“Yes, I’m poly. No, I am not a slut,” automatically runs through my mind every time I have to broach the subject of my relationship status. It’s an automatic trigger. Like, “yes I’m black but no I don’t listen to rap music.”
The evolution of my poly self has been a long time in the making. I suffered through monogamy for many years, thinking I was the same as everyone else. I mentally embraced the notion of choosing one boyfriend and having that one boyfriend choose me. I felt completely betrayed when a high school boyfriend of mine refused to “choose me” and only me. I just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t/wouldn’t end his previous relationship. How could he love us both in the same way? Obviously, he had to love one of us more than the other. Obviously, one of us had to be better for him than the other. And obviously that person was me! A girl friend of mine at the time listened to me go on and on about this. She listened calmly and without much of a facial expression. Then she said, “I think it’s totally possible for someone to love two people at the same time.” It rocked my world. She was not my boyfriend’s biggest fan. In fact, she couldn’t stand him. So, it didn’t make sense for her to be saying these things to me. But her words stuck. I didn’t believe them or agree with them at the time but they managed to stick with me anyway.
Years later in college, I did end up being monogamous with that boyfriend. We were in love. We talked of kids and marriage and all that jazz. We were also long distance but still succeeded in being monogamous. By sheer will power, I suspect. I can’t honestly speak for him but that was my experience. No matter how much I loved him I wanted other people. I desired them, daydreamed about a future with them, flirted with them, felt little tingles anytime I was alone with one of them, and never mentioned a word of this to him. Well, technically nothing really happened. All the feelings in the world don’t amount to action, so I was safe. I was monogamous.
After college, he began medical school and I went to work. We were no longer long distance but our relationship faced other problems. Medical school demanded most of his time, energy, and had even begun to change his personality. In a last-ditch effort to fix said problems, we considered moving in together. We were visiting a mortgage broker when it happened. My poly self. I honestly don’t know where she came from but there she was – smiling and giggling and complimenting this tall, dark, handsome banker that was just my type. In the moment, I told myself I was just being charming. I wanted to get a good interest rate after all. And I’d always loved men with accents … so what if I told him that. It wasn’t really that big of a deal … right? My boyfriend and I often talked about our “types” and what we were attracted to. We even teased each other about checking out strangers from time to time. So, was it the worst thing in the world to compliment a man on his accent?
Well, my boyfriend didn’t exactly see it that way. He was pissed. And jealous. The first time I’d ever seen him jealous in the five years we were together. And considering how we started you might think it was a bit hypocritical of him and you would be right. But as he stormed out of the bank with me hurrying along behind him, that was the farthest thing from his mind or mine for that matter. He muttered angrily to himself about how he couldn’t believe I’d do that right in front of him and momentarily refused to unlock the car door for me. All of which just made me want to laugh harder. I was convinced that I’d done nothing wrong. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed. I was tickled by his reaction and a bit aroused by the encounter with the banker. It was in that moment, standing outside the car waiting for him to change his mind and let me in, that I realized when we were inside the bank I’d completely forgotten he was there. Now that I felt bad about. If there was something I would’ve undone it would’ve been that. I would’ve tried harder to include my boyfriend in the playful, if flirtatious, conversation between myself and the banker. A little voice in the back of my head said, “that’s not normal.”
But once he unlocked the door I tuned that voice out and went about making light of the situation. I don’t remember exactly what was said but I basically grinned and batted my eyes, making a joke out of the whole thing. He proceeded to drive shaking his head at me, muttering “unbelievable.” Then I said something like “well if you’re going to be working 12 hour shifts, I’m going to need some company don’t you think? It’s only fair.” His mouth dropped open. He asked me if I was serious. I was. It made perfect sense. We’d been arguing constantly about how demanding a doctor’s life is – long shifts, being on-call, not being able to come to our fictional kids’ events, cutting vacations/dates short, … all those inconveniences that he felt the money made up for. I disagreed. Obviously, this was the solution. He could have the career he was determined to have and I wouldn’t be lonely. I could see him thinking it over but when he vetoed my suggestion without much thought I gave it up just as quickly, retreating into silence and shrinking in the passenger seat.
The next year when our relationship was finally over I began to truly date for the first time. It never occurred to me to date one guy at a time. And I didn’t find it hard at all to focus on whoever I was with at the time. No guilt. No shame. No secrecy either, I might add. But still, I’d never heard of the term poly or polyamory so I didn’t identify with it. I did begin watching this series on HBO called Big Love. And eventually, I grew curious about the roots of polygamy. Did non-Mormons do this? Because to me, it looked like fun. I love female energy and the thought of sister wives reminded me of a sorority without the hazing. I considered converting to Mormonism but it just didn’t click with my agnostic perspective.
Then my ex contacted me wanting to be friends. He’d begun dating one of his other friends in medical school but that didn’t surprise me. I was well acquainted with his version of friends. So, I brought it up again. Explained to him what I’d learned about polyamory and how I felt drawn to it. I opened the door for him and … he walked right through it. He said, he could see the appeal. Confessed that he had the same impulses that I did. That he didn’t believe he could be happy with just one person for the rest of his life. BUT his current girlfriend wasn’t like that and he wouldn’t dare bring it up to her. And how practical was it to begin with? Where were these people that felt like we did? What would his colleagues think of him? His parents? He was much more comfortable with the idea of taking a string of mistresses.
So, I returned to my journey of self-discovery. Probing my past and my beliefs and feelings trying to find out if I really had this in me. Could I love more than one person equally? Would I be willing to share? And what I found is that it came down a set of beliefs, a philosophy about life and love.
- In my heart, I don’t believe that everyone has one soul-mate. I know that I’ve had several already. People who came into my life for a time and gave me something or taught me something that I needed to learn. And I don’t want to live a life smothered by the promise to someone that I will never find another soul-mate. And I don’t want to do that to anyone that I love.
- I believe that real love is unconditional. It doesn’t dictate, demand, or possess. It wants the best for its intended. It is not about pride or ego.
- I don’t believe in Mr. Right or Prince Charming or whatever name he’s going by nowadays. In high school, I made an off-handed comment about how I fully expected I’d be one of those women to have 4 husbands. I meant consecutively. Because husband no.1 would hold a certain allure that I was sure I’d out grow and the same for husbands 2 and 3. Then by the time I got around to husband no.4 I’d be old enough that it didn’t matter and I’d just settle. This was just the first inkling of the idea that was to come. I don’t expect to get everything I want and need from the same person. Allowing different lovers into my life means I can accept and love people for who they actually are instead of hoping they’ll change into what I really want.
- And unlike most women, I was never drawn to traditional marriage. I’d always envisioned making my marriage my own. I was not going to settle down. I was going to explore – geographically, sexually, and any other way you can think of. And my ideal marriage was going to expand to allow this.
This is my mindset. This is why being poly isn’t so much a choice as it is a philosophy/orientation. To me, at least. I know people who consider themselves poly-flexible, meaning they can take it or leave it depending upon who they’re with. That’s not the case for me. Is it possible that I could fall head over heels for one person and be only with that person for some time? Sure. But not forever. Does that mean I’m going to date 50-100 people? Not likely. Does that mean I’m going to trade in old lovers for new ones? Not likely. Does that mean I’m going to have a harem of men? Not necessarily. Does that mean I’m going to join a harem of women? Not necessarily. To be honest, it doesn’t mean anything for certain – other than, I will not be in love with only one person for the rest of my life. I’m only certain of that. The possibilities of what could happen are endless and that’s kinda the point.
Being poly is how I look at the world – what makes the world good and exciting and worthwhile. It is definitely a significant part of my best, most authentic life.