In my experience when you read about poly relationships, people tend to cast it all in one light; it’s always either the greatest or the hardest thing that they’ve ever done. The truth is it’s a bit of both and often at the same time. There is a lot of struggle but there is also a lot of reward if you can be patient even when it isn’t easy to be (and it often isn’t). Anyone that tells you that it’s easier than (or less of) a commitment than monogamy is misleading you; the struggles are different but they aren’t less and they are quite often more complicated.
We are all full of moving parts and the number of them that have to work together to keep everyone feeling fulfilled grows with each new addition to a polycule. It’s easy to think of only your own part of a relationship by default, but in order to maintain healthy boundaries and balance, you have to be aware of your needs, your partners needs and often their partners needs.
My time with Maeve has been filled with so many wonderful moments and some really difficult ones as well. Learning to balance needs and expectations in a new non-monogamous relationship has been a challenge for everyone involved and at times we’ve all alternately shined or failed. I’ve illustrated some of those moments below in hopes of giving a more balanced and realistic view of what struggles and triumphs poly life can bring.
Sitting on the floor of the hotel suite at the sex party the day we met; I wanted to kiss her on the forehead as she laid curled up in the chair falling asleep. Everyone else around us was still circling looking for sex and I just wanted to pull her up on to my lap and hold her as she dozed off. I hadn’t slept with anyone that night and whenever she walked into the room, I couldn’t help but look her way. This is the first moment in a long time I’d felt a real want for someone and it caught me off guard.
On our first date when she invited herself in and we fell asleep having fooled around but not fucked. The next morning we woke early and did sleep together and it was even better for having waited the night. Before she went home to Quinn I told her that I hoped that I could see her again. This is the first moment that I realized that I didn’t just want something casual with her, I wanted to date her non-monogamously.
Driving through the smokey mountains together, I told her things about myself that were deeply intimate and that some other girlfriends/partners had taken issue with in the past, particularly things about my work in adult entertainment. We talked about scenes I’d performed in and the people that I performed with and it was the first time in a long time a partner asked me questions with a sincere interest and not just morbid curiosity. This is the moment that I realized that I didn’t have to compartmentalize who I am with Maeve.
We walked through the isles of the leather shop that I’d frequented in my impressionable youth and we found a red leather posture collar with black piping on it. I told Maeve to lift her hair and turn around and when she did, I buckled the collar, making sure that it was a good fit. She turned around and I grabbed the ring, watching the flicker of excitement crawl across her face as she looked deep into my eyes. This is the first moment that I felt like we were really committing to something long term. We’d been living in the moment up until then and spoke of future plans, but that moment felt like the promise of a tomorrow together.
We sat there in the August warmth on a wooden bench, listening to the Celtic band playing music in the makeshift outdoor tavern. She had one foot up on the bench in front of us and when her leg poked out from beneath her dress, I ran my fingers along her soft skin. “I want to go to Edinburgh with you!” she said excitedly and I realized that I wanted to go everywhere with her. She looked at me with those bright eyes and I thought ‘oh fuck’. This is the moment that I knew beyond a doubt that I was in love with her.
On the plane on the way home from our road trip she curled up on me and slept. I ran my fingers through her hair and breathed her in as I planted little kisses on the top of her head. She’d asked earlier in the day “”How are we going to make this work when we get home? We both have such busy lives!”. I’d reassured her in the moment, but holding her on the plane, I was worried that seeing each other would be hard. She had another partner that she lived with (Quinn) and we both had a lot of travel coming up; I knew I wanted to see her as much as I could but I wasn’t sure how much would be possible or how to reconcile that with what I wanted from this very new relationship with her. This is the first moment that I saw and felt the edges and limits of our relationship.
We’d been trying to work on the tension between Quinn and I, who were a little at odds over the time we were each able to spend with her. I’d walked her to his car to set a time for us all to have dinner, when he mentioned to me that she had a date with another man the night he’d suggested. Having felt like I wasn’t getting enough time with her, it bothered me that she was giving it to someone else and that Quinn was happier to see it go to him than he was in giving more to me. It felt like my relationship with her was being limited by people other than she and I and I also couldn’t feel happy about her seeing other people when my needs weren’t being met. This is the first moment that I experienced palpable resentment of her other relationships.
Quinn and I met for drinks and talked alone for the first time since I’d started seeing Maeve. We had a decade long friendship that was crumbling under the pressure of being metamours. I’d missed that friendship and had been so disappointed to be in opposition with him, but talking about intentions and expectations brought us closer. We could both empathize with the struggle of finding time to spend with Maeve and that made it easier to work together to help each other with that. This is the first moment that I had real hope that we could all peacefully coexist in polyamory.
Maeve started a Google calendar to use so that she, Quinn and I could all plot out our time in advance and make scheduling things a bit easier. We all put down our work and travel schedules so we could see how to make sure everyone got the time that they needed and planned other things accordingly. It’s convenient but, also, just….. This is the moment when I rolled my eyes at how complicated poly dating can sometimes be.
“Just when I think I wrapped my head around it, I just think I could never do that” said Riley, punching a hole in the hope that I’d had that she might be willing to consider an open relationship with me. This is the moment that I felt like non-monogamy was perhaps limiting my relationships instead of giving me more freedom.
I sat in my living room telling Maeve about the night before, in which I’d finally spent the evening with Riley. It hadn’t gone well and I felt like my chances of making something work with Riley had turned to ash. I was disappointed and Maeve was there for me. This is the first time that I really felt like Maeve was my ‘partner’.
Maeve was away on a trip with friends. They’d gone to a nudist resort on a vacation paid for by someone trying to grow the naturalist community and some aspects of not understanding his motives really made me uncomfortable. In an attempt to not not make my discomfort impact her time, I pulled back, which consequently made her uncomfortable. I expected her to have enough support from Quinn (her other partner) to be allowed to step back and deal with my own issues with her being there and not get in the way of her enjoying herself. We ended up arguing a lot about what boundaries and what level of support we expected from one another. I took a late night call from her when I shouldn’t have: I’d been out drinking with one of my best friends who ins’t supportive of my non-monogamous relationship and had been giving me an earful about how it wouldn’t work and I was facing the rejection of someone who would only date me if it was monogamous. A series of misunderstandings during the conversation and poor handling of it (mostly on my part) almost cost us the relationship. I went to sleep despondent and certain that it was over. This is the first time that I felt like this particular version of a non-monogamous relationship wasn’t sustainable for me and I should end it before we hurt each other any more.
The next morning we spoke and worked through the anger, the disappointment and the root of the disagreement. We addressed the issues and misunderstandings and I apologized for having been an admittedly piss-poor communicator the night before. We set tangible goals and a plan to improve the situation for everyone involved and it felt again like we were working together. This is the moment when I realized that good communication is probably even more crucial in non-monogamous relationships than it is in monogamous ones because of all the overlapping people, layers and nuances.
I met with Quinn and discussed the uneasiness that I had with Maeve (and his wife Fiona) being on the trip and he helped lay some of my fears to rest while working through some of the boundary related issues. He’d reached out to me for a check in and though I’d initially said no because I’d had plans, I decided to change them in hopes we could meet and talk. This is the moment when I felt that Quinn was my friend again and no longer just a metamour. It was also the first moment that I was able to speak to someone that I could really relate to about the situation and who didn’t just tell me that my problem was polyamory itself.
I was a few thousand miles away for work and when I returned, she picked me up from the airport for the second time in our relationship. It was different this time; the first time I felt like I was coming back to the city, but this time I felt like I was coming home to her and when I wrapped I my arms around her, I felt like I was where I belonged. I missed her so much while I was away and even though we face timed every day, it had been so hard to be away from her. I was also grateful that she’d had Quinn to keep her company while I was away, so she wasn’t as lonely. This is the moment that I realized that home isn’t a city for me, it’s what (and who) I miss when I’m away. It’s also the first time that I felt compersion.
Non-monogamy isn’t always easy for me and at times I struggle with it. I’m definitely not a traditionalist when it comes to relationships though and don’t think old fashioned monogamy is the best fit for me either. I value commitment and am not the type to see people casually; connection is more important to me than sex is, though sex with people I’m connected to is crucial to my happiness. I look for meaningful connections with people before I pursue anything with them, but at any given time I have a low key crush on about half the population.
I don’t believe that wanting either monogamy or non-monogamy is inherently wrong and I am quick to buck anyone that says that one way is universally better than the other. I feel that every person needs to decide for themselves what they need from a relationship and what they have to offer. Fulfillment in life isn’t guaranteed just because you have one committed partner and having two (or more) doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have happiness in abundance.
I can say with certainty that my own relationships are more important in and of themselves to me than upholding the values of either polyamory or monogamy and I live my life based on who I want in it, rather than the number of partners I want to share it with.