I have spent just over a year living and loving as someone who identified as polyamorous. After 14 years with the same man and nine years of marriage, I asked my partner if we could open up our relationship and I could date my best friend.
"It’ll strengthen us," I said. "It’ll fulfill desires we don’t meet for each other," I pleaded. "I love you and I love him, the human heart can experience boundless love and dedication to more than one person," I persisted.
I was full of crap.
At the time, and for months afterward, I truly felt that being poly would strengthen our communication, make us more honest and adventurous, and teach our children that love knows no bounds. What being poly really did was highlight how far apart we had grown, and how different our needs were.
My husband and I really DID start talking more, I’ll give myself that. We had almost divorced once before a few years back and in recent years our nights had turned into watching TV, having a drink, and sitting around looking at the ceiling. The newness, the taboo of what we were doing, ignited a spark in us that set our conversations (and our sex life) on fire.
When I told him about new things I’d tried with my boyfriend, we decided to try them, too. When he started dating on OKCupid we talked about the women, his profile, all the fun and new goings on. We had given ourselves something to be open and honest about. But it wasn't really what we needed to discuss.
Being poly brought more headaches than excitement.
There were arguments and disagreements about schedules and who got to do what. There were failed attempts at making friends with spouses, the "primary" partners of people we dated. There were hurt feelings, lonely nights and revelations about who was really "most" important to whom. By the time our own marriage finished falling apart, the negatives were sorely out weighing the positives and glaringly highlighting where we’d gone wrong.
My husband and I did not just go wrong at practicing polyamory. We went wrong at being married; at identifying what we wanted as people and integrating that into a strong partnership. And how could we possibly work on healthy interdependence when we both had other new and exciting things to turn to?
Other poly people will tell you they keep the health of their relationship a primary goal, but I still contend that it is much easier to ignore the hard work to be done in a marriage when you have someone else who can make you feel good. I have come to realize that sustaining a long-term relationship with just one person is so time-and-energy-consuming that it's difficult to divide your attention from it. And if you want to turn your attention away from your initial relationship, maybe you don’t want to be there in the first place.
For me, this realization came about when my boyfriend started dating outside of his marriage and our relationship. I begged him not to, telling him me and the wife were plenty and why did he need more? I was jealous of women he was interested in and the first time he did physically interact with someone, I did not take it well.
Eventually it hit me. I did not feel this way about my spouse. He could date, have sex, do whatever with whomever and I didn’t bat an eye. But my boyfriend, whom I loved dearly, stirred in me the desire for monogamy. That was what felt best.
In the midst of all of this, my spouse and I also had three small children to think of. We both agreed at the onset that their needs were paramount and we would be very careful about what they should know and when we should tell them. We both worked under the assumption that this would be great, that our children would be taught magnificent lessons. We would instill in them not only to respect and love all people, but that love could expand beyond two people. Poly wasn’t about sex (though that was great), it was about deep and intimate connections! And our kids should be on the forefront, age appropriately, of knowing that was possible.
There is very little research done on children raised with polyamorous parents. Until recently, it has been a lifestyle so far outside the mainstream that there has not been sufficient time to collect that kind of data. I’ve come across a few grown-up children of polyamorous parents who say it was fine, and a few who feel their parents put relationships first and parenting second.
Even though my kids were squarely at the front of my attentions, I realized that polyamory was confusing and difficult for them. How could it not be? For the majority of their lives they saw mom and dad hug, kiss, go out on dates. It shook their tender foundations to suddenly see Mom out with this other guy (who they do happen to know and love!) so often. My eldest even questioned me,
“Mom, why did you call him ‘sweetie,’ don’t you love Daddy?” Knife to the heart there, kiddo.
I had already run into so much prejudice and judgment as a polyamorous person that it was difficult to picture putting my children through that as they got older. I lost friends when they found out we were poly. I alienated family members. Most people view monogamy as the "right way" to stay connected and committed to someone. Would my children have to tell a schoolmate that is wrong? That what Mom and Dad do instead is perfectly acceptable and right? I don’t think the world is ready for that. Since poly is a choice, not an orientation like sexuality, I choose to protect my children from the judgment of society.
So now, I’m a monogamous woman and mother who’s about to get divorced and is sort of dating someone who is also about to get divorced after a trip to poly land. We still struggle with our relationship style and our future. It’s not ideal, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being poly.