March of the Ents

a tree with a knot on it that looks like an eye

Photo by Antoine Bertier / CC BY

I was with my ex-husband Seth for 10 years, all told. The first 8 years we were monogamous, much to his growing chagrin. In a lot of ways, we were mismatched, and prior relationship experience was no exception. My own background of family instability meant I had to grow up fast. I took lovers younger than he did and plenty of them. The vast majority of these entanglements were very casual – experiments, byproducts of my social environment as first a jazz musician and later a playwright, occasionally as a way of reciprocating the aid of those who had helped me out of some jam or another. It was a very natural mélange of No Strings Attached (NSA) group and solo sex, and sometimes it was fun (other times, not so much), but what I really longed for was stability and some emotional depth. As time went on, I found that most of my friends were all partnered up, and I was primarily a late night “booty call” for those in between steady gigs (so to speak), a safe girl-on-girl first time to bicurious actresses, an easy add-in to some couple wanting a third. I was lonely a lot, and when I did manage to get girlfriends I cared about, they kept leaving me for boys.

My guy situation wasn’t much better. But then Seth and I were introduced by mutual friends, and he wasn’t so bad. Utterly sure of himself, oozing confidence. He had a job at the call center and a Mercury Sable in a fetching shade of blue.  He’d never been to jail or rehab. So I gave it a go.

Seth, conversely, had 1 girlfriend before me (2 if you counted a girl he emailed in New Hampshire a whole ton and gave bus money to come up and visit him one time before she told him she wasn’t attracted to him), and they’d slept together once, after they’d broken up.  One time when Seth and this girl were still together, she and her female friend had spontaneously both made out with Seth, and he considered it the height of his sexual history.  This was in spite of the fact that these girls started sneaking off on their own, eventually recruiting a different guy to fool around with them, and then the ex-girlfriend got pregnant by him, and Other Man broke up with HER because she wouldn’t abort it. So then the ex-girlfriend tried to convince Seth a) it was his (unlikely since they’d only had oral sex) and then after she confessed to cheating and Seth broke up with her  b) she’d been raped by Other Man (ex-girlfriend later recanted the rape claim when Seth refused to take her back).  Remember what I was saying about NSA not always being everything it’s cracked up to be? But I digress.

When Seth and I met through our mutual friends, he knew me as a very wild girl by reputation. I was very clear with him that yes, I was bisexual and had mostly been with girls, and yes, I loved sex, but that I was looking to be strictly monogamous. I wanted to go deep with someone.

Seth quickly agreed that it was not a problem. He was emerging from an epic dry spell (thus, why he had reached out to friends for a set-up) and seemed quite happy just to have a girl interested in him. Maybe he thought I would revert to my old ways? I can’t be certain because that’s for him to know.  What I do know is that the early days of our relationships were fraught with boundary-setting and boundary-policing. A few of my friends, former (female) lovers, approached us for threeways, and I refused, wanting to nurture the fledgling relationship and afraid of setting a bad precedent.

Seth was disappointed by this, and that disappointment only grew over the years.

“I settled down too young. I never got a chance to taste other flavors. I don’t even know if you’re a good girlfriend or not. How would I with nothing to compare it to?” he’d say.

I’d remind him of the one girl he did date in high school.

“That doesn’t count,” he’d reply. “She and I were children.”

Six years into our relationship after we’d been married a couple of years, he told me one day that he was trisexual, which to him was defined as needing to have 3 people involved in a sexual encounter in order to be fulfilled. His basis for this was the one make-out session he’d had in high school with his first girlfriend and her friend. I was stunned. He and I had been quite sexually active together, and he’d had all the physical signs of enjoying himself. However, he insisted our 2-person sex was a major problem and that his trisexuality was an orientation that needed fulfillment.

I held my ground regarding monogamy. So he cut me off sexually for over a year, to teach me what it was like to experience sexual deprivation.

That was a profoundly lonely time in my life. As a kid, I’d been raised in a conservative household to believe that all men were sex fiends that would do it with anything that moved, and here my husband wouldn’t sleep with me, although I begged and cried and fell asleep next to him every night feeling rejected and unwanted. I found myself fantasizing about others who might want me. When I connected with other people, I thought about how good it would be to just feel accepted in that way once again. I never had a physical affair, but I contemplated it so intensely with a few people in my life that I essentially had an emotional one.

It’s become clear in hindsight that Seth himself probably was having an affair during this time with someone he worked with. But at the time, I was so absorbed in self-loathing that I was blind to a lot of the signs.

Eventually, we fell back into a sex life together again. However, not too long after things returned to more or less normal, we found out that a couple we’d been friends with for some time were secretly polyamorous. This was quite an event. No one else in our friends group had even heard the term before. Everyone weighed in on how they felt. Mostly the guys were saying “LET’S HAVE SEX PARTIES” and their female partners were shaking their heads in slow motion. I tried to keep an open mind. These two friends were very reasonable and responsible people, very settled, not my picture of non-monogamy. I felt like I was missing something.

As I learned more about polyamory (from them and later the internet) and how the philosophical emphasis was on having respectful, loving relationships, as opposed to the drama-laden sexual free-for-all I’d experienced earlier in life, I found myself growing open to the idea of being… well, open. And it just so happened that Megan, the wife in this polyamorous couple, was available (her husband was dating another girl and gone a lot) and up for dating us. I’d always had a bit of a crush on her (totally my type, a blond social worker with a dry sense of humor and amazing stories).

So we did. Seth, Megan, and I had a triad that lasted for several months. Unfortunately, Megan and I didn’t have great chemistry, so the three of us broke up. After a short period of sulking, I saw how sad Megan and Seth were without each other, and despite being new to it all and scared by the intensity of their chemistry (which I had seen for myself with my own eyes when we were together), I encouraged them to date each other.

Seth and Megan had a kind of push-pull. She would only go so far with him sexually. There were specific sexual acts that were off-limits as per her agreements with her husband (and Seth was generally fine with those limitations), but there were also things she just plain didn’t feel ready or willing to do with Seth yet. This frustrated him to no end. I was often his sounding board. He broke up with Megan multiple times out of unhappiness with this (boredom, irritation, etc). When they broke up, he’d get mopey and start the online dating thing. When he didn’t meet with instant success (which is pretty much an inevitability for guys who are online dating, let alone poly ones trying to do this in the Maine woods), he would become despondent and urge me to put myself out there so as to attract women in our direction. Y’know, do the unicorn bait thing.

I, conversely, wasn’t all that interested in actively seeking out new partners. I figured I’d meet them sooner or later if they were going to show up in my life. I mostly viewed poly as the freedom to pursue anything that seemed like it would be gratifying. My general approach was to make new friends and be forthright about the fact I was polyamorous (gently explaining it to people who seemed interested and giving them resources) and to see what, if anything, happened.

I think this difference, more than anything else, is what drove a wedge between us. His fixation on hunting down new partners and extreme disappointment that they weren’t showing up for him only made me feel like I was chopped liver in his eyes and not enough. When I did capitulate and unicorn bait some, bringing the online girls to our yard, I felt stressed out and like a fraud. The modest success wasn’t worth the level of cognitive dissonance.

My way ultimately bore a higher quality and quantity of fruit, although being open to whatever made sense took me through twists and turns I could never have anticipated beforehand (for example, relocation and divorce). You could blame the gender disparity, and while it’s true that women generally have a much easier time in the dating scene (poly, mono, or otherwise), I think it’s foolhardy to discount the role that coming across desperate can play in scaring off potential dating prospects.

***

These days, I’m so much happier. Skyspook and I have very compatible approaches to poly. There’s no need to rush to find new lovers, no need to make ourselves crazy, force something to be what it’s not, or go on a collecting spree. If something awesome is going to happen and makes sense to pursue, then we go with it.

Have fun, play, be mindful of whether something is worth the time and drama cost (variable depending on the situation), and open to things that make sense, whether they’re destined to be casual or quite serious.

This is absolutely the way that I feel like it SHOULD be. This is what I’ve wanted.

It’s like the ents. An ent has all the time in the world. They can take all day saying goodbye or hello, if that’s what they want to do. They have unrivaled patience and caution. But they can cover massive territory, too, if it’s what needs to be done.

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