I often feel very alien when I find myself amongst a a pack of other polyamorous educators. It’s very common to hear a familiar story from them: They’ve always been polyamorous. Monogamy never seemed quite right to them. They went through life framing relationships in a different way than other people. Conducting themselves polyamorously before they knew the word.
For them, the only difference was learning that there was a word for it. And the realization that there were other people out there like them, who saw things differently.
And as they speak about this, those in attendance usually nod along in agreement. Likely recognizing their own path in those words.
The World Was There First
But not me. My origin story is so different.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up with a strict upbringing in a rural area. But there usually wasn’t a lot of room for me to explore. To find myself as I moved through the world.
“Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing; it was here first.” Robert J. Burdette wrote this in the 19th century (although it’s often misattributed to Mark Twain), but he could have been describing my childhood.
The world was a known quantity. There was a way that things were done and a way that they weren’t. And none of it was up for discussion.
True, I was one of the more rebellious kids I knew. Always asking why. Running off on my own. Having adventures. Staying up all night, playing gigs. Sipping screwdrivers from a plastic bottle during sophomore English. I couch surfed at friends’ houses. Did more or less what I pleased.
But I still made National Honor Society. Most people thought of me as a “good kid.”
And by and large, my peers were more or less content to follow the paths our parents set out for us.
I Was Unconventional, Sure
Sure, I had some unconventional behaviors when it came to relationships: After I was sexually assaulted sophomore year, I slept three to a bed for over two months between my on-again, off-again girlfriend and my asexual sometimes-boyfriend. Who both hated each other.
They made me soup. Listened to my crazy ramblings. Brought me back to life.
And traveling around playing in bands in high school and later working as a playwright in the college drama department, there were so many casual entanglements, disentanglements, and reentanglements that I’d need to sketch out one of those football diagrams to explain it all.
And I suppose I could look back on all of this and say, proudly, that I’ve always been non-monogamous. Nontraditional when it comes to relationships.
But I know that would be a lie.
It Was Like a Game of Musical Chairs
Because at the end of the day, I watched my friends pair off with one another, two by two. Collapsing into sweaty messes of New Relationship Energy far from the rest of us. And one day, I woke up and realized that I was the only single person I knew. Everyone else had been subsumed by coupledom.
By the middle of college, if you weren’t dating someone, it was hard to even have a social life.
It was like a game of musical chairs. When the music stopped, if you didn’t have a place to sit down, well, you were shit out of luck. On your own. Out of the game.
I flitted around the margins of this. Taking booty calls from shy bicurious girls. Guesting in the bedroom as a “third” for my friends and their boyfriends.
But most of the time, I was alone. With my art and whatever chemical comfort I could find.
Finding a Place to Sit
I eventually was spared from this state of social exile when friends set me up with the only other single person they knew. We got along fairly well. Didn’t have a ton in common, but we had the same sense of humor and laughed with wild abandon at each other’s jokes.
We became exclusive fairly quickly and married four years later, in a small ceremony at a country inn.
Though we definitely had some good times, we’d both settled in one way or another.
But it was okay. We’d both found a place to sit. Finally.
We were both at the mercy of a game we’d never signed up for. But one we nonetheless had to play.
Yes, if I scrape together old memories, I could probably round up to the declaration that I was always poly. I had a number of non-monogamous entanglements (though they were typically casual). As part of a large family where privacy was discouraged and later when I was a stray kid and a guest in other people’s homes, I was used to sharing everything in my life and not just people. To this day, I fight pangs of guilt if I have something all to myself that I could be sharing with someone else.
But no, I wasn’t always polyamorous. I didn’t know it existed. Such a thing didn’t seem possible, while everyone else was playing a game of musical chairs.
A New Game Altogether
And then one day, musical chairs wasn’t the only game in town. After I expressed my concerns to a friend that I suspected her husband was having an affair, she laughed and told me that he had her permission to pursue that other relationship. They were polyamorous, she said.
We talked a long time about it. What it meant to her. How they made things work.
But there was no instant flicker of recognition. No sense of “That’s what I am and what I’ve been all along,” or even, “I need to try this.”
Instead, I was initially skeptical. What had really irked me about the non-monogamy I’d experienced prior to this was the level of disrespect people would show their casual sex partners. I didn’t understand how polyamory could be any different.
So I remained doubtful but curious. And as I watched my friend and her husband, I realized that there was a different way to do things. Slowly but surely, I became excited by the premise. The idea that a person could have multiple loving connections at once. A system of non-monogamy where everyone involved would be honest — and respectful to one another.
And like that, I was off. To play an infinite number of new games — ones where we could all have input. Create new objectives together.