Very often, when people hear about polyamory, their first reaction is to ask how it is possible to love and live like this with all that we come with as humans. While it hasn’t always been the case in the history of humanity in many parts of the world, lately, most of our societies promote monogamy and use many different ways to defend it as the only and acceptable way to love and live. Most of these defenses are rooted in our humanness and every premise almost always stems from the assumption that we are all wired the same way emotionally and mentally. There is also the belief that our philosophies towards relationships and existing, in general, are innate, instead of them being values we are taught and can similarly unlearn if they do not serve us.
My journey has not only disproved these beliefs for me, in my personal capacity, but actually, polyamory has created more room for me to navigate and embrace my humanness more than ever before.
It’s only been 7 years since I started living an openly polyamorous life, but the elements of ethical non-monogamy were always present in my life and in my relationships dating back to my very first love when I was 15 and in high school. I do remember when I felt compelled to really own and embrace this part of myself as something that is integral to my identity and perspectives on love and relationships. It was during the December holidays when I kept tossing and turning, battling with the state of the relationship I was in at that time. We had only been together for a little under 5 months, 21 was around the corner for me and I was hyper-aware of myself and the person I was, my actual beliefs and truest perspectives on life, love and relationships in particular. I thought extensively too about the person I actually wanted to be, the life I wanted to live, and the conscious decisions I’d have to make to get there. The journey towards love, when shared sincerely, tends to be a good mirror for self-reflection, I believe. Some of the things I wanted to embrace in myself, I knew for a fact were things my current partner did not understand or could not offer, but I decided to be brave, honest and open up, and give her a chance to speak for herself. The way she responded to how I expressed my desire to really immerse myself in my non-monogamy, reminded me why I liked her so much in the first place. In as much as she admitted that non-monogamy was something out of her score, she validated my feelings and understood where I was coming from. Being an older woman, she encouraged the desire I had to really be myself, especially in the kind of society we lived in. She said she thought I was brave and she fully encouraged that. I felt like an ungrateful, entitled little girl admitting that this woman who had all the qualities I wanted in a partner wasn’t ‘the one’ for me, considering how much I cared about her too. I felt guilty that I wanted more. After a few difficult conversations, we agreed to end things with the unpleasant truth that, though we liked each other a lot, we were quite different to what the other wanted and deserved, and it would catch up with us eventually.
Even though I upheld polyamorous ideals, I battled with the idea of admitting that maybe for a person like me, monogamy is not the way to go. I knew I was layered and complicated with a lot of emotional baggage, and it looked like the more clearly I saw myself, the smaller my puzzle pieces became and the harder it would be for someone else to put them together and see the full picture. I was also the same person who wrote a Facebook note blasting polygamy once upon a time, and couldn’t understand how other women could volunteer to live in that way. I was the same person that knew, despite my polyamory, I flourished in monogamous relationships. I was proud of the commitment and love I was able to show to one person for a long time without a struggle, and without being unfaithful. I spent the next few months leading up to my birthday really interrogating everything I have been taught about love and relationships and decided to fashion my own ways that would leave me being fulfilled and as a result, aid me in being a good partner to the people in my life.
Some things were easier to discover than others. I knew I didn’t struggle with jealousy that much and could easily allow my partner to have other partners when approached correctly, but I was clueless as to how I would communicate and express my non-monogamous inclinations to someone I cared about. Trickier things to consider included the fact that I had spent all my life dreaming of being someone’s “one”, the center of their world, so how would I react to someone wanting to be with me if they already had someone they regarded as such? To say I don’t get insecure or jealous at all would be a lie. What happens if I agree to an arrangement today and something makes me uncomfortable tomorrow? If I live an openly polyamorous life, would people undermine the intensity of my love and commitment, and will that affect the quality of love and commitment I get in return?
I sat for many years with these questions but allowing myself to still have experiences and explore connections with people helped ease my anxieties. Some things you only learn and discover with experience. I quickly realized that embracing my polyamory was not really about relationships and loving others. It was about me. Embracing my polyamory forced me to interrogate all the things I have been taught about myself, about what I want, about love, relationships, values, principles and the world at large. It made me look at the ‘acceptable way’ of doing things and realized that in them being comfortable and second nature, it doesn’t always mean that is the right way to go and it doesn’t always mean that is the right way to go for me specifically. I realized that most of the things that made me want to hang on to my monogamous ideals were rooted, funny enough, in fear and not necessarily because I believed the principles I was taught actually worked. And just because I have become comfortable in my polyamory now, it doesn’t mean the work is done. I have become so self-aware now, that at every moment I am conscious of how I feel. I can better identify which voice is mine, which voice stems from fear, and which one stems from external and societal pressures. I don’t know if I was still living monogamously, if I would dare step into the unknown territory to do this sometimes-difficult work. Exploring my non-monogamy opened up a whole other window of self-discovery I didn’t expect.
Over the years, I’ve hit a few brick walls, even with people who were ok with my polyamory. I fell short in communicating exactly what I wanted, or I did not always know what the right and wrong way of doing things was, to honor and respect both me and my partner. This made me feel less confident and insecure. So I tried something different. Instead of being adamant to figure things out immediately, I dared myself to be even more vulnerable, tap into the deepest parts of my humanness and express these things I hadn’t yet figured out to those involved as I was experiencing them. The truth is, I was and still discovering who I am. And for someone like me who doesn’t date just to pass time, getting into serious relationships at such a young age meant that I had to accept that I would grow and change alongside my partner/s and they had to accept that too. The opposite applied. I found that this worked really well for me. Embracing my humanness, my insecurities, the anxiety about how my partner/s would receive me, the I’m not-so-sure-what-I’m-doing-right-now…it all just encouraged my partner/s to also open up and be vulnerable with me too. This changed everything. I didn’t have to figure things out alone. We could sit and talk about how we are conditioned in different ways (so we understand each other’s behaviors better) and map out our own ways of doing things. We debated, agreed and proposed how to go forward where our ideas differed. This is a common feature in my relationships, the constant reflection and evaluation of ourselves and in turn, how we want to be in the relationship. Yes it sounds like hard and tedious work but the rewards are priceless. It’s opened up doors to be honest about other things about ourselves and how we look at the world. It has built intimacy, closeness and a safe space to truly be ourselves. Even better, it’s created a platform where we can also hold each other accountable for the kind of people we want to be. Today I find it easier to tell my partners when I am jealous about something, for example, and we often work through it together. It’s interesting because more often than not, how we act out in relationships comes from a deeper, more layered place than the issue at hand. More than helping me be a better lover and a better person in general, being polyamorous has helped me embrace all of my humanness, flaws and all.