On Polyamory: A Guest Post
Recently, a friend of a friend wrote a blog post called “Adventures in Polyamory,” about his relationship with our mutual friend, Christina.
On the way to her house I asked her where her husband was that night.
“At home” came the thoughtless reply. Oh fuck.
And like that we were walking into her house. Within seconds Chris, her husband, came over to give me a hug. He seemed genuinely excited to see me. He didn’t seem awkward at all! I thought that he must not know! And here I had just made out with his wife. My stomach sank. I sat down in the kitchen and Christina and Chris went about making dinner. As nonchalant as a man ordering a cheeseburger he asked me how I was. I’m a fan of honesty almost all the time, so I decided to come out with it.
“I’m good. I admit though, I’m a little uneasy about this. I’ve never…um…y’know…been physical with a married person before.”
And he smiled! He actually smiled! I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely this was a facade and the guy was going to punch me at any second for this whole scenario. I think Christina was aware of what was going through my head because she pointed directly at me, looked at Chris, smiled, and said, “I’m going to have sex with this man.”
Again, Chris smiled, almost laughing. “Cool” he said, and went right back to making chicken fried rice. We proceeded to talk over dinner about polyamory, about Chris’s girlfriend, and about physical fitness. It was actually very pleasant. Chris and Christina hugged and kissed – they were a perfectly adorable couple. Finally, it came time for Christina and I to excuse ourselves (she did the excusing, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Well, it’s about time for me to go stick it to your spouse”). Christina gave me the option of going to their bedroom or staying downstairs in the cuddle pit (a huge room full of soft – it’s awesome). I chose the cuddle pit. Having sex with a woman in her marital bed, though clearly an unreasonable apprehension by this point, was still further than I was willing to go.
And so we did it. And we cuddled all night afterward.
The most interesting response to this article came from Christina’s own blog, Ziztur.com; Christina continued to tell her side of the story, followed by another essay by her husband Christopher, and his girlfriend Ashley. Together, they paint an amazingly well-rounded image, examining a poly relationship from each interlocked angle. It immediately occurred to me that this series would be great for the SEX+STL blog, and the group agreed with me. Today, I give you Christina’s essay:
Some of you may have heard recently that my good friend JT Eberhard and I have a certain, interesting kind of relationship – The kind of relationship most people might not want to make public. You see, I’m married. JT and I share a close bond and friendship, and we have extended said friendship to include physical intimacy. JT and I are not normal people, something you’ve probably noticed and so, in the interest of making the abnormal normal, we’ve decided that talking openly and honestly about our abnormality can benefit ourselves and those around us.
JT and I know each other from Skeptics in the Pub, Skepticon III and around the blogosphere, but mutual craziness really cemented our bond. Also, cuddling*. I have depersonalization/derealization disorder and depression, something I wrote about here. JT has anorexia/depression. Sometimes, when you put two nutbags like us together, we repel each other and our respective mental fuckery prevents us from even staying in the same room together. At other times, we stick like glue. That’s pretty much what happened here.
I’m one of those people who openly and honestly talks about sex, ever since my mid-twenties when some experiences led me to shed a lot of notions about how I wanted relationships to work. So of course, along with conversations about How To Understand Effect Size or Why This Argument Won’t Be Persuasive To Christians, topics such as How To Understand The Dynamics of Dominance and Submission or How Pain Can Be Fun In Bed are pretty normal for me.
I’m also a seeker of experiences. I’m not sure if the seeking aspect of my personality is a function of depersonalization or what, but I always want to try something new and different. I especially enjoy trying something new or different I can take from an experience a sense of control over my body or emotions. My body is my temple of science, and I like to experiment. Along with taking up such mundane hobbies as yo-yoing, blogging, fixing wheelchairs and cooking delicious things, I’m also into play piercing, implanting myself with RFID chips, and hook suspension. I also engage in sex to experience new and interesting things. I’ve experimented with lots.
When I casually asked JT whether he was Dominant, Submissive or a Switch in bed one day, I expected him to know exactly what I was talking about. I also expected that he would enjoy talking about sex with ease as if we were discussing the latest atheist billboard campaign. At first, he seemed uncomfortable – being able to talk openly about sex with another human being was something he hadn’t really experienced before. After a lengthy (and fun!) discussion over several days, I got this:
JT: “This feels liberating. I have not spoken about sex like this before….”
Me: “The doors in your brain. I walked in there, unlocked them, and flung them open.”
Of course, I loved it. I loved sharing something with someone I cared so much about. I remember when I discovered that I could talk openly about sex. It was pretty awesome, freeing, sexy and exiting. I love the people who helped me fling open my own doors.
To me, polyamory is about being able to have multiple, loving relationships. I don’t treat love as a commodity that can be spent. Rather, I think of love as an abstraction that you get more of the more you give away.
If you’re in a monogamous relationship, or your brain is wired for monogamy, then that’s fine. If you ultimately feel you should give 100% of your love to only one other person at a time, then I’ll never fault you. I’m not saying that either monogamy or polyamory win the prize for superiority. Perhaps for you, if you give your love to two people, you’re splitting your love and giving each person less than 100%. If that works for you, then fine. However, if you take home one message from this post, know that this is not the only way to treat love.
To me, I don’t spend love like a commodity. I don’t give it out sparingly to a tiny fraction of really deserving people, only one at a time. Love is not like a bathtub, where one person must get out before another gets in. Love is more like an ocean. Most people treat love like a bathtub. That’s okay if it works for you, but it does not work for me.
People have enough love to give if they choose to give it. Example: let’s say you have a baby. You love that baby with all of your heart and mind. Then, you have a second baby. Do you now split your love evenly, so each gets 50% of your love? No. You love baby #2 as much as baby #1. You do not diminish your love for baby #1 by the existence of and love for baby #2.
Christopher and I have an open marriage and we are polyamorous. We feel very strongly that we should not base our limits on how, when and where we share ourselves with other people on anything other than ethics and what works for us. We’re not perfect and have made mistakes, but nothing irreconcilable. We regard communication as the most important aspect of a poly relationship. Secondary to that: things like trust, honesty, introspection, and the ever popular ability-to-admit-when-you’re-wrong.
Like any other marriage, ours has rules: No one else can live with us. No one else can have children with us. We must tell each other about our experiences with our other partners. We must make more time for dates and sex with each other than with our other partners. We must treat each other as primary partners, and so on. We actually have an extensive list of rules as far as rules go, probably more than your average married couple. However, our marriage lacks a rule that says we’re not allowed to love or have physical intimacy with other people. It lacks a rule that says we’re not allowed to romantically love other people.
No relationship/marriage has a complete claim to exclusivity. No matter who you are, your partner probably has friends with whom ze has a close emotional bond. You share your partner in some way, I guarantee it (unless you’ve locked hir in a cage in your basement…) We choose to share each other more than most people.
I absolutely love to share myself with other people and vice-versa. I have a pathological desire to hear people’s stories, to really peel apart their exterior and discover the amazing, beautiful and beautifully fucked up bizarro world underneath. As part of knowing somebody, I am free to extend the bonds of friendship and mental intimacy to physical intimacy.
JT and I decided to visit for a weekend in St. Louis. We both agreed that we should obviously cuddle the living crap out of each other, mind-meld, and take lots of pictures. As the days ticked closer and closer to our weekend, we moved closer and closer to the idea of having sex. We talked about it at length, so to me it seemed like a natural progression from talking about it to actually doing it.
First, we both decided that we’d both be okay if our weekend just happened to lead to some fooling around. Then, we moved to talking about things we might enjoy doing with each other. Then, we started talking about exactly what we wanted. We planted a seed. It grew into a tree.
When I picked JT up from the airport, I was ecstatic. We held hands and drank each other up. I could tell he was nervous, so I made a mental plan to pounce on him once he entered my car. I storyboarded it in my head: scene #1 – The kiss. Scene #2 – figuring out how much chest hair he had. Scene #3 – find that spot on his neck he told me about that makes him swoon when nibbled… My plan worked.
Earlier in the day I asked Chris what he wanted to do while I was hanging out with JT. Usually if I go on a date with someone else, Chris takes time to go on a date with Ashley (his girlfriend). However, he wanted to hang out with JT so they could talk about working out and video games. While I made sushi and Chris made fried rice, the three of us chatted. I touched them both, first hugging and kissing Chris and then smooching JT. I know what Chris accepts, and I wanted to signal that what I had told JT online about how my life worked was actually true and not just some spectacular fantasy I had thought up while hiding in some corner of my own head.
I could almost hear the two of them thinking: “That’s the man my wife is going to do sexy things with tonight.” “That’s the woman I want to do sexy things with tonight but goddamn, for real?” So I just pointed right at JT and said it.
“I’m going to have sex with this man”. I said this as if I were announcing I had just found the guy who secretly left flowers at my front door. Soon, Chris went upstairs. JT and I explored brains and bodies until we slept, and slept all night ensnuggled.
The next morning, I could tell something had changed in JT. I woke up to him alternating between munching on handfuls of leftover fried rice from our fridge and working out. He seemed comfortable. Happy. I smiled and I couldn’t stop, a rarity for me. I relish in seeing people that way – seeing boundaries become unnecessary, only to slipp away. We spent much of the day taking pictures. JT seemed nervous about having my camera trained on him, but I honestly had no idea he was so nervous he felt like vomiting.
I hated to see him leave so soon, but we immediately made plans to see each other again.
I feel incredibly free in my ability to engage in multiple loving, consensual relationships. I do not hide my feelings or keep my distance lest I get “too close” to another human. I need not fear falling in love with someone else. I feel secure in my marriage knowing that Christopher and I continue our relationship because the relationship has great value and not out of some obligation or signed piece of paper. Our marriage vows reflect our ability and freedom to love other people.
So I do.
TL:DR – I am polyamorous. JT and I share in a close friendship that includes physical intimacy, and we’re both better off for it.
* You see, when JT claims in his profile that in 2008 he brought the gold medal in cuddling back to the United States and is presently training for 2012, he neglects to mention that I took home the gold in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. I didn’t compete in 2008 because I had been bitten by a tiger two months prior to the 2008 competition.