Embrace the Change

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

When I acknowledged and finally started exploring my poly side I was single, and I embarked on the journey of finding out what poly meant to me with the intent of staying that way. I would have partners of course, partners that I loved, but my primary focus would be me. For the first time in my life I put as much value on getting to know myself as I had always put on getting to know others.This was my time, time to learn about who I was as a person, what I wanted out of life, and what I needed to be truly happy. I decided that however long it took I needed to learn to make my life about me, instead of continuing to let it only be about the people that were in it. 

It did not take as long as I expected. It turns out that who I am, what I want, and what I need really aren’t that complicated, and that I was a lot closer to being happy with myself than I thought. All I needed was to turn the full power of my focus onto myself for just a little bit to find out that I really do like who I am, and that it really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy. Good friends, new experiences, open conversation, stimulating work, creative outlets, opportunities to explore, a social life, a healthy and happy family, and love. Lot’s and lots of love. That’s it, personal journey complete. But what did that mean for my poly journey?

Almost a year ago I met a man with whom I shared an instant connection. Over the course of several months we developed a deep friendship, the kind that lets you talk about anything, from current affairs to pop culture to the most traumatic moments of your life. Although there was interest on both sides the friendship didn’t turn physical for quite a while. When it did he was one of three partners I had at the time, and it was with the intent that I would be splitting my time and my attention equally between them. 

I could not have anticipated the depth of feeling that would develop between us. I already loved him as a friend long before our dynamic changed, but I had no way of knowing how much that love would grow once we removed all the barriers and opened ourselves fully to one another. The amount of love and support and warmth I feel in this relationship is more than I have ever felt before, and rather than being overwhelming or smothering or all encompassing it is uplifting and inspiring. I feel even more like myself and more free to continue to change and grow and explore now than I did before ‘me’ became ‘we’. I wasn’t looking for a primary partner, but I couldn’t be happier that I have found one. 

Over the last few months my other relationships have come to an end. Not because they were influenced in any way by my new outlook, but because they each came to their own natural conclusion. They have either run their course or changed their course, and I have never been a believer that all romantic relationships are meant to last forever. I took a break from meeting new people to give time to my new relationship, but I still identify as poly. I still want deep connections with multiple people, and I fully expect that I will add new partners in the future. This time my approach will be different, and what I want will be different, but the desire to connect and love as much as possible will still be there. The focus will no longer just be on what I need, but on what works for us. And that most definitely works for me. 

Flying Solo

I started my journey into ethical non-monogamy alone. I don’t mean without support, information, or mentoring, I have all of those, in spades. I am very lucky in the people I have around me who are there when I have questions or need reassurance; discovering this community has been one of the most positive influences in my adult life.

Most people I have encountered who identify as ethical non-monogamists are on their journey with a primary partner, or at least started their journey while they were with someone who fit that title. Because of this a lot of non-monogamy I have seen is hierarchical in nature; there is a core couple that ‘comes first’, and other partners are secondary or tertiary. That’s not to say that other partners can’t be as cared for or loved, or that those relationships are less fulfilling or important because of it, but the distinction is there, and it is something that needs to be respected for things to work.

I identify as polyamorous, but I do not have a primary partner. Emotionally I want multiple, loving, long term, committed relationships, where all partners feel that they are valued, cared for, and wanted at all times. No part of that requires me to elevate one above any other. From a practical ‘real life’ standpoint I am not looking to merge homes or finances with anyone, get married, or have more children. I am quite happy in my independence and am able to support myself. 

I have occasionally been told that I’m “doing poly wrong” or that I’m “not really polyamorous” because I don’t have a primary partner. Whenever I hear this it sounds like an echo to me of something I’ve been hearing my entire life in mainstream culture; that something is wrong with people that are “single”. It seems sometimes like the expectation of “coupling up” is still alive and well, even within the non-monogamous community.

I recently came across a term that I feel describes my situation perfectly; solo polyamorous. Like any other label it means different things to different people, but most agree that it is the decision to be your own primary partner. This is not a decision made out of lack of other options, but because you have made a conscious choice to have your primary allegiance be to yourself. It doesn’t mean you are being selfish or that you don’t care about others wants or needs, but is because you are strongly motivated by your autonomy, you value your freedom, and you are most comfortable identifying as an individual.

Solo polyamory opens a lot of doors that may not be there for couple based relationships. First, it allows you to put the emotional energy of maintaining a primary relationship into yourself, to come into each new relationship strong and whole, the best version of yourself that you can be. It gives each new relationship a chance to be what it will be, with no potential to be vetoed and without rules that can be hard to understand or fit into. It can make it easier to date people who do not identify as polyamorous, as they do not need to feel that they are coming second to anyone else, and because there is no need for them to build relationships with or get permission from your other partners.  Any or all of your partners can be identified as a girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever term you prefer, depending on the relationship itself and not on how it relates to your other partnerships. You can commit to doing what is best for everyone, even if that means splitting up with someone for a time so you can grow separately.

Defining myself as solo polyamorous allows me the option to care about each of my partners as if they were a primary partner, if that is the way each relationship goes, and if those partners do not have other relationships with rules that need to be followed. It allows me to love them as deeply as I want, if love is there, or to enjoy the journey together for as long as it is enjoyable if it is not. I can develop relationships without feeling like I am suffocating, giving up too much of myself, or endangering something I have with someone else. It lets me develop the skills necessary to advocate for what I want, and it gives me a chance to find out what that is. It gives me the ability to discuss options with others, get their input and consider how it will affect them, but ultimately make my major life decisions on my own. It allows me to have deep, intimate, long term relationships, but still maintain my independence.

I’m not saying that solo polyamory is easier or better than any other type of ethical non-monogamy; it isn’t, it’s just different, and it comes with its own set of pros and cons. There are still moments of loneliness, times when you wish you had more support, and the occasional bouts of wondering why you don’t fit into something more traditional or accepted. Sometimes it means standing up for yourself or doing something alone, and disappointing others who might want to take on something for or with you. And just like any other relationship, sometimes it means missing out on something because the other person doesn’t want what you want. I don’t know if I will always identify as solo polyamorous; I am very happy in all of my current relationships, but I am as prone to what I want changing as anyone else is, and sometimes people already in our lives or new people who come into our lives can make us want to change with or for them. All I can tell you is that right now is that this is how I identify, it is what I want, and it is making me very happy.

Why I’m Trying Open Relationships

Like many of you, I grew up in a nuclear family. Two parents and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit by society. This has been the ideal model, in western culture at least, for as long as most people can remember.

As far as I know this model worked for my parents. They have been married for over 40 years, have not lived apart at any time during that period, and to my knowledge have not had romantic relationships with any other people since they got together. They are the ideal that our society tells us to strive for.  

So many things in life have told me that I should want this, my parents and their example being the first. It was reinforced through my youth, seeing other young kids playing house, listening to high school friends dream about their wedding day, and watching fellow college students frantically try to find ‘the one’.  As an adult it’s been hammered into me, watching one by one as people I knew paired off, getting those dreaded ‘when will you find someone’ questions at family events, and seeing the pitying looks from people any time I went to an event without a partner. It is expected that we will all pair off, and that we will do everything in our power to get to that as early as possible.

I was never the girl that planned her wedding. It just didn’t matter to me. Over the years I’ve tried several time to have successful monogamous relationships, sometimes to the point of completely repressing who I am just to make it work. It’s what I was told I should want, and I tried my hardest to have it. Then when I couldn’t make it work I stopped trying altogether, stopped trying to find anyone. I didn’t meet people, didn’t date, and eventually didn’t even have sex for over a decade. I thought I was broken, damaged, or in some way incomplete because I couldn’t find this thing that every other person seemed to be able to. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was the problem.

There isn’t anything wrong with me.

It has taken me a long time to say that. Probably too long. I am a good person. I am happy, social, attractive, and I care deeply about the people I come to know. I like going out, staying in, or any combination thereof. I am compassionate, supportive, giving, playful, entertaining and independent. I am easy to be around, and easy to love.

I just don’t fit the standard formula.

In all of my relationships I’ve felt restricted, or like something is missing, in one way or another. I’ve had to give up meeting new people, lost time with people I cared about, and changed plans countless time to fit another person’s life. Hobbies I enjoy have fallen by the wayside, and things I’ve wanted to try have never happened. I’ve given up freedom, experiences, friendships, and time, all in the pursuit of that one goal – becoming a couple.

In every relationship I’ve had that feeling of restriction has turned me into someone I don’t want to be, and someone my partner ultimately hasn’t wanted to be around. In some I’ve become exhausted, constantly worn down by not having my own needs fulfilled while I meet someone else’s, making me angry and petulant. In others I’ve become rebellious, lashing out and finding ways to hurt my partner in an attempt to express how unhappy I am. I’ve tried telling my partner exactly what isn’t working for me, what is missing, only to be met with confusion or abandonment. It’s not their fault. It’s not even mine. But it doesn’t work.

Recently I’ve been introduced to the concept of open relationships. Open means different things to different people, and many names and labels are used to define it and it’s varying levels of feeling and commitment. Regardless of the term used the definition I hear most is ‘committed intimate caring relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners’. The rules are set by the people involved, and as long as everyone is honest and follows them these relationships work beautifully.

Imagine it. Not having to find just one perfect person to meet all of your needs, and not needing to be the one perfect person that meets all of someone else’s needs. Not having to restrict yourself to one person’s likes or dislikes, hobbies or passions, and not having to badger that person into participate in all of yours. Being able to find different people that fit the different parts of your life, that allow you to do things you love with people you care about who also love doing them, and knowing that you aren’t leaving someone out while you do that because they also have someone to do the things they love with. Sharing experiences and emotions, good and bad, with multiple partners, instead of requiring one to carry all the weight of it on their own. Being free to meet new people you might care about, without needing to give up anyone else first. Being allowed to care for as many or as few people as you want, for as long as you want and in whatever way you want, at any time.

I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than that, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it for myself.