I learned about polyamory in a class that I took with Staci Newmahr at Buffalo State College. I believe I took this class in year three of the seven that it took me to acquire an undergraduate degree but of all of the classes that I took at Buff State, this one probably stuck with me the most. I’m not entirely sure what the class was called but it was a mid-level class which focused on alternative relationships. Our two main texts for the course were on polyamory and group sex in a sociological context. I was delighted. Nothing had tickled my scorpion heart more than the fact that this class existed in a college setting and that I was taking it.
We dug into the polyamory book week one and it must have been the second class of the semester that it clicked in my mind that polyamory might be what I want, it might be what I am.
I was in a monogamous relationship at this time in my life, unhappily. And when I took a moment to think about it, although I had been a part of many monogamous endeavors, I had never made it to the end of one without “cheating” on my partner. And this had nothing to do with me not loving or caring about them. I had just found myself bursting with love, way too much of it, and from an early age too. Very sexual and very romantic, it was difficult for me to turn down an opportunity for genuine human connection. I wasn’t fucking other people because they made my genitals tingle with desire—I mean, they did, but they did so because they made my soul burn a little brighter. I found that many, many people could light a small fire in my heart, a heart that was supposed to be fully inflamed by one person. The problem with “cheating” is that’s it’s lying. It’s deceiving. It’s hiding and tricking and guilt-stricken. So when I came to learn of polyamory—a world where loving many people was accepted and being honest about it was the standard—I felt a part of me start to come alive, a part of me that I didn’t know was there and it meant that I could live in a world where I didn’t have to lie anymore.
I very cautiously approached Harrison, my then-boyfriend, with all of this exciting new information. Very, very slowly- slowly and cautiously. I still wasn't really convinced that this was something I really wanted to do or was ready to do. But as things had started to fall apart between us, I suggested that we open the relationship up - try out this “polyamory” thing that I had been learning about in school. Because frankly, at the root of my unhappiness was a feeling of being unfulfilled. He was working on growing a start-up business and I was in college with a lot of free-time and energy. I needed more. More attention. More love. More sex. Just more. And how do you tell your partner that? Your partner that you love. How do you tell them, “you just aren’t enough for me”?
So polyamory literally translates from latin to ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’ or ‘several’ and ‘amor’ meaning ‘love.’ Many loves. Many loves.
It is not only a theoretical basis for a relationship model as I had learned in the college classroom but is an increasingly practiced way of life for folks all over the United States and the world. There are a thousand different ways to practice polyamory, but all of them have a few things in common: honesty, integrity, and open communication. It can also be called ‘ethical non-monogamy’ which serves as a larger umbrella term that polyamory falls into. Basically, it rejects the notion that sex, romance, and love can only be shared with one other person. It recognizes that there really is no cap for love to be shared. Polyamory means you can design your own relationship, your own guidelines and boundaries, you can write your own story plot— design your love life to suit your different and individualized needs—all you have to do is be honest and open. Oh, and patience helps too.
Now I’m not an expert and I will not claim to hold the fountain of knowledge so that’s all I’m going to say about that and I’m going to get back to my story now.
Harrison surprised me by being very open to the idea. I believe he said something like, “If that’s what you think you need.” At least as far as my recollection serves me, that was really about it. The only rule that we made was that we would tell the other person when something happened with someone else...physically, it seemed to imply somewhat vaguely. We were babies playing a grown-ups game. The societal expectations of monogamy were still so ingrained in me that I had trouble being with other people sexually—as a scenario would start to heat up, all I would be able to think about was how I was going to tell Harrison after the fact. So the first time I broke through the threshold, or rather the first time I let a man break through the threshold that was my vagina, it took all the might I could muster to tell him. We were driving when I told him and when I finally got the words out he took a short breath, eyes still on the road and said “okay.” And things just kind of went on as normal. Then I slept with someone else again. And I thought it was too soon. I thought that he was cool with it last time but perhaps this time he might not be. I don’t know what I friggin’ thought. I was scared. This was all so new to me. So, I didn’t tell him. And then it happened again, after some time had passed and I thought, okay, there’s been what I thought was a reasonably spaced buffer, maybe a couple of months or so, and I told him, and again, he just said “okay.” He might have thrown in a “did he wear a condom?” but I don’t remember the conversation being much more than that. And he didn’t seem distraught, he seemed totally fine. I don’t know what I was working it up so much for.
Another night, down the road, I had gone out with a girlfriend, and her guy friend [who I will call] Nick had met us out for a few drinks. Nick and I hit it off rather instantaneously, teasing each other with a sassy and witty banter. Many beers later and outside of the bar, smoking a cigarette, I don’t know if he kissed me or I kissed him, but we locked lips. And then I went home, alone, but not before I added him on social media.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, Nick and I had been flirting via messenger pretty frequently. I hadn’t told Harrison. I hadn’t told him because I hadn’t slept with Nick. Because we kissed but I barely remembered it, I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. Or at least that was the story that I was telling myself to justify not telling Harrison. But I kept up the banter and it was becoming more and more explicit. I wanted to fuck Nick. Harrison and I hadn’t had this conversation yet, the one where a person in the relationship brings a new player to the table. I didn’t know how to have that conversation. I was scared. So I fell back into an old pattern of lying and hiding and guilt.
So now, I’m at the airport and I’m about to fly to Central America with one of my best girlfriends for a few weeks during our winter break from school when Harrison texts me and asks me “who the fuck is Nick?” and I freeze. I had been using Jameson’s tablet for school for the semester and I gave it back to him before I went to the airport but I never logged out of my Facebook messenger. I was writing to Nick on my phone from the airport and Harrison was using his tablet and the messages were popping up on his screen.
“Did you sleep with him?” he asked me.
“No, I swear I didn’t,” I told him.
“Are you sure you didn’t fuck him? Because it really sounds like you did.” Then he referenced some explicit message Nick or I had written most likely detailing some dirty thing one of us would have liked to do to the other. I can’t recall the exact details any longer. Harrison was more hurt than angry, but he was still angry. “You lied to me.”
I had lied to him. And I got caught.
I was already at the airport and I was crying, but what was I going to do, turn around? And go where? Home? So I went to Guatemala and I drank away my problems like a college student does on their winter break. Harrison did not talk to me for the duration of my absence, and I do not blame him.
Upon my return, Harrison picked me up from the airport, just like he said that he would. He was late and he smelled like cologne and booze from the night before but he showed up—just like he said he would. He brought me back to my apartment and we made love, and then I began the conversation. The one about, so what now? He said that he didn’t think it should continue. We’d already taken our space apart. We’d both already started to move on. He wanted to focus on his business, it needed his attention, and he didn’t have any left for me. He acknowledged that I needed to fling myself into the warm embrace of what the rest of the world had in store for me. We agreed upon both of these terms and mutually decided to go our separate ways. I remember sitting on my porch steps holding each other for a long time, both of us crying, and we told each other that we loved one another.
When we finally separated bodies and he drove away, I felt relief. I felt a sense of excitement for what else was out there and I felt like we had made the right decision. And I never lied to anyone again. I had never needed to lie to Harrison, but I did anyway and I hurt him. I knew then that I never wanted to hurt anyone like that again. And so began my journey into a rose-colored world where I told people right away that I was only interested in having an open-formatted relationship and where the right people responded with, “me too.”