In May of 2018, I met my current partner at our job. When they casually mentioned being bisexual, my interest in them was piqued, until they brought up their boyfriend. But then they said they were polyamorous. Could I be in a polyamorous relationship? I hadn’t been in a long-term committed relationship in a while and the last one I was in was a monogamous relationship that lasted two years, that I had grown utterly bored of about halfway through. From that point forward I had only engaged in sexual relations, thinking that I didn’t want to be tied down to any one person. Polyamory offered a different option.
Months later, we were flirting and they finally asked me out on a date. I met their boyfriend. And their playmate. I got on okay with both, and I didn’t feel threatened by either of them. We continued going out and flirting and writing each other love letters and giving each other gifts, and at some point, we just agreed that we were now in a relationship.
I’ve learned a few things about myself and relationships since embarking on this journey. I have had to cultivate ways to communicate with my partner more openly and honestly than I’m used to. I’ve had to talk about my sexual experiences and what I’ve liked and didn’t like, and where I lack skill. This should be the norm for any relationship, but our conversations have also included bringing their playmate into our sexy time activities and what we both would like to do with each other and him.
I’ve also had to be open about my attraction to other people. This is quite liberating as past relationships saw jealous reactions whenever I commented on being attracted to anyone else. Our monogamous-centric society has conditioned me to keep quiet about said attraction so I’ve found myself feeling uncomfortable going into detail about my other crushes. There does regrettably continue to be a lingering fear that such discussions will spark conflict. Fortunately, when I did get around to bringing up my other crushes, my partner was delightfully excited and encouraging.
But while they didn’t exhibit any jealousy in response to my interest in others, I learned that I myself am not immune to jealousy. Mariana Guerra wrote in a Tempest article that, “When you have multiple concurrent romantic or sexual relationships, people tend to assume that jealousy doesn’t (or shouldn’t) affect you.” Because I hadn’t experienced any such feelings in relation to their boyfriend or playmate, I assumed I was okay with them having other partners.
Then the pandemic hit and with my heart condition making me particularly vulnerable, I was left unable to see them in person. They started dating someone else and at first, I was glad that they had someone to fulfill needs I couldn’t. At the time, their relationships with their other boyfriend and their playmate were experiencing difficulties so they needed positive companionship that I couldn’t provide in person.
But then the new boyfriend came up more and more in our conversations. My partner made presumably inadvertent comparisons between us that left me hurt and yes, jealous. His picture was the wallpaper on their phone, my partner posted Instagram stories of the two and tweeted about him. They shared his music and all the while I was left isolated and unable to make contact with the world out of fear for my health. I wondered why I was never used as a wallpaper picture or why I was never mentioned on their social media or why they never shared the stories I had written and shared with them. I assumed the worst of my partner and it sent me spiraling into a self-loathing that compounded my depression.
But I never brought it up because I took on the attitude that my jealousy was my problem. Their new boyfriend eventually broke up with them right before I started therapy so I didn’t feel the need to mention it or get advice on the situation. They did continue to live with their other boyfriend, who they had also broken up with, and their association was a toxic one.
At first, being in a polyamorous relationship led me to believe that I had no right to speak up on the issue because doing so would make me as unaccepting and controlling as him. After all, rules have no place in such relationships. But boundaries do. And my therapist encouraged me to reach out and set my boundaries, as long as I also made it clear I had no intention of trying to exert control.
So after they finally moved out of his place, I told them that I would prefer they didn’t talk to him anymore because their friendship was so fraught and abusive and harmful. And I was glad I did. They agreed and later admitted they were proud of me for putting my foot down and setting a boundary where they felt they may have been unable to.
Some assume that opting for polyamory allows an escape from the burdens of monogamy. The appeal of it is that it is more flexible and perhaps more liberating. But it certainly comes with its own challenges, as I’m finding. It does require a commitment of time and a willingness to be open and honest, even in ways that you fear might spark conflict. To succeed in a non-monogamous relationship, you have to be willing to own your feelings, even the negative ones, and to take responsibility for them. You have to apply the principles of flexibility and liberation to your partner and be willing to allow them to find love beyond just you, even if that sparks feelings of inadequacy. And if you do develop such feelings, don’t drown yourself in them, don’t assume you can’t talk about them. Be willing to make space for difficult conversations and be willing to set boundaries. They’re not just helpful, they’re needed.
I’m hoping that as long as we continue to communicate with love and honesty, our relationship will be an immensely fulfilling adventure for everybody involved.
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