E. Winter Tashlin

A Straightforward (But Complex) Loving Life

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | May 16, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: polyamorous people, polyamory, relationship structures, Wintersong Tashlin

I have been sitting in front of my blank computer screen for a solid ten minutes now trying to figure out exactly how to begin this post. No matter how hard I reach for greater eloquence or depth, I keep coming back to a single sentence. Maybe it's the late hour, maybe it's the complex nature of the subject, or maybe it is ok for one or two things in one's life to be straightforward. Let's go with #3 for the moment:

Being polyamorous is pretty damn awesome.

Now for the requisite disclaimers:

I am of course, only speaking for myself, and from my own experience. Moreover, I am not going to say that being poly is always awesome. Nothing in life is always awesome. Nor am I going to say that polyamory is inherently better than monogamy. It is undoubtedly better for me, but if my experience of the world were representative we would be living in a very different place than we do. And finally, yes I am well aware that many of you/your mom, BFF, hairdresser, dentist, etc have tried poly and had it go badly. To that issue I will simply say this: if everyone gave up on a relationship dynamic after having one or two bad experiences not only would no one be in monogamous relationships either, I doubt we would even be a nation of lonely masturbators.

Disclaimers done with for now, I'd like to talk about why being poly is, for me, pretty damn awesome.

First of course, I need to elaborate on what "polyamory" looks like for me. There are probably as many different ways to be poly as there are poly people in out there, and to be fair, my own way of being poly has changed over the years.

I have a husband. I actually used to have two of them, and hopefully will someday again. What "husband" in this case means is that we live together and share just about every aspect of our lives with each other. My husband Fire, and I have been together for about twelve years now, and intended to be in a multi-partner marriage from the very start. About two and half years after we got together we entered into a relationship with Evan, which lasted for just over eight years before he chose to divorce us. As the three of us before did, Fire and I share a house, bills, the care and feeding of an adorable dog, and other joys and duties found in traditionally "married" relationships. Even when there were three of us, it was remarkably "normal" by many of the yardsticks by which marriages are measured.

However, outside of our marriage, Fire and I have other intimate relationships that can take many forms. I have a boyfriend I am crazy about, although he lives far away. There are a number of people I care about and in some cases love deeply who I sometimes I play/have sex with. Right now there's also a relationship with another guy in my life that I'm letting evolve where it will. Finally, there are a number of people I see regularly in my travels who I scene with at events. It was this way when there were three of us, and we would not give up our outside partners if we entered into another triad.

If that sounds complicated, it is because it is. Whenever people tell me that I'm poly because it is "easier" than monogamy I have to laugh. Friends of mine who are in a four person polyamorous marriage and have a new baby, have to balance their schedules as carefully as generals plan amphibious invasions involving multiple chains of command. Ensuring that people don't end up feeling neglected or on the reverse, like they never have time to themselves, is a perpetual challenge in polyamory. Keeping lines of communication flowing between two people can be a task, doing it with a husband, a boyfriend or two, and several lovers can feel downright Sisyphean at times.

But then, at the same time it's damn awesome when things click together right.

A few weeks ago I attended my boyfriend's wedding. If this were a Hollywood film, that sentence would likely be filled with depressive angst about watching the man I love marry someone else. Visions of a single tear escaping my eye and dropping unnoticed onto my tightly clasped hands as I struggle to hide our secret love would be played out in close-up technicolor. What probably wouldn't leap to mind is me walking him proudly down the aisle and handing him off to his radiant bride while her father stood teary eyed beside her.

And yet, that was the reality of my experience.

I know this puzzles the hell out of my mother, who although she struggled at first, has been remarkably resilient in the face of yet another "alternative lifestyle" from her somewhat atypical son. Fire and Evan were both welcome at family gatherings and introduced to family and friends as my partners. And I think that with exposure she has come to accept that, while she will probably never understand polyamory any more than I get monogamy, the extended network of partners I have brings me the happiness that her single partner brings her.

No one person in my life meets all my emotional or physical needs. In the monogamous world people talk all the time about what they've given up in exchange for their relationship. In the poly world, we more often talk about what we are looking for or have found. Especially those of us who are both kinky and poly, who have opportunities to explore more aspects of desire and relationship than we could reasonably expect any one person to indulge or enjoy.

But polyamory doesn't mean "much sex" it means "many loves." Or at least that's what they were trying to say when the linguistic chimera was created. For some folk being poly and/or open in their relationships is primarily about sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. For me though, polyamory is at its best when I have "many loves."

I love many people, some of them I am "involved" with, others are people who go far beyond being close friends, but are not folks I have a romantic or physical relationship with. I am not someone who loves or trusts easily by nature, but I live my life in a way devoted to sharing love with many people. My heart is directed outwards, not locked in a box that only one other person has the key to. I approach everyone I meet in life with the awareness that this could turn out to be someone I could love freely and I am free to be loved in return. It may seem counter intuitive or even tautological, but loving many has made me able to love many.

Before this gets too sappy sounding, let me just point out that the sex is no bad thing either.

Polyamorous people, especially queer ones, are boogymen at the moment. Every time the anti-gay right brings us out as part of the "slippery slope" argument against same-sex-marriage, the representatives from Gay Inc are quick to take offense and clarify that we LGBTs are just as against that sort of thing as they are. I understand the political calculations perfectly well, but I have to say that I am growing tired of my family being demonized from both sides. Intellectually, I understand why this is, but I think it is important for us to make our voices hear once in a while. Not to demand legal recognition or a place at the table, but simply to say "this is how we love, and you know what, it's pretty damn awesome. So maybe lay off a little."

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We tried involving a third once, but it just didn't work out. It's a difficult arrangement to make everyone happy and quite a bit of work that we weren't prepared for. It's not something to enter into lightly. As you said, it's not just "I get more sex this way!" - there's quite a bit of emotions and feelings involved.

John Rutledge | May 17, 2011 10:17 AM

Wow, that is eye opening. I am in a monogamous relationship but I feel my heart is open to love and open to the possibility of relationship like you describe. I have at times met others where I felt a special bond could be created which is natural and in the flow of life for us both. I always talk about that with my partner as we are committed to open communication, but we have stuck to the boundaries of our monogamy. There are fears of being excluded or ruining what we have which we both want for the rest of our lives. I wonder how to let this work.

And I can't get a date :D