I attended a fashion show last year with a very good friend of mine and her husband. She donned a black Victorian lace headpiece and petite Coach purse; her husband dressed in something I couldn’t remember. My eyes were on her, and I joked about taking her home that night, ready for Mr. Husband to make some kind of defensive remark. “Go ahead,” he said with a tone I almost realized was serious. I then tweeted a selfie with her with the caption “Sorry @myfriendshusband.”
“Why are you sorry? You’re totally welcome,” he said again, with a tone I didn’t let myself realize was a real invitation.
Months later, the tales of their luscious affairs made their way into my ears, and I realized that this couple was on some other level. She called it an “open marriage,” but I know now that “open marriage” is a baby term protecting the monogamous from going into shock at the beautifully complex world of polyamory.
Polyamory. This is the part where I throw you the Wikipedia-sanctioned definition so that you don’t start judging it. If you want to get down to the root words, “poly” means “a lot,” and “amor” means “of whoring around.”
Wait, no. You’re right — it means “love.”
If you can develop intimate feelings for more than one person at a time, then you can identify as polyamorous. Polyamory, in practice, means consensual nonmonogamy. It doesn’t mean being a selfish dick and boning whoever you want left and right. That’s just hooking up. Polyamory means communicating what you’re doing with your partner(s) as soon as it’s necessary.
In my first poly relationship, we fell in love at a ridiculous Romeo and Juliet pace but didn’t want to give up our sexual capabilities outside of each other. We agreed to be primary partners and set ground rules.
- Inform each other of all new partners.
- Inform new partners of the primary.
- Veto power. If secondary partners threaten the primary relationship, we discuss and oust the other right then.
Compared to tradition, it’s basically organized cheating. Except everyone is in on it, and it’s magical.
When my partner and I started dating, we had just come into our queer identities. Meanwhile, for the first time in my life, I found a beautiful, intelligently riveting woman who was somehow really into me. I wanted to experience her body. And my partner wanted to test his oral sex chops on another lucky man’s phallus. Had we been monogamous, we would have signed ourselves to a restrictive heterocontract and never would have come upon happiness as queer, polysexual and, let’s face it, wildly horny human beings.
There’s a saying about candles that equates flames to happiness. I think the same could be said for love and sex. When one lights another, the original doesn’t lose its fire; happiness — and love — is not lost as it’s shared.
To the same effect, the great Kanye West once asked, “Have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?”
A week ago, my partner and I decommitted from each other and our primary roles. A long talk on my couch, tears, dry heaving, and apologies galore — it looked and felt like your standard breakup.
Any poly person will tell you that jealousy is your main poison. As much as I’d kill for immunity, the truth is I’m unrealistically insecure — and insecurity breeds jealousy faster than I can tell it to shut up.
But the second he was supposed to walk away from me, our lips reunited and he carried me into bed for makeup sex that completely contradicted the last hour we had spent on the couch.
And we were able to do that because embracing a poly dynamic allowed us to fluctuate uninhibited of binding expectations.
I am now what some call “solo poly.” Picture a Maypole planted center in the ground with various multicolored ribbons attached to it. That’s me and my “other bitches.”
That sounds callous and egotistical, but solo polydom grants me so much more control than ever before that I can’t help but feel relieved for my ego.
My good friend Nam once said of my personality that I “exist in multitudes.” I think the same is true of my sexuality. I love the thrill of flirting, meeting new bodies, new personas. I’m a honeymoon-phase junkie, a first-date-o-holic and a Tinder match connoisseur. Polyamory frees my interests so that I can pursue them all simultaneously.
Let’s be clear now that polyamory is not anti-monogamy; it’s an alternative to it. I don’t believe that singular devotion is the cornerstone proof of true love. Headlines about couples married for 70 years who die together a la “The Notebook” give us hope. We look to the model of lifelong commitment as a sign of stability. But marriage and monogamy aren’t always signs of success. They’re signs of choice.
You can have two girlfriends, and your love for either wouldn’t disrespect or cancel out the other. In the same way, I can date and sleep with a resource of casual relationships and still have my integrity. You can even see zero people at the moment and still be poly — because poly is an identity. If any of this resonated with you — if you think you have a lot of love to give and offer this world — then you can surely identify as polyamorous.
In my polyamorous love life, a train takes off while a previous one’s still in transit, and I always have the option of boarding a new one. The biggest difference, though, is that I have no clear destination. And I love that. My relationships all run their course without rush, and the little button at the top for “more options” is always, always there.
I have no clear destination. Because even with the tried and true appeals of normalcy, polyamory is a place I don’t see the need to leave at all.