Poly Sherpa: Guiding (and Sometimes Loving) Beginners

mount everest
Image by Gunther Hagleitner / CC BY

“I feel like you’re my poly sherpa,”¹  he said.

I flushed. “Hope that’s a good thing.”

“Good? No, it’s great.”  He had wanted to try polyamory for a long time, even been in a technically poly relationship, but in name only.

Now he was dating me. I’d been  polyamorous for many years.

I pelted him with links and online resources. I worried I was oversharing.

“I’m glad you have experience and wisdom on the subject,” he assured me. “I’m trying to learn all I can.”

He hesitated at first but learned fast, and it wasn’t long before he found sure footing. One footstep after another. I followed from behind, ready to break his fall if he slipped, carrying my baggage and some of his.

Plus, you couldn’t beat the view. On the way up. Or when we got to the first plateau.

The small climb up the foothill emboldened him. “Am I ready for Everest?” he asked, only half-joking. And before I had a chance to answer, he blurted out “I love you.”

I wondered then, should we love our poly sherpa?

“I love you, too,” I said back instead.

And onward we climbed.

Except we weren’t so lucky. The altitude was unfriendly. Snow set in.

Conditions didn’t deter him. He stepped up confidently. But he was starting to slip. He didn’t even see.

I knew then I had no choice. I had to carry him.

At first he thought it was an embrace and sunk into it.

After a moment, it dawned on him. “Oh,” he said. “You’re going to carry me!”

And he was so very happy… until he realized I was carrying him down the mountain, back to camp.

*

I haven’t given up on dating people who are completely new to polyamory. But it’s hard work.

Can we climb a mountain with someone who has far less experience than we do? Sure. But it’s treacherous. For both new climber and guide.  Harder than climbing alone – or with a skilled companion.

On the other hand, not everyone who is experienced climbs well. A beginner might not have any experience, but then again they don’t have any bad habits .

And I’m certainly still a poly sherpa to friends. But teaching a lover? It’s trickier.

The reality of polyamorous communities is that they can be very small and interconnected. I’m used to the claustrophobia, the reality that we all wear multiple hats. You see your exes at parties. You end up dating people who were once only friends. It’s just how it is.

The person who is your sounding board may one day share your bed.

But I can’t help but think we carry an awful lot on our backs for such a long steep climb.

*

¹ In a convention established by other writers, I use the lowercase sherpa in this piece to mean “mountain guide.” This is to distinguish from uppercase Sherpa, which indicates a member of the Sherpa ethnic group.

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