Polyamory: in it for the long haul
A few conversations I’ve had in the last couple of months have made me realise that it’s been a while since I last wrote about my relationship(s), or discussed the topic with anyone I’m not already close to. Friends and long-time readers of this blog will already know that I’m not straight and I’m not monogamous, but what about the new people I meet? When I was dating more than one person, I’d often be able to drop something into a conversation without making a big thing of it. Now, as a cis woman married to a cis man who is currently my only partner, there’s often nothing visible to disrupt any normative assumptions so I pretty much have to ‘come out’ before folk will realise.
This wasn’t always the case though. I’ve spoken about non-monogamy to the Guardian, co-hosted a session on polyamory at a conference, and have written quite a bit on the subject right here on this blog. Back in January 2012, I set up a group blogging project with my metamour Manda (pictured right) and a few friends, to discuss various aspects of polyamory from different points of view. We called it Poly Means Many, and chose a different topic to focus on each month. Over time, some bloggers left the project and others joined. I stayed on in an admin role, and then handed over the reigns. Eventually we all ran out of things to say and so the website where we shared our links was finally laid to rest at the start of this year.
In the three years I was part of the project as a writer, I blogged about the basics – e.g. love, NRE, jealousy, communication, the day-to-day, commitment, and metamours – plus the more in-depth stuff such as poly as an orientation, solo poly (yes, that is a thing), labels and hierarchies, and even the bad stuff (it happens to us all). The reason I stopped writing was that I felt like I’d run out of things to say, of insights to offer. Plus, I stopped dating so I didn’t have any new experiences to base my writing upon.
Although I am now in a place where dating is something I feel up to once again (it can be very emotionally draining!), I realised that I already had one experience that I haven’t yet written about much and that’s because it took a while to get there. What I’m talking about is ethical non-monogamy as an ongoing way of living, aka long-term poly. When you’ve been with your partner for nearly 20 years (pretty much all of it open), they’ve been with their other partner nearly 8 years, and your metamour’s other partner gets on so well with the group that it’s weird to think this hasn’t always been a thing… that’s when you realise you still have something to say!
One of the questions I was asked recently was “why get married?” and it was a tricky one to answer, not least because Topper and I were so sure for years that marriage wasn’t for us. So, what changed? My best answer is that all the reasons we originally had for not doing it started to matter to us much less, and last year just seemed like the right time to legally become each other’s next of kin. I believe that marriage should never be viewed as something that inherently changes a relationship – a wedding merely recognises and celebrates it, rather than making alterations – plus the wording in the ceremony that specifies two people is speaking about the marriage, not the relationship.
Through this relationship and its unique shape, I’ve discovered that the long term is just as much about working out what’s right for you as the short term was. There will still be a need for communication, negotiation and tweaking your boundaries, it’s just not quite as challenging when already you’ve done it hundreds of times before. To quote a blog post I wrote back in 2012:
“Relationship rules are a bit like the assembly instructions for flat packed furniture. Once you’ve built the thing and you know it’s sturdy, you don’t keep those instructions any more, do you? You don’t need them, because they were only useful when you were starting from scratch. The thing with default monogamous relationships is that many people assume that they only need these instructions once ever, instead of once at the start of every relationship. Each time you find someone new, you have to build things up to that point where you can throw away the rule book and trust that everything’s sturdy.”
Now that things are most definitely solid – I know where friendships fit into my life, where other partners would fit – I feel less like a kid in a candy store and more like someone who’s planning a complicated but thrilling screenplay. We’re all the authors of our own life stories, but poly has shown me how to make it my story rather than our story. It wasn’t easy, because you’re always writing your own rules and learning your own boundaries as you go along, but now I have ‘me’ plus several wonderful combinations of ‘us’.
Main image and the 2013 daft wedding selfie by lipsticklori. The 2017 daft wedding selfie is by Manda.