Way back in the 20th century I discovered polyamory while in college.
First, there was Erin. We met early in our freshman year, had instant chemistry, but she had a boyfriend. But our intense chemistry did not slow us down much, and eventually her and her boyfriend went their separate ways, and Erin and I dated through sophomore year.
When junior year came around I met another girl, Lauren while Erin and I were still going strong. These two women complimented each other for me in many ways, and as I started to spend more and more time with Lauren, Erin started to worry. Eventually I (stupidly) broke up with Erin and dated Lauren.
And then I started dating Erin again, this time while not breaking up with Lauren. They both were friends, they knew that I was dating both of them, and they were comfortable enough such that the 3 of us spent a lot of time together. Then I discovered the term ‘polyamory.’ To make a long story short, all that ended badly, due to being young, immature, and not having the experience that could have made it turn out better.
I bring this up today because it is a pattern that is familiar to many people, including monogamous people, and because there is a variation on this theme that comes up with polyamorous people a lot; meeting a polyamorous someone while monogamous.
Now, I have not had this happen to me in my own life, but it happens. And, as a polyamorous person, I see the other side of this frequently. Just recently, I’m seeing the other side of this in my own life. Just recently, someone who has been monogamous with someone for a few years met me.
Over the weekend, at the PA State Atheist Conference, I met a lot of people. I got a chance to hang out with some fellow atheist bloggers, old friends from the community I have not seen in a while, and made some new friends. There were a number of intelligent and attractive women there, and because I like attractive and intelligent women I flirted with some of them (because yes, that is still allowed…) and got some flirting back. In the end, I met someone fantastic.
So, as the conference was ending and people were leaving, I found myself sitting with a woman who I had noticed checking me out, and decided to just go for it. I asked her out. She smiled and said some words that told me that she was monogamous; “I have a boyfriend.” Because, see, a polyamorous person saying this would not be a no to the date, it would just be information about them. But the fact that this was the answer to being asked out, I figured that this was the end of that line of conversation.
As we kept talking (because a no to a dating proposition is not necessarily the end to a conversation, especially since I tend to ask people out I like and I am able to have attractive female friends), the sense of flirtation never quite left but I figured this was an example of how monogamous people are still attracted to other people, even if they may not do anything about it. Then I mentioned my girlfriend, and she gave me a confused look.
Oh, I never told her I am polyamorous, I thought. We had talked some, but it hadn’t come up because we were at an atheist conference and other things were going on.
And then the conversation changed a little. I explained polyamory (she already new what it was), and she expressed some interest in attending the Doctor Who burlesque that most of us here at polyskeptic were putting on that night. It turned out there was one extra ticket, and she showed up!
And then the real flirting started, after the show that night. There was real sexual and personality chemistry between us, but she still had a boyfriend. I knew that at some critical stage that attraction would become too difficult to manage, so rather than suppress it I made sure she knew exactly how I was feeling, what I wanted, etc. She knew I was into her, she told me she was into me, and I knew where it was going if we didn’t get off that train. She showed up, again, after the third show two nights later, and we talked more. I knew we were in trouble, and it was crystal clear when we kissed.
All this time, she had been in open communication with her boyfriend, who is out of town with family business. None of this was completely surreptitious. Had she been hiding her flirtation and interest in me from him, I would have not continued (despite my attraction) because that is a terrible way to start a relationship. I could not trust a person who was lying about me to their partner(s).
Being caught up in all of this whirlwind of the genesis of a potential new relationship, having new feelings for someone I just met, has taken me back to those early college days when I was first falling in love with Erin while having to navigate the right things to do, what to say, etc to try and respect an existing relationship while not pretending that I’m not burning up inside with desire. The difference here as compared to then is that then I saw no alternative to replacing the boyfriend, and this time I find myself wanting to make sure that the boyfriend does not see me as a threat. I don’t want to replace anyone. I just want to love who I love, how I love them, and understand that they want to do the same.
I want to add to, not subtract from, the life of this woman with whom I’m sharing this whirlwind. I don’t want to have her boyfriend see this as a threat, I want him to see that polyamory has the potential to have our horizons broadened, our ability to love enhanced and strengthened, and to break down the walls of social expectations around love, ownership, and exclusivity. A Brave New World indeed!
But from his point of view this is all scary, sudden, and confusing. I have not talked to him so far, but I know this is causing stress to both of them, and all I want to do is make it better. There is not much I can do, however, and so I find myself struggling with wanting to see her again (and again) but knowing that the more time we spend together, the harder it will be to not look threatening to him. Also, the more time I spend with her, the harder the potential end to this ride will be. I would be hurt if it had to end as things are, and so I find myself trying my patience in order to make sure it doesn’t have to. But it’s difficult.
I have to balance the desires that the two of us have with the struggle that her boyfriend is going through, and it is not an ideal situation for any of us.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that this woman (who I will not name because I have not asked her if she would mind my doing so) is the kind of person I could stay with long term, potentially. I know she loves her boyfriend and does not want to hurt him (neither do I). I know I want her in my life, and that includes all of the sexy feelings we have for each other. Being just friends would be painful, inauthentic, and would ultimately fail in the long run. (I’ve been through a similar situation in the past, and that did not end well. I want this situation to end well).
I know I’m nervous and anxious about this. I know that he must be terrified. But I want him, and any other person in this type of situation, to know that I am not here to hurt anyone or break up any relationships. Poly people (ideally) do not end other people’s relationships; they add to them.
I just want to love who I love, as I love them, and understand that they will want to do the same. I am not a threat, even if the situation seems threatening. That is so hard to understand from a monogamous point of view, and it is a reality that much of our culture still has to learn.
So, here’s to monogamous culture adjusting to a growing polyamorous world. And to all of us loving who we love, how we want to love them, and understanding that they will all do the same.