‘So how do you feel when your boyfriend gets a new girlfriend?’ The journalist asked. ‘There must be some jealousy no?’
‘No.’ I said and waited for the inevitable follow up. Needless to say she wanted more explanation.
In the frenetic activity which accompany a book launch there’s a whirlwind of interviews and articles. And I love them, even if my palms get sweaty and my voice trembles when I know I’m saying something controversial. This is a wholly new experience for me, and even if I hope I’ll always be able to walk down the street unrecognized, it’s reassuring to get attention in something about which you personally feel passionate. The beauty of polyamory.
But there’s one question which always comes. It’s about jealousy. I’ve said the word ‘No’ so much that it’s started to look weird – like words always do when you examine them closely. N-O (strange little word, so much power, so much abuse, so much strength in those two letters).
Stop with the jealousy. Can we start a new script please? After 8 years there is none, sexually or emotionally. But there are a whole ton of other considerations… Because after the jealousy comes the expectations. And those are a much bigger deal to get rid of than jealousy ever was.
A new someone else in his life, will mean my relationship with him is over as I know it. The configuration, the duties, the familiar routines you expect of each other, gone. Out of the window. Not in the traditional sense, because after all we’re non-monogamous and – I like to think – fairly flexible. But when someone, anyone comes into your life and into your house, your dynamic is completely changed. You know, that dynamic you built hard to create over years, the one you were comfortable with. Your time is impacted. You have to renegotiate what you once thought was settled. You have to redefine your priorities and adjust accordingly. Not just with him, with both of them (and whoever else is involved).
Initially it’s about a change in your personal space. Small things. Like not being able to walk naked round your house anymore. Or that your metamour might cook regularly in our kitchen making fabulous meals and then put all the cutlery back in the wrong drawer (yes, there’s a little Monica Geller in me). Or she might eat the last of the bacon that I expected to use for that evening’s meal… Like I said, small things that ruffle routines but with nevertheless deeper implications, like the tip of an iceberg poking through calm waters…
Because it’s about having a guest in your house on a regular basis and having to adjust your previously private behaviour. Until that guest becomes as familiar as family. Making sure we schedule showers with enough hot water for everyone. Doing more regular laundry. They might go away together for a vacation leaving me with the kids, an unexpected shift in parental responsibilities. Action and reaction. It’s not easy with two toddlers. Or like when one of my boyfriends got sick last year and my partner had to shoulder a bigger burden of housekeeping whilst I kept vigil at a hospital bed. It’s not what either of us expected. Or having another adult regularly interacting with our kids… lending their influences, their beliefs and their values to our children’s lives and having to manage that by extensive communication. It’s not jealousy. It’s about expectations you didn’t even know you had, how your existing relationships work and how they all the ripple effect from a new person entering the equation. It’s about change. A whole lot of change.
And if he and his girlfriend want to live together in our house? It means living with a whole new person. Making a life with a whole new person. Changing your systems. Changing your routines. Dissolving your idea of personal space. Even changing your social circles over time… after all my boyfriend has had to get to know my new boyfriend’s family – now my in-laws – and who knew we’d ever expect that? Christmas becomes more complicated as your family expands. Not just his folks and her folks; his, hers, mine, theirs. How do you fit it all in?
Polyamory and an intentional family is and has been for a long while, my dream. But I am not the central character in my own sitcom. We’re like ‘Friends’ although hopefully less co-dependent. We’re a group of people with conflicting needs, desires and values. And we all have people who come with us. Mothers, fathers, siblings and more friends.
We’ve always wanted more than the two core adults that make up a traditional family life. But if you want that, you have to be prepared to detach from any kind of life set in stone. It’s exciting and also sometimes daunting. Just as in monogamous relationships, no person is an island. People bring other people and with them a whole host of habits, etiquette and expectations. None of which you ‘expected’ and many of which clash if you are deeply attached to the habits which belie your hopefully fluid identity. Integrating families is difficult. And you cannot do it alone. We are all part of the journey.
After years of practicing open relationships, the obvious pitfalls are gone. Sex with one boyfriend whilst another sleeps in the next room? No problem. Logistics of who sleeps where? We talk about it. And sort it out pretty readily. We know by now that we cannot confide about the problems in another relationship with each other, because that puts us in a difficult power dynamic. That’s what best friends and therapists are for. I trust that if he leaves me it will be because he truly believes he would be happier elsewhere. It would not happen without much discussion. And really if he would be happier elsewhere, then I would work with him to make sure we do the best thing possible for our children. They are the number one priority.
But the above paragraph alone would answer most journalists’ questions. And yet it’s just the start. It’s why many polyamorists laugh and say, it’s not about the sex. It’s far more complex than that. And I’ve found that your skills as a relationship builder, more than any powers of renovation and remolding are more useful. Because adding a person to your relationship is not like extending your house. It’s like building a new one, from the ground up with a new blueprint you all design together. And it serves you well if you have zero expectations of how it might look before you start. But once you find that pattern that fits you all, it’s as satisfying and glorious as fitting the last piece in a jigsaw of 1000 pieces. It’s temporarily magnificent until a new person comes and you toss it back in the box to start the next one of 2500 pieces, with no box cover to serve as a guide.