Polyamory didn’t come naturally to me at all. Instead, it was a zeitgeist that descended upon my friends circle, and in the spirit of being a good sport and realizing that I didn’t KNOW for certain it’d be a bad idea, I gave polyamory the old college try.
It should come as no surprise then that I was quite the fish out of water.
It’s easier now to see why. Looking back at my web, there was a shocking degree of sameness, particularly in the relationship histories of its members. My girlfriend Megan (whom I dated with Seth as a triad and whom he dated later on his own after Megan and I fizzled as partners – they are still dating, it’s been 7 years) and her husband Pete were both each other’s first loves, first times, first kiss, first everything. They’d met in some college class freshman year and had been inseparable ever since.
Seth married his second girlfriend (me). He’d had sex with his high school girlfriend once but after they broke up, and it was kind of a weird revenge play. He emerged from that experience fairly damaged from it and had required that I wait a year for sex with him so he could feel trust and surety before doing the deed.
My girlfriend Tina had obsessed about a guy friend before marrying her husband Don, but Don was her first everything, and she, his.
Rob and Michelle had started a long-distance courtship over a chat network in ye old ancient computer times. There were a couple of years between them age-wise. Michelle was still in high school in a neighboring state. Rob was in college. When Michelle turned 18 and graduated, he basically imported her into his life, and that was that.
I, on the other hand, had a cast of dozens in my sexual history. I was a free spirit, a musician. I didn’t live at home for most of my adolescence, and my off-and-on-again girlfriend was a de facto latchkey kid. Her mother was going through a pretty nasty divorce and was having a sort of midlife crisis where she’d just abscond for days at a time on some kind of fancy party boat with her hunky new boyfriend, who was kind and bought my girlfriend and me things. I crashed at the mostly empty house a bunch, and the two of us had fairly wild parties where our friends would play fiendish bouts of human Sextris, especially in her basement on their bear skin rug.
I mean, c’mon, a bear skin rug practically begs for debauchery.
There was a period of several months junior year where my asexual boyfriend and I were routinely sleeping 3 to a bed with this sometimes girlfriend.
As a young woman, I once traded sex for spaghetti.
And these are just a few highlights. I had a lot of adventures.
Anyway, I went into my marriage to Seth with a very well-defined understanding of who I am as a sexual being. And I had lots of relationship experience for my age – the very nature of my semi-homelessness and couch surfing necessitated that I fostered deep friendships and knew how to navigate ambiguous social situations (not that I did it perfectly, but I learned from my mistakes and knew how to rebound from them, more or less).
Conversely, my lovers and metamours were Unsettled Down. They’d followed the social script – you meet someone, commit, marry, settle down, and… happily ever after ensues. Except surprise, it doesn’t. There are a lot of boring stretches that are edited out of the movies, much like bathroom breaks and long waits. And you’re left with an unsettled feeling, that despite what you’d been told about the key to happiness, to Movie Magic Romance, something is missing.
Seth bemoaned his state explicitly prior to our opening up. “I never got to taste other flavors. How do I know if what we have is any good? I have nothing to compare it to.”
Rob and Michelle opened after Rob had a dalliance with one of his little sister’s friends prior to his wedding with Michelle. So yeah, he got there through cheating. And poly was all the rage in hacker culture, and Rob and Michelle are quite hooked into all that, so they took the mistake and pivoted their relationship into something more acceptable. Michelle later had a 4-year relationship with a man married to someone else.
Tina fooled around with friends while Don mostly watched. The rule was that he always had to be in the room (and I know my relationship with Tina had become a Big Fucking Deal when Don said it was okay for Tina and I to be off on our own). Rob was one of those friends. The four of them – Rob, Michelle, Tina, and Don – had a house together back in Cleveland during college, and sexy roommate hijinks had happened. Then Tina moved to Maine for her medical residency, and once that died down, she and Don put out an ad for board-gaming friends on OKCupid that I responded to… and the rest is history.
Anyway, I was now surrounded by people who married first and became sluts later. Where my path was young slut, married, slut again.
This seems like a minor difference, but it really wasn’t. It played out in a number of ways.
One of the biggest ones that I was seeing is that in spite of having clocked in a number of committed years, the people I was involved with were lacking in basic relationship skills – and what skills they did have were definitely tailored to a specific partner. When it came to relating to other people, those same skills didn’t work.
For example, Megan prided herself on being unemotional because it was something her husband valued about her, but both Seth and I found her difficult to connect with because she wouldn’t allow herself to be vulnerable – it was only after dating another half-dozen people, during which time she and Seth continued to see each other with varied levels of frequency, that Seth finally connected with her and was able to have any sort of deep understanding.
I also found that kissing wasn’t a thing that any of these folks really did much of. Seth kissed, sure, but found French kissing a little intense and was very sparing with it (plus, he’d taken up smoking and I hadn’t done that for years, so I was less enthusiastic about it than I’d been previously). Megan would open her mouth but not her teeth, so you’d go in for the French kiss and end up licking her teeth. Tina only pecked. Michelle and Don didn’t kiss at all. Rob was curious about kissing but had essentially no experience, and when he tried it, he was quickly overwhelmed with French kisses.
So much for making out.
Being a musician who had been with other musicians probably helped a ton here – we were used to expressing our emotions through our mouths.
But the limitation didn’t just apply to kissing. They also didn’t have much of a sexual range and tended to approach sex with one style.
Still, I made the most of it and became the self-appointed orgy director, making suggestions for people to try. And it went over pretty well – it seemed fun enough for others, even though I’d get bored occasionally.
And through Rob, I got involved in the Cleveland kink scene and found plenty to explore there. Rob was a newbie with a healthy curiosity, but many of his friends were far more seasoned and well traveled re: all things kink. These more experienced people had much more in common with me.
These seasoned kinksters are still my friends.
And it would seem that in spite of my efforts to effectively retire from life that life will not retire from me.
After Skyspook and I changed each other’s games, I broke as a hinge, and my web burned to the ground. Skyspook and I were each other’s only partners for 4 years. This was a profoundly therapeutic time. I worked on myself in therapy, finished my degree, and got my career back on track. We became financially stable in an unparalleled way. We married and built a fantastically stable emotional foundation with ourselves and each other.
Yet, we sighed open again.
I do not quite understand why this keeps happening to me. I can come up with reasons. We’re both adventurous people who easily form connections with others that some monogamous relationships would deem inappropriate (for example, Skyspook is a big cuddler, I’m a huge flirt and tell people freely that I love them, etc). There’s my bisexuality and patent lust for women, his male biological imperative to mate with as many women as possible, the thrill of combining secure attachment with a cyclone of novelty…
But still, I have no clear way of testing these possible reasons against reality. And it kind of irks me. I try to settle down, over and over, only to find that I’m unsettling again just as quickly.