Monogamy isn’t for me. I am queer. I enjoy butch dykes, dandies, high femmes, trans folks, fairies and all the gender fucking one can conjure up in play spaces, libraries and everyday conversations. I am a poly lover – meaning I am capable of swooning and fucking multiple people at a time while maintaining my primary relationship. Being honest and open, being in communication and being true to myself have made the poly experience a lifestyle I embrace and look forward to. “Polyamory,” the practice of having more than one relationship at a time, is a term that works for my partner, Sara, and me. It works because we both want to explore a variety of connections – some sexual, some emotional.
Polyamory takes some unlearning. It takes time to dismantle the social thinking that monogamy is the only type of real, legitimate, lasting relationship. But what makes our relationship special is the fact that we are more than just partners – we are best friends, lovers, sister girls, queer buddies, playmates, road dogs, femme bitches and the list goes on. Being able to explore relationships with other people helps our relationship grow. We share stories of other lovers as sister girls, flirt with men, women and gender variant folks as queer buddies and encourage each other’s sexual adventures as best friends.
Polyamory takes time. Sara and I will celebrate our four-year anniversary in April and we are still going strong. But we weren’t always polyamorous. When we first met in college, Sara wasn’t interested in an emotionally monogamous relationship. She suggested we try being poly. I wasn’t comfortable with idea of multiple lovers. After each of us said our first “I love you” to one another, Sara decided to sacrifice being poly for a while and take on monogamy until I felt comfortable enough to revisit opening up our relationship.
Lucky for me, Sara was willing to give up a way of life that she loved to see what was possible with us. And lucky for our relationship, I became secure enough in my love with Sara to allow her and myself to build intimate connections with others. So we changed our monogamous status to polyamorous and it took us a year or so to get a grasp on how poly works for us. We also had a series of roadblocks along the way.
A few months into our poly status, I started dating a married poly woman and quickly fell in love. Sara and I were in a bit of a rough patch and I was using polyamory to escape our problems. It wasn’t long before I realized the woman I was dating was more interested in being monogamous with a woman than she was in a poly relationship with her husband. So we left our primary partners and started dating each other monogamously. The results were terrible. I was very unhappy being monogamous and I was very unhappy being without Sara. Six months later, we broke up and I got back together with Sara.
After it was all said and done, I learned three lessons about being polyamorous: 1) Never use polyamory as a way to escape issues in a primary relationship – it’s much better to sit down and have a conversation than create messes, 2) I must date within my own poly species – by that I mean date people who practice polyamory as a full expression of themselves with both intention and consent and 3) Relationships take time.
How do we do poly? We stay in communication. Our relationship is negotiated and intentional. We talk a lot about what relationship dynamics we want to pursue with others, what our boundaries are and where we are still feeling unsure or uncomfortable. We talk about our personal goals in our sex lives and ways to make sex safer and barrier use fun. We consider each other in every action we take so we have agreements about who and what experiences we pursue. We go out into the world and find relationships of our own with the promise that we will always be open and honest about what goes on when we are not together.
Every couple does poly differently. In spending time with our poly peers, Sara and I have discovered that every person/couple/triad, etc. does polyamory differently. Some couples live together and spend time with their other lovers outside their home or sometimes in designated areas of their house out of respect for the couple’s home life (this is the case with Sara and I). Some couples don’t live together, so they might agree to spend Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday together while spending the rest of the week with other partners or lovers.
Is polyamory cheating? Some people might call this ‘negotiated infidelity’ or ‘negotiated cheating’ but being poly has nothing to do with cheating. Cheating is about breaking an agreement and traditionally, monogamy is the unspoken agreement between couples, unless one of them says otherwise. Sara and I have made an agreement that we can see other people. Can we still cheat on each other? Yes – if one of us hides something from the other or breaks an agreed upon rule, we consider that cheating. We just choose not to collapse the idea of cheating with being monogamous.
Having other sexual partners doesn’t lessen the love I have for Sara and it doesn’t lessen the love that Sara has for me. Love isn’t finite; it’s infinite and spending intimate time with others actually strengthens our love…and our sex life. After Sara goes out on a date, she usually comes back ready for sex — and I am happy to receive her! When she is out of town and I go out with a lover, I look forward to coming home and chatting with her about how it went and how hot the sex was. Both Sara and I enjoy seeing each other happy with others, a term some poly folks call compersion – a feeling of joy when a loved one invests and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship. Basically, the opposite of jealousy.
Being poly isn’t easy. It can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride sometimes. The sheer act of trying to co-ordinate times, dates, emotions and feelings with my lovers, my friends and my primary partner can at times be overwhelming. But all relationships worth maintaining take work. I’m willing to put in the work to maintain my multiple relationships and I consider myself lucky that I have a partner to help me along the way.
Polyamory isn’t for everyone. For some it’s hard to swallow the idea of seeing their partner cuddled up with someone else or to imagine being with more than one person at a time. Others like the idea of being another person’s one and only.
My partner’s philosophy is to do what feels best for your heart and your loins without endangerment of self or others. I agree with her whole-heartedly. Every person has the right to consensually pursue relationships that make them happy by their own definition on their own terms. For many, that means entering into a monogamous relationship. For me, that means being poly.
– Ashley Young
Ashley is a black feminist queer dyke; poet, non-fiction writer and teaching artist. She is the creator of an online writing project for women of color called Brown Girl Love and recently completed a chapbook inspired by the project. She is a non-fiction 2011 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2010 poetry participant of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Retreat for Writers of Color.