TW: self harm
Very often, when people hear about polyamory, their first reaction is to ask how is it possible to love and live like this with all that we come with as humans. Most of these arguments are rooted in our current socialisation and every premise almost always stems from the assumption that we are all wired the same way emotionally and mentally. There is also the belief that our philosophies towards relationships, and existing in general, are innate, instead of them being values we are taught and can similarly unlearn if they do not serve us.
My journey has not only disproved these beliefs within my personal life, but in fact, polyamory has created more room for me to navigate and embrace my humanness more than ever before.
If you read my last piece, you’ll remember I mentioned that even though it’s only been a few years since I started living an openly polyamorous life. The fundamentals of polyamory were always present in my life and in my relationships dating back to my very first love. When I was going through a process of introspection in preparation to write this piece, I found myself remembering a December holiday when I stayed up a few nights battling with the state of the relationship I was in at that time. We had only been together for a little under five months, 21 was around the corner for me and I was hyper aware of myself and the person I was. I also thought extensively about the person I actually wanted to be and the conscious decisions I’d have to make to be that person. The journey towards love, when shared sincerely, tends to be a good mirror for self-reflection. Some of the things I wanted to embrace in myself I knew for a fact were things my current partner did not understand or could not offer to be a part of I but I decided to be brave, honest and open up and give her a chance to speak for herself. I had started to consciously explore my kink inclinations and was learning that BDSM was a bigger part of my life than I had let on. My partner responded as I had suspected saying she was not confident my participation in BDSM and kink was healthy. I had not yet learned to manage my eight year old inclinations to self-harm and mutilate, and this understandably made her hesitant to want to participate. What she said next reminded me why I liked her in the first place. In as much as she admitted this was out of her scope, she validated my feelings and understood why and how BDSM had become a type of therapy for. Being an older woman (this is why dating older women has always worked better for me) she encouraged my desire to really be myself, especially in a society that doesn’t.
I felt like an ungrateful, entitled little girl admitting that this woman who had all the qualities I wanted in a partner wasn’t ‘the one’ for me, considering how much I cared about her too. So I asked her how she would feel if, instead of breaking up, I saw other people for the parts of me I wanted to explore outside of our boundaries. We’d hypothesised about open relationships before, but at that time, this was not something she was open to doing. After a few difficult conversations, we agreed to end things with the unpleasant truth that, though we liked each other a lot, we were quite different to what the other wanted and deserved, and it would catch up with us sooner or later.
Even though I’ve always upheld polyamorous ideals, I battled with admitting that maybe for a person like me, monogamy is not the way to go. I knew I was layered and complicated, with a lot of emotional baggage, and it looked like the more clearly I saw myself, the smaller my puzzle pieces became and the harder it would be for someone else to put them together. I was also the same person who wrote a Facebook note blasting patriarchal polygamy and couldn’t understand how other women could actively engage in something like that. I was the same person that knew, despite my polyamory, I flourished in monogamous relationships and I was proud of the commitment and love I was able to show to one person for a long time without struggle, and without being unfaithful. I spent the next few months leading up to my birthday, really interrogating everything I was taught about love and relationships, and decided to fashion my own way of doing things that would leave me being fulfilled and as a result, aid me in being a good partner to the people in my life.
Some things were easier to discover than others. I knew I didn’t struggle with jealousy and could easily allow my partner to have other partners when approached correctly, but I was clueless as to how I would communicate my non-monogamous inclinations to another. Trickier things to consider included the fact that I had spent all my life dreaming of being someone’s “one”, the centre of their world.
This all raised a number of questions for me.
How would I react to someone wanting to be with me if they already had someone they regarded as such? To say I don’t get insecure or jealous at all would be a lie. What happens if I ok an arrangement today and something makes me uncomfortable tomorrow? If I live an openly polyamorous life, would people undermine the intensity of my love and commitment and will that affect the quality of love and commitment I get in return?
I won’t lie, now at age 24, I still have the same questions but I am not as anxious as I was back then. I fast realised that embracing my polyamory was not really about relationships and loving others. It was about me. Embracing my polyamory forced me to interrogate all the things I have been taught about myself, about love, relationships, values, principles and the world at large. It made me look at the ‘acceptable way’ of doing things and realise that in them being comfortable and second nature, it doesn’t always mean it is the right way to go and it doesn’t always mean it is the right way to go for me specifically. I realised that most of the things that made me want to hang on to my monogamous ideals were rooted, funny enough, in fear and not necessarily because I believed the principles I was taught actually worked. And just because I have become comfortable in my polyamory it doesn’t mean the work on myself is done. I have become so self-ware that at every moment I am conscious of how I feel, which voice is mine, which voice stems from fear and which one stems from external and societal pressures. I don’t know if I was still living monogamously, if I would dare step into the unknown territory to do this sometimes difficult task.
Over the years, I have hit a few brick walls even with people who were OK with my polyamory. I fell short in communicating exactly what I did or did not want, and I did not always know what was the right and wrong way of doings things to honour and respect both me and my partner. This made me feel hella insecure. So I tried something different. Instead of being adamant on figuring things out immediately, I dared myself to be even more vulnerable, tap into the deepest parts of my humanness and express these facets of myself to those involved as I was experiencing them. It became about being open and honest about what I was feeling and experiencing.
The truth is, I was and still am, young and discovering who I am. And for someone like me, who doesn’t date just to pass time, getting into a relationship at such a young age meant that I had to accept that I would grow and change alongside my partner/s and they had to accept that too. I started to see my partners through the same lenses too and this worked really well for me. Embracing my humanness, my insecurities, the anxiety about how my partner/s would receive me, and even owning up to the ‘I’m not-so-sure-what-I’m-doing-right-now’ moments… All this has encouraged my partner/s to also open up and be vulnerable with me too.
This changed everything.
I didn’t have to figure things out alone.
We could sit and talk about how we are conditioned in different ways (so we understand each other’s behaviours better) and map out our own ways of doing things. We debated, agreed and proposed how to go forward in the instances where our ideas differed. This is a common feature in my relationship, the constant reflection and evaluation of ourselves and in turn, how we want to be in the relationship. It sounds like hard and tedious work but the rewards are priceless. It’s opened up doors to be honest about other things about ourselves and how we look at the world. It has built intimacy, closeness and a safe space to truly be ourselves. Even better, it’s created a platform where we can also hold each other accountable for the kind of people we want to be.
Today, for example, I find it easier to tell my partner when I am jealous about something and we often work through it together. It’s interesting because, often, how we act out in relationships comes from a deeper, more layered place than the issue at hand. More than helping me be a better lover and a better person in general, being polyamorous has helped me embrace all of my humanness, flaws and all.
For more on polyamory check out this three part guide or this about different shades of love and ways of seeing loving. There is even this one on queering love and the other piece Lyricnotic wrote on polyamory during valentines day. All tips on doing love differently.
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