I’ve noticed that getting to know a new poly friend tends to follow the same pattern each time. We like to jump right in to the “poly philosophy” questions. Just like there are infinite approaches to monogamy (what must you have in a partner and what can you deal without? how are you going to adhere to or diverge from the traditional monogamous relationship or gender roles? kids or no kids?), there are probably infinitely more approaches to poly. How does poly work in your life? What needs do you seek in a new partner that aren’t being met in other areas of your life? What boundaries do you have? How do you approach new metamours? Do you have a hierarchy, believe in hierarchy, don’t care, feel passionately about it?
I fully intend to write about all these things eventually, but since this is my first post, I figured I might as well jump right in with my favorite how did I become poly?
In some ways, I could easily argue I’ve been poly my whole life and I just didn’t know it (or didn’t allow it). Many patterns in my life are distinctly poly in essence if not in practice. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. But, I can also easily give a catalyst for when everything in my brain flipped and I identified myself as polyamorous.
First, let me give a bit of background. I have been happily married for almost 9 years now (has it really been that long??!). My wife and I have always been very close–best friends above everything else and very egalitarian in our marriage. We are absolutely life partners. About three and a half years ago, we welcomed our son into the world and started down the path of parenthood and building a family.
Two summers ago, a friend of mine recommended the book Sex at Dawn. I’m a pop non-fiction junkie and love anything that challenges my preconceived notions of the world, so I checked it out at the library and took it with me on a family vacation to the beach. I remember being on the plane with my wife and son, reading the introductory chapter, shutting the book and saying to myself, “Oh shit. If I keep reading this, I am opening up a Pandora’s box. Do I want to do this?” So I told my wife that very thought, handed her the book, told her to read the first chapter, and tell me how she felt. I figured if I’m reading this, she HAD to read it too.
We ended up both reading the book cover to cover over that vacation. She would read a chapter, then I would read it. We would talk about everything when we got into bed at night.*
The truth was that we had never even considered that there was an option outside of monogamy We had unthinkingly just “known” that being natural, moral and ethical meant being monogamous. Love meant never having sexual thoughts about another person, or that you could at least control your desires for others easily. Love meant exclusivity. Love meant loving only each other.
Seems so silly now to think about, but before that trip it was completely taboo in our relationship to admit that we lusted after anyone else. Like many who came before me, I remember talking to my wife very early in our relationship about having a “List”–the celebrities who, if you had the chance, you would absolutely be allowed to have sex with no questions asked. Just a silly little thing really, but something that acknowledges that people have sexual urges for others. She was so reluctant to even the idea of it. “Why would you ever even want to do that? That would really hurt me, and I would be so painfully jealous. Do you even want to have sex with other people, and what does that say about your satisfaction with me?” And even though I still pushed for the list because I knew it was innocent, I never wanted to or thought to push any further. Her reaction taught me that in order for my wife to feel loved the way I felt love for her, she needed to know that I only had eyes for her.
Of course, by then end of our week of reading at the beach, we had confessed all the lust we had ever felt for other people. We broke the taboo in no uncertain terms. But more importantly, we had confessed that the idea of LOVING other people–of making our family bigger than just she and I and any children we had–was an amazing idea. The idea that love is not a finite resource, that maybe love makes more love, that we need other people to feel complete–these concepts really were important to us.
I had started to see, over the ten years of our relationship, that when we stuck to The Good Marriage Script, our lives would keep boiling down more and more to just us. We got married, and certain friends started disappearing or treating us as a couple instead of individuals. Something got lost. We met new people, and friendships couldn’t quite develop as far as it felt like they should. Something more was lost. We had a child and more people fell off the radar. Even the effort to maintain relationships became so much harder for us and less worthwhile. We were becoming just us. We were relying on each other to do and be everything–one person now had to be our support system, our sexual fulfillment, our co-parent, our financial reliance, our entire village.
I could see myself getting claustrophobic.
Maybe that’s why, when my friend suggested it, I picked up that book. And I think that’s why it spoke to me so much. My relationship wasn’t strangling me, I loved my wife so very much. But something was. Especially after having a son, and knowing what it takes to try and be his whole village to boot. I don’t think I ever would have put my finger on it without the help of someone introducing the concept of different family structures and polyamory. I never would have thought that anything other than monogamy was a healthy, loving, safe, and ethical way to form a family.
I will keep sharing the story of my journey, but this was the first step for my wife and I. It gets better, and then worse, and then better again, and Lord knows there will be more adventures to come. But this first step with my life partner was spectacular: the admission of our true sexual desires resulted in fueling our own desire for each other. The next six months resulted in some of the best sex we’d ever had in our lives. The admission of wanting to love more people made us appreciate more the love we had for each other. It was counter-intuitive, but it was beautiful for our relationship.
Next up–what happens when we actually start DATING other people? Yikes!
*I should probably take some time to review Sex at Dawn in depth. Though I loved the book and highly recommend it, I do see some flaws in it. I should give it a deeper book review later. Remind me!