Failing and Winning at Polyamory


In college, I wrote an essay exploring my polyamorous nature and addressed it to my closest friends. It was risky, especially sincere, and I really poured a lot of emotion into it. My friends destroyed me for it … they clowned me so hard! LOL. Looking back now, though, we would probably call their responses to my essay ”slut shaming.” They basically told me I should calm all the way down, stop being a loosie goosie and find one person to love. Ultimately, I did. For the next decade and change, I was a serial monogamist.


As a serial monogamist, however, I was a consummate cheater. Two relationships ago, I put the cheating life down and, as life would have it, I was the one being cheated on. My last relationship lasted 7+ years, and after being cheated on for the majority of it, I found myself at a crossroads. Do I stay and suffer, or leave and suffer? I needed to detach myself from getting emotional about the act of cheating and basically reap the benefits of being a team. I wanted to focus on the perks of the union. I also wasn’t strong enough to leave. I was unapologetically co-dependent. Gross. Finally, I began to ask myself if I could deal with my mate f**king other people.


I concluded that my cheating mate was going to f**k other people whether I liked it or not. If I was going be happy, I was going to have to either “get over it” or get into a whole new romantic situation. In the end, I was willing to push my ego aside in order to ultimately participate in my first open relationship. In theory, I was ready, willing and able to carry on meaningful (even romantic) relationships with multiple people simultaneously. Now it was time to put my money where my mouth was.


Sometimes, life is a cruel joke, but boy is she beautiful. Living a polyamorous or “poly” lifestyle is an exercise in effective communicating and pride-swallowing. You are constantly tested and challenged to think about love beyond sex, and sex beyond what you as an individual want.


My first open relationship was basically a triad: I had two girlfriends and I could date whomever I wanted — in theory. One girlfriend was my primary, and the other was secondary. My primary girlfriend was the one who had been cheating throughout the duration of our relationship. My secondary girlfriend was painfully open and honest with me about her dating style. I wanted to build a life with my primary, and my secondary was somebody I just had a lot of fun with. Ultimately, my primary was lying to me regarding the life she was leading; even though she introduced me to my secondary girlfriend, she hated the fun we were having without her. It ruined the triad, ran me off and sent me into a tailspin.


In order to be my primary relationship, a person has to earn that spot. My then primary relationship had been working (or maybe just crumbling) for over six years when she started bringing new people in with the goal of starting an all-inclusive family. The problem is, she lied to me every step of the way. I fell into polyamory out of the fear of losing my primary, but that sent the message to her that I would be a doormat and tolerate anything she did. She started treating me even worse after we became open: I became more honest about new people I was dating, and she became less honest. She became jealous of the people (especially the men) I brought around, and told her new partners all the worst things about me. And we all lived together. It was a shit show.


Needless to say, we ended on bad terms. I broke up with her and moved out of the house. Ironically, my secondary girlfriend was there for me through it all — and she is the one I thought wouldn’t last. She’s the one I felt I wasn’t going to be able to trust, and only have fun with. I learned through a failed primary that my secondary wanted to be in first position all along. Now, she is. And even though our relationship is far from perfect, we are honest with each other in a way that is poignant and meaningful and real. She likes other people; I do too. But we know who we love and who we want to build a life with. And when our feelings change, the conversations change right along with them.


In attempting to balance every one of my relationships, I learned that I cannot and should not be everything to anyone. I used to become insecure by the thought of my lover loving someone else. Now, I almost expect it. My love is unique. My love is special, and whoever receives it knows my non-monogamy can be a beautiful thing. Compersion is a term coined by the polyamorous community, and it basically means finding happiness in the happiness of others. It means that if my now primary girlfriend loves someone else, I can find joy in that. I can find joy in a relationship that has nothing to do with me, technically. There is freedom in that. Compersion is a hard pill to swallow, but it feels so good once it hits the bloodstream.


My current relationship is less complicated in most areas. I have a primary girlfriend, and we both date other people. But we also have a screening process. Potential mates have to essentially be ok’ed by each other. We don’t go just bringing people around willy-nilly because we can. We have a foundation to keep strong, so we can be good for others. I failed at keeping my last relationship strong, so this time I’m especially concerned with it. Polyamory isn’t for everyone. Honesty isn’t something to be afraid of, and loving multiple people simultaneously isn’t far-fetched. In fact, for many of us, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.


This poly life can only be lived with brutal honesty. After bad luck juggling weird, co-dependent serial monogamy for years, I had a particularly volatile first crack at a polyamorous relationship. But after plenty of failures in that realm, I conclude that I’m still polyamorous. I also learned that I have been polyamorous all along. So take that, college friends — I guess these student loans were good for something after all.


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