What does polyamory look like? It’s not all sex and romance.
I don’t know if anybody wakes up one day and decides to carry on with two lovers while maintaining a marriage, but here we are.
I didn’t even have a word for it, back when all this started. I just thought I was greedy and selfish for wanting more, and foolish for trying to have it all.
And besides, I didn’t always have two lovers.
“Welcome to your first affair,” Simon had told me, years ago, and he’s still around today. I don’t think either of us expected our being together to last this long. Through other relationships, other affairs, one-night stands and infatuations, Simon has been with me, and I with him.
I remember resenting his then-girlfriend: soft and feminine, sweet and soft-spoken. And I remember thinking, I’m not a lovesick girl pining over some guy she can’t have. I also remember thinking, it’s just an affair, it’ll end.
There were long walks, movies, and plays. There were times when I saw other people, and I told Simon everything. I pined for a great, all-consuming love, and I didn’t really think about him.
What I don’t remember is when Simon told me he loved me, or when I said it back. But he still says it, every day, and so do I.
Reader, in case you got confused, I married him not.
It was Mark I picked. But before I get to that, let me explain something first.
The word ‘polyamory’ probably conjures up images of orgies, partner-swapping and other debauchery. There might be that, for some people. But it’s much more, at least for me.
It’s a tumble between the sheets in the morning, before leaving for work. It’s two nights in a hotel when Jim is in my part of town. It’s a quick kiss in the elevator.
But it’s also patience and understanding when Simon has a fight with another woman in his life. It’s wondering how Jim is spending his weekend. It’s figuring out weekly schedules, so Mark knows when he should drop off our girls at soccer practice.
It’s a lot of hard work. And sometimes I feel greedy and selfish for wanting to have all this, and sometimes I feel like a fool for trying to have it all, even though I fight like crazy to keep it.
Contexts and Beginnings
“This feels like a breakup,” I tell Jim.
“No, let’s not think of it that way,” he says.
I stare at the words on my screen, and I take deep breaths so that I don’t burst into tears right there at my desk.
Elsewhere on my screen, a notification flashes, and I click on the chat thread. “I just got dog food and toilet paper. What else do you need from the grocery?”
It’s Mark. My husband. “I can’t think of anything else. Doggie diapers, if they have the brand we need?” I reply.
I open my chat thread with Simon. “My heart is breaking,” I tell him.
He sends me a sad face emoji. “You’re going through a lot. I’m here for you, hon. I love you, always.”
I close my eyes, and the tears start to fall.
Kinship is important
Okay, now Mark. You could say he swept me off my feet.
Gifts, chocolates, flowers, dinner dates and coffee dates and movie dates. So many dates. And the adorable little puppy who would become our first conjugal pet.
I had to admit that he challenged me and engaged with me in a way nobody else had. He wasn’t afraid of my opinions or my sarcasm. He was fascinated by my art, and he said I made him feel alive. We argued constantly, too, but it was like healthy competition between two kindred spirits more than anything else.
Everyone thought it was a good match. My mom and my sisters said, we don’t understand why you’re resisting this. My friend Abby told me that when Mark and I would talk, it was like there was no one else in the room.
Even Simon championed Mark’s cause. “He’s good for you.” Ah, Simon. ever so supportive.
So, I chose Mark.
Emotional dexterity required
I suppose polyamory is a lot of compromise. It’s a lot of juggling people’s emotions and preferences and schedules. It’s trying to make sure Simon and I are okay, that Jim and I are okay, and that Mark and I are okay. But it also means helping Simon out so that he and his girlfriend-du-jour are okay. It means cheering Jim on when he’s intrigued by new people. It means reminding Mark that I love him and our two daughters to the moon and back.
Soon after we got together, I told Mark about Simon, and how I fully intended to keep him around no matter what. I was getting ready to meet Simon for dinner that night, and Mark jokingly replied that he was jealous. But we didn’t fight, thankfully, and it all went well.
Perhaps asserting that I wasn’t letting go of my high-school-not-exactly-sweetheart was a bit greedy and selfish (see relevant worry above), but it was also an undeniable truth. And, by some miracle, Mark said it was okay.
See? I knew I made the right choice when I picked Mark.
Anyway, so, I didn’t have to choose. I decided I would keep them both, and they were both happy with it too.
Love favors the prepared
A lifetime with Simon and Mark. Simon and his parade of girlfriends. Mark and our two daughters. Pet dogs and cats and the occasional hedgehog. Deaths among family and friends.
I picked up a few other lovers over the years but nobody else lingered long enough, consistently enough, to matter as much as Simon and Mark do.
Until Jim. Of course, I was due for a plot twist.
To be honest, I didn’t realize that I was polyamorous until Jim came along. With Simon and Mark, I thought I was just one of those people who managed to keep both a loving marriage and a decades-long affair. You know, like in movies and novels. I thought my life was complicated enough, but I was doing a pretty good job of keeping it together.
Jim just kind of… appeared. Random bar acquaintance the one time I went so far north from my usual stomping grounds that I was expecting to see White Walkers. (Yes, I love the show, so sue me.)
We hit it off like crazy, and even now he still makes me feel like a teenager with an exciting new boyfriend. He says things that make me blush and grin stupidly. He thinks I’m sexy and gorgeous, and he wants to do naughty things with me.
I hadn’t felt that way in forever. I most certainly did not expect to ever feel that way again.
“I wonder how things would have turned out if we’d met while we were both still single,” Jim tells me.
I laugh, and I think to myself, I would have wanted to keep you. The thought pinches my heart a little too hard because we’re not both single. I’m a married woman, a mother to two daughters, and life partner to Simon. And Jim has his own life, with his own relationships and affairs wherever it is he lives in the north.
I don’t need this complication, I tell myself as the tears well up in my eyes. And yet I don’t want to let this go. And neither does he.
I want to keep this, whatever this is, wherever it might go.
Polyamory is heartbreak. Polyamory is wondering if the beautiful young woman now sleeping with Simon will replace me in his heart and his life. It’s fearing that the sexy friend having dinner with Jim will make him forget all about me. It’s worrying that our marriage has gone stale and that Mark doesn’t find me sexy anymore.
Polyamory is all your relationship fears magnified a hundredfold. It’s disappointment when Mark doesn’t quite nail the anniversary surprise. It’s loneliness when Jim is too busy with his own life to message me. It’s anger and resentment when a scheduling mishap means Simon has already made plans with another lover on the only night I can see him for the week.
Polyamory is reminding Simon that I love him even as I’m on a weekend getaway for my wedding anniversary. It’s Mark holding me close when Simon and I have a fight. It’s Jim reminding me that Simon actually adores me, and I don’t have to be jealous of the new girl.
Maybe polyamory means you have to stop counting the ways you can get hurt.
I send Jim a picture of me hugging my two daughters.
“You are such a hot mom,” he tells me. I blush furiously, and look away before Mark notices me giggling.
Oh God, my daughters.
Already they know that Simon is a fixture in my life, in our lives. “Uncle Simon!” they yell excitedly every time they see him, before knocking him over with their hugs. Always, always, he’s happy to see them too, and he never fails to ask about school, their favorite shows on Netflix, their hobbies. He even brings pretzels sometimes, because that’s their favorite snack.
“They’re not my daughters, but I’ll take care of them as if they were,” Simon always tells me.
I always worry. One day, maybe when they’re teenagers and the crushes and infatuations start, they might notice how Uncle Simon looks at their mother.
Will they see his hand lingering a little too low on my back, grazing my thigh? Will they count the seconds that pass as he hugs me a little too tightly?
What will I say when they ask, what’s with you and Uncle Simon? Will they even ask? Maybe they’ll just take it for granted: ‘Uncle Simon has always been there, and he’ll always be there, and he loves us very much, but Mommy most of all.’
Maybe when they’re old enough, I can tell them. Maybe they’ll understand that it doesn’t mean I love their father any less. Maybe they’ll be just like me: hungry for love and sex and friendship. Or maybe they’ll be blissfully monogamous, or asexual, even.
Whatever my daughters think of their mother, I hope they understand this one crucial thing: this life is a choice.
I don’t expect people to understand or approve. I think polyamory is different for everyone. However you want it, whatever form your relationships take, you should fight to get and keep what you want.
It’s a choice to follow the feelings, to allow myself to love, and to allow myself to be loved, many times over. It’s a choice to love three different men, to let those loves shape and change me, to break my heart and to give me joy. It’s a choice to persevere, and to see myself and what I have become, and what can be.
I suppose that’s really all polyamory is: opening yourself–your heart, your life–to possibilities, and to more than one great love.
Tessa wants to see the world. But for now, she’s happy to just get out of the house.