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R was a genderqueer dreamboat. Seriously.
We met during undergrad, first at a film screening and then again working in the same office on campus. They were a passionate feminist (this is a very important criterion for me), a brilliant thinker, and just as cynical about people as I was… but still down to watch an episode of Spongebob or play Wii Bowling.
My extroverted, chaotic nature pushed R out of their shell; R’s quiet, introverted nature always seemed to bring me down a notch.
In other words, R was a breath of fresh air. And our relationship, in the beginning, was so easy – almost too easy.
No one was surprised, then, when we announced our engagement a year later. We had been shipped so many times that I thought we were going to break Facebook with the status change. It felt like everything was finally falling into place.
But when I proposed to R, there were two things I still didn’t know: That I was polyamorous, and that R was monogamous.
Since monogamy was the default, we had never really talked about the structure of our relationship before. What structure? There was only one, right?
Somehow I had missed the signs – signs that are obvious to me now – about my polyamorous leanings.
In the past, I had always had intimate, loving friendships – noticeably deeper than other people I knew – with cuddling, hand-holding, even kissing and sleeping in the same bed. I just assumed I had a bigger heart than most.
In fact, my last relationship ended in part because I was in love with my partner and my best friend simultaneously. I assumed that meant I was confused. Deciding I was a terrible partner, I broke things off, feeling guilty but relieved.
I had also had plenty of crushes, some quite intense, while I was with R, something that R assured me was normal and OK.
None of these things by themselves guarantee that a person is poly, but added together, it was pretty damning evidence.
I had never heard of “polyamory,” nor did I understand that there was nothing wrong with having deep and intimate relationships with multiple people simultaneously. I thought you could only love one person at a time, or else you were unfaithful.
It wasn’t until I lived with a polyamorous roommate that the doubts started to creep in. Could I be happy in a relationship like that? Would I be… happier?
I watched my roommate navigate polyamory in a way that seemed so effortless. I thought about how liberating it must feel, to express your feelings for anyone however it felt natural to. How whole it must feel to have that much love in your life.
I moved out of that house not long after moving in, but the thought that I might be poly never went away.
I trusted R completely – we told each other everything – and as I started to reflect on my past, we could see clearly what had been right in front of us. My intense friendships that always seemed to blur the boundaries, my crushes that sometimes seemed a little too distracting, and my wandering eye that sometimes made us both a little uncomfortable…
Accepting that I was polyamorous wasn’t an “aha” moment, because nothing about it was surprising for either of us. It was a “duh” moment, an “of course” moment, a “finally” moment.
It was also one of the scariest moments in our entire relationship, because when I finally said the words, R shifted and quietly responded, “But I’m monogamous. At least, I am right now.”
My first instinct was to assume it was over. A poly and monogamous person would never be compatible, right? Like any good millennial would do, I turned to Google, searching for things like “poly person and monogamous person” or “monogamish relationship.”
I was searching for someone, anyone to assure me that my relationship wasn’t about to fall apart.
Instead, it was my partner who assured me – not Google – that we would figure it out. We agreed to keep talking through it, to find some kind of common ground. And from there, a new kind of relationship opened up.
The next few months became a push and pull, give and take scenario – trying to draft, for the first time, where the boundaries were and how far out they could extend.
I created dating profiles only to end up taking them down; I had plans to meet with plenty of babes only to retract the offer because either R was hesitating or I was.
Graduall,y I started having more intimate relationships with other people, primarily online, and our tiny bubble became a decidedly monogamish arrangement. It was a gradual process of trying new things, feeling it out, and unpacking those feelings together.
Mere weeks before our wedding, after many late-night conversations and hashing out our fears, I kissed someone else that we were both close friends with. It was dizzying – literally, I felt like I had tunnel vision and the world had tilted on its side – and scary, too.
But it didn’t seem complicated, not at that moment. I was happy to share this kind of closeness with someone I cared about, and happy to go home to someone else that I cared about, too.
When I came home that night, R’s face said it all: They weren’t ready for this.
The look in R’s eyes convinced me that the world was going to end. I prepared myself for the worst, wondering how I would break it to everyone that our wedding was no longer happening. I went to bed that night uncertain of everything.
But I woke up to a partner who wanted to talk through things, who wanted to establish new boundaries and explore our feelings about what happened. A partner who listened when I talked about my feelings, a partner who supported me even when we were both hurting.
Our complete and total trust in each other assured me that the kiss I’d shared with someone else hadn’t broken our relationship. I had never felt more grateful to have R in my life.
Two weeks after the kiss, and three years after we first got together, we tied the knot – happily, eagerly, exchanging vows and dancing the night away.
The thing about relationships is that they’re always messy. And there are risks involved any time you hand your heart to someone else and say, “Here, do with it what you will.” Even though I may never have complete and total romantic freedom, and R may never have the complete and total commitment that is desired, we’re happy to meet each other somewhere in the middle.
It might seem absurd to the rest of the world – how could a poly person and a monogamous person ever commit their lives to one another? But for us, this exercise in defining our boundaries and exploring our comfort zones has only solidified our love and trust in each other.
I think coming out as poly, though it was a terrifying thing to do, was also the best thing that may have happened for us. It forced us to be straightforward about our desires and our needs; it opened up the conversation and encouraged us to trust each other, to make ourselves vulnerable, to be honest even when it’s scary – especially when it’s scary.
For now, we’re just enjoying our life together and figuring it out as we go along. As long as we’re happy, the labels seem less important. Polyamorous, monogamous, polyflexible, monogamish, whatever – the most important thing is that it works for us.