Everyone has a friend who perpetually makes bad relationship choices and yet insists, this time is different. For a long time—too long—I was that friend. Fear and jealousy pervaded all my romantic relationships, one by one, until they collapsed under the weight of unspoken expectations.
From the time I first imagined what dating would be like, my aspirations deeply formed by what I saw on Saved by the Bell (admittedly, I’ve been boy-crazy since then), I have been a serious serial monogamist. Several of my exes cheated on me in varying capacities, and my supposed faithfulness was something I held on to dearly when I needed to prove myself the more devoted partner.
One of the problems that plagued the first decade or so of my dating life was something that’s touched all aspects of my life—anxiety. The scared, lonely 5-year-old inside me wanted love, to be loved, to be held, to be cherished. Somehow it felt like I could convince someone to choose me, to love me and only me, and declare me special. And then I would be.
How necessary is exclusivity?
Through my community, I’d befriended and even casually dated plenty of polyamorous people, but that never led me to question my commitment to a traditional relationship structure—the idea of a “better half” and all that implies. It was only when I stopped looking for an exclusive partner, who would love and fuck me and only me forever, that my romantic relationships finally became different.
Polyamory is, put simply, the willingness to sustain multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at a time—but unlike someone cheating in a monogamous relationship, with the active consent and knowledge of everyone involved. Poly relationships are as diverse as the individuals that form them, with different sets of agreements in every couple, throuple, etc., so no two (or three, etc., often known as a “polycule”) will have the exact same structure as any other.
It wasn’t until I allowed myself to be single for an extended period—and I mean really, truly single, on my own, with no crushes or distractions or friends with benefits—that I allowed myself to reevaluate my constant pursuit of “the one.” Each time you fall in love, that love has its own unique shade of being and feeling, and while one thing they all have in common is that they’ve ended, they’ve all fossilized differently. No one has overtaken or erased any of the previous ones. Because after all, if I’d already had so very many “ones,” who’s to say the next one wasn’t really the one? Or maybe he’s the two, or the three?
Up until I met Matt (not his real name), I’d always assumed my foray into non-monogamy would be temporary. I’d meet someone, he’d lock it down, we’d have a small intimate cliff side wedding, and then we’d die together.
I don’t know if I’d have swiped right on him had we not met several times before, through my best friend of 15 years. But I had, so I did, and I’m so grateful now. We’d only had perfunctory interactions the few times we met, but I had gotten to know his long-term partner a bit and had a major friend crush on her. I agreed to meet Matt for drinks, figuring I’d meet up with a friend of a friend, and maybe make my own friend in the process. The approval of these women got him in the door, but I could not have anticipated how quickly or thoroughly my heart would leap to the occasion.
No room for paranoia
In my current situation, there is no room for the type of paranoia I’d known; we have to be conscious, and the conversation is ongoing, squeezing out the space between us which I (and former partners and lovers) have often filled with assumptions and suspicions. We have had no choice but to discuss our relationship dynamics from the beginning; there is a built-in script that makes us confront issues that I have always been too something to address—too scared, perhaps, of what might happen if I rock the boat (what if he leaves me for someone less complicated?).
I still get anxious. After the disastrous end of my last serious relationship a year and a half ago, I spent a lot of time sorting through my shit, going to therapy and yoga, and finding different coping mechanisms. I have to give myself credit for that. This wouldn’t be working if I hadn’t done the work. But poly relationships demand more communication than monogamous ones (though both benefit from it). So we talk. We talk a lot and we talk about everything.
Love only begets more love
We talk about the relationship we are building together, the kind of relationship structures we dream of as individuals. We talk about our feelings and about joy and how to cultivate more of it. Sometimes, we take walks and don’t talk at all. And while it’s still new, and I’m still figuring out how to live my life as someone with a boyfriend, an extracurricular sexual partner, and a still-existent Tinder profile, I’m happy to report that I’ve been learning what I believe is a fundamental human truth: love only begets more love.
If someone told me a year ago that against all my instincts, this would be the relationship that best quieted my anxious mind, I wouldn’t have believed them for a second. And yet—and yet—here it is, and here we are. And here I am, still sometimes afraid, because I still don’t have this all figured out, but with an overall sense of calm and safety I didn’t know I could possess.