“I got you something,” she said, her brown eyes looking at me softly but with a hint of mischief to them.
I sat up next to her in the bed, “Oh really? What did you get me?” She leaned over the bed, reached into her purse and pulled out a tiny box. We all know that box. It can only contain one thing. She handed it to me, smiling. “Open it.”
Hands trembling, tears building, I opened it and inside was a silver ring. She had it engraved. I started crying.
She kissed me as I tried it on. “My husband helped me pick it out.”
She giggled, “I used his hand to compare to yours so I could try to guess your size. He loves that we're in love.”
At that moment, two thoughts went through my head. One was to accept the ring gracefully and to thank her for her thoughtfulness. The other was to throw it at her smiling, beautiful face.
I chose to accept the ring, and it did mean a lot to me that she had given it to me after so many months of passionate nights and days together. But it was always tainted by that tiny bit of knowledge that someone else had had a hand (literally) in that moment we shared.
So this was my introduction to Polyamory, which is the practice of open and many loves. Usually it begins with two people who enter into a relationship with each other but who also allow and even encourage their partners to meet and love other people.
The Polyamory movement claims to be all about communication and not limiting anyone's sexual experiences within a relationship paradigm. On the surface, it seems so evolved, so unselfish that it is hard to argue with the logic of it.
After all, relationships, especially long term ones, can become stagnant, predictable and dare I say boring. But sometimes couples open their relationship and allow their partners to explore sexual experiences with new folks, sometimes of the same sex and sometimes with the opposite sex.
These are the people who refer to themselves as “Poly” and it doesn't always mean they are in boring partnerships or that they waited years to do this. A lot of single people are declaring themselves Poly even before they find partners, and so they go in search of other partners who are OK with all this sexual freedom.
The media would have us believe that this is the popular movement of the times. In fact, I've read several recent articles praising the Poly/Open lifestyle, how it allows so much growth and sexual freedom. How there is no jealously when all is communicated. How one partner can even be happy for another when they have found love with another.
The truth is, I'm a pretty traditional lesbian who has dated monogamously for many years.
I've been in a few long term relationships and never thought about being “open” in my sex life. I had spent a few years getting over a 7 year relationship and I was trying my best to grieve while taking care of myself.
I was feeling fairly confident in the direction my life was heading when I was approached by “Jill” who worked out at the gym where I attended. Jill and I had become casual friends who would talk during our workouts. She knew I was a lesbian, I knew she was married for 13 years to a man and had a preteen child. One day, while changing after a work out, Jill approached me in the locker room.
“So, I have been talking to my husband about you.”
I eyed her warily. “Oh really? Is that good or bad?”
“Good. I told him you're a lesbian. I told him that I've always wondered what it would be like to be with a woman. He told me it would be OK if it was you.”
I laughed. “Did he now? Well tell your husband to be careful what he wishes for. I've been known to turn girls gay.”
I figured she was joking. After all, I'd had straight women joke with me before about wanting to be with a woman and that it would be me if they ever decided to “go that way.”
But then the text messaging began and it was clear that Jill was flirting with me. So I began flirting back because I enjoyed the attention and she was attractive and I felt like I had nothing really to lose by just flirting. She even laid out her logic for me in the texts: “So it's been 3 years since you've had sex, I've never been with a woman, so it's a win-win!”
A week or so after the text flirting began, Jill asked me to dinner and from there, we went to a gay bar where she promptly texted her husband to tell him where we were. I remember her giggling as she told me his response was “Holy shit!” and how he was excited for her.
That probably should have been my first clue to “Turn Back Now! Do not pass go!” but as the night wore on and we had more drinks, we ended up making out in my car for several hours until, finally we went our separate ways.
After that, things started getting out of control. Jill seemed determined to sleep with me and truth be told, I was more than interested in her, too. And eventually we did and that turned into a wild and passionate relationship.
The first week after we did the deed, I had almost 450 text messages on my phone, all from Jill. We began seeing each other more often, usually one night during the week and one night on the weekend when her husband would offer to watch their child.
At first, Jill explained her husband had “rules” for her that she couldn't break. The first was that she was never allowed to spend the night with me. The second was that we weren't allowed to use dildos because he thought it would be a threat to him somehow.
I told her I didn't like a man telling me what I could and couldn't do in my bedroom. She relented on some of the rules and we ended up having one of the best sexual relationships I'd ever had and by far the most intimate and passionate. But all along there were flags that would go up that I ignored until I couldn't ignore them anymore.
Sure, we had both said the L word to each other after a few months. We were both in that mode of being in love where it seemed we couldn't get enough of each other.
But there was still that pesky problem of her being intimate and in love with her husband, whom she went home to every night. And according to her, they were still very sexual even though it seemed she was sex-starved when she would see me.
But then, I would get the late night phone calls, “I can't wait to see you again. I feel like I'm addicted to you. I love you.”
And supposedly, because she was married, I was allowed to also date other women. But every single time I would bring up dating someone else, we would end up in a fight or with her in tears. I knew she was being selfish and it hurt her, but I also knew I couldn't continue seeing someone who would see me only part time and yet, had a full-time life with someone else.
It felt like going back into the closet again, even though I had been an out and proud lesbian for over 20 years. After one weekend where she finally stayed the night and we had an incredible time making love over and over, laughing and just enjoying each other, she returned home the following day and posted up pictures of herself and her husband on social media.
I had had enough. I couldn't subject myself to torture anymore. So I ended it.
I have spent the past year grieving the loss of our relationship and yet, I have also gone over all the moments where I was essentially reminded that I was just the second choice.
No one who talks about how awesome Polyamory is mentions us. Instead, what the media focuses on are the ones who are in the “primary relationship” and how Polyamory works out so well for them.
They never interview the people like me, who spent a year of my life involved in a relationship that could go nowhere. Of course, I knew this going in so the fault is mainly mine. But they don't ask how it felt at 2 am when Jill would leave and drive home to the house she shared with her husband so she could be home when he and their child woke up.
They don't ask what it was like to wonder if she was having sex with him before or after she did with me, or how it felt to be sitting at home alone on a weekend while she was posting pictures of their family camping weekends away or seeing their holidays together. Or how she cried each time I tried to end it and how she once said she might leave him if I would just please reconsider.
The media doesn't ask Poly people how they deal with situations in which people get hurt because Polys will tell you that if everyone is open and honest from the get-go about who is the primary partner and who is the secondary or third or even fourth, then no one can get hurt and if they do, then someone made the mistake of allowing feelings.
If someone asked my ex how she could be married and have a girlfriend at the same time, she would gleefully announce that she was Poly, to which I would reply, “I'm not.”
She seemed so happy that people she worked with would remark at the change in her. In the meantime, I grew less and less so.
She never quite understood that while she was being loved by two people at once, I was being loved by half of one...the newly formed bisexual half who wanted for us to continue being in the closet and for nothing to change, ever. But eventually, like in any good story, I found enough self respect and what was left of my self esteem and ended it.
I'm not saying that Poly can't ever work. I'm sure there are some who are happy in that lifestyle. But anyone who is considering entering into it needs to be wary.
People are human and most want the same thing, which is to be loved and seen and to be special to someone. Sharing the person I loved most in the world with someone else was the most painful experience I've had as an adult. This is the nature of Polyamory, however.
There can be no expectations going in. No demands or hope for a future with someone where you are their one and only. The irony is that Poly people believe that they are somehow more evolved than their monogamous counterparts when in fact, they are quite often driven by selfish desires, a fear of true intimacy, and a need to feel validated by more than one lover at a time.
They are also the first to say that someone wasn't mature enough to handle it when a Poly relationship goes sour. But it isn't really about maturity. It's about respect, both for self and others.
Yes, by all means be honest about the fact that you want permission to sleep around, but also recognize that those you pursue are humans who have feelings and needs and desires and don't cease to exist when you go home to your primary partner.
Relationships evolve. And once feelings are declared and a partner is no longer OK with the status quo, it has to end. And it often ends with hurt feelings and a lot of tears and a walking away from someone you really loved because you just can't take being the second choice for one more moment.