Polyamory Thoughts

I believe in polyamory. As you may be able to guess from the roots of the word, that means "loving more than one." There are much better definitions, but I tend to go for the most basic ones because I'm not sure where I stand on the more complex ones.

Does it mean love in its most general sense? Hardly anyone will object to that. It's only when you get into romantic love that it's suddenly taboo to say you love more than one person. Or if you do say it, you are instantly told that you have to make up your mind pretty quickly.

But if you are someone like me, who has great trouble defining the line between friendship and romance (not to mention the confounding factor of sexual attraction, which fuzzes that line)then when do you have to decide? When faced with that question, I start wondering why I have to decide.

This has not worked out too well in real life. I've probably done everything on www.polyamory.org's "How to f*** up" list. But I still cling to the ideal. Probably because I've always read and fantasized about my own group of people.

I started out with Robert Heinlein, like an astounding number of people on the polyamory newsgroups and mailing lists I've read, getting the idea that a family doesn't have to be one grown man, one grown woman, and possibly one or more kids. The world helped me along, since my parents divorced and left me with four places to fit in over Christmas break (the home of each parent, and the home of each set of grandparents). And gradually things like my best friend in high school being raised by her grandmother, the growing knowledge that gay people might want to have and raise kids, and more books featuring group, line, whatever kind of marriages, made it seem pretty damned illogical that I could only expect to grow up, find ONE man, and settle down. I didn't want to give up my name (see the Lucy Stone essay), I didn't want to give up my options on careers to sit at home and go crazy with no one but kids to talk to, why should I accept the other traditional stuff that used to define the way of a relationship?

At first this was easy, because I wasn't actually in a romantic relationship with anyone. It was no problem to jump from fantasizing about Aaron to Tom to Mike to Slash to Taime, or whoever was cute that month, real-life or in the magazines. No infidelity involved. (I suppose for some really obsessed teens the ideal might have been to be true to one crush, even if he never knew you existed, but I never met anyone like that.)

It got better when I went to college and lived in a coed dorm, because you might find yourself squashed up against the hunk-of-the-moment when seven people tried to get into a little Toyota Celica to go out to eat or to the beach or whatever. There was interaction, a new thing for shy me. Everyone had been interested in everybody at some time, it seemed like, even if only for a week at the beginning of the year. I found myself with two possible escorts for the Honors Formal -- me who had never gone to a single dance in high school.

Sophomore year I started my first actual romantic relationship. Wonderful to be really that close to someone, to start planning a future with them, to be getting laid finally. Awful to have to squeeze it in if I wanted any time with any other friend in the dorm. I didn't deal well with that, but it took a long time and a lot of other problems added in before it outweighed having someone there for me. He and I are still very close, possibly to the detriment of some relationships we've had since.

The first love and I talked about menage trois, even tried to initiate some (though none of our possibilities were interested). But the idea that anyone else was interested in a romantic relationship with me, or I with anyone else, made him a little paranoid then. I was less paranoid -- when he decided he wanted to date someone else, I would have been fine with him dating her (long-distance, necessarily) as long as he didn't break up with me. He wasn't open to that option, and broke up with me for three weeks, then broke up with her and came back to me. A lot of pain for all three people.

I deal very badly with people leaving me. You could easily say that I was just willing to put up with anything to prevent being abandoned by my first love, and there would probably be some truth in it. Sometimes I wonder what it would take, what kind of web of social connections would be necessary for it to be safety net enough that I wouldn't be afraid of losing even one person in my life.

After that I found a not-quite-boyfriend. A fuckbuddy, a best friend who happened to be male, whatever you want to call it would probably leave something out. Lots of people have said to us, "Why don't you just admit it -- you're boyfriend and girlfriend," but we've never adopted that label.

Both of us have had other (official!) romantic relationships since then. (Well, one each.) I don't think his and his girlfriend's relationship suffered because of his and my relationship, although his girlfriend (who became a friend of mine) admitted later that she felt a little guilty to be coming between us. She was willing to stand up for her time with him, but also willing to hang out with him and me and other friends. She knew that we had slept together, and saw us hug frequently, and occasionally kiss goodnight. She didn't seem to be worried about him and me.

On the other hand, my boyfriend, who saw the same stuff, became jealous. This was probably because the relationship started going sour rather early for unrelated reasons, and I made the mistake of running off to the nearest source of warmth, which at the time would have been just about anyone except my boyfriend/roommate. As the relationship went downhill, my time with my dear friend became more and more intense, until finally my boyfriend's suspicions became justified. (Though he had suspicions before then.)

That's one of the, if not the biggest mistakes of my life. I valued the friendship of both men, but acted in a way that, had I thought it out from the viewpoint of my boyfriend, would seem calculated to lose one. But now, I know what happened. I won't let that happen again.

I can't imagine settling down with one person forever. Many marriages seem to make that one person to be close to in any sense -- other friendships wither once one friend acquires a spouse who is supposed to be everything. My relationships have also tried to cut me off from all but one person. But one person cannot be everything. A lot of people already see that much.

I love my friends. Some more than others, I suppose. But loving more than one friend is already polyamory in one way. (Especially if you're sleeping with two or three friends over a given period. Which is standard for me, because I don't think sex must equal commitment, though I wouldn't sleep with anyone I didn't know well and trust.)

There's not a real dividing line for me between friendly love and romantic love, except perhaps in the places to go for dinner on Valentine's Day. So I consider having one romantic lover, with whom I probably would have a sexual relationship, and having one friend who I care about deeply without sleeping with them, to be polyamorous. The step from there to having more than one romantic love is only a few shuffled paces, perhaps made without noticing, over a blurry demarcation.

It doesn't mean promiscuity. It doesn't mean that any guy who emails me will get laid. I've gotten e-mails that seem to think the fact that I'm polyamorous means they can talk dirty to a complete stranger and it will get them somewhere. (I e-mail them back and say that I won't get anywhere near someone stupid enough to think "polyamorous" is a synonym for "easy".) I've never slept with someone I haven't known well for quite a long time; I don't think I'm capable of it. (See the essay Confusion.)

So, as my sort-of significant other (SOSO, I've seen it jokingly abbreviated) asked me recently, what would I do if I met someone else, or he did? Try to work it out. He himself does not seem averse to the idea, as the saga above should show. So the other significant other (OSO in the jargon of the poly mailing list I read when I had time) would be the determining factor. We would have to find some level at which he or she is comfortable with. Perhaps the OSO would want something less physical between me and my SOSO, or a reduction of the time we spend together. It's possible that the person in the middle of the V would have to make a decision about who they wanted to be with, if the OSO was firmly non-poly.

It's also possible that the V might end up a triangle, with deep friendship between the two who were not originally involved. (Triangle does not necessarily imply that the ends of the V have become sexually involved. Though it could.) I'd love that to happen. But there's no real way to predict.

I'll give it a try anyway. All kinds of love relationships are risks, which doesn't stop many people for long. Polyamory has greater risks, but the possible returns are worth it to me.

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