Caroline talks about her poly story and how “getting to know a new poly friend tends to follow the same pattern each time.” I’ve noticed that as well, and it is exactly what I had been planning to do to introduce myself to you.
Because polyamory is different than our culture’s mainstream model for relationships, we do tend to ask each other that question. To me, it often seems as if people feel they have “always” been poly and then some who came to poly later in their lives.
I certainly grew up with the mainstream relationship model. The only child of a Christian couple living in the Midwest, I was expected to graduate high school and get married and have children (going to college was optional).
The reality is, I was never really mainstream normal (but who is? – and that’s a completely different philosophical discussion). I always felt like it didn’t make sense to just be sexual with one person for the rest of my life, and I always considered my sexuality and sexual preferences outside the mainstream – even more outside my conservative Lutheran indoctrination.
I tried though. The rebel that I was in those days, I not only went to college, but also got married and did not have children, by choice. I was married for 10 years to a great guy, but we didn’t have good communication practices. That’s not his fault nor mine – just where we were in our lives. Certainly growing up, I don’t think either of us had good models for what good communication might look like in a relationship.
After that relationship ended, I thought I would never get married again, nor live with anyone again. I told myself, “I’m not cut out for relationship.” Yet I ended up in a 7-year live-in relationship to another great guy. We also didn’t have good communication. That relationship was a little different because in the beginning we did some swinging, so were more open with our sexuality. In both relationships I cheated or had an affair. At least in the second relationship I confessed (and because the cheating was with another woman, that was totally ok and “hot”). We’ll address that double standard another time.
Looking back at those relationships, I see the patterns that repeated. Lack of communication, lack of communication of needs, lack of the vital things that keep a relationship alive. In the marriage, after the beginning we never talked about sex. Hmm, come to think of it, we stopped talking about sex in the second relationship too.
At that point, I decided things had to change. I call this period of my life my “intensive personal growth process.” Therapy, multiple intensive retreats (in fact, I moved to the retreat center for 6 months), all which helped me remake my life in almost every way possible. I changed friendships to ones that felt more balanced and supportive. I changed careers and am now doing what I feel is my “soul’s calling.” I rediscovered my sexuality and learned how to communicate that with partners. I learned how to talk about my needs, wants and desires. I learned how to give and receive love from a deeply intimate place. I found a new relationship with my spirituality (not the dogma of my youth). I learned how to accept myself, as well as others, and savor our gifts. Early in this time-frame, my parents died, leaving me with no family of origin. While that was a grief-stricken time, a sense of freedom from any of my parents’ expectations was an unexpected gift.
When I lived at the retreat center, I met many people who were polyamorous. I loved meeting people who were living these open, alternative lifestyles. I peppered them with questions:
“How does it work? “ (jealousy, schedules)
“Who sleeps with who?” (a triad living together)
“How do you maintain connection?” (a long-term quad living in different countries)
And many more questions. I talked with people who were happy in their polyamorous relationships. I talked with people who had tried polyamory and decided it wasn’t for them.
There was a polyamorous couple in my residential community. Each week, the residential community would gather to check-in and clear any interpersonal issues that arose. I had the opportunity to witness this couple work out issues with each other around jealousy and time. I remember being astounded by their ability to hear and empathize with each others’ pain. I was amazed there was no expectation either partner would necessarily change their plans.
Through all of this exposure to people who were practicing and living polyamory, I was impressed by the deep love, commitment, honesty, and high degree of communication the successful models held. At that point, I had spent about 3 years of my life learning to identify my feelings, learning to communicate them, and I longed for partners who could meet me in those places. In fact, I said to a friend as I was getting ready to move back to Chicago, “I want lovers” (note the “s”).
So how does poly serve me? It feels more of a fit with my beliefs that love should not be limited to one person, and that there really isn’t a cap on the amount of love I can feel. I love the open communication I have with my partners. There is a freedom in being utterly honest. It’s scary as hell sometimes, but ultimately freeing. I want to be honest with my emotions. I want to be called on my shit – if I’m projecting something on a partner, I want them to let me know (gently preferably, but I don’t want that conflict avoided). I want to support my partners in the same way.
That said, polyamory is hard sometimes. Really hard. I can’t actually imagine my life another way right now. And yet a lot of my old culturization rears up sometimes about how relationships “should” be. It can be scary to tell people that one of the most important relationships in my life is with someone who is married to someone else (hell, that’s scary to ME sometimes). It’s hard to be “solo poly.” All of these are things I plan to write about, but even with the scary parts, I find polyamory really rewarding. Its allowed me to really be my fullest self in an amazing way.
It allows me to give and receive abundant love.
PS – as I was rereading the close of this post, I realized that people in polyamorous relationship often talk about it being “hard.” But the reality is, any relationship is hard and requires work. I think part of what makes poly difficult is the lack of mainstream models, and adding more people adds more complexity. I think we will all be writing about this at some point.