On Polyamory: Ashley’s Take

Two weeks ago, I posted an essay called On Polyamory from my friend, Christina, and I promised to share with you two more essays: one by Christina’s husband and one by his girlfriend, Ashley. I meant for this to be a weekly series, but prepping for Christmas last week sucked up so much time that I couldn’t… copy and paste an essay. (Okay, so this probably says more about me and absentmindedness than it does about Christmas or time or productivity.)

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you:

Ashley on Polyamory:

I’m Ashley, Chris’s girlfriend. The following post is my account of how I got into poly and what I think of polyamory.

Growing up I had a lot of different models for relationships, some good and some bad. I saw couples together for years and years but never got married, couples who were legally married but a-romantic with one another, and couples where the individuals claimed to be happy together but constantly cheated on one another.

I never saw any poly couples, until one day when MTV ran “True Life: I’m polyamorous.” Watching the episode, I realized there was this whole other model of relationship I had never seen before where the individuals involved had the freedom to date and love however many people they wanted. For an hour long show that focused on two people’s poly situations I got a decent view of what poly relationships can be like; they showed that there can be disagreements, conflicting desires, and jealousy, but they also showed that those negatives can be balanced or even surpassed by the amount of love, affection, and freedom that poly offers. It wasn’t a perfect portrayal but it was enough to ignite a spark.

I didn’t have the chance to explore a poly relationship until a few years later. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be in such a relationship. Then I started dating The Nerd. Before we started going out The Nerd had been in polyamorous relationships and though, initially, we didn’t say we wanted a poly relationship, we understood that was a possibility. For the first month we were monogamous. During that month ze* introduced me to hir friends who were/are an awesome group of skeptic/atheist/sex-positive/science lovers. After the first month The Nerd proposed opening up our relationship with us as primary partners. I agreed. I was nervous about opening up our relationship, but in a good way. I had started to develop a non-platonic interest in one of the people in hir group of friends, Christopher. This was really out of character for me since I identify as a lesbian. But I figured that didn’t matter. If I was attracted to him then I was attracted to him, regardless of his sex or gender identity. Around the time I was realizing I was interested in Christopher, The Nerd started dating hir ex-boyfriend.

I won’t lie, initially I felt weird seeing The Nerd flirt openly with him. How do I explain the weirdness? Hm, the emotion I felt when ze flirted with him was like a mix of possessiveness, worry, amusement (he would look at me with a deer-in-headlights expression), and a touch of wonder with the reality of my polyamorous dreams coming to fruition. When ze first told me that ze was in love with him my feelings on the matter were very tumultuous. After a while, a surprisingly short while, I got over it. Although intellectually I knew that hir loving him didn’t change the way ze felt about me, emotionally the change took some time to sink in as a reality. While coming to terms with the realities of what being poly means (being very open and honest with your emotions, good time management skills, feeling secure in your relationship with your partner regardless of who else they are seeing, etc.) I started officially dating Christopher. Christopher is married to Christina, and I am Christopher’s secondary partner. Learning how to navigate being a primary in one relationship, a secondary in another, and having the new experience of dating a man was very interesting. I felt like I was constantly learning while also breaking down relationship and gender stereotypes I had previously had. I was exhilarated. I was exhausted.

Eventually The Nerd and I ended an 8 month relationship, in part due to differing opinions on boundaries and in part due to communication failure. We’re still friends. Chris and I are still going strong after a little over a year. I haven’t been in a relationship where I was the primary partner since The Nerd so for the past ten months or so I’ve had to learn how to be in a relationship where I’m the secondary yet have no primary. It’s an interesting dance Chris and I do in order to let our relationship thrive and grow while avoiding encroaching on Chris and Christina’s relationship. Our relationship works well most of the time, and when we have issues, , we immediately start talking. We talk until we all feel like the issue has been resolved.

Before exploring poly I had never been this open about my emotions. A few years ago I felt like if I told people about my emotions I was exposing my weaknesses to them and I didn’t trust that in exposing myself that way that I wouldn’t get hurt. I felt like I wanted to trust someone enough to expose that emotional side of myself but I was so afraid to. When I entered my relationship with The Nerd I vowed I would be emotionally open and honest. I’m still doing that today. I had a hard time at first but the more I open up, the easier it gets. It’s easiest with Chris but I’m getting pretty good at opening up with my friends too.

I have the hardest time opening up regarding negative emotions or ones where vulnerability is particularly obvious. For example, because in high school I had a girlfriend who would break up with me randomly (things could be going great between us but for various non-relationship related reasons she felt like she would have to end it) I sometimes get randomly paranoid and afraid Chris will break up with me. During those times when I have to come to him for reassurance and tell him what I’m feeling I feel vivisected, as if he’s got the power to either really hurt me or help gently stitch me back closed. Even during those times when I’m temped to forego talking about and exposing that vulnerability I do it anyway. I feel like it’s important to be able to trust that your partner(s) is/are being completely open and honest about emotions/boundaries/states of mind and that they should trust that you’re doing the same. I don’t feel like I can say I’m giving it my all in a relationship if I’m not being as emotionally forthcoming as possible. As a result, I’m very sure that this relationship wouldn’t have thrived if everyone involved weren’t open with each other.

Polyamorous relationships have their ups and their downs, just like monogamous ones. There are some possible drawbacks, like not having your partner exclusively to yourself, and some possible advantages, like when I broke up with The Nerd I didn’t go from being in a relationship to being single, I went from being in two relationships to being in one (which made the breakup easier for me). Overall I don’t think that polyamory is better than monogamy or vice versa. I think some people work best in monogamous relationships, some work best in polyamorous ones, and others like me can work well in either. At this point, polyamory has worked out really well for me and I feel like I’ve grown as a person from being in a poly relationship. Also, I love how much intimacy and affection I’m free to share with a variety of people. I’ve been in monogamous relationships in the past and have been pretty successful in them but at this point I see polyamory as the thing for me and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future.

TL:DR- Polyamory is awesome and hard. It’s neither better nor worse than monogamy though. I can be happy in poly relationships or monog ones but right now I’m poly and I don’t see that changing.

*The Nerd is Genderqueer and uses the gender neutral pronouns ze/hir

(This essay was originally published at Ziztur.com.)