay. The ending may hurt. That is okay. I may on occasion feel jealous or competitive with other partners of his, as I do with so many people. That, too, is okay. I’m allowed to feel it all. In denying that I feel anything, I likely only make the feeling stronger. So I’m just going with it, whatever it is I feel and need, and letting myself flow through it and seeing what happens. I’m being patient and kind with myself.

Right now, I feel really, really good about polyamory. Not just okay with it, actively happy about it, in myself, in my partner, in others.

I am not preaching the gospel of polyamory to you or anyone. I know incredibly satisfied and happy monogamous people (my parents, for one, who will have been happily married and monogamous for 29 years this June). But I feel like polyamory works for me. It fits with my worldview, my spirituality, hell even my political views (I’ll save that for another post).

The idea is this: why keep drawing the line where we’ve been told to draw the line? Why buy into the stories? Maybe you’ll have a satisfying sexual and romantic relationship with one person for the rest of your life. That’s cool. Maybe you’ll have 25 partners at the same time and love them all. That’s cool too. Maybe you’ll draw the line less between what’s a partner and what’s not, maybe it’ll all just be love, and sometimes the love you share with someone will involve sex, and sometimes the sex you share won’t involve love, and it’s all okay.

It’s just life. It’s just love. You are free to choose, and whatever you choose is okay.


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