This is a pretty important part of who I am; I just wanted to share it here.
It started when I was a kid, actually. As early as I remember feeling attraction to someone and truly understanding what that was, what I didn’t understand was why it had to be exclusive. No one expected me to only have one friend, or to choose one parent, grandparent, sibling and promise to love only them … what was it about this burgeoning new type of love I was starting to discover, why could it only possibly flow in one direction?
I don’t mean for this to sound like I think I was ‘born’ polyamorous. I don’t really feel like your choices in who you pursue romantically (as opposed to who you are actually attracted to) are biological – I think they’re formed by society, and you decide on your own if that makes sense to you or not. For me, it never really made sense; and as I read books and realized that there were people who felt differently … well, it wasn’t until university that I actually accepted it as a part of myself, just like my being bisexual (though again, that I believe is biological, but it’s something I couldn’t accept until I was on my own) and extremely liberal and everything else my upbringing wasn’t.
It’s only fair to mention that this was all a moot point in university. I didn’t have a serious relationship, or lose my virginity for that matter, until I was 24 – and that was with the woman who would be my first wife. I was too anxious, too shy and socially inept, to do anything but pine away with my secret crushes – but even those crushes were multiple at any given time, and I wished that I could pursue them all. And there were many of those semi-romantic, where I was very close to someone as a friend and certain feelings crossed over a little, seemed to extend into a more cuddling-and-smooching type of connection, but of course I was never bold enough to express that.
From there, the next decade and a half of my life was tumbling into my first marriage, and then my second, with essentially monogamous partners, and all the difficulties and eventual misunderstandings that those entailed. I started out each time being very up front about who I am, how I believe that relationships can work … and that I didn’t expect there to be any change in who I was. Unfortunately, it also seems that both times, that was being heard and interpreted as something completely different, and it took years and far too many hurt feelings and far too much pain on both sides before we decided to go in our separate directions.
I’m not blaming either of them any more or less than I blame myself. Both times, we thought we knew what we were doing and we were sure we could handle it. Both times, we tried – in my first marriage, it was actually my wife who wound up having another serious relationship, but because she was essentially monogamous it meant that she transferred all of her love and hope for the future to the other person (one of my best friends) and had to reject her relationship with me to make sense of it all. (My second wife eventually became devoted to a fairly strict religious practice and slowly lost interest in the rest of her life altogether – including me – but she also admitted at the end that she’d never really accepted my being poly and thought it was something she would fix.)
In those situations, it wasn’t as if my feelings ever switched off – things would have been so much easier if they had. But I am who I am – someone who loves without feeling that the love is lessened if shared, who in fact believes it becomes stronger – and there were other people I felt close to, a few I fell more fully in love with. I’m ashamed to say in many cases, I tried to keep that secret.
It would have been so much better for me if I’d been able to face the situation and say, this is who I am. This is what I need. I can’t be myself while living cut off. But I was nowhere near strong enough for that to happen, so I tried to push it all down and keep it all hidden, all the while aching and weeping late at night and feeling like half of myself. It was miserable, not every day but far too often, and it lasted for almost fifteen years.
When I came out of that, I was at least mature enough and self-aware enough to sit down and look at myself, and start some work on myself (still in progress, but I’m trying) to make sure I don’t wind up in situations like that again. I can’t get involved with someone who isn’t okay with my need to express love wherever it is truly felt … and I don’t really think I could handle a serious relationship with anyone who hadn’t already come to that same conclusion on their own terms. Not that I’m only dating poly people at this point (I don’t know very many in real life who aren’t completely and happily entangled), but I’m only dating them within the understanding that exclusivity isn’t on the table. I’ve been down that road, I know the heartbreak and I can’t stand the pain or the guilt again.
I’ve been lucky enough to discover one pretty wonderful poly person to connect with – my girlfriend, who I’ve been living with for the past year. We’ve always been able to be open and honest, to explore other connections and then come home and share the stories and share the triumphs and tribulations. In a lot of ways, it’s my first successful poly relationship, and I’ve still been learning through it. But even with this, it hasn’t quite worked out the way we’d hoped – for other reasons, we’re just not heading in the same exact direction, and in a couple of months I’m moving back to Toronto and we’re going to have to see what can still work for us from there.
I won’t lie; I’m a little bit scared of starting over again – you’d think after so many reboots in my life, I’d get to a point where I could just focus on the parts I do understand (my friends, my theatre and writing) and let the rest happen for itself. But I need love. I need to be open to it, exploring it, reaching out for it in every direction. Loving, and being able to love freely, is so much of what sustains me.
I hope I’m going to find the best ways to find love, and give my own in return, as I move forward.