I feel like I post fairly often about my love of Paddington, but rarely about my love life.
Let’s be more specific. I’ve been practicing polyamory/ethical non-monogamy for maybe three years by now. It’s had its ebbs and flows. It’s not always something I’ve been enthusiastic about. I’ve had a few friends ask about it lately, and I figure that a bunch of people who read this may not have a grasp on what a moderate poly life could look like. I don’t by any means think it’s suitable for everyone. For some people, it’s very suitable. It’s been some time since I’ve talked about poly, and my relationship with it.
I started practicing poly several years back. As someone who was staunchly monogamously wired, it was more dipping my toes into the water to see how I reacted to the temperature. I was tentative, taking things one toe at a time. See, my girlfriend at the time was already poly. I was fine with her dating other people while I looked for someone to settle down with. I figured once I found a monogamous connection, we’d part ways amicably. Spoiler, didn’t happen, and we live together five years down the line. We talked a bunch about the poly framework, how it worked for her, and I considered if it was a structure that’d suit my lifestyle. For a long time, it really wasn’t. I’d get jealous when I even saw her kiss others, let alone have sex. There were a lot of tears, heavy hearts and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Then inevitably we’d talk through it each time, and learn how better to handle things when they happened. Therapy helped a bunch.
I think a fairly common dynamic occurs when monogamous folks open up their relationship. Generalising, but a ton of hetero men tend to think it’s gonna be just getting laid all the time. Then dating disparities come in and they find their female partners are getting more dates/success. Then resentment sets in, and regret at opening a door they can’t close. Relationships end. It’s not all of them, of course, but poly life can cause rifts that may not have occurred otherwise. What people don’t realise, is that opening up a relationship or moving towards non-monogamy isn’t a) an easy fix for a relationship or b) easy at all. It’s communication, communication, communication. Endless hours talking about feelings, owning feelings, understanding how your actions affect partners. Knowing that instead of trying to find compromise and solutions with one partner, each new partner adds exponentially more communication. Don’t forget, new poly partners often have partners of their own, and it’s morally shitty to ignore them totally in deference to your desires. It’s like juggling while fucking. Chances are, there’s gonna be a mess somewhere.
Poly stuff takes up a lot of time, and a bunch of scheduling. My first poly relationship was wonderful, with another first time partnered poly person. We both navigated how to be fair and compassionate to our metas (our partner’s partners). I think we learned a ton, and it definitely led to some difficult and emotional conversations with my primary partner (sometimes known as “anchor” partner, so as not to imply any partners are more important than others). This woman and I dated for a while, until I found I didn’t have the time management skills to keep dating while doing my other personal projects. We broke up, and I went back to my projects. I considered dating from time to time, but ultimately the desire wasn’t there. I was too busy to add more intimate connections, and satisfied with the fullness of my life. Then I got kind of scared that I didn’t have the capacity to give partners enough of myself, and that I’d be wasting their time. Felt like a dick move, so I just didn’t date. For a while. Maybe I’d kiss someone at a party occasionally or something, but that was about the extent of it. Then I got depressed off and on for so long that I no longer felt capable of dating. This went for some time.
More recently, I’ve found myself dating again. I’ve begun steering towards more of a Relationship Anarchy model. The basics of which are that each connection you have is at the level you both agree on. Some partners may be looking for long term relationships. Others may just want casual intimacy or limited hook ups. For most of my poly dating experience, I haven’t been entirely sure on what I wanted. Relationship Anarchy has been taking shape almost organically.
Aside from my anchor partner (sometimes known as “nesting” partner, if you live together), I have a couple of assorted connections. There’s an occasional partner I’ve connected with a few times. If the mood strikes us, we’ll hang out and sometimes have sex. Though we also hang out without sex too. It’s an option, rather than a necessity. Neither of us would consider it a “relationship”, but more of an intimate friendship. I’ve reconnected with the aforementioned ex. We’d kept hanging out for the past few years in a non-sexual capacity. Lately we decided that it’d be nice to keep the door of intimacy open, that there was still a bunch of affection there, and it’d be nice to share that physically sometimes. I’ve also been seeing someone else after a friend set us up. She came out of a long term relationship and was looking for some fun, but also didn’t want to be out there screwing randos. My friend was (is) seeing her, and suggested I’d be a fine chap for her to connect with. It was a weird, almost unreal conversation, but I guess this is the world I live in now. Turns out, she’s lovely. We’re having fun, while also offering emotional support. Then there’s someone I quite like, who I’ve been on a few dates with. Her schedule means we don’t often get to hang out, but it’s not a point of contention. If time allows, we’ll do some more dating. If not, no harm done. That’s not to mention the overall poly community, a few of whom I’ve had connections of varying intimacy with. Friends/partners of friends, it’s all quite incestuous.
Ultimately, a few years down the line, non-monogamy has started to solidify into a model that suits me. It’s pushed me away from a scarcity mindset, and allowed me to be open to connections instead of obsessing that they’re not happening. It’s taught me that there’s no set structure for what a relationship has to resemble. It’s allowed me to understand that quality of emotional and physical connection is far more important than frequency. I can have deep connections with people I see rarely, but whenever I see them there’s a lot of affection and compassion. It’s not always sexual, and poly has made it easier for me to share emotional intimacy with non-sexual friends. Expectations matter when they’re agreed upon by all parties involved, but there’s no sense in forcing a level of connection if you’re not both into it. Everyone’s needs are different, and provided you can meet said needs, the quantity of partners is irrelevant. Respect and understanding go a long way.
And hey, the more people I date, the more people I can share Paddington with.