by The Polyphonist
I sat facing her on her living room couch. She looked worried and wanted to know what was going on. So did I. I had been home from vacation for two weeks, and had been nervous, withdrawn, and uncommunicative almost the whole time. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so uncomfortable around her. Whatever it was, we both knew it wasn’t good.
This was antithetical to how we began our relationship. The day we officially decided to start dating, a few days after we first kissed in the snow, she said to me on the train, “I want us to be completely open and honest with each other.” I practically jumped out of my seat with elation: that’s exactly the kind of communication I had been looking for in a relationship, and I told her this. In the first few months of our relationship, I learned to trust her completely. She told me what needed to be said, even if it was hard to say or if she thought it would be hard for me to hear. Following her lead, I began to do the same, knowing that with her, I would always be met with an engaged ear, a reasonable mind, and patience – a safe space in which to speak honestly and openly. I never feared ridicule.
She was sitting next to meet me on the couch. She looked up at me.
“I need to know what’s going on.”
A moment later I recognized what I had been feeling for the past two weeks. I was nervous, but the ability for us to communicate safely allowed me to tell her, after eight and a half wonderful months together,
“I feel trapped. Not in a bad relationship, but in a good one.”
I told her that I didn’t see this relationship ending anytime soon, as we were unexpectedly compatible, had exceptional communication (apart from the past two weeks – entirely my fault), and shared a delectable physical relationship. The problem was, I was beginning to feel distressed by the thought that I, a man with very few (read: zero) intimate connections in my past, might never get a chance to be intimate with anyone else – ever. I knew at some point I would wonder what I was “missing out on,” and that it would escalate into a serious problem.
Call it what you will, except a desire to cheat or break up. It was neither of those, and that much was always clear. She thought about what I said, and her expression grew pained. With a strained voice, colored by shame and self-accusation, she said to me: “I want to be able to see other people.” She curled up into her blanket, trying to breathe.
She said it simply and truthfully. It wasn’t a euphemism, it was the whole truth. She wasn’t substituting “I want to break up” for “I want to see other people” in the subtext- she said what she meant, and I could tell.
“I’ve been having feelings very much along those lines,” I told her.
She sat back up quickly: “But I don’t want to break up with you!”
“I know, and neither do I.”
The soft wave of relief came, marked by wearied but genuine smiles, and gentle laughing sighs. We both stopped and looked at each other, puzzled.
“So what do we do now?”
Step 1: Decide on a relationship model that allows us both to explore other relationships while maintaining the trust and stability of our ongoing relationship. A standard open relationship where you have “The Relationship” and “the piece on the side” seemed implausible to us – we wanted to be able to develop connections fully. After much discussion and weighing of options, we chose a type of relationship model known as
Polyamory (n.) – the practice or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. From the Greek “poly” meaning “many” and the Latin “amor” meaning “love”.
Step 2: Agree upon certain guidelines in order to make sure we both felt safe and secure in our relationship. Nothing exposes you to previously-unknown aspects of your partner like having to ask, “How much do you want to know about my relationships with other partners?” or “Would you want to meet them?”
We devoted nearly three weeks’ worth of nights together to dialogue. With the help of Easton and Hardy’s “The Ethical Slut” and Ryan and Jethà’s “Sex at Dawn”, as well as a number of websites (listed at the end of this article), we discovered the important questions. Then we shared our individual viewpoints and dialogued to develop not compromises but solutions that enabled us both to feel secure and unthreatened. The more we talked and wrote and thought, the closer we grew.
An excerpt from our written guidelines: “When talking about sexual interaction, keep it broad. Inform each other of the other partner’s age by phone or video chat. Advance notice is desired if something is developing over time, but if something develops unexpectedly, let the other know by the end of the next day.”
Step 3: Our First Time(s)
She made out with a guy she met at her best friend’s wedding. The moment she told me, somebody (I have yet to figure out who) hit me hard in the gut with wooden mallet – at least that’s what it felt like. I had to sit down and breathe for a moment.
I asked her to stay on the phone with me while I thought about my immediately jealous reaction. I knew I was safe with her – I could say anything and be met with a reasonable, patient response, so I spoke my feelings out loud.
“Why am I feeling jealous?” I asked myself. “I feel that if you and that guy make out,” I told her, “then I get to make out with you less. But that’s a zero-sum type of mindset, and it’s inaccurate. The next time we see each other, we’ll get to make out as much as we want.”
The feeling lessened. She affirmed my conclusion and expressed a strong desire to make out with me. The feeling lessened again.
“But I’m still feeling jealous. Why?” I realized it was because I wanted to be the one kissing her. “But I’m in New Hampshire. I am at school and actively chose not to go to this wedding – because I’m at school. The wedding is in Virginia, so there’s no possible way I could have been the one kissing you.” Additionally, she didn’t go to the wedding for this guy – she went for her good friend who was getting married.
The feeling was almost gone, and she took the opportunity to explain how she felt about me, that this guy was not a threat to our relationship, that our bond was strong and that our plans for post-graduation were still solid, and that she wanted – actively wanted – to be with me.
The jealousy dissolved, having been deactivated and disarmed by acceptance of the feeling, then examination of the feeling. It wouldn’t have been as complete of a dissolution without her help, her love, and her support.
Another episode of jealousy was dissolved by the following, from Franklin Veaux’s “Polyamory?” website. “Fill in the blank: If my partner kisses another person…the bad thing that will happen is _______.”
For me, that blank remains blank. I know that we are together because we actively want to be together, and that developing relationships with others will not change that.
A Few Notes On Polyamory
Unfortunately, I do not have the space to introduce polyamory at length, or to discuss some of the philosophies and politics affecting the lifestyle. Poly is poorly understood and even less accepted, so I would ask anyone (either initially intrigued or repulsed) to do a fair bit of research before making a final judgment regarding the life- style. Cultural influences surrounding the lifestyle’s perception are very strong and the fact that poly is rarely considered in public forums strengthens its perception as either morally decadent or utopian, and I would like to assert that in reality it is neither. The resources below may be good starting points, especially “Sex at Dawn”, a book with a more scientific foundation.
The existence of polyamorous relationships does not in any way threaten, challenge, or negate monogamous relationships. I have yet to discover militant ethical non-monogamists who think poorly of those who choose monogamy. Generally, poly folk consider polyamory and monogamy to be equally acceptable and viable options.
For an introduction to polyamory:
“Polyamory? What, like two girlfriends?”
by Franklin Veaux: http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. I bought the last copy from the Dartmouth Bookstore, but they’ll probably special-order it for you.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethà
For sex-positive information:
Dan Savage’s “Savage Love Podcast”, available on iTunes.
For more information about polyamory at Dartmouth, blitz “Sexperts”.