PQ 17.5 — As I seek new relationships, what guarantees can I offer my new partners that I will make space for them, listen to their needs, and be able to change to accommodate these new relationships?
Once upon a time, I was terrified of change. I’d been through enough of it in my life, I decided. I’d spent my high school years profoundly unstable. Couch surfing. Moving from one friend’s house to another. Playing gigs until all hours of the night. Crawling into school, speed doing my homework in the twenty minutes before the first bell rang.
I had a handful of informal romantic — or at least physical — connections. People who meant a lot to me that I’d make out with and maintain odd correspondence with. I gigged within a 2.5-hour radius from the area where I lived. Gas was something stupid like 80 cents a gallon back then, and I drove for hours to jam with friends who were sometimes lovers — lovers who were sometimes friends.
Other gigs were local and lucrative and with people twice my age, who often treated me very protectively.
But I did mostly what I wanted. I worked a lot of gigs: Coffee houses, big band dances, barbecues, anniversary parties, dinner music. On top of my obligations to the school music groups (jazz ensemble, combo, marching band, concert band, symphonic band).
It’s all a bit of a blur now. A mix of triumph and trauma. Highs and lows. Success and heartache.
But it was basically never dull. And in the chaos, I really did come to know myself and who I was.
College opened me up to a different world: I began to write for theater. My life became even crazier. Emotionally, I was careening down the highway at 100 mph with the gas pedal still pressed to the floor.
It took very little to send me crashing into a wall. In my case, it was an abusive relationship with a much older man that finally scared me to the place where I was done with adventure.
I just wanted to settle down. And it was at that point that friends set me up with Seth, the only other single person they knew. Seth and I 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. I’d finally found a person to be comfortable with.
I’d worked very hard to get special training and then a good job at the hospital. I dreamed of buying a modular home, a hot tub, and a big screen TV and spending the next 50 or 60 years on earth doing my 9 to 5 during the weekdays and happily consuming on my days off. I was done with change. I’d learned to be terrified of it.
However, Seth and I were not on the same page about this. His upbringing had been quite different than mine. He hadn’t driven until he was an adult. Had parents who doted on him. A mother who worked closely with him and the school on an individualized education plan after he was diagnosed with ADD.
And I was only his second girlfriend. Seth hadn’t even traveled much, having only been to a few states. Hadn’t ever left the country. No, not even Canada (where we lived in Central Maine, we were only a few hours from the border).
I was shell shocked and done with wild adventures. But Seth had never really had any.
While he was happy to have me in his life, he often regretted aloud that he’d gotten married at 24. That he’d settled down before he had a “chance to taste all the flavors.”
Biologically speaking, Seth was a week and a half older than me, but when it came to life experience, I often behaved like a person 20 years older than him. My latchkey existence and traumas had aged me.
He was just getting started with life, and I was getting ready to retire.
I Couldn’t Hide From Change, After All
As it turns out, I couldn’t hide from change, as much as I wanted to. Change came and found me. Eight years into our monogamous relationship, close friends of ours came out as polyamorous, a development that upended the way our group of friends thought about relationships. And before long, Seth and I were discussing whether we wanted to open our marriage.
And I’m sitting here a decade later in a life that I couldn’t imagine at the time. I live in the Midwest. I’m married to a different person. Seth also has good relationships with other people in his life. We speak from time to time and are on good terms. I coach polyamorous people and write about consensual non-monogamy professionally.
If I’d known any of this for sure, going in, I’m sure it would have scared the crap out of me. But the way it unfolded was very natural. Sure, there were painful parts along the way, but we’re each happier than we were before.
I’ve remarried a fellow old soul. My second husband is a year and a half younger than me, and people regularly think he’s about 5 years older than me, just going by our personalities.
And it’s funny… where I was ready to retire 10 years ago, I’m actually in a very different place today. I still have a lot to do. And I’m open to where the future takes me.
What I Can Guarantee
There’s a quote I like from Plato that I occasionally cite (maybe over-cite): “There’s no such things as a lover’s oath.”
And it’s true. I am often leery of guarantees. It’s difficult to know where future roads will take us, especially if we’re trailblazing, going places where few people have gone before.
I can’t guarantee that each person I encounter on the road will be there for the long haul. Sometimes people just aren’t suitable for one another as long-term traveling companions. But what I can guarantee is that I will honor each person’s humanity. Be as honest as possible, with myself and others. And endeavor to be the most reliable traveling companion I can.