A word— or, a few words— about polyamory.
By Alex Gaskarth
I think I realized I was polyamorous near the end of last term. It had been a wild term, and I had been having a lot of sex, with a lot of different people. I had been absolutely addicted to Tinder, and I increasingly loved both the thrill of becoming intimate with someone new and the pleasure that comes with cultivating and deepening an existing relationship. For a while, I simply thought of myself as a bit of a slut, something to feel guilty about; I chalked it all up to a high libido, an unresolved psychological need to be enormously loved, and my mimetic entanglement with Walt Whitman. Then, near the end of the term, I started meeting people through this weird network, people who really blew my mind, who were uniquely brilliant, interesting, exciting, and beautiful. My romantic side came out swinging, and these romances felt much, much deeper than sex; they were with people who I knew I would hang out with whether or not we were sexual together (although I also wanted to be sexual with them). I found myself thinking “Yeah, I could honestly marry someone like this.” While home for winter break, after casually sleeping with a 30-year-old polyamorous programmer in Providence who explained polyamory to me after taking me to a kink dungeon, I realized that I could marry, or at least love and live with, a lot of people like that. I started entertaining fantasies of being a part of the coolest “polycule” ever a decade from now, experimenting with boundary-pushing love like a 21st-century Simone de Beauvoir.
In my head, then, I started thinking of myself as polyamorous. It explained so much about how I felt about love, and so perfectly. Love is more infinite and more powerful than any social construction, including monogamy. What we think of as natural monogamy is highly conditioned by historical, social, and political-economic forces — for example, the idea of a wife as private property to be traded for a dowry. The divorce rate in our society peaks four years after marriage, due in part to the biology of sexual attraction, which is designed to keep a couple together just long enough for the baby to be able to walk on its own. Beyond that, we are essentially designed to have as many babies with as many people as we can. My desire for multiple romantic partners was not an evil thing, but a biologically understandable one. Of course, this doesn’t invalidate the very real monogamous feelings that most people have; it just validates the very real polyamorous feelings that I have as a sincere alternative. When I told someone I loved them, I really meant it, regardless of my lack of desire to own or be owned by them in an exclusive relationship. I have truly loved many, many, many people in my life, and often they overlapped; loving people is my primary motivator and value; it’s something I think about philosophically and something I practice. After realizing I was genuinely polyamorous, I felt free — I could love beyond constructs; I could love beyond jealousy; I could love beyond one person, without detracting at all from my love for any one person, or at least in an ideal world.
However, we live in a messy world. Our society is still not very conducive to polyamory. I discovered this in the best way possible — by falling in love. Near the end of January, before we returned to school, I had been texting this wicked cute girl from Tinder for weeks, and we clearly had chemistry. I told her up front, before we ever met, that I was polyamorous, and she said we could work it out. On the night of a snowstorm, I spontaneously drove to Boston to see her, and we had the most insanely romantic 36 hours of my life. Her eyes were magical, her smile was bright, her mind was intelligent, and the sex was, honestly, the best that I’ve ever experienced. She felt the same way, and we both instantly knew it after the long, transcendental first time (of six in that period). We were absolutely crazy in love. For the first month of this term, I was seeing her a few times every week, way more than I saw even my best friend. Quickly, I realized that this was my most serious relationship since high school.
She was monogamous, though, and we had a few deep talks about our relationship, eventually settling on an open relationship. But when I told her, about a month later, that I had slept with three other people over that period and over break, she was deeply hurt and cried a lot. We talked through the night, trying to figure it out. She felt like she wasn’t “enough,” and it was so hard to explain to her that there was no “enough” and never would be, and one person would never be it. And I tried to get her to see that there were other human beings involved, who also felt love and would be hurt to lose me, and that love didn’t have to be a finite resource the way time was, and that she had most of my time as well as my love, especially while I was here in Boston. She looked at some websites to try to figure things out; one website, MoreThanTwo.com, was particularly useful, and had an article about poly-mono relationships. The drive to seek out new relationships, which in her monogamous mind had turned off when she found me, never turned off in me; it was something I couldn’t change about myself without mutilation. If I had cheated or lied, then my polyamory might have been less legitimate (there are people who claim polyamory to simply get away with hurting a partner), but because I had been honest from the start, she recognized the legitimacy of how I felt. It was difficult to find a compromise; after all, one person would end up changing who they were. We are still together and happier than ever, although she has made more sacrifices than I had to, and I am grateful to her for her willingness to change. In fact, she slept with someone else last week, and I was so, so happy for her. That feeling is called “compersion,” the happiness you feel for your partner when they enjoy love from another partner, or your “metamour.” Now, I have a girlfriend, as well as my polyamorous identity, and there are a few other people I still love scattered around the country who I have not had to cut from my life. I truly love those people, but I love my girlfriend more. I also love feeling the freedom to discover love around any corner. It’s hard to qualify or quantify these things; the “muchness” of love is simply so much that it’s worth putting faith into, and not worth attempting to regulate or label or compare. Polyamorous relationships are hard, but they can work, with communication, honesty, and love.
Alex Gaskarth (email@example.com) probably thinks you’re cute 😉