As I’ve said many times in the past, I don’t do a lot of online dating. I tend to be unconventional in the way I meet partners these days. I chiefly meet folks incidentally through friends or through friends of friends. But I do participate in online dating every so often (albeit rarely, the last time was for a few weeks several years ago), and when I do, I’m inevitably taken aback by the assumptions folks I meet tend to make.
Men in particular seem to assume I’ll be more open to hookup opportunities than a monogamous girl. Or to put it another way, they seem to have internalized the idea that because I’m a polyamorous woman that it means that I’m an easy mark. That the fact that I’m polyamorous means I’m less picky, less discriminating. Easy to bed, up for “discreet fun” (read: helping them cheat on an unsuspecting spouse). That I have low standards.
And it always amuses me when they say things that belie this expectation that they have. Because it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Because polyamory has actually made me pickier about partner selection, especially now that I have a large polyamorous social circle.
I Knew Both of My Current Partners for a While Before I Dated Them
These days my life is overflowing with opportunities for love, for connection. At the present time, I have not one — but two — happy, fulfilling relationships. As of this writing, I’ve been with one of my partners for about eight years and the other for about two. They are, simply stated, really freaking awesome people. Every time I’m with either of them, I feel extremely fortunate to know them, let alone date them.
And they share a common link that I didn’t date either of them right away, when I first met them. Instead, I was friends with both of them for a while. When I first met my partners, I found them both attractive. Even though we were all polyamorous and theoretically could have dated, we also were pretty polysaturated and busy dating other people. But as time went on, and I got to know them socially and forge deep connections, and the timing became right where we had time for one another, I eventually did go on to date both of them.
There Was a Lot of Pressure to Move Quickly and Marry Young Where I Grew Up
This is a stark contrast to how I approached relationships in the past, long before I started to have polyamorous relationships. When I was single and looking for a monogamous partner, I often felt like I had to move quickly. That the clock was ticking down, and I’d be out of time.
People paired up quickly, thinning the available partner pool with each match. I suppose it didn’t help that I lived in rural Maine. When I did eventually marry at 24, I was one of the oldest in my family to do so. In the city, this seems actually quite young to marry, but in the country, I was in danger of becoming an old maid. The instant the union was sealed, a new frenzy began: When was I going to have kids? Everyone wanted to know. At this rate, I was going to be a very old mother indeed.
This blows my mind, looking back. I was 24. Hardly the cryptkeeper. But whatever. The country is different.
But no matter how many people pressured me, children weren’t in the cards. I’ve always leaned no on having children, and my husband leaned even further no on having children. He also self-identified “lazy” and had very low patience for things he found annoying (I was one of them), and was out of work for several years, so even if I’d been excited about having kids (which I wasn’t), it never seemed a good idea to get pregnant and bring a child into a situation where he not only wouldn’t help but also potentially resent them.
This choice to not have any children baffled my relatives, but they were nonetheless happy I’d finally found someone to marry. Or, as my mother put it, “I was so relieved when you married him. I couldn’t figure out how somebody decent would want someone like you.”
Well alrighty then. She’s never been one to mince words.
The Life Raft Situation
One thing was for certain, however. Everyone around me viewed dating as a kind of life raft situation. Emotionally, there were only so many viable life rafts to go around. These were the good partners (and obviously in my conservative upbringing, this also meant men, even though I was naturally more attracted to women). It was important to exit the ship quickly and take the first available life raft. So long as it didn’t have any obvious structural deficits on first glance, it mattered more that you boarded a life raft at all — and not that it was the best one for you.
And at a certain point in the evacuation procedure, even structural deficits were no longer a dealbreaker. Because even a slightly (or moderately) damaged life raft would be preferable to no life raft at all. To being plunged into the depths of the ocean.
Practically everyone in my small town seemed to view singlehood and being alone as akin to staying on the sinking ship, a kind of emotional death sentence. It was the height of amatonormativity (“the assumption that a central, exclusive amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types,” per Elizabeth Brake, who coined the term). But it’s what I grew up with.
Being alone was dangerous and painful, something to be avoided at all costs.
So after a long string of hits and misses as I dated men and women who I cared about deeply but for whatever reason those relationships either ended or never became “monogamous,” “official,” or “exclusive,” I was definitely starting to feel the water rising.
I complained to a friend about this. As luck would have it, another one of their friends had just approached them, seeming quite desperate himself. He asked them if they could set him up with someone. Well, I believe the exact words he used to broach the subject was, “I need to form a committee to get me laid.” He was joking, but our mutual friends took notice, and — I’ve never known whether to be flattered by this or insulted — they thought of me immediately.
We were set up on a blind date together. I found him physically attractive. I liked his confidence and his sense of humor. We made each other laugh rather easily. In hindsight, we didn’t exactly have much in common, other than the fact we both liked to play video games, but as far as life rafts went, he was a really good one for this late in the evacuation. It may sound cruel, but I’m fairly sure he felt the same way about me. Pretty good person. Definitely better than being alone.
So we leaped. Started dating, quickly became exclusive. Moved in together. Got married.
I Would Later Learn That There Are Worse Fates Than Being Alone
But as the years wound on, I started to realize that there are worse fates than being alone. There’s being with a person who makes you wish you were alone. And even worse for me, there’s being with a person who tells you that you make them wish they were alone.
That’s the position I found myself in many years later, married to a man who didn’t seem like he liked me very much. He found most of what I said annoying. Told me that I was clingy, overly emotional, and exhausting to be around.
It was a curious criticism — one I’d never gotten from romantic partners before (and I’d dated a lot in the past and had even lived with a few other lovers before he and I got together). He explained that this way: He’d been the only person who cared enough about me to tell me the truth about me, how I really was.
He also curiously called me “high maintenance” even though I was the only one who worked for years, the breadwinner in our relationship. While he spent the money I earned liberally, I stuck to modest expenses for myself and obsessed over where every dollar went. And in those days never wore makeup. But he still called me high maintenance, a claim that baffled me.
“If you feel that way about me, then why are you even with me?” I asked him one day, fed up with the constant insults and insinuation that my presence in his life burdened him.
“There you go seeking validation again,” he replied.
I frowned and shook my head, deeply frustrated and not at all sure what to say to that. I went to the bathroom, turned on the shower to drown out any noise, and cried.
It was pretty rough at times. That said, there were good times, too. And the relationship lasted quite a while (we were together 10 years all told). At the time I was monogamously married to him I never gave much thought to leaving him. I hadn’t seen many divorces growing up. And even though I look back on that former relationship now with a touch of sadness, at one point it was a huge source of pride and identity for me.
Plus, at the time, looking around at the marriages of friends and relatives around me, I actually wasn’t doing so badly in comparison. Most of the other married couples I knew at that time seemed even more miserable than we were. My husband and I were at least physically attracted to each other — and we could make each other laugh.
Sure, he could be critical in private, but he never insulted me in public. And that wasn’t true in other marriages I saw.
So even though I often felt sad that my husband didn’t seem interested in my inner life as a person (and shut me out when I’d try to learn more about his), I figured I was overreacting. Being unrealistic.
Or, as he would often say, “The kind of love you want doesn’t exist. It’s storybook trash. You need to live in the real world.”
And everything he told me was reinforced by all the other couples we knew. Because to most of the people who knew us, we were #relationshipgoals.
Everyone I knew at that time seemed to resent their spouse, it was just a matter of what degree.
When Polyamory Came and Found Me
But polyamory would change everything. When we discovered that close friends of ours had been secretly polyamorous for a while, it set off a chain of events that caused basically everyone in our friends group to start experimenting with consensual non-monogamy. I was hesitant at first. I’d been burned by less than happy experiences with non-monogamy — unfortunate threesomes, being cheated on by ex-girlfriends, and even having casual sex partners shame me later in public spaces. And I carried a lot of emotional baggage that made me fear that being polyamorous would confirm what critics had said about me and make me a “bad bisexual.”
I also worried a lot about doing damage to my marriage. It certainly felt like my husband had settled for me and was unhappy with his choice. Would having alternatives mean that he’d find someone better for him? Would he find a different life raft and throw me overboard, leaving me to sink down into the waters?
It was a lot to grapple with.
The idea of polyamory was exciting in one sense — but I had so many concerns.
I chased my thoughts on this, and I finally realized that the reason I worried about losing him was because what we had meant everything to me. But if we were really meant to be together, if it was as good as I thought it was, then nothing would be able to break us up.
And if it weren’t meant to be, sure, that’d be a painful truth. But I’d rather know it now than 10 years down the road.
I decided I’d rather know the unpleasant truth than be scared of it.
Shocking everyone, I changed my mind and said, “Okay, let’s have a polyamorous marriage.”
Okay, I Was Desperate the First Few Years I Was Polyamorous…Because I Didn’t Know Many Polyamorous People
The first few years were quite different than my life now. Back then, I knew almost no one who was polyamorous. After the relationship I began with my one close polyamorous friend fizzled out, I had a hard time finding anyone in rural Maine who thought polyamory was a viable way to conduct relationships, let alone one that they themselves would do. I dated several people who were monogamous and ultimately wanted a monogamous relationship with someone but also liked me very much and were kind of okay with a temporary situation with me. Well, until they developed emotions. And then they’d get scared and bow out.
It was a frustrating pattern. And in those early days of polyamory, yes, I was a rather desperate person. I was arguably quite a bit more desperate than I’d been dating monogamously. It’s important to note, however, that I’ve never been okay, even in my most desperate dating times, with helping someone cheat on an unsuspecting partner. That said, I was willing to put up with quite a bit of disrespect, bad treatment, and just overall attendant stress to simply have someone to date.
It took me about a year to even find anyone who was polycurious. Who didn’t have much experience with consensual non-monogamy but who’d had polyamorous friends (and in one case, a friend with benefits/play partner) and seemed open to something. As luck would have it, she was a beautiful married doctor who made me laugh. And through her, I eventually met her polyamorous friends back home in Cleveland, Ohio, where there was apparently a much larger and more active polyamorous community than in Maine (where she’d moved recently to work at a rural hospital and eventually raise children).
I started to date her friends as well, and little by little, as I visited them in Ohio, I became more socially enmeshed in Cleveland polyamorous and kinky circles. Even though I was only able to visit town every few months, I was making friends. I corresponded with many of them virtually, and by the time, I finally moved to Ohio, I had developed a number of deep friendships. I hadn’t known any of them for very long, but they opened up easily — in a way that my friends at home did not. And they welcomed me in a way I truly wasn’t expecting.
By the time I showed up to stay permanently in Ohio, it already felt like my home.
Once You’ve Been with People Who Act Like They’re Excited to Be With You, It’s Not Something You Forget
My husband and I eventually went on to divorce. It was curious how it happened, how it felt when it eventually played out — it was the thing that I’d feared the most, but when it did happen, it ended up being clearly the right decision. I’d feared so much that when we started to see other people that he would tire of me. Instead, it hadn’t worked out that way at all. We both experienced a shift. If anything, I was running into more brutal realizations about our marriage.
It was stunning how easy it was to find someone to date who seemed to like me more than my husband liked me. Who seemed to think I was a good person, intelligent, sexy, fun to be around.
As I wrote in an earlier piece:
While opening up our relationship gave us both new emotional outlets, it didn’t change the fact that we really weren’t that compatible.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, one night after he started seeing his new girlfriend. “But she has this way of listening to me that makes me feel smart.”
And I, too, was stunned when I started dating someone who read every word I wrote. Listened to me carefully. And loved all of it.
Over time, we drifted apart and called it quits. We’re divorced now. And are both happier than we ever were together. We chat on occasion. Laugh at the thought we were ever married.
We’re both still polyamorous. But the difference is that these days we’re with people who make us feel like they’re excited to be with us.
And it’s a funny thing… once you’ve been with people who treat you with respect, take a genuine interest in you, and act like they’re excited to be with you… well, it’s not something you forget. Your standards have been raised; you’re playing a different game.
It’s not exactly tempting to jump into bed with a random fuckboy you have nothing in common with but who just happened to send you a “hi baby” at the right time, the time when you were feeling most vulnerable.
It’s not tempting to help someone have a bit of “discreet fun” (read: cheating).
When you’re polyamorous and have a good relationship or two (or three or more) already, you’re not exactly starving for attention.
Now that I have a huge polyamorous social network and kick-ass partners, I take my time getting to know people, and I only date new people if I think they’re awesome and that they’ll fit well into my busy, complicated life.
It’s funny… because folks often assume that being polyamorous means you’re undiscriminating and that your standards for partners must be quite low indeed. But my experience was very different. I’m waaaaaay pickier about partner selection now that I’ve been polyamorous for a while.
And I love it.