In my post-marriage adventures I have gone through many phases. There was the crying on the floor in the fetal position until an errant food wrapper in the corner inexplicably makes you get up phase. There was the squirting indiscriminately at any man, woman, or legally aged man who was legally of age (your honor) who happened to cross my path. And then, Along Came Poly.
Poly is different to just “dating.” See, there are a lot of people in our modern world, mostly men but definitely more than enough women, doing this thing called “dating multiple people.” Tuesday is Shannon night, Saturdays are reserved for Vanessa, and I’m still swiping Tinder for a date to my friend’s wedding what the hell is wrong with that? No one is committing, no one says the words boyfriend or girlfriend (even by accident- DON’T SAY IT) and Shannon, Vanessa and Future Tinder Girl are never the wiser. But that is not Poly.
I explored that dating model, and had a blast. Fresh out of a marriage that may or may not have become a less-than-sex-fest, and then a one-year on and off relationship that may or may not have devolved into one of Dante’s infernal circles, I was ready to mingle for realz. That relationship, we decided early on, was “open” but it was poorly executed. I did things I am not proud of, but sometimes that’s what happens when you love someone more than they love you- you hurt the shit out of them because it’s all you have. Again, not Poly, just being an asshole.
After that were a slew of slit suitors I refer to onstage and off as the “Trampage.” In case you want more detail, you can watch me tell a rather graphic story about the 27-year-old pizza boy HERE, which should give you an idea of where I was aiming with this whole endeavor. Strictly below the belt- the heart, which lies above, remained if not untouched, then certainly unplumbed. It ticked along like a bomb, waiting for someone to come and defuse it.
And then came another bad breakup with someone who DEMANDED monogamy (eye-roll) then emotionally vacated the premises, with disastrous results.
After a three-month break from dating anyone or anything, I found my new best friend Poly. Multiple partners who were all clued in about each other, with as much or as little detail as they each wanted. Safe sex. Negotiated boundaries. Hard-to-have conversations. Now instead of defusing the heart, I was intentionally diffusing it- by spreading my love around I was intentionally scattering that intense energy that had landed me over and over again in heartbreak hell. Never again would I put all my eggs in one basket. Never. Again.
I was getting my emotional, intellectual and sexual needs met by multiple people, I thought. I became a Poly crusader (“Monogamy is dumb, but good luck!) and I was as self-righteous and annoying as I had been about marriage the decade before. I was trying to stitch together one composite partner from three avoidant ones and you guys, I totes thought it was working! If one didn’t engage with me, I would just hit up another. I never got needy. I wasn’t clingy or desperate or demanding because I always had more waiting in the wings. I had found the solution! (I planned a book.)
There were painful bumps, but mostly I was pretty cocky (get it?) No one ever asked me to let my guard down. No one demanded that horrifying imposition called “intimacy.” While I mentioned my kids in passing, I never for a moment assumed that any of these (usually much younger) people had any interest in them. I had my life (and my heart) comfortably compartmentalized. I scoffed at my girlfriends who were paralyzed waiting for a text.
“Just get another one,” I bleated. “Always carry a spare.”
There are plenty of statistics to refute the idea that monogamy works. 37 million Ashley Madison users was my most recent fave, though the number has now proven to be much lower. Out of millions of users of the extramarital affair site, the female accounts were proven to be mostly Bots who could pass the Turing test (some of the guys I’ve dated could barely pass it.) Either way, much research exists that disproves the idea of monogamy as biologically natural, as simply a utilitarian way of Church and the birth of agriculture to ensure the survival of the species. Cave men and women totes fucked around, you guys. But they also ate antelope.
What I didn’t recognize (because hindsight, AmIRite?) was that when you settle on something as a reaction against something else, you are still at the mercy of that other thing. When I decided I would never again allow myself the near-death experience of relying on one person to meet my needs, I rebounded into Poly, the “safe” alternative. And when some of my girlfriends said, “I could never handle that,” I encouraged them to look underneath that thing called “jealousy” and see if they might not learn something about themselves. I had twinges of it, but mostly the whole thing turned me on. What can I say, I’m kinky AF. I may also have been fine about it, because I never allowed myself to get truly invested or attached.
In my experience, many people who say they are Polyamorous are actually Polysexual. There is one Primary Partner, and then one, but usually both partners, are also allowed to fuck other people. They then return to that Primary full of unending gratitude, “Thanks for letting me fuck someone else, “ “You’re welcome, honey, I love you.” “Compersion” is my favorite Poly word-that-is-not-a-word, the idea that you do not deprive someone you love of something or someone that they love. And as an idea, it is flawless, but what is the reality?
A while back, I got involved with someone who was a decades-long veteran of Poly. Let’s call him Ponytail. Ponytail had a long-term girlfriend (Primary) but both his job and his sex-drive behooved the addition of others. I sat down at a diner with Ponytail and his Primary (how civilized!) and with very little drama it was negotiated that I was to have relations with him with her blessing. We pitied those poor monogamous fools; we had transcended society’s norms and didn’t have to lie to ourselves about human nature. When she went to the bathroom he came around to my side of the booth and kissed me. The waiter raised an eyebrow and we laughed. Then she came back to the table and he stopped.
You see, though Ponytail’s Primary had an out-of-state Other Boyfriend she stayed with sometimes for months at a time, Ponytail was expected to sleep at home. So while he and I got close and went deeper over the following heady weeks, he would not sleep at my house. He acted in many ways like a boyfriend – texted or called every day and provided some facsimile of support, or at least interest. I always knew when I was seeing him next. I knew he was majorly into me, and not just to fuck. Except he wouldn’t stay the night, not even once a week, not in the foreseeable future, (Not In My House, Not With A Mouse, Not In My Bed, Just In My Head) until she went out of town again to be with her Other.
The system was designed so that as much as he cared for me, we could not bond completely (our first tryst happened when she was out of town and he did sleep over, lest you think I got involved blindly.) It was yet another dating bait and switch, he was approximating a relationship without ownership, possession and possessiveness, but in reality was offering the sliver of the life he had left over after work, family and having most of his needs met, and asking me to be content with it. Though Primary was fully aware of our relationship (in as much or as little detail as she wanted) it began to feel like I was having an affair with a married man, who was also seeing a couple of others, whom I also knew about. As much as he denied it, I was Ponytail’s Tuesday Girl. As soon as I figured it out, though the sex was scorching hot I ended it. I just couldn’t deal, and while I can see now that I wanted more, at the time I barely allowed myself to dream…
I was bouncing along quite happily on Tinder and with my two remaining Poly Partners, when lightning struck in the form of Someone. Someone appeared who was willing to tick all my boxes (those I couldn’t reach to tick) and who showed me with just his presence how much deeper he was willing to go. He melted my walls with his eyes, and within minutes, made all my post-marriage dalliances look like baby games. He wanted to fuck me (sure yay fucking!) but he wanted so very much more. He demanded nothing, but quietly stated what would hurt his heart. He unwrapped that glittering gift of his heart and its shine refracted off my past relationships, blinding me with color. I cried three times a day for the first week, completely out of my depth in my newly vulnerable state. He showed me home, and I had to return.
I ended all my other relationships and flirts and intrigues and promises of future hook-ups, without him ever telling me I had to. He “sees” me enough to know I don’t like to be told what to do, except in highly specialized circumstances, when I absolutely do. All my life experiences had led me to this gift and as self-destructive as I am, I couldn’t piss on it. I had to choose growth (ugh) over the comfortable stagnation of risking nothing. It’s uncomfortable and part of me is still fighting letting him love me, but I remember this thing called Love, this intense and wonderful and precious thing, and while I never thought I would have it again, sometimes ya just gotta make like a Civil War veteran and wave the white flag.
You don’t have to call it monogamy, just call it Love. This relationship is so very unconventional I wish we had another name for it. For those others I have loved or was about to, please don’t take it personally. Just rejoice for me, if you can, because sometimes, Poly Gets Her Cracker.