I am a divorced woman. Not long ago, you couldn’t say that in my home country without having a stigma attached. In certain parts of the world that’s still true. But as attitudes have changed, one thing about divorce remains the same for the majority. It’s a cataclysmic event. For most of us it changes what we believed romantic relationships were supposed to look like. Love is not the happy ever after.
Like many women, I kept a journal during my most painful moments. Unlike the majority of those journals it was published as a book. Unlike even fewer, I imagine, my book told the tale of a couple who’d fallen in love with another couple and ended up swapping partners in a polyamorous quad. Being in love with another partner did very little to diminish the pain of the divorce. And so when a reader wrote to me and described polyamory might be ‘best thought of only as a transitionary relationship to another’, I realised that this, apart from a minor qualification in the last chapter, had been the story I’d told.
I understood his point, because he spoke less about pain more about change. He felt that polyamory wasn’t stable, but could be a ‘fluid way to get change as compared to ending one relationship entirely before searching for a new one.’ His inference was from monogamy to polyamory and back to monogamy, and that’s where we disagree. It is not–for the majority–about vacillating between two binary states.
I went from a monogamous relationship, to a polyamorous ‘monogamish’ quad which evolved into an open dyadic relationship, then a non-hierarchical triad, and currently a relationship anarchistic configuration where I live with one committed but non-sexual partner, whilst operating as a ‘solo’ polyamorist with another… and as a country move is imminent, that may also change. If you’re committed to supporting relationships as they change, you will perhaps like me feel confined by labels. I’m relationship fluid (I would use the term relationship anarchist, but many feel that without an analogous commitment to the underlying politics, this is appropriative).
I’m in a structure which permits me to commit to my and my partners’ happiness. It permits me to grow, and be the best person I can be. So over and above whether a relationship with multiple loving partners is suitable for you, there are many ways to do multiple relationships and you have to find the way that works best for you and your partner(s). I’m sure polyamory is used as a structure by some people to transition from monogamy to monogamy, an exploration of ‘open’ before returning to their comfort zone if that’s what suits them. Because we’re like marbles who settle into our holes, if we allow ourselves. There’s no shame in getting to know yourself.
Yet I do believe that some of the beliefs I’ve learned, might help transition a relationship to another form of relationship. Or more accurately they can reduce the suffering experienced if and when I go through another break-up. Those beliefs are not exclusive to polyamory, even if they might be more commonly found there.
- I believe in freedom of choice for everyone in the relationship
Much of the time multiple relationships exposes weaknesses, hidden desires, and codependency. Comparisons lead to ranking, ranking leads to dissatisfaction. Entitlement, possessiveness, and insecurities leap out of dark corners. If you’re anything like the rest of the world you’re first reaction to these will be to set up control mechanisms, more and more rules to try and bolster the relationships you don’t want to let go. You were so happy once. Why can’t you be so again? But love changes you. Relationships change you. Those people you were back then, you are not the same people any more. Maybe you’re still compatible, maybe your relationship has transitioned to something every more beautiful, or simply different. But maybe it hasn’t. And you can’t ever prevent someone from leaving you if they really want to go. It’s unlikely that you can prevent yourself from leaving a relationship either, if deep down you really want to go.
If you are able to embrace the freedom of choice principle, if you truly know it every day, you will realise that the only reason either of you are in a relationship is because you both, or all, choose to be in that relationship. Everyone is free to stay and free to leave. But knowing that, means you might fear the change around the corner, which leads me on to…
- I believe change happens. It is less painful if I stop clinging to a fixed ideal.
For many poly-folk especially those veering towards non-hierarchical polyamory and relationship anarchy, relationships are already living, fluid entities. But all of us practising any type of polyamory have realised that monogamy – the societal ideal of happy ever after – is not for everyone. For every single polyamorous person, this one ideal has been upset. It has changed. So why do some of us cling to another fixed ideal? Because we’re human and we need security. We often replace one paradigm for another. Yet some people are more naturally suited to poly-fidelity, others aren’t (and that can also change).
That all forms of polyamory can entail greater disruption is likely. Because love disrupts. Many loves, can disrupt more. But life is disruptive. Jobs change, buildings fall, nothing is quite as we expected. The security we often believe we have is actually very shaky indeed. I believe we would be more secure, and more happy in all our relationships if we already recognised that change is the only thing we could depend on. Embrace it and work with it. You relationships will change, which brings me on to…
- I believe that my happiness does not depend solely on one person
Love is an amazing thing. I could write pages about it without being able to capture its essence in a single word. It makes us come alive, but too often we attribute the source of that good feeling to someone else and become dependent on it. That person becomes an object, to have and to hold. When that happens, you cannot bear a relationship break up. Love turns into need. Need to desperation (never a good place). In polyamory, you have the amazing opportunity to realise that you can love and be loved by many people. It’s tangible proof that you can be happy with or without certain people. That’s not to say that partners are disposable. It is the knowledge only that even if you experience pain, there is still joy in life. And whilst it doesn’t necessarily diminish the pain, it can give you hope that life will get better.
Naysayers may interpret my words to mean that I see polyamory as a risk diversification strategy, putting your eggs in different baskets. That can be a bad thing if you see people as needs fulfilment machines instead of appreciating them for what they bring to the table, but it can also be a great thing to be surrounded by a loving network, especially when you are going through the pain of a breakup.