“You can’t lose a homing pigeon. If your homing pigeon doesn’t come back, then what you’ve lost is a pigeon.”
–Sara Pascoe, writer and stand-up comic
“So I know you’ve been asking for an open relationship for an awfully long time,” I said to him.
“I have,” he replied. “And it’s okay because I’ve given up on it. I know it’s never going to happen.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” I said.
He cocked his head.
“The reason I said no is because I was sure it wouldn’t work.”
He nodded. “And you’ve never been one to change your mind.”
“Well, not without a good reason,” I said. “But I see Megan and Pete, and… well, they’re making polyamory work.” Friends of ours. Mainstream. Like Barbie had married GI Joe. Two kids. Good jobs. Nothing like the hot messes of my youth – when I swung from bedpost to bedpost, chasing the next high.
“They are,” Seth said, looking excited, liking where this was going.
“But it’s more than that,” I said. “I’ve decided that I can accept our breaking up.”
Seth’s expression instantly changed. “Page, what the hell? Don’t say things like that.”
“I’m sure it sounds terrible, but it makes sense to me,” I said. “I realized that’s what was making me afraid.”
“Breaking up? Well, if you’re afraid of it, then why are you even thinking about it?”
“Because if I can accept it, I won’t be afraid of it anymore,” I said.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Seth replied. “But I’m glad you’re open to polyamory.”
“I am,” I said. “It occurred to me that the reason I worry about losing you is because what we have means everything to me. But you know, if we’re really meant to be together, if it’s as good as I think it is? Nothing will be able to break us up.”
He smiled. “Nothing will.”
“And, if it does? It’ll mean I was wrong about us. And isn’t it better to find that out now than another 10 years down the road?”
“I still don’t like that line of reasoning. But you’ve always been weird. Guess I’ll take the ‘yes’ and roll with it,” he said.
Finding a Homing Pigeon
I write this essay 15 years after Seth and I agreed to open our marriage.
We are divorced. Live in separate states.
We are both happy — happier than we were together.
We write to each other on occasion. And laugh now that we were ever married.
I’m amazed sometimes we lasted as long as we did, I wrote.
Me, too, Seth wrote back. Fear can go a long ways. I’m in an infinitely better place now.
I’m so glad to hear it. Me, too.
If you had told me 15 years ago that I would live halfway across the country married to another man, I don’t know that I would have believed it. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to predict the path I took here.
But I believe now, more than ever, that things that are meant to last are really, really hard to screw up. And that there are relationships that are really, really easy to screwup and will end, without emotional martyrdom from everyone involved. The kind that, incontrovertibly, should end.
And then there are many, like my marriage to Seth, that are somewhere in between. And it’s hard to tell which side it’s closer to, will never end versus should end.
Which begs the question: How are we supposed to know the difference?
Simple. You let the pigeon go. If it flies away and never comes back, you lost a bird.
If they come back, well, you know you really have something. A homing pigeon relationship. Someone who always comes back to you of their own volition, no matter what temporarily separates you.
Not Restricting Their Choices, Even When They Lead Away From You
It’s taken me all these years to understand the popular saying (attributed to educator Jess Lair): “If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.”
I used to grumble and get really hung up on the idea of setting someone free. What that could mean. It didn’t sound loving or fair at all. I envisioned abandonment. A test where you leave the room and see if they come check on you.
But I’ve grown to realize that letting someone be free isn’t about abandoning them. Walking away. Hiding.
It’s about not restricting the choices in their life. Even when those choices lead away from you.
It’s about finding the homing pigeon hidden among other birds.