I have a new friend, named Jodi, who is discovering the wonderful world of solo polyamory. I invited her to share her journey with all of you. I’ve been doing this so long that sometimes I get a bit jaded. I love a fresh voice to the conversation. I feel that we can learn so much from those who are just discovering the joys of polyamory.
I’m Solo Poly and Life Is Good!
“To live single is unusual in most cultures. Most people look on their periods of singlehood as temporary, often accidental, and to be ended as quickly as possible…What would it be like to be intentionally single?…Your relationship with yourself is a lifelong commitment. When you are single, you have unique opportunities to live out that relationship…to live single and in love with many is…an opportunity to get to know yourself intimately…” –The Ethical Slut
A few months ago I was visiting Brooklyn, NY for a friend’s wedding. One rainy morning while I was there I walked through the drizzle to a little café. As I was drinking my latte I alternated between people-watching and reading from The Ethical Slut.
Just before my trip to NYC, I had had an amazing first date, with an amazing poly guy, and he suggested that I read The Ethical Slut. Maybe I should back up just a bit, from this cozy café in Brooklyn.
When I first came across E’s profile on OK Cupid, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the concept of polyamory, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have any religious objections to it, having been raised in a secular household. Despite their lack of religious faith and their general social liberalism, my family of origin is prudish. Casual sex?-that’s just wrong! Somehow, despite that, I have always been sex-positive and didn’t share their moral disapproval of sluttiness. But what I did have, which made poly seem like it was ok for other people but not for me, was a lot of subconscious ideas about what “real love” means. It was so clearly wrapped up with possessiveness and ideals of “The One” that I didn’t see how I could stand it if someone I loved was in love with someone else. The very thought of “sharing” someone I loved seemed almost physically painful to me.
I have had a fairly typical (I would guess) history of serial monogamy for the majority of my adult life. I have been married and divorced twice, lived with a boyfriend for about a year after the second divorce, and then had such a terrible break-up from that relationship that I was forced to take some time and really do self-reflection. I intentionally took a year completely off dating (which is scary to do when you are in your late thirties and wondering if you will be doomed to be alone for the rest of your life) and committed to doing some emotional work. I was able to see my history of co-dependence, of being a “fixer” of broken people, and I learned about boundaries, and communication, and self-care. I focused on my close friendships and my relationship with my daughter, and I found myself living a really strong, successful, beautiful life as a single woman.
But damn, after a year, I missed having a boyfriend. It wasn’t just sex I missed, but also physical intimacy. I missed snuggling up with someone, I missed holding hands, I missed the little moments of closeness. So I tried online dating for the first time, and I decided that I was going to “just date around.” I thought that by keeping things casual I could get my physical needs for intimacy met without giving up the freedom and self-actualization I had come into while being single. At that time I was still operating under the unconscious belief that “True Love” would mean monogamy and jumping onto the relationship escalator. I was in emotional combat with myself. I said I was “just having fun” and “keeping it casual” but I would find myself falling in love and getting hurt, or hurting others. I think my assumption was that when I found “The One” I would be able to give all this nonsense up and move along to a blissful monogamous relationship, the way I was supposed to. However, I also was realizing that I didn’t want to get on that relationship escalator again. I would tell my friends “I don’t know that I ever want to get married or even live with someone again” they would say “well, when you find the right guy you will” and I thought that I should believe them. I was constantly at war with myself, trying to decide between a healthy but lonely single life, or the intimacy and connection of love. I didn’t know of any way that I could have both.
The first time E messaged me on OK Cupid and asked me out, I turned him down. I told him I wasn’t interested in polyamory, that I wanted a “real relationship.” The second time, when he suggested that I just have some fun with him until I found my “real relationship,” I said yes. Our first date was amazing, with the kind of instant chemistry, intense connection and conversation that amazing first dates are made of. At some point that night we talked about poly, and I told him that there was no way it was for me. It hurt to think of being in love with someone who was in love with someone else. I was ok with dating multiple partners as long as it didn’t involve emotional commitment, and since what I was really craving was emotional connection, then poly was not going to work for me. He didn’t try to convince me, just shared his own experiences. He thought that maybe I should do a little more research about the subject, hence the suggestion of The Ethical Slut.
Being the avid reader that I am, as well as the sex-positive, “just dating around” kind of slut I was at the time, I thought that sounded like a good idea. So here I was, sipping a latte in Brooklyn, when I came upon the chapter on “Single Sluthood” from which the quote at the beginning of this post is from. Holy shit! This was me! This was the life I wanted; where I could have my freedom and independence as well as real emotional connection, intimacy and love, without the relationship escalator. It was a while after that when I first learned the term solo poly and started to think of myself as a solo poly person.
Right now I’m a few months into my relationship with E, both of us still glowing with New Relationship Energy, very much in love. I have had some moments of experience shock, like the first time I met E’s girlfriend M and got the gift of learning that jealousy isn’t fatal. I realized that I have felt jealousy before, in my friendships, in my relationships with family, even with co-workers. But in the context of those relationships, I never thought to myself “I’m feeling jealous, therefore this relationship is broken or wrong!” Instead, I worked through my feelings, communicated if appropriate, and moved on. It’s amazing how well that works in romantic relationships too, if you are open to owning your own shit and doing the work of open communication.
Another epiphany: the first time I felt compersion. I was basking in glowing feelings for my other partner, C, and it hit me that my feelings for C didn’t diminish my glowing feelings for E at all. From there, I made the connection that E’s love for M felt just as good to him, and in fact, was good for him, and didn’t take anything away from me. I was overcome with a visceral feeling of gratitude that E had something so beautiful with M, because I could see how that relationship brings him joy.
Another weird and wonderful moment: when C texted me that he had run into E at Whole Foods, and that they had chatted a bit by the salad bar. (They had only very briefly met once before, with me present.) “That guy’s pretty cool to talk to” he tells me. My reply: “I know! That’s why I’m dating him!”
Being poly has helped me to be so much braver in my communication with my loves. In the case of C, he is someone that I had an instant and strong connection to when I was “dating around” a couple years ago. But my confusion about what I really wanted in a relationship, coupled with his self-described “perpetual bachelor” nature, caused us to avoid getting too emotionally intimate. Since discovering solo poly, I have reconnected with C, and this time around we are talking about what it is that we both want from our relationship. I am able to relax into the space that we have, without feeling any impulse to grasp for more than he is able to give.
That bravery in communication has spread to my non-romantic relationships as well. I find myself being more authentic, more open and vulnerable, with my friends, and my family, and engaging more with the world in general. I really feel, as cliché as it may sound, that I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth in the last few months.
I’m still very new to all of this, and I continue to see new insights into myself. I expect there may be some more moments of jealousy (that won’t kill me) and more opportunities for personal growth. I just finished reading More Than Two and I’ve joined the Solo Polyamory Facebook page. I am heartened to learn from and interact with other people who are also living their lives authentically, creating the relationships that really nurture and fulfill them. I love my life.