[privacy note: all people discussed here are composites of real people; if you are speculating about whom they are composites of, be aware that I’m sluttier than you think I am, even taking into account this caveat.]
[content warning: NSFW, brief mention of BDSM]
[attention conservation notice: queer polyamorous San Franciscan talks about own sex life.]
I think something monogamous people don’t recognize– because their sexual partners almost never overlap, and generally have a fairly large gap between them– is how different the sex is with each person you’re having sex with. If you’re monogamous, it’s easy to imagine that you are a different person with each partner; and, to be fair, that’s true.
But with one partner, yearning, lust, so intense it hurts, that feels like I will burst out of my skin, continually thwarted because they don’t want me as much as I want them. Another partner: kind, friendly, happy sex that half the time results in giggles and “no, I love YOU more” and Eskimo kisses and no orgasms whatsoever. A third: comfortable, familiar, warm, the feeling of someone to come home to. A fourth: a hand around the neck and a whispered “get on your knees, slut” and the way she cracks a smile after she comes.
I sometimes think about all the sexual sides of my partners that I don’t get to see. It’s pretty rude to ask about your metamour’s sex life, and anyway most people can’t put it into words. But still I wonder: does she dom you? does he whisper “oh, fuck” in that wonderful broken voice to you too?
You’d think threesomes would answer this question, but where two-person sex is a relationship between two people, threesomes are a relationship between three; you don’t get to see them unchanged by the observer. But sometimes when you watch them they forget, lost in their own world of each other; and that is something to be here for.
An odd thing about polyamory is that you can have your heart broken, be wanting to punch the wall and throw things and curse every time you hear that bastard’s name mentioned
while simultaneously being bubbly, giggly, happy, full of new relationship energy, tremendously excited by everything about this new person
while simultaneously knowing that your rock is there, your secure base, who will always be there for you if you need them.
I have no idea how to take advice about not getting into rebound relationships.
My life isn’t, honestly, that much different from the average monogamous person’s life. My fiance isn’t dating anyone but me; I have one boyfriend I rarely see and another I go out with occasionally. I can sympathize with the urge that makes people become monogamous. Why put a ton of effort into finding someone you may or may not be compatible with when the default action is to go to bed with someone you already know you love?
But even so the idea of becoming monogamous makes me feel trapped.
The thing about being polyamorous, for me, is that it puts sex on the table. That doesn’t mean that we’ll wind up having sex; a lot of times we don’t. It just means that the option is available if we want to.
Having sex and romance as options allows me to be more honest with my feelings. As a monogamous person, I was continually anxious about crossing the invisible line between an innocent crush and something my partner would consider a betrayal, and it hurt to have those feelings I couldn’t do anything with. As a poly person, I can just… have the feelings, and tell people I have them, and allow my relationship with the person to be colored by those feelings (even if they are not returned, which does happen).
I have an order of magnitude more ambiguously romantic/sexual relationships than I do actual romantic/sexual relationships: the Tumblr mutual who sends me nudes; the Tumblr mutual I have a vast pining crush on; the friend I’ve had sex with once or twice, and might again; the long-distance friend I hook up with whenever we’re in the same location; the person I flirt with and maybe someday will be sexual with, but if not I still appreciate the flirting; the friend I used to date. All these relationships are only possible with polyamory.
I get that this could be really off-putting for a lot of people. I know some people who became monogamous and breathed a sigh of relief because they were out of the dating game, who appreciated how their interactions are desexualized by the simple sentence “I have a boyfriend”.
I think, for me, it comes from a place of deep distrust in eros. On a very fundamental level, I don’t like eros. It is jealous, possessive, but far more it is arbitrary: a slow smile, the way a hand moves, a quirk of punctuation, and suddenly you are the most important person and I would do anything to be with you. Eros is most decidedly not the aesthetic.
So I find that my relationships are primarily based around philia, the recognition of soul and soul; and I use eros as a tool to deepen philia, rather than as an end in itself.
It is very easy to wind up socializing only within your poly network. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been at a party talking to people and the group I ended up hanging out with was my boyfriend, my other boyfriend, his wife, his girlfriend, and her boyfriend.
I don’t think this is a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s definitely a thing.
I have not been without a primary since I started being polyamorous. When a relationship with one primary ended, I had another person, waiting in the wings. (And that is not counting the people whom, for whatever reason, I didn’t end up leaving my current primary for.)
Perhaps this is a flaw on my part: an inability to commit, a fear of ending a relationship without a replacement already prepared. Perhaps this is sensible and practical: it can take years to determine whether someone is suitable to be your life partner; it is more efficient to screen your dating pool and do early-stage testing of potential partners at the same time that you’re doing late-stage testing of your current best candidate. (I am engaged at a rather young age.)
I do wonder how this will affect my primary relationship now that I am engaged. If I were a polyamorous person who believed in maximizing autonomy, I would switch primaries whenever I found one I liked better; but if I continue my current habit of switching primaries every few years, I would never get to build a life with anyone, even though this has been my dearest desire for years. If we live in a tremendously convenient universe, committing to one life partner means that I will no longer have the desire to share my life with anyone else; however, it is rarely safe to bet on the universe being convenient.
I worry that the answer is that I will wind up shutting down the desire to have primary relationships with other people, in the same way that in a monogamous relationship I would have to shut down the desire to fall in love with other people; it felt dishonest then, and I don’t know if it would feel much better now. Perhaps I will no longer date people who don’t have primaries themselves. Who knows.
A lot of the advice about how to be polyamorous talks about creating rules: either creating rules to protect your primary relationship, or the dire fate that will happen to you if you create rules to protect your primary relationship. If you judge from the polyamory advice books, people are constantly making rules about everything: sleeping over, falling in love, particular sex acts, whether you can go out to particular restaurants with certain people, vetoes.
This is very alien to my polyamory experience. I genuinely have no idea if any of my partners have rules or not; if they have, it hasn’t come up.
The problem is that poly networks organically develop their own rules. When I see someone cute at a party, I can make certain assumptions about what I can and can’t do with them: they probably don’t have to check with their primary before they go home with me; I will not be secret from their other partners, but they will not make any especial effort to have me meet them; I do not have to get along with their other partners, but I do have to be cordial and avoid starting drama; we use condoms for PIV sex and anal, but probably not for blowjobs, and no one uses dental dams; we don’t have to swap STI test results before sex, but if it becomes a regular thing I can expect to be sent a copy.
It isn’t like those are the only norms a poly network can develop. I’ve met people whose network had a very strong “don’t hook up without swapping test results first” norm. I’ve been part of a network where it was totally okay to start shit with your metamours. Presumably there are poly networks where people always have to check with their primaries before going home with a new person, on account of people keep writing books about them.
You can buck the local social norms: no one will stop you from keeping your secondary partners secret from your primary. But it’s kind of like swimming upstream. Some of your potential partners will be weirded out by not getting to meet your primary. If you fail to adequately brief your new secondary, he may very well go up to your primary and say “hi! I’m your girlfriend’s new boyfriend!” You don’t get to rely on social norms to do your negotiation for you. It’s harder, and so I think people slip into doing what the rest of their network is doing.
I’ve noticed being poly takes the urgency out of crushes.
So I like her. Well, I’ll probably get a chance to hit on her eventually, if not this party then the next, if not this year then the next. When you’re monogamous, if you don’t hit on her RIGHT NOW, she might find someone else, and then you’re shit out of luck for even a hookup. But with polyamory, she already has a few someone elses. It’s not like either of us is going anywhere. There’s no real reason to rush. I know people I’ve been meaning to ask out for almost a year, and it hasn’t happened yet. Eh. Someday.