I used to worry that I wasn’t ‘really’ polyamorous. That my open relationships were an excuse for the ending of monogamous relationships. As chairwoman of the national polyamory society in Sweden, it would be a pretty hard thing to admit… not only to myself, but to the world.
But over the last ten years, I’ve come to realise that I work to create, in partnership with others, loving and respectful relationship configurations which accommodate us all. The way I see it, that’s not necessarily polyamory, that’s just trying to make conscious decisions. But with new configurations come new challenges. Like…
- What happens to the original relationship(s) when a new lover or partner comes in?
- Can you really be ‘in love’ with more than one person at the same time?
- Doesn’t the new relationship lessen the importance of the old one?
I’ll tell you. Even if some polyamorous folk might lynch me for what I’m about to say.
There’s a contingent who fight to have polyamory recognised as an inclination ‘I was born polyamorous’ (so it isn’t my fault – runs the secret subtext); I don’t think I am.
I prefer to think that I am responsible for my own life and my own choices and I desire the freedom to create relationships with people I meet along the way. Because however your sexuality presents itself and for whatever reason, adults should be able to conduct their lives the way they choose. But new relationships have impacts on the old ones, that are difficult to get your head round if you are used to a monogamous way of living.
1. What happens to the original relationship when a new lover or partner comes in?
I live with one of my boyfriends. We love each other very much. We work harmoniously – excepting arguments about dirty laundry – together. Making decisions about our children, the house we own and our immediate family – together. We chill on the sofa and chat about relationships. Together. Watch a movie or two in our taste. Together. And we make love when the mood takes us. That’s not as often as it was when we first met. So what? Our relationship is as solid as the next couple, even if we are not the next couple.
Since meeting other partners we’ve come to value the time we have together more. Partly and simply because there is less of it. You have to work hard to keep the original relationship going whilst being swept off your feet by the newness of other relationships.
And yet our relationship as we knew it, has ended. And a new one has begun. It can be no other way when new partners come in. You change and grow. And as you do, so do your relationships. My boyfriend and I have worked very hard to be honest with each other, identifying what we still have, how we work together and admitting that some of the passion we once had, has dissolved. I cried during that conversation. Grieving what we were. Is it living together? Is it having kids? Will we have more passion one day? We don’t know.
Then when my tears dried, I looked afresh at what we have. Love. A lot of it. Our relationship works on many different levels now. Still romantic, still sexual, if less passionate. When I look at him I feel a deep, contented love. As he’s deliriously happy and in love with his new girlfriend, I feel delighted and happy for him. We are intertwined with each other’s lives. We are more than best friends. And I don’t want that to end.
2. Can you really be ‘in love’ with more than one person at the same time?
If polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved, then in my head every single person in the world is polyamorous. I don’t really understand why they keep fighting about it. Because intimacy is also subject to interpretation. Its broadest definition is closeness…of the soul? of the mind? of the body? Sex is only one way to be intimate with someone.
I am not in love with many. Right now I would say I’m in love with one and it’s my new boyfriend. And yet I do love many, in varying ways and with varying degrees of passion. The answer is that some can be, and are. Some can’t be and aren’t.
In polyamorous circles we have a saying – ‘my way is not your way and that’s ok’. Everyone’s relationships look different and some may be in love with many. My own truth, is that everyone in our network of friends, partners and lovers decides on their own form and content of the relationship without necessarily giving them labels. You might have noticed that I call both my ‘anchor’ partners, my boyfriends. But that’s for you, dear reader. It’s like a translation of our arrangement to the outside world in language you understand. It’s the only way you might realise that both hold a long term un-negotiable place in my heart. They aren’t, despite the same label, the same person, or the same content. Nor (if it wasn’t obvious) can one replace the other. Ever.
3. Doesn’t the new relationship lessen the importance of the old one?
It’s self evident that a new partner does take away a significant portion of what I would call dependency on the old partner. If you only had one friend for example, the loss of that friend would mean not only the loss of someone extremely important to you and the dynamic you create together, but also the loss of social interaction and your only confidante. Your world would be brighter if you had other friends to comfort you through this loss even if they would in no way replace the dynamic and content of the lost friendship.
In an open relationship, your eggs simply aren’t all in one basket. That’s the harsh and yet joyful truth. But the other side of the coin is this.
You are not with a partner because that is the only person you ‘get’ sex from. You are not with a partner because you need a fix of intimacy. You are not with your partner because you are bound by obligation. The value of your relationship is based on its true worth and not on the needs you fulfil by being with that person. It means you are with that person only because you choose to be with that person.
And because of their unique instance of each friendship and the dynamic you create flying together, it means your relationships–all your relationships–might be a hell of a lot more rewarding.