Close your eyes and imagine a hot summer’s day. You’re sitting in a deck chair on the lawn, your feet buried in the slightly-too-long-grass, a weightless fly strolling lazily around your bare ankles. It tickles. The tangy taste of a cosmopolitan, or perhaps a beer, echoes on your lips. Behind you, the garden door clicks open and the grass rustles. After a few seconds, a soft kiss is planted on your forehead and you look up at the face of the person you’re in love with – who you’ve been in love with for the last three years. They look giddy, and you let your grin stretch all the way to your eyes. “How’d it go?” you ask. “Really, really well,” they reply, grinning back. They’ve just come back from a date with their new girlfriend and they’re swimming in the elation of New-Relationship-Energy and all you feel is… joy.
My dear reader, this is the beginning of a journey. Or, more accurately, this is the beginning of a series on polyamory. My passion-project. I am here to talk to you, over the next twelve months, about the ins and outs of it all. The jargon, the joys, the pitfalls. The philosophies. The misconceptions. I will talk about jealousy, which is to be neither feared nor celebrated; I will address the stigmas and the difficulties of ‘coming out’. I will try to answer all the questions you’ve had, haven’t had, and haven’t even thought you could have. And if you think this might not be relevant to you, I’d say think again. Because once monogamy is embraced as a conscious choice of options rather than an assumed relationship style, a whole new dimension of beauty is added. Although polyamory may not be for everybody, I believe that knowledge is power, and knowing the different ways you can experience love, well… that is the most powerful thing of all.
Broadly speaking, people approach poly from one of two directions: first, there are the Lucky Ones, like my first boyfriend. These are rare. The ones that don’t really seem to understand what the concept of jealousy is in the first place, let alone how to put it into practice. A few weeks into dating, my first boyfriend, Tom, told me to flirt with, date, and do the dirty with anybody I fancied. Which was startling, because I am not one of the Lucky Ones. No, when I started polyamory, I started as the Second Kind of Person. This person appreciates all of the theories and ideas behind polyamory, but Ye Gods jealousy is a bitey and unwieldy beast. And I’ll admit, those first couple of months of polyamory were not easy – I’m talking panic attacks, tears, and coming to terms with deeply rooted fears of abandonment. This entailed behaviour that I’m not proud of, like requesting ‘veto’ power over whoever Tom was seeing. Even writing those words gives me shivers now, but if I’m going to introduce you all to what I so completely love about this lifestyle, I’m going to have to do it with the principle that I hold so dearly as the foundation of polyamory – honesty. Even when it’s difficult.
So, I started out monogamous with Tom, despite his offer and willingness to open up near the beginning. I wasn’t interested – I was, I thought, too inherently jealous to be able to deal with such a thing.
Fast forward two years and very little had changed, except that I’d upped and moved to Vancouver for a year of study. Tom, however, stayed at home, and although long-distance isn’t all bad – and definitely not impossible – I found myself craving the emotional and physical intimacies that just don’t translate over a computer monitor, however hard you try. And so, after several hours, weeks and months of discussion, I decided to try this whole dating-other-people-thing out, and boy… it was like I’d found the pot of gold under the rainbow. If you’ve ever had the pure luck of finding somebody you can fall in love with, now imagine having that but twice again and once more for good measure. You discover that your love for one person can serve only to increase your affections for another: this notion of love-as-finite is as fantastical as, well, the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We do not tell mothers that they can only truly love one of their twins. Nor do we expect people to place their friendships in a hierarchy and love accordingly. And yet, when a special someone makes that tricky journey across the amorphous line between platonic and romantic love, we are expected – nay, required – that we rank them, placing this God Among Men at the top of this precipice. As it turned out, this is not how I experience relationships at all. A new, unbounded world had opened up for me and I was dancing on the skies.
There was only one problem – one nugget of shit inside that giant bucket of gold: Tom was monogamous, and at my request. Sort of. Because of my aforementioned jealousy, Tom suggested I see others while he stayed monogamous and, after much persuading, I agreed. Except that polyamory was too damn good. It was like I’d found an all-you-can-eat buffet and I was making a man I loved watch me eat his favourite food whilst he stood looking on. And although he said he was fine with it – he loved to watch me grin lovingly at my 6 overflowing plates of food – I felt this gnawing, guttural pang of guilt. I realised I couldn’t be happy unless we opened up his side of the relationship, too. Either that, or I go back to monogamy. And that was inconceivable.
So we opened up. Right in exam season, and a week before a pretty rough breakup with my second ever partner. With all of these things together (I’ll admit, my timing may have been a little shaky) I found myself clawing at the ground and gasping for air. The jealousy was overwhelming, and poor Tom spent many-an-evening with me as I hyperventilated into the phone. And this… this is something I want to emphasise. Because for those who know me and watch me now, I look like I was born into this life as the most natural thing in the world – and it feels like I was, too. Loving so freely, so openly, so honestly, feels like the most natural thing that could possibly be. To be held by someone you love while holding the hands of another; to watch someone you love experience joy even when you’re not around to give it; to talk with shining eyes about your new love with an old one, and watch their eyes shine back at you… these are the things that make that journey through jealousy worth it. A transition that requires patience, introspection, self-reflection, and a willingness to acknowledge things about yourself that you might find a little painful, but that brings with it a whole philosophy of life and freedom. Two years ago, the story at the beginning of this article would have merely lived as a fiction in my brain, one that brought me to tears. And now? Well, now, it’s a story I can tell from the sweet, nostalgic embrace of memory.