A few Septembers ago, I woke up on the floor of my bathroom -- naked, dry all over, the previous night's makeup clinging unpleasantly to my face, surrounded by the aftermath of a mental breakdown.
I had vandalized my own bathroom -- ripped the towel rack from the wall, thrown all the toiletries I could find into the tub, squeezed toothpaste almost comically all over the room, and of course, torn the shower curtain down. Pulling my nude dehydrated body from the floor, I began mentally configuring how to salvage the very relationship that had brought me to this low.
I had met Ted and Amy almost two years before when I showed up to a date that I thought was to be with Ted and discovered he a brought his girlfriend along. While I was somewhat appalled by his either purposeful deception or complete social ignorance, the three of us quickly became close friends. I liked them both immensely and gladly acted as their platonic third wheel for several weeks.
One night while Amy was out of town, after dinner at a Belgian restaurant, followed by whiskey at a neighborhood bar, Ted playfully pushed me up against the refrigerator in his kitchen.
“What about Amy?” I asked, more as a formality than necessity, as I had had suspicions about the nature of their relationship for quite a while. The strategically placed stack of books in their bedroom with titles like “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships” and “The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Adventures,” was a pretty good indicator that they were in fact in an open relationship.
What I wasn’t sure of was what this meant for me, but I went with it. What the hell?
Amy was thrilled to include me in their relationship. She had convinced Ted to try non-monogamy, and is one of the few people who I can say with certainty is meant to be polyamorous. Ted on the other hand, being fairly new to this lifestyle , and having come from a religious background was very focused on the “amory” aspect -- he wanted to love everyone and know people intimately, which for him apparently also meant sexually. It was like they were members of an enchanting cult that I was happy to be indoctrinated into. And for a while at least, I drank the Kool-Aid.
Soon I officially became their girlfriend. While I had never entertained the idea of being polyamorous before, it felt right with them. I knew that I didn’t want to be like everyone else -- stuck in boring relationships, never questioning traditional values.
But as time passed, feelings became increasingly intense and often volatile. Though all three of us spent a lot of time together, it had become clear that Amy and I were Ted’s girlfriends, while she and I had no romantic connection. Though my feelings for Ted had deepened profoundly, Amy’s and my relationship was strained.
She and I were only occasionally, uneasily affectionate with one another. I suspect that this bothered her and was ashamed to admit, even to myself, that I wasn’t attracted to her and wasn’t even sure I liked her some of the time. Our clashing personalities, accompanied by increasing criticisms and callousness toward me further poisoned our interaction.
Ted was often caught in the middle and I felt incredibly alone. Not only was I unable to talk to him about the pain I was experiencing, I also blamed him for not protecting me. This wasn’t the loving utopia I had imagined only months earlier.
I became intensely resentful of Ted and Amy’s relationship and my insecurity only deepened when Ted introduced Amy as his girlfriend and me as a mere “friend.” He seemed to want all of the benefits of being with two women, but none of the awkwardness that is par for the course in a non-traditional relationship. Needless to say, it made me feel like shit.
When we moved in together a year in, even decorating became a metaphor for our ailing relationship. I hated their taste, and fought tooth and nail to get only “acceptable” items put in common areas.
“No toys in the living room!” I declared only to be called irrational, a label that was frequently used to dismiss my needs. Then there were the arguments about what qualified as a toy. That plush pig that squeals? Who cares: It’s ugly and obnoxious. I lost much of these battles, accepting that my house would not feel like my own.
One day I came home to find our living room walls covered with gigantic paintings that our artist neighbor had asked Ted and Amy to store for him. I immediately felt the pangs of an anxiety attack, which had become more and more frequent since we moved in together. I missed days of work, all but paralyzed by anxiety, yet never connected my panic with the stress of our relationship.
In our living room. Note the giant painting in the background.
While living together, Ted and Amy shared a bedroom while I had a loft upstairs. Ted alternated beds, sleeping one night with me and one night with Amy. One night, as I lay in bed waiting impatiently for Ted, he was lingering in their room, despite it being my night with him. I eventually stormed angrily downstairs, only to find them in the bedroom, door wide open, shifting positions, Ted looking like a deer in headlights and Amy, flushed, with a giant grin on her face.
“You two are fucking disgusting!” I hissed, slamming the door with a final “Cunt!” as an afterthought.
While we were theoretically all allowed to date outside the relationship, only Amy had acted on it. Ted flirted with everyone and any girl he mentioned became subject to my contempt and suspicion. When he broached the subject of seeing other women, I fucking flipped. The truth was I wanted to be in an exclusive relationship with him and was sacrificing my entire being to be with him at all. I could tolerate Amy, but the thought of him with other women was unbearable.
The morning I woke up on the bathroom floor, surrounded by my own shame and degradation; we had hosted a party at our house the night before. These evenings were a veritable deluge of booze, and as I got drunker, I became incensed that Ted had invited a girl from school to the party -- she hadn’t even shown up. After making it all the way to the karaoke bar near our house, I had a major breakdown. I don’t remember much of it but I am pretty sure I made a scene, hit Ted, and then camped out in the bathroom.
That night, especially the time I spent in the bathroom terrifies me. I feel very lucky that I did not hurt myself and am incredibly ashamed of my actions. Staring at myself in the mirror, mascara streaking all the way down my cheeks, pulling at my own hair, clawing at my skin, naked, sobbing, barely able to breathe, I hated myself. I was not the person I wanted to be that night and I hadn’t been for a while.
Sadly, this wasn’t the wake-up call it should have been. I begged Ted to let me stay, to put that horrible night behind us, but he understood what I couldn’t accept at the time -- I wasn’t cut out for it.
They found an apartment together, which crushed me, seeing Ted choose her and that lifestyle over me. But being away from them ultimately saved me. I am no longer subject to emotional abuse, wracked with jealousy, consumed with anxiety, and most importantly no longer lying to myself. My insane behavior toward the end is a testament to the horrendous destruction a toxic of relationship and the denial of one’s true needs can breed.
While I believe that polyamory can work for some people, it did not work for me.
Despite having left that life behind me -- forgiven myself and everyone else -- I still feel a tightness when polyamory comes up in conversation. I am often tempted to lecture people who are just beginning to explore open relationships, tell them not to do it, to be careful. I am scared for them, but it is ultimately their choice to make. I know I wouldn’t have listened a few years ago. Maybe it will turn out OK for them. I just hope they go in with open eyes and are strong enough to be true to themselves.
*Names have been changed.