About a month ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about polyamory. For those unfamiliar, polyamory is the practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic partners at a time. When I excitedly told each of my partners about this invitation, they each responded with a variation of the same thing: “You’re going to talk about how you suck at it, right?”
So how do I suck at poly? As the Sexual Health Education Program, or SHEP, likes to say, “communication is lubrication.” In all types of relationships, from friends with benefits to uncomfortable lab partners, good communication makes things run so much more smoothly. The necessity of communication is multiplied when there are more people involved, as with poly. There is so much to communicate to ensure everyone is getting the time they need to feel loved and valued, and without it, the time you spend with that person will be spent having resentment-filled arguments rather than fun sexy times.
Despite this knowledge, I’m that one friend you have who, when you message asking if they can hang out that night, always responds three days later saying, “oops I just saw this lol.” If this happened once with a lover, it would be an oversight that would have to, but could be, made up for. But almost every time? That’s the way to piss off your partner.
This anger can be multiplied a few times over when NRE — or, in poly-speak, New Relationship Energy — comes into play. It’s the obsession that takes all of your idle time and thoughts when you start dating someone you’re really into. Now imagine going through this while already having a partner or two whom you’re supposed to be giving attention to. Oh, and throw in work, volunteering, running a club, class, homework, readings … you get the point.
My main partner, whom I’ve been with for most of three years, has broken up with me (only to immediately get back together) multiple times because I ended up spending more time with other partners. Many a time, I was too lost in the flurry of a new relationship and the fast pace of UC Berkeley to realize I wasn’t giving him the attention he needed to feel like a part of my life. He would then assume I was ignoring him solely for another partner, which wasn’t completely true but not completely false, either.
At this point, I’m sure the non-poly readers out there are asking why anyone would subject themselves to this. School and one partner — heck, even just school — is more than enough to keep a person busy. The short of it is, I love connections. I’ve never purposefully gone out seeking new partners (I’m on Tinder, but it’s only for the entertainment while I’m pooping.) Rather, I meet new people and find them so intriguing I have to know more. Their thoughts, their bodies, their dreams, the face they make when consumed with pleasure…
At the start of this school year, I began volunteering more, which made my valuable free time disappear, so the last thing I needed was my complex romantic life and the arguments it created. But I valued all the relationships in my life, so I opted to finally find a long-term solution by following the advice my partners had been giving me: to tell them when I was free, when I was thinking about them, what I’m currently passionate about.
I finally started using Google calendar (a life-saving device for all poly people) and shared my schedule with my partners. I told each one of them when I was missing them and what was making me think of them. I started to keep track of how much time I was spending with each partner and made sure it was more equal. They appreciate these changes, and I enjoy not pissing off the people I love. But I still have a lot of work to do, because at the end of the day, I’m still a pretty terrible communicator. There are times when I get so caught up in my work that I don’t see a partner for a week or tell them what I’m up to. So yes, I still suck at poly, but I’m proud to say, with the help of very patient partners, I now suck a little less.
I decided to start my tenure as your Sex on Tuesday writer by talking about my relationship(s) because they frame much of my sexual experiences. I’ve wanted to write this column since I started here three years ago, and I finally think I have enough to talk about. From hookups at Burning Man’s orgy dome to sugaring at a five-star hotel, here are my romances, the subsequent stories of my college adventures and their resulting relationships.