I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog that I’m polyamorous. I’ve been inclined towards polyamory for at least the past four years, maybe longer. My current partner is the first one who’s been willing to jump into the polyamory pool with me, though, and to my surprise, the water’s not always warm. Sometimes, it’s downright frigid. Sometimes, I’d much rather be hanging out on the shores of monogamy. I’m not even a very good swimmer.
Shouldn’t polyamory feel good? I know that it is “right” for me: I’ve been articulating its basic tenets since before I ever heard the word. I’ve read countless articles about the ups and downs of ethical non-monogamy. I felt prepared.
Since becoming “officially” polyamorous with my partner, I’ve gone on a number of dates and started to build some relationships that might end up being very meaningful to me. My partner, on the other hand, didn’t find anyone he wanted to date until last weekend. Seemingly out of the blue, I received a text: “I’m thinking about hanging out with someone this weekend on a date-thing. Is that okay with you?”
And it was okay with me. We have a policy of pre-disclosing dates and first-time physical encounters (for example: “I’m going on a date with someone, and I think I might want to roll around naked with him in a pile of mud”), so I was glad he told me, but even as I was typing the most supportive and affirmative response I could muster, I began to feel my chest constrict and my stomach drop. I was insecure and sad and kind of wanted to vomit. I pushed the thoughts (and the nausea) as far back as I could muster, sent my text, and closed my eyes. I hope he has a good date, I thought.
And he did! So good that he had another date the very next day. The feelings returned, stronger this time – much, much stronger. Tears were shed. Our conversations over the next few days were some of the hardest I’ve ever had, but I came through feeling stronger, wiser, and more loved. And that’s the point of polyamory, for me: to build intentional, loving relationships that slowly deconstruct our instincts towards jealousy, spite, and insecurity.
So: how do we get from here to there? The road is long, confusing, and sometimes painful, but these thoughts have helped guide me even when I wanted to turn tail and run:
1. Polyamory only works if you and your partners either don’t care about each other at all, or if you really care about each other. And you know which category you fall into.
If you don’t care about your partners, you’re unlikely to feel jealousy or pain when they date or sleep with other people. That said, you’re also unlikely to stay together for very long (and if you do, you probably shouldn’t). On the other hand, if you care about your partners, their actions are going to affect your emotional life. You’re more likely to feel insecure, lonely, or scared when they’re off with your metamours (your partners’ partners). It might be painful. Remember that horrible swimming metaphor?
But polyamory is taboo, so of course it’s going to be painful. From infancy, we’re taught by our families, our teachers, our friends, and the media that monogamy is the only way people can love each other successfully. Stepping outside of that construct means stepping outside of The Matrix and into the robot apocalypse, which, frankly, sucks.
So why do it? Because you believe that after a lot of extremely hard teamwork (and slow-mo battles), you and your partners can destroy The Matrix and live together as you want to live: according to morals and ethics that are chosen rather than prescribed, that feel freeing in addition to feeling safe. If you and your partners care deeply about each other and are willing to explore polyamory together, that signifies that you’re truly on the same team. And that’s awesome.
2. Your metamours respect you. Your metamours respect you. Your metamours respect you.
It’s very easy to imagine that your partners are off gallivanting with people who are better than you in some way or, worse, people who think that they’re better than you. (They’re not. You’re awesome). While it’s likely that each of your metamours will have different skills and strengths and bodies and kinks, what should unite them is that they respect your partner and his/her/their choices. And that means that they should respect you. I refuse to get close to anyone who doesn’t seem to understand just how much I love my partner. I’ve told him this so many times by now that I can only assume he’ll do the same, and that makes me feel safe.
Of course, you don’t have to (and maybe shouldn’t) fall in love with your metamours, and they likely won’t fall in love with you. But if you know that they truly respect you, you’re more likely to see them as allies than enemies. (Whoops, there’s another war metaphor).
3. You deserve love, and you can ask for it if you need it.
The goal of polyamory is to increase the amount of love in you and your partners’ lives, so don’t feel shy about actually asking for more love from one person. Polyamory isn’t about filling the gaps so much as it is about affirming the beauty of diverse experiences and attractions. If you’re feeling low about how things are going, that’s normal. It’s okay. Your partners (if they are good partners) are there for you and shouldn’t scorn you as long as you don’t take out your sadness or pain on them.
Talk to your partners about things they can do to comfort you. Ask them explicitly for hugs, or cuddles, or kind words. Tell them you’re feeling down about poly and explain why, remembering that they care about you and (hopefully) respect your needs. Don’t be accusatory; just ask for affection. If you bring your kindest self to the table, there’s no reason you or your partners’ tempers should flare (even when communication falters or somebody accidentally breaks “the rules”).
Ultimately, your success in polyamory is contingent on your ability to give and receive support during the early stages of your adventures in the poly pool. These are the toughest times: you’ve thrown yourself into the deep-end and let go of the edge… and now you have to trust that together, you and your partners can teach each other how to swim.