I feel a little conflicted in my writing today. I started this blog to collect and organize my thoughts on being a mother. But after yesterday’s post, and connecting with other people and bloggers through it, I feel somewhat obliged to elaborate on my years as a polyamorist. Maybe it is finally time to make peace with it? I do try to follow my inspiration and write what is on my mind, so I guess here goes.
I recently watched a documentary chronicling a couple in their sixties who engaged in the swinger life. Aside from being gross (does anybody want to watch senior citizens have sex?), it was also fascinating. The couple had been together for more than thirty years, and monogamous for the majority of that time. They only began to swing once they were retired and needed to spice things up. If there is a healthy method to enter the swinging lifestyle, that is probably the way to do it. I imagine by that time in your life, you are pretty confident in who you are and what makes you happy. I hope so anyway. I, however, was an impressionable young woman.
I met Z when I was a senior in high school. At the time, I could not wait to get out of school and start my life. I viewed myself as an adult, but looking back, I see I was just a kid. I had no idea who I was- not unusual. Z was my first love and major boyfriend. I did not have a lot of experience with sex. I was not a virgin when I met Z, but I had only had sex probably three times. I had even less understanding of relationships.
We did not start out in an open relationship. At least I didn’t- I found out later that he had been engaging in sexual activity with other women the entire time. I don’t believe he started out intending to manipulate me. It is difficult for me to admit that, because I have spent many years being angry with him. I think he did in fact love me at one point, but also knew he was not capable of being faithful. He wanted to be honest with himself while still being in a relationship with me.
We were damaged and our issues were compatible in a way that they fed off of each other- more than fed, feasted. He grew up viewing himself as fat, weird, poor, and completely unlikable by women. By bedding as many women as possible, he sought to banish that version of himself and reclaim his image as the ultimate ladies’ man. I lacked self confidence and was desperate for someone to love me. I trusted him completely and would do whatever he asked, so long as it kept him by my side.
Z was a very talented conversationalist. He had a way of calculating and delivering his ideas in a manner that made people listen. He came across like some type of guru. It was not unusual to see a group of people sitting around him at a party, hanging onto his every word.
In that guru way of his, Z explained that men, all men, could not be faithful. That even the ones who claimed they were faithful were most likely lying. Before you scoff, let me remind you that I was all of eighteen, had almost zero experience in relationships, and would have probably believed the moon is in fact made of cheese if it meant you would love me. He explained that genetically speaking, males are programmed to mate with as many females as possible. When I explain this, I usually hear an audible laugh. Perhaps I was too gullible, but it is hard to convey how convincing he was. He expounded upon statistics and studies to prove his theory, before starting upon lengthy philosophical debates. I most likely agreed with him just to get a break from the teachings of Bertrand Russell.
He believed that one of the major causes of divorce was not infidelity, but rather, lying about infidelity. He proposed an open relationship. My initial reaction was to reject his suggestion and to assume he was cheating on me. But I didn’t want to face that reality, so I buried that voice down deep in my psyche and resumed listening to what he had to say.
He reasoned that if we were going to be together for forty or more years, we were sure to be attracted to other people at some point. That attraction would likely lead one of us (him) to stray. If we could be honest with each other about those feelings, there would be little that could break us apart. Over the months, he wore me down and the idea grew on me. I loved him. I didn’t want to lose him, and I knew that if I did not go along with his way of thinking, he would find someone who would. Most women would say “move on,” but not me. My misguided teenage idea of commitment involved accepting a man as he is, rather than trying to change him. I didn’t understand that it had to be the right man.
I admit, I was also intrigued by his idea. I was very inexperienced sexually, and liked the idea of being free to explore, while maintaining the comfort of a relationship. We decided to give it a try. I think many people enter into open relationships with that idea in mind- just giving it a try, and if it doesn’t work, monogamy is always waiting. In my experience, it didn’t work like that. The life was just fine for Z, but not for me- who wins?
At first, we had a whole set of rules in place for extracurricular interaction. The official baseball rulebook has over two hundred pages, and it had nothing on us. We were only to “hook up” with people- no dating. We were not to be with anyone else on a night we could be together. No sleepovers. No feelings. No outside relationships.
The problem is once we had already broken the ultimate rule of no infidelity; it is pretty easy to break that “no sex after 3pm on Tuesdays” rule. The whole thing quickly morphed into some strange tree chart you might see in an introductory Probability class. At one point, Z had at least three other girlfriends, two of which were dating each other. I had two boyfriends in addition to Z, and we all had numerous other casual acquaintances.
I believe we had some good intentions. Perhaps our flaw was allowing ourselves to fall in love and not sticking to the “hookups only” rule. But if you like someone enough to sleep with them, you generally like them enough to want to spend time with them. Love sort of naturally follows. Love is a beautiful thing. Why limit who you can love?
Even if love knows no bound, time does have constraints. There are only so many hours in the day. Being in multiple relationships meant having to satisfy the needs of multiple people. Sex became a job. Spontaneity was out of the question. I felt like a factory worker punching the clock. Show up at a location. Punch in. Do the business. Hang out for an hour. Snack, rehydrate. Punch out. Drive to the next location. I have always been a creative person, but I had no time left for myself. Instead of feeling supported by a group of people, I felt utterly depleted, giving every ounce of myself to someone else.
Deep down, I wanted one guy. I wanted to believe that I could be special in that way that stops the roaming eye. I wanted to be enough. I decided I would rather hold out for the one guy and possibly be alone, than to settle for something that was not true to my character. In my core, I knew I wanted to be married, be committed, and have a family.
Having had so much experience with what I didn’t want, I recognized what I did almost as soon as Ben walked in the door. Ok, it took two dates, but I knew it early and held on tight.
Ben walked into my life by way of a dive bar called Tony’s. We had been introduced via email by a mutual friend. We had exchanged a few messages, and I immediately liked his absurd sense of humor. When he walked into the bar, he was indeed a tall drink of water. I have always been attracted to tall men. We shared a few PBRs while debating our favorite bands. I liked him, but I wasn’t sure if I felt a real spark. We agreed to meet up the next night at a gathering for the friend who had introduced us. Thank god for second dates. Spark city!
We gabbed all night about random topics, everything from our favorite black exploitation films to the infamous “who shot first” debate. At the end of the night, he kissed me and I felt it all the way in my toes.
He left the following morning for a two week long backpacking trip. Of course, he would be out of state, out of cell phone range, and I would be out of sight, out of mind. I spent the next two weeks incessantly pestering my friends with the two most annoying sentences – “Do you think he likes me? Do you think he will call?”
He did call. He called as he was unpacking his car from his trip, and we went out for dinner a mere two hours later. We have been together ever since.
It is amazing to me that I nearly missed out on the opportunity to be monogamous. Monogamy is not something to be endured, a constraint that binds your freedom. It is the opportunity to reveal yourself wholly to another person and have them accept you with open arms. That level of intimacy can only be achieved through time and mutual experience. When you give yourself to so many people, you fragment the shared occurrences that bind you together. I had some fun times in my years as a polyamorist, but they were fleeting. Now, I experience lasting joy on a daily level. Do I miss my time in the land of Swingers? Not even a little bit. Call me old-fashioned, but I guess I’m a one guy kinda gal.