Love Like an Ocean: Diving Deep into Polyamory
By Kendra Holliday on July 18, 2011
My partner and I have the perfect relationship. For us, anyway. We’ve been together for four years. We’re not married, but are in a long-term relationship. We do not live together, preferring to keep our households, finances, and families separate. Autonomy suits us well.
To top it all off, we are polyamorous; meaning, our relationship is open, allowing us to experience intimate relationships with other people, such as dating, loving, and exploring sexually. Sometimes we do it together; other times, separately.
Photo by Kedai Lelaki.
We don’t fight. We have amazing chemistry and enjoy an incredibly satisfying sex life. We can’t get enough of each other. Our relationship is based on mutual worship and respect, and our number one rule when it comes to dating other people is they need to respect both of us.
Before I knew of polyamory, I thought I was defective and unfit to be in a relationship. After years of disappointing my partners, a series of men who enjoyed playing with the girlfriends I brought home, but freaked at the mere mention of another “sausage in the room,” I resigned myself to remaining single.
Then I met Matthew, who was recently divorced from his wife of ten years. What started out as a happy, traditional monogamous union with Matthew left his wife stifled and miserable. Determined not to repeat those same mistakes again, he took a leap and partnered with me, a renegade female who was in charge of her sexuality and knew what she wanted.
Honoring my atypical outlook on life, Matthew told me he would not hold me to a standard he was not willing to hold himself. So here we are four years later: a polyamorous couple in a sea of monogamy.
Our nation is one of serial monogamy. Polyamory applies the same concept of loving more than one person in a lifetime, the only difference being that these relationships overlap in the case of polyamory, because life is too short.
The unusual details of our relationship dynamic sometimes leads people to believe our relationship is not serious. On the contrary, it is very serious. I hope he’s there with me when it is my time to die.
Sex with him can be so fierce and fantastic. He’s larger than life, outweighing me by 180 lbs., a Beast to my Beauty. I get a contact high from his testosterone just being in the same room as him.
How could I possibly keep all that man to myself?
Ironically, he is the first man I feel I could be monogamous with; after all, our kinks and libido match perfectly and we’re both so sexually creative.
Honestly, just having the permission to sleep with other people – the FREEDOM – is enough to keep me content for months at a time.
We aren’t actively looking for other lovers -- we let it grow organically through friendships. We’re happy to savor the moment for what it is, deriving as much pleasure from sparking with someone on a mental OR physical level. We don’t need to touch someone in order to feed and thrive off their energy, but if that type of human interaction transpires, it’s a bonus.
Our world is our kingdom. He is my King; I am his Queen. Spiritual teacher David Deida boldly states: “If you’re a man who wants to be with other women, you damn well better take great care of the one you have.” Matthew does a stellar job of fulfilling my emotional and physical needs. I feel secure with him in a way that was lacking with past relationships.
So often monogamous couples have mismatched libidos or similar challenges, and have limited options on how to remedy that situation. This adds up to a LOT of people not getting their needs met, which results in a bunch of unfulfilled and unhappy folks. This leads to insecurity and fear, which is often unfairly projected on others.
Why is it acceptable in our society to love more than one sport with a passion? Read different books? Why is it acceptable to love more than one child? Yet it’s not okay to love more than one person romantically at a time.
I compare monogamy to a Chinese takeout menu. Let’s pretend you can choose whatever you want from that menu, which is still plenty of variety. But then one day someone offers you an Italian menu. Would you stick with the same diet you’ve been eating for months, or would you want to try something new? (This is not to say that you wouldn’t go back to your preferred meal after you’ve tasted the other.)
Our brains thrive on novel experiences. It’s natural for that to have a sexual outlet, as sex is such an integral part of our makeup.
My friend says, “Love is like an ocean, not a bathtub. One person doesn’t need to get out in order for another to get in.”
I tweeted that quote and a man replied, “But you can be eaten by sharks, capsized in a storm, captured by pirates, sunk by torpedoes in the ocean, much less likely in bath.”
This man very wisely observed that embarking on emotional uncharted territories comes with risk. But it can also reap huge rewards.
Polyamory IS more complicated. Polyamory is NOT superior. I strive to find other poly people who are as stable as we are, and keep coming up short. As I watch my friends cycle through their maddening poly dramas, I wonder if it’s such a good relationship model, after all. But here’s a thought: maybe the goal isn’t to have a healthy relationship.
Maybe the unspoken goal is to intensify the living experience.
Just as some people express their passions through salsa dancing, running marathons, or climbing mountains, polys follow their passion through loving. Since sex is so taboo in our society, polys are more often misunderstood and feared than people with mainstream passions.
It’s endearing for a woman to run a cupcake blog and bake a different cupcake recipe every day of the year. It’s admirable for a couple to grow prized orchids or breed teacup Chihuahuas. But to love Peggy AND Sue at the same time? That’s scary.
And no matter how much of a trainwreck the poly person is portraying on Twitter, he or she is living open and honestly in a culture that treats sex as something to be ashamed of. I have huge respect for their authentic approach.
Here’s a little secret: polyamorous relationships often include sex (some joke that is should be called polyfuckery), but not always. I’ve had several people contact me describing their unusual situation: for example, the wife’s best friend has been living with them for over five years. There’s no sex involved, but they do everything together, they consider her part of the family, and they even joke about her being “his other wife.” They ask me, is that poly?
I say yes. The poly groups I’ve polled agree with me.
Accidental vs Intentional Polyamory
Sometimes polyamory is accidental, and sometimes it is intentional.
When it’s accidental, your heart slips and goes to a place you had no idea existed. It can be confusing, and when you later find out what you’re doing has a NAME, it can be a relief. It even happens to swingers sometimes!
My friend and fellow Sex Positive St Louis co-founder David Wraith has been polyamorous since grade school, when he had two girlfriends on the playground who knew about each other. His intimate relationships have overlapped on and off his entire life. But he didn’t realize he was polyamorous until about eight years ago.
The intentional polyamory journey looks something like this: you have an epiphany at some point about an alternative way of loving without lying or omitting. Maybe it happens while you’re reading the book Sex at Dawn, or listening to a Sex is Fun podcast that offers you some life-changing food for thought in a non-threatening manner. Maybe after that, you read the book Opening Up by Tristan Taromino, look into poly forums online, or search the web for local poly support groups.
However you get there, you start to think outside the cage.
Before you dive in, however, please take note: Regardless of the relationship style, the following traits are desirable for ANY healthy relationship: agreeability, confidence, conscientiousness, and, the trickiest one -- being emotionally stable.
In order to be emotionally stable, you need to embrace honesty and love yourself and others for who they are.
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of honest communication. Here is what that means: talking to your loved ones about EVERYTHING, including things they might not want to hear.
Guess what? You’re not allowed to say, “I married my best friend,” and then keep secrets from them. You should be able to be yourself and share everything with your best friend.
So often we aren’t allowed to be ourselves with the people we love the most, so we resort to self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or ice cream, or sharing our secrets with strangers – therapists, sex workers, hairdressers, angry, anonymous ranting blogs.
What if we turned this broken model on its head and replaced the fear in our hearts with love?
That is how my partner and I have chosen to do things, and it is leading the two of us to self-actualization and full integration. I don’t think there’s anything more liberating than being fully integrated.
Until a person's sexuality no longer comes into play when judging character, value or status in society, we will be held back from achieving this healthy ideal.
My partner and I have opened our minds and hearts, and have tapped into a deep well of love and good energy that knows no bounds.
As for our friends and lovers, our love is fluid. They come in town, we love them for the weekend, and then we release them back into the ocean like a message in a bottle. The respect and acceptance is there, and so is the glorious freedom.
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