One day at the age of 22 after a debaucherous month-long vacation around the United States, I caught the eight hour flight back to Paris and gave the airline staff cause for concern by heartbrokenly crying for six of those hours. The catalyst was my newly purchased copy of The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks. Even almost twenty years later, now a polyamorous skeptic, this tiny one true love story remains one of my favourites. Similarly my favourite film is 50 first dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, an even stranger choice for a feminist such as I, since it raises serious issues of consent. If you know neither of these stories, be warned because I’m about to spoil them.
Girl meets boy, they fall in love but the women in the stories have shorter memories than the norm. One has dementia the other has a damaged frontal lobe. Their memories are wiped clean after 24 hours or less which means that both couples have to deal with the challenges this creates. In one way, it’s a nightmare. No foundation. No commitment. No future.
Yet in another, it’s my dream come true.
These stories have endured as my favourites during my fluid transition from monogamous to polyamorous because the relationships in them are truly authentic (no matter how many of them there are, or aren’t). On particular days, with no memories to rely on, the women fall in love with the men. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay–it must be (otherwise my feminist ire would be really riled). These relationships do not live in the past, because for the women at least, there is no past. There is only today. And in my grown life I have sought to emulate that characteristic of those relationships. Why?
Because I’ve learnt that my boundaries–especially sexual boundaries–can only be set and maintained well, if I am able to authentically connect with my partners in the present. Consent only exists in the present. I do not, and do not want to ‘take one for the team’… ever. I do not want inauthentic connection or a relationship based on memories (although they can serve as points of reference). The relationship and its connection does not exist now unless we create it now.
That means seeing whether we’re attracted to one another–whether we have a relationship at all, and what kind of relationship it is–every time we meet. I live with one partner, but we tend to ‘meet’ for lunch a couple of times a week. Another I meet once or twice a week. Some days it may be a platonic relationship, others a parental/guardian relationship and others a romantic relationship. Some days, all three maybe more. Other days, none.
What does that mean in practice?
- No Expectations
- That we acknowledge and accept we may not be able to connect when we meet.
- That our relationship may not be ‘on’ that day and indeed when we part, there’s a possibility it might be the last time we meet as lovers.
- No End Goal
- That our mutual ‘seduction’ or getting to know one another might (and usually does) take hours on every date.
- We put no pressure on one another neither explicitly nor covertly through expectation to reach the ‘finish line’ of sexual connection.
- No Assumptions
- That we can make few assumptions about who we are or what we want from the smallest preferences–like how he takes his coffee–to the biggest–like whether I am putting my own needs/desires before my children’s needs/desires at that time.
- It means we respect and embrace change every day.
- It means that anything we say in the moment is not necessarily how we feel all the time, but just an expression of the ‘now’. Authenticity, I find, is much easier if you are not bound by a fixed position. It feeds into the ‘no expectations’ clause.
And that without extensive communication to support all of this, we cannot have any relationship at all.
Sounds like hard work, you might be thinking… and yet.
Joey: Oh, it was great! Yeah, I-I walked her home, and it was amazing how much we connected, y’know? Then ah, then she passed out, but then she woke up. Yeah? And we stayed up all night talking, and now we’re like totally crazy about each other!
Monica: Joey, you had the night!
Monica: When two people finally realise their feelings for each other, and-and they talk for hours, and they-they learn all about the other person!
In Friends ‘The One With The Screamer’, Joey has ‘the night’ where he connects with Kate. The audience cheers, but I feel sorry for him. Because I have that night, a couple of times a week. What that also means is that the timber of my relationships has changed. I cannot have ‘the night’ every night. It would be too exhausting.
So if authentic relationships are not your thing for whatever reason (and tiredness is certainly a legitimate reason) then creating a ‘real-time’ relationship might not be worth it. But for me, the reward is that I connect in the now. My relationships are authentic and I fall in love over and over again with the same people. When we actively give the gift of freedom of choice, we know our relationships exist only because we want them to right now.
But in order to have an authentic relationship, you must be comfortable with uncertainty. You must be able, not only to tolerate but also rock with the intransigence of life and love. It becomes your beat. That means communication, a lot of it. That means trust, a lot of it. How can you trust someone who is always changing?
In my own relationship journey, this was not the way I learnt how things worked. Trust was a currency earned over time. People were allowed to make mistakes or deviate from the traditional dynamic but they paid for it with trust dollars which could be earned back by consistent behaviours according to mutually established expectations.
My journey to the now was nothing I would wish on anyone. I met and fell in love with someone who was terminally ill and it changed everything. It changed the way I see all my relationships and that change has been hard to implement with others who learned about relationships the way I did. Others who believed there was a future so we could afford a few moments of laziness in the present. It changed my definition of trust.
I no longer trust people who are unerringly consistent, because I’ve found that more often than not, they are in denial about the depth of their own change. They want to live off past memories, but that often means they take my love for granted in the present. They want to promise me a future, but I’m no longer interested in their lies.