What makes true love real? What makes it true? What makes it authentic?
Is it sparks? Is it longing? Is it a foundation of friendship? Is it all-consuming desire? Is it that feeling, that ethereal whisper, “This is the one”? If you’re lucky and you find that “one,” you live happily ever after, right?
Now what if you’re SUPER lucky, what if you have many great lovers over the course of your long life? If they were all monumental loves, does that mean any one of them is less real?
Take that and condense it. What if you open yourself up to love and you have many great loves all at once? Not stretched out over time in a linear, monogamous sense, but spiraling out from you here and now. Does it mean your love is flimsy? Are you still a steadfast and true lover?
These were questions I often asked myself 3 years ago. Was I an inconstant lover because I was…DUM DUM DUM…polyamorous?
That word, polyamory (“poly” for short), was not a part of my vocabulary until about four years ago, when a co-worker gifted me a book by radical love warrior Wendy-O Matik called Redefining Our Relationships. The book was small, unassuming, really more like a pamphlet, yet it contained a whole world. A world that sounded beautiful and wonderful, and definitely too good to be true.
Before we proceed, let me make this abundantly clear: polyamory is NOT polygamy. The majority of plural marriages practiced in North America are a patriarchal practice, usually motivated by some fundamentalist form of organized religion. The women in most plural marriages do not enjoy the same freedom as the men, and the lack of mobility is usually increased by a focused effort to procreate. In poly relationships, both parties agree to honor and communicate the terms of their “openness,” negotiating conditions as they live and love together.
Back to a world that was too good to be true. I felt like the book was taunting me. You see, contrary to my history as a serial monogamist, I harbored a deep, dark dream that maybe someday someone would present me such a truth. I burned that dream. I beat it down into the ground of my consciousness. I told myself that what I dreamt of was just a case of “the wandering eye.” Because to think of loving more than one person at once is more than wrong. It’s cruel. Right?
I grew up in a home that truly valued monogamy. My parents are still, to this day, deeply in love with each other, and part of how they demonstrate that is by practicing devotion strictly to each other. My father won’t even look at a Playboy because he feels it dishonors his relationship with my mother. My mother likes to joke sometimes, but I know my father is the only one for her. I look back with deep admiration and respect for their love. They were truly destined to be together. I also naturally mirrored this growing up. I never cheated, not once. When I tried to come out as pan-sexual to my mother, she informed me that in her opinion, “People who go both ways are really using it as an excuse to be promiscuous.” So I sublimated everything but my hetero urges and vowed never to get married. Even when I was stranded in the wasteland of monogamy, I never saw myself with just one person. I could at least be truthful about that: I wanted to have many loves over the course of my life. Never just one.
I will always think of my co-worker who gifted me that book as my fairy godmother. And listening to her stories as the tried to navigate her new out status as both gay and poly in a committed relationship was invaluable. She and her girlfriend provided me with a new model. Her girlfriend identified as monogamous but supported my co-worker and her new poly status. I worried, was my co-worker’s girlfriend a masochist? How could she live with the knowledge that my co-worker saw other people? I learned very quickly that the focus of a couple like this is communication. A much deeper and fearless kind than I had ever heard before. Transparency and a willingness to volunteer personal information were also key. Even though they adapted quickly and easily to these new conditions, that didn’t mean there weren’t crying fights and nights spent alone. But what mattered was that, drama aside, my co-worker’s girlfriend did not feel devalued or underloved. In fact, as my co-worker grew into herself as poly, she was able to love better and bolder, and her girlfriend relished it.
Imagine being able to see with both eyes after being forced to look through a small hole punch in a sheet of paper your whole life. The beauty, the color, the clarity…they might overwhelm you. That is how I felt when I learned I wasn’t alone. That my heart could roam free and the only thing that could limit it was my waking hours in the day. I went right out with Bastard Keith’s blessing on several dates with many different girls, and got my heart broken a bunch. I learned that whether you are alone after a breakup or you have a supportive primary or secondary lover, it doesn’t matter: a broken heart still hurts like hell. I started dating men too, and I realized it was similarly fraught with the same old perils. Except with a new twist.
I would say that a third of the men I’ve dated since coming out as poly feel overly entitled to make assumptions about what I owe them sexually, since in their eyes I am more “free-spirited” than the average person. On the flip side of that coin, Bastard Keith has had to deal with similarly offensive behavior from men who feel like because I’m poly they have the right to say outrageously inappropriate things to him about me. I believe this is because somewhere deep in the collective subconscious, we have accepted the idea that it is a husband’s job to control his wife. That means demanding her loyalty in the form of monogamy. If a poly female-bodied person like me marries a monogamous man like Bastard Keith and I remain poly, he has not held up his end of the social contract in controlling me. Therefore, respect for either of us is not necessary. Frustration, of course, is not limited to just dealing with tone-deaf, horny idiots. There are also the people who think I’m crazy. I have, in fact, even been told I have a mental illness by someone who should know better. I am strange, but not because I’m poly. That is one of the most well-adjusted facets of my mental state. Because it’s the truth, because it’s a real orientation, just like a sexual or gender-based one.
No, poly people are not crazy. Just the opposite of monogamous people. So many monogamists have said to me, “God, that just sounds like so much work! One is enough!” I feel exactly the same way, except in reverse. To me, loving, caring for, doting on one person just makes me feel like I have a sliver of glass in my eye. It legitimately feels wrong to me. To me, growing what my lovers jokingly call my “harem” feels easy, comfortable and right. Dividing up my week between them, planning special tailored dates for them, and being there for them as they need me feels like how life is supposed to be to me. I love each one of them uniquely. I would go with each of them to the ends of the earth, or shave a year off my life for each one. Each of them, even the lovers I no longer see, are the “one” for me. It just so happens that it’s “ones,” plural, instead of “one,” singular.
If it seems like I see this all through rose-colored glasses, that’s just because I don’t take telling my “truth” for granted. When society wants you to live a lie, you learn to love having the freedom to tell the truth. But it’s not all “love-ins” and “group dates.” I’ve had my heart broken a lot, but I’ve also broken some hearts. Because I have a career, and a job, and a dog, and a family I deeply love, and then many lovers, I don’t have a lot of time. Even to Bastard Keith, I’m not a full-time lover. I try my best, I spread myself thin; I like it like that. But it doesn’t leave a lot of room for error, or for myself.
I don’t get jealous, but my lovers sometimes get jealous of each other. I do my best to help them understand that I make time for them because I love them. I love their individuality, their spirit, and I want to honor their heart. I also try to emphasize that it’s not the other lovers that take away what should be “their” time, but that the time I make for them is the time I’ve got. I earn their trust as best I can. Sometimes (especially when they fall deeply in love with me), nothing I do is enough, no amount of communicating or honest adoration can close the gap in either their needs or insecurities.
And even though it shreds my heart to do so, I have to let them go. Because no matter how many times I say, “You need another lover,” I cannot make them put forth the effort and I cannot be something I’m not. I can’t be anyone’s full-time girlfriend. I also can’t force something to be functional when it isn’t. Sometimes my encouragement to go out and take other lovers bruises their ego. It feels like a rejection when it couldn’t be further from it. The idea of them being loved and appreciated by someone else fills me with joy. But I want them to come back because I adore them, because though I may not be their full-time lover, I love them with the intensity of 1,000 hearts.
You may be wondering a lot of things, like, what is the number of lovers I prefer to keep? The answer: 4 is nice, 5 is perfect. You may wonder, why did I get married after vowing not to? Truthfully, even though it shocked my mother, I proposed to Bastard Keith because I wanted him to know I understood that he truly accepted all of me. To me, he is the definition of an evolved being. He understood that to love someone like me means desiring all of their truth. I mean, he is the kind of person who enjoyed spending our wedding night sitting next to our hotel suite bathtub while Sovereign and I bathed together. Also because he’s a genius.
You may wonder, how do I see myself in ten years? Hopefully with 5 lovers who can all enjoy each other’s company enough to periodically share a table with each other. I see myself cooking for them, traveling with them, and making art with them. You might ask, “But would you commit yourself to a person other than Keith for the rest of your life? Could a secondary or tertiary lover count on you for that?” For me, the answer is an unequivocal “YES!” I’m currently dating someone who, though he has real difficulties with my life, I hope is a lover for the rest of my life. I hope I get to cook soup for him when we are old lovers together. He is my warrior prince. I hope to get to take Sov to the south of France for our 10-year anniversary. I want to see who she becomes. Yes, these are real lifetime commitments, true lifetime love affairs.
Yes, this is real, raw, authentic love. I don’t know what else to say other than “Viva poly amour.”