I was going to entitle this post “What polyamory means to me,” but I thought that sounded too much like a grade-school essay: “What democracy means to me,” “What America means to me,” “What freedom means to me.” Perhaps we can consider this post as one of a series that I started forty years ago in elementary school.
Still, that title would have been appropriate, because I’m not going to attempt a “global” definition of polyamory. There are many commentators more experienced in relationship issues who have explored the term; some of them have done so in on-line journals, and you can google for their better-informed opinions. I think there perhaps as many definitions of “polyamory” there are people who have heard the term. I’m only going to explore my own definition, from my own (admittedly limited) experience.
I’m writing this essay in response to two attitudes I’ve noticed on OkCupid:
– Someone sees the word “polyamory” in my profile, and immediately assumes that I’m looking for a harem, hot bi babes, or I’m reserving the right to cheat on anyone I’m dating.
– Someone complains in their journal that they’re receiving messages from men who are clearly cheating on their partners, but claim it’s all right because they’re poly.
Neither one represents my idea of polyamory (though both overlap my idea of “lying”), and are not what I mean when I use the word. My best personal definition polyamory is:
“The recognition within oneself that one is capable of loving more than one person at the same time, including the acknowledgement that others are capable of doing the same.”
The latter part of my definition is important to me, and part of the reason why I choose to include the word in my profile.
I referred to my experience with polyamory as “admittedly limited.” What is my experience with polyamory? Have I ever had a relationship with more than one woman at the same time?
At the time, I wasn’t exactly dating either one of them. All of us were going through complex relationship issues, and dating wasn’t a real option for any of us. However, everyone knew what was going on: D knew I was seeing E, E knew I was seeing D, E’s ex-husband knew I was seeing E and D, and so on. No lies, no cheating, everyone was and still are friends.
Given the situation, I don’t regard that as serious experience with polyamory. The word implies “relationship” and all the personal challenges that a relationship represents. I wasn’t really dealing with all the issues associated with D’s physical difficulties or E’s mental ones; I would have been willing to try, but things did not head in that direction.
Anything else? Here’s another story for you:
I was seeing F. We were dating, but we hit a rough patch. She wanted to move very quickly to the idea of living together and marriage and children, and I wanted to move more slowly. In my defense, I’ll say that F was the first person I ever dated, and subsequent events (which I’m not including here) proved that my reluctance was justified.
She told me, “I think we should start dating other people.” I shrugged and said that it was fine with me, even though I wasn’t likely to start dating anyone else. She did date other men and told me about it. My reaction was, “That’s nice. Did you enjoy yourself?”
You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? She was really saying that she was trying to make me jealous, in an effort to get me to change out of fear of losing her. I was hearing that she was exploring other options in addition to me, and I wasn’t jealous. Eventually she had to explain this to me, in words of one syllable so I’d get it.
That was when I learned that I was poly.
We’re still friends, by the way.
I was at a pagan festival. On the first evening, I met G. She was up-front about that the fact that she was married, that she was poly, that her husband wasn’t at the festival, and that she was three months pregnant. I had no problems with any of this.
G was my first “festival fling.” We both knew that we’d probably never see each other again after the festival, but that was OK. We’d enjoy each other’s company over the long festival weekend, and that would be it.
Experienced folk have probably already detected the warning signs. Have you? I sure didn’t. Let’s continue.
It was a classic festival fling. No, that doesn’t mean it was “sex, sex, sex.” It means that we spent time together, and we did things separately; the festival had various workshops and we each went to those events that interested us. We spent time hanging around each other’s friends and chatted with them.
As G chatted with my friends over the first couple of days of the festival, some things became clear: G had not discussed the poly decision with her husband; she had unilaterially decided that she was poly on the way to the festival. The child she was carrying was his, but that had been another unilateral decision her part; he had reached for the condoms and she had waved his hand away.
I took some of my friends aside. They had all met G and had heard her. The situation was clear: I was not in an acknowledged poly situation; G was cheating, and I was cuckolding her husband.
Their verdict: G had come to the festival with the clear intention of cheating. If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. If she was going to cheat, she couldn’t have picked a better person to cheat with. (Awwww… what a nice compliment. I think.)
After all, I had listened to her, offered her connections that she could use to deal with some of the spiritual issues in her life (she didn’t take advantage of them). I made sure that there was absolutely no health risks, and we did nothing that could affect the health of her unborn child.
In fact, her child was born six months later. (G and I exchanged e-mails for a little while after the festival.) The child was perfectly healthy. G’s marriage did not last to see the birth of that child. *Sigh* Not a big surprise.
I know there are some who say I should’ve dumped G out of my tent as soon as I found out the truth of the situation. I’m glad I didn’t. The best thing I could do for G, given the circumstances, was to show her respect and offer her support. Suppose I had dumped her? She would have gone to someone else’s tent… and who knows how he would have treated her? Also, I am not the Great Karmic Balancer of the world. She experienced the consequences of her behavior; it was not up to me to lecture her or punish her.
I learned an important poly lesson from that experience. (Actually, I learned many things, but this is supposed to be a poly essay and I’ve already wandered away from the topic.) The lesson was: Make sure that everyone involved knows what’s going on. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” poly doesn’t work for me.
Does being poly mean that I can’t have a relationship with someone who’s monogamous? Not at all!
I could not have a relationship with someone who’s restrictively jealous, whether they were mono or poly. If they were to get upset every time I spoke with another woman, then the relationship would not be balanced; after all, I wouldn’t care if they spoke with other men, admired the looks of other men, had male friends, flirted with other men, or even had feelings for them.
However, if I was dating someone who was monogamous, and we agreed that it was to be a monogamous relationship, and they later came to me and said, “You know, I’ve met someone, and I still love you, but I realized I have feelings for them too…” then they would have to deal with the consequences of their previously-asummed monogamy.
Namely, that I would respond: “Dear, we’ll discuss the relationship issues in just a moment, and we’ll figure out how to deal with the situation. But first…
“I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I DID SO EVER TELL YOU SO!”
“Okay, you told me so. Would you please stop doing that dance? What is it anyway?”
“It’s my ‘I told you so!’ dance. Because I TOLD YOU SO!”
Frankly, it would be easier to say that you’re poly before you started a relationship with me, just to avoid the “I told you so” dance. It’s a reasonable precaution, even if you never fell in love with anyone else.
To wrap this up:
While I was typing this essay, one of my cats started playing with one of his cat toys. That never fails to put a smile on my face. Why?
Because it it means that I am not the be-all and end-all of my cats’ lives. They have joys and delights and pleasures that don’t solely derive from me. Their pleasure gives me pleasure.
That applies to my partners as well. For me, that’s poly.