Upon hearing that I’ve written three books about polyamory and maintain a popular daily blog that heavily (although not exclusively) focuses on consensual non-monogamy, most people assume I must be some kind of polyamory fanatic.
They presume that I jumped into non-monogamy vigorously, happily, excited as heck. That I was an exuberant polyamorist, bursting at the seams then and now with evangelical zeal.
Not so actually.
In stark contrast with many other polyamorous educators and activists, I didn’t always think of myself as non-monogamous. And I didn’t always think of non-monogamy as something that was a good idea to do.
In fact, up until my late 20s I thought of myself as staunchly monogamous and was quite irritated by all the attempts from partners to open relationships I was in. Especially because they would often appeal to my bisexuality as evidence that I would do well in an open relationship. Or insist that to be bisexual meant that monogamy was unnatural for me.
Blech. All the yikes.
None of This Non-Monogamy Business Was My Idea
None of this non-monogamy business was my idea. I’d been reluctant about sexual exploration initially.
I’m a person who is easily satisfied, and after a wild period in my youth, I’d settled down into a nice stable little life. It was comfortable. And I was happy to have some consistency for once.
My husband Seth wasn’t in the same emotional place, however. He seemed especially confused that I wanted to be monogamous because I was bisexual. I explained that I prefer depth over breadth, and while I’d had fun in my past, I was well beyond tired of the disrespect people showed their casual sex partners.
Seth himself had been a late bloomer. I was only his second girlfriend. He would openly tell me that he’d settled down too soon, before he’d had a chance to explore himself in terms of emotional or sexual connections, or as he somewhat indelicately put it, before he had “a chance to taste all of the flavors.”
It was all pretty irritating. After a difficult adolescence and young adulthood, I craved stability, and to me monogamy equaled social stability. Period.
It didn’t help that all of my early examples of non-monogamy in action had been irresponsible people whose lives were falling apart. It didn’t look like fun. Or what I wanted my life to be like.
I Was Minding My Own Business When Polyamory Came and Found Me
But the conflict was more of a vague, ideological one until about eight years into our exclusive relationship — when a close friend came out to us as polyamorous.
And uncomfortably for me, it was a friend who I’d had an intense crush on for a few years at that point but had never said or done anything about since I was a “good married lady” and so was she.
With the revelation that her marriage was open, the realm of possibilities shifted. There’s a certain kind of new polyamorist called a unicorn hunter. In the trope, this is a married couple seeking a third partner who will date them both, with more than a hint of desperation.
My actual lived experience of being a polyamorous newbie ran counter to that. We were minding our own business as a couple, and a beautiful bisexual friend we’d known for years came out to us as polyamorous. Wanted to date us both. Basically, I was hunted by a unicorn (this would go on to happen to me multiple times over the years in other contexts, for example in this article).
Within a few months, my husband I were both dating the same woman. For a while anyway.
The triad ultimately didn’t work out. She and I weren’t compatible. Basically, she wasn’t as into me as she needed to be to have a relationship. It hurt like hell at the time because I had fallen in love with her. And she seemed rather twitterpated still with my husband, who at that point had confided in me that he wasn’t all that into her but was dating her in the hopes that maybe something would eventually develop.
But she didn’t like-me, like-me back. Boo. So no more triad. Boo. At first we all broke up, and then I saw how sad they both seemed without one another (it seemed like losing her made him realize he liked her more than he thought he had) and encouraged them to date each other without me.
I had to reassure them several times that this was okay. That they had my approval, and I wasn’t going to be mad. I continued to be involved with Seth while he dated her. Eventually, I started to date some people on my own. Most of these relationships were dead ends, but eventually my luck changed, and I began to meet a series of people who were all very compatible with me.
I Kept Encountering Partners Who Seemed to Just Plain Like Me as a Person More than My Husband Liked Me
Before I knew it, I was dating five people at once. (Exhausting but quite interesting while it lasted.)
And something very unsettling was happening. I was noticing that even though I’d been terrified of losing my husband to someone else, that he’d meet other women who were a better fit for him and ditch me unceremoniously, that I was in fact the one who was finding people who clicked with me much more easily than the person I was married to.
People who seemed to like me. Thought I was attractive and fun. People who actually liked talking with me. Who didn’t think I talked about “a bunch of dumb stuff” (as my husband referred to my interests). But who found my thoughts and the way I expressed them beautiful. People that I had a lot in common with.
People who wanted to travel, have adventures. Who didn’t shy away from discomfort but welcomed it — particularly if it would bring them closer to their goals and the kind of life they wanted to lead.
Questioning Monogamy Led Me to Question Many Other Things
I started out by questioning monogamy, but after a few years, I found myself questioning everything. I asked myself why I was living in the country. There was more job opportunity in the city. And certainly more social opportunity. So shocking everyone, I moved to the city.
I’d also been told my whole life that because I was an artistic person, I wasn’t well suited to science and certainly not to research. I began to question that, too. I went back to school. Changed careers. Became a researcher.
And at the end of it all, I began to question my marriage. I could see that we were both settling for one another, that perhaps there had been a small spark, one that we’d nourished and made into something much bigger than it would have been had we been honest with ourselves. But very little to base an entire love life around. Neither of us were really satisfied with one another, but we’d both been scared to be alone.
As I write this, we’re both much better off. In happier relationships, in better careers.
It does make me think though. I don’t know if my ex understood it at the time, but when you ask someone to question one thing, you may be asking them to question everything. It’s certainly what happened with me. Big changes cascaded, and my entire life transformed into one that bears little resemblance to the one I lived before.
I have no regrets with how everything turned out. It’s a happy ending (for both of us, even though we’re no longer married). But it’s one we never expected going in.
When You Ask Someone to Question One Thing, You May Be Asking Them to Question Everything
I get a fair number of letters from readers seeking advice because they want to have an open relationship but worry that their partner will be strongly opposed to it.
It can be scary to have these kinds of conversations, but it’s necessary. When it comes to open relationships in particular, people often find even bringing up the possibility extremely daunting. Here are two articles that should help with that. The first specifically focuses on opening up, the second addresses having vulnerable conversations in a more general sense:
- Bustle: How to Talk to Your Partner About Having an Open Relationship, According to Experts (full disclosure: I’m one of the experts quoted in this article)
- Poly Land: How to Fail at Communication Before You Say a Single Word (on putting yourself out there in a way that isn’t pushy, arguably the most important part of having such a talk)
I would also recommend Crucial Conversations as an excellent framework for having difficult conversations of all kinds. Here’s a decent summary of the framework, but I really do recommend the book, which I reread myself periodically as a refresher.
But as I say in the second article listed above, there are no hacks. No shortcuts. No magic words. There’s no way to stack the deck to ensure your desired outcome. The most valuable communication involves risk.
And you may very well find your partner doesn’t want to do it. Or that you may be asking them to question something fundamental to their belief system in order to pursue it.
Even if you’re successful, and you get them to agree to opening your relationship, there’s something else to consider: The process of challenging one’s fundamental belief system is unpredictable. When you ask someone to question one thing, you may be asking them to question everything.
And you never know where that’s going to lead.
If you’re not ready for that, then I’d urge you to question yourself.