PQ 2.7 — Am I focusing on an idealized fantasy more than on making organic connections with real people?
It was a long drive from Ohio back home to Maine. Shorter than the Greyhound though. Seth and I had taken the bus out to visit Rob and Michelle. We’d spent 2 weeks in Ohio checking out the house where we would live in the spring, celebrated Rob’s birthday and turkey day. But now it was back to Maine for the winter to save up money and tie up loose ends during the waiting period and bureaucratic tangle of moving my job to another state.
Friends visiting their own families in Ohio had offered us a ride home. And it was good to catch up with my friends. They were light and optimistic as always.
But Seth? He was sullen. His mood, heavy.
I avoided the impending conflict for hours. Through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York. But in Western Massachusetts I finally couldn’t stand it.
“Seth, what’s up with you?”
“It’s nice that you’re happy and all, Page, but every time you get into a relationship, it… it just sucks.”
“Oh, honey,” I said. “Practically everyone gets insecure. It’s natural. I know I did when you started seeing Megan alone.”
“No!” he snapped. “It’s not that. I’m not jealous.”
“Okay,” I said. “It’d be okay if you were. I love you, y’know.”
“If it’s not jealousy, then what is it?” one of my friends asked.
“Well,” Seth said. “Every time you get another partner, Page, it means I’m one step further away from my dream.”
“Huh?” I asked. “Your dream?”
“Of being in a triad with you and another girl.”
Something felt terribly wrong with what he said. Even though I knew this instinctively, I focused on the practical element to what he was saying as it hit me first and was easily articulated. “I could still do that, even as it is. I have enough time.”
“Not really, not for what I want. You could do something with me and a new girl what? A night a week?”
I nodded. “Sure. Thereabouts. And regularly, too. If she were local.”
Seth frowned. “That’s not at all the amount of time I had in mind.”
I sighed. “Why does it matter so much to you?”
“I told you. It’s my dream. It’s what I want more than anything.”
Again something was bothering me. It was just at the edge of my mind. I found myself suddenly thinking of all the times Seth had called me needy or dependent for wanting a hug, a conversation, a walk together, a kiss when it hadn’t suited his needs. How he looked down on me for being “clingy,” considering himself superior in that way, self-contained.
It came to me. “Seth, you never asked me what my dreams were,” I said.
“Your dreams?” he asked.
“You never stopped to consider I might have ones of my own. You always just assumed I had the same fantasy.”
I could tell what I’d said affected him. We sat in the car in silence for a while, not sure what to say, an audiobook blaring on about courtly love.
There are a number of reasons why Seth and I didn’t ultimately make it. It’s sort of amazing that our relationship lasted a decade, given how little we had in common. We had radically different approaches to life, views on finances, and values.
Sometimes people who knew us both, especially monogamous ones, like to blame our split on the fact that we were open for the last 2 years of our relationship (monogamous for the 8 years prior to that).
I certainly don’t think that’s the case. If anything, opening up bought us a couple of good years. And caused us both to grow in ways that meant we could split up and both be better for it.
But differences in the way we each approached and thought about open relationships? Well, that certainly caused a bit of strain between us.
And this particular chapter end question in More than Two brought all of that pain and confusion back.
Because I never considered when Seth and I embarked into polyamory that we would frame it so differently and want such vastly different things. He was driven by an overarching fantasy. He had set out on a kind of quest and had goals.
Conversely, I relished openness and an ability to act on interesting connections that I might happen across. I liked feeling free. And not knowing what might happen next.
Where he would hit online dating hard and get frustrated with a lack of immediate responses, I made new friends (in person and online) and came out to them as poly, and if anything developed, then great.
Seth began to spend more and more time with a group of swingers who were often violating their own relationship agreements (i.e., cheating) and would only have sex with each other when very, very drunk. At first I was welcome, but as the months went on, Seth told me he didn’t want me to come with him. And when I did show up to a party, he and others would pressure me into dubious sexual situations. I’d refuse, and Seth would get resentful.
Taken by themselves, the differences in our approaches could have been perfectly tolerable. But where things really started to fall apart was when Seth got frustrated that I wasn’t willing to do anything and everything to help him achieve his sexual fantasy. That I had a life and needs of my own.
So I never have an exciting answer when people ask what I’m looking for, but I really will know when I see it.
I have amazing connections in my life I could never have planned for.
For example, my dear friend Fluffy. Fluffy’s non-binary but lets me call them my “gay boyfriend” and has been referred to by friends as “your other husband.” Fluffy and I have no sexual overlap whatsoever, but there’s a deep love and commitment between us that endures, no matter where we are.
Fluffy and I are a little weird together. And a lot of monogamous relationships wouldn’t allow for our level of weirdness.
As I wrote in Toxic Monogamy:
Many people in long-term monogamous relationships become emotionally and socially isolated in a profound way. This is because a number of socially connected behaviors are perceived as infidelities. Toxic monogamy culturally trains us to be on high alert to detect cheating in our own relationships — and the ones of those around us. This makes us overly sensitive to prosocial acts that could signal something insidious lurking beneath the surface.
Another example was my short relationship and enduring friendship with CC, a submissive boy. At the time we started dating, I was in a submissive role myself to Skyspook and hadn’t topped anybody in ages. And when I have topped in the past, it’s been mostly women. But I met CC, and immediately I knew he’s a person who would be really fun to insult and that he’d enjoy it.
Keeping an open mind meant that I had a very unusual experience that expanded my idea of who I am. Plus, I had a good time with CC, and he’s been a very positive addition to my life as a friend.
There have been many other examples. And I’m sure countless others are waiting.
I think that’s probably the most tragic thing about unicorn hunters. They shortchange themselves by fixating on a single fantasy, ignoring all others. Seeking out a unicorn, they may very well miss all the fairies, leprechauns, chimera, centaurs, and other fantasy creatures that they pass.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.