The In-Between: Relationship Status

9/12/2018

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I never anticipated being polyamorous. In fact, when I first heard the word back in 2012, I remember thinking that it sounded like a really interesting way to approach love and relationships, but that there was no way in the world it could ever work for me. I was too possessive, I said, too insecure, I thought, and waaaaaaaay too caught up in the idea of finding that one perfect person who was supposedly out there somewhere roaming the earth in search of me.

Then, last year, as I detailed in an earlier piece, something unexpected happened. After a series of disappointing dates and dead-end relationships, I found myself falling in love with a man who was polyamorous. He was smart and kind and genuine in his emotions, and accepted me for who I was, embracing my imperfections. It felt strange at first, but also wonderful, to be free from the monogamist pressure to be his everything. Although I was still unsure whether an open relationship structure would work for me long term, I pointed out to myself that thus far, nothing had, and so I might as well just continue to be open.

At first, it was intimidating to think about “sharing” my partner with someone else, but the real challenge, I soon discovered, was reprogramming the voice inside my head regarding my own actions. That voice had, for most of my life, told me that being sexually and/or romantically involved with multiple people at the same time was wrong (I didn’t want to be labeled a “slut” more than I already was if I could help it). Because of this voice, I often caught myself feeling awkward or guilty when doing something I knew was okay, like letting my partner know about an upcoming date, or the time when my date’s spouse interrupted a make-out session by coming home early from work. In these moments, my inner voice would rage and chastise me in a flurry of judgments and accusations, which would often send me into an intense loop of panic fueled by shame, before I managed to sort through my emotions and root out the true cause of the problem.

Despite these challenging moments, I continued to grow more comfortable and content in polyamory. What I liked most about my new relationship structure was the emphasis it placed on clear communication and the pursuit of honest connections. Unlike with all my monogamous relationships of the past, in this world there was no value placed on games, and instead I was encouraged to be honest and direct about my boundaries, needs, and emotions.

In response, I found myself feeling more confident and assertive in initiating conversations about sex, asking direct questions about other partners, safety practices, and consent, rather than sheepishly waiting for some “right time” that never seemed to come. Similarly, I also grew more aware and articulate of my emotions, which was indicative of a larger evolution in feelings of freedom to be myself.

Unfortunately, as I described last week, for reasons that had nothing to do with this chosen relationship structure, my romance with the man who had brought me into it came to an end. As with all heartbreak, this ending hit me hard, and I took several months to mourn the loss of possibilities surrounding what could have been. During this time, I took a step back from the other romantic relationship I had been pursuing, because although I tried to keep it going at first, I quickly realized that even though my relationship structure may have changed, my heart and healing processes surrounding them were still the same.

About a month ago, I began to feel the familiar tug of desire for love and romance again. I knew this feeling well enough, as I have been through more than my fair share of breakups; yet, as I powered up my dating app of choice, I realized that this time it was coupled with something new. A question, which lingered at the forefront of my mind: how do I feel about polyamory?

There were several occasions during the most challenging moments of our relationship when I found myself pondering whether I would go back to monogamy if it ended. Of course, in hindsight, this contemplation was also a clear foreshadowing of the breakup that was to come, but I never was able to come up with a firm answer to it. There were many elements of this alternative structure that I had grown both fond of and accustomed to during my time in that relationship, and the thought of now returning to monogamy seemed in some ways like going back to an old favorite dress or pair of shoes that no longer had the same perfect fit.

A big part of me still pined after the comfortable familiarity of monogamy, but the hard work I put into untethering myself from the restrictive social norms and expectations surrounding it had paid off, such that I was now left alone to chart out my desired course on these open waters by myself.

A few weeks ago, I was out on a date, attempting to find my bearings. We had been out together once before, and although he was a nice enough guy, I wasn’t really feeling a connection. Everything we talked about seemed superficial, and I once again had found myself doing the same old monogamous-Lorien dance, where I waited for my partner to open up before I determined how much I would do the same. However, halfway through the meal we started talking about past relationships, and he revealed to me that he too had experimented with polyamory. Instantly, I felt something inside me relax and open up, and for the rest of the evening I was once again the strong, direct, fearless communicator that I had grown to be in non-monogamy.

Although my connection with this new man still failed to develop into anything significant, it nevertheless left me with new insight onto my feelings surrounding polyamory. Honestly, I still don’t know in what direction I will ultimately choose to go, but I now know that a big part of me finds comfort in non-monogamy. Of course, the practices of being direct and open are not exclusive to this relationship structure, and I aim to bring them with me no matter where I go. But knowing that I now feel a greater sense of comfort and freedom in the structures and philosophies of polyamory is also significant, as it suggests that perhaps this just might be the correct relationship path for me.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.