- Sex & Drugs
- 27 Nov 09
For sex, that is. But what about loving them? Or falling in love with more than one at a time? That’s where Polyamory can get tricky. But maybe it’s worth the effort – and the risk.
We lie in bed, arms wrapped around one another – the perfect picture of two lovers in repose. As he snuggles up to me and kisses my hair, I wonder: was this a mistake?
Aidan is my ex – and therein lies the first problem.
We have history, and it makes matters more complicated. Returning to a former lover is like re-reading a book or watching a film the second time around. Without the unexpected plot turns to catch you off-guard, it can be a richer, more satisfying experience; but sometimes you can’t help but wish that the narrative would veer off-course and find a new trajectory – that this time Juliet wakes up before Romeo drinks the poison or that Heathcliff and Cathy settle down to a life of quiet domesticity.
I suspect that I already know how this story will end – and therein lies the second problem. Nothing’s changed in the years since I last dated him. He’s still messy, still somewhat hyperactive, still manages to hog most of the hot water when he takes a bath – all qualities I found annoying the first time. More importantly, Aidan is still a polyamorist, and me? Well, let’s just say I’m not so sure.
He props himself up on one arm and looks at me. “We have to talk,” he says.
This is the “where do we go from here?” conversation I’ve been dreading – because, frankly, I really don’t know.
Polyamory, the idea of multiple intimate and loving relationships, is something that has long fascinated me. My friend Tatiana was involved in a polyamorous marriage for several years and another friend, Aaron, has been flirting with the idea for some time. From a purely intellectual point of view, polyamory makes sense. Modern relationships exert extraordinary pressure on us and perhaps sharing the responsibility is wise.
“I want you in my life,” Aidan says. “But you know who I am.”
In some ways it would be perfect. He needs a lot of attention, more than I am able to give him, as we live in different cities. But he’s considering moving back to Dublin and I’m not sure I want him to. At the moment, his need for multiple partners doesn’t bother me, but if I allowed him to disrupt the harmony of my life, would I want more than a part-time share of his attention? Would I feel jealous as he kissed me good-bye on his way out the door to visit another lover. I think I would.
“Maybe we could have something not exactly open, but slightly ajar,” I suggest, thinking if it’s out of sight, it may well be out of mind too.
He shakes his head. “No, that involves sneaking around. It’s not honest.”
“And you really wouldn’t mind me sleeping with someone else?” I ask.
“Not as long as I met him, knew him and felt comfortable with him,” he tells me, but I don’t really believe him, especially since the day before he had accused me – in a joking manner, but it was an accusation nonetheless – of flirting with somebody else.
“I need some time to think,” I say.
In the next few weeks I speak to several people about the idea, including Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. Jenny is involved in what’s known as a triad polyamorous relationship – she has two partners, a husband and a girlfriend. Her partners are not involved with each other, and although her husband is free to explore his options beyond their marriage, she says that so far he has decided not too, mostly because sex isn’t very high on his agenda.
For Jenny the triad makes sense, because she loves both her husband and girlfriend and neither of them seems to be threatened by the other. It’s unconventional but it works for them. Jenny told me that she has no wish for further partners because she’s happy as she is. This adds up because Jenny is genuinely bisexual and now she’s got one of each – a perfect set. She doesn’t say so, but I suspect she knows that if she were to expand the triad to include another man or a younger, prettier woman, the equilibrium they have found would likely become unbalanced. Jealousy would rear its ugly head.
Not all polyamorous relationships are triads. You can have quads of four people or extended networks of five or more. Some of these, like Jenny’s are ‘monogamous’ in their own way – known as polyfidelity – while others are more open, with casual lovers and one-night stands acceptable.
Jealousy is an issue, Allena Gabosch, the Executive Director of Seattle’s Center and Foundation for Sex Positive Culture tells me, but polyamorous couples are generally better able to deal with this, because they are aware that it’s part and parcel of the lifestyle. Instead they try to cultivate a feeling of what they call ‘compersion’ – feeling positive that a lover experiencing pleasure, even if it is in another relationship.
Adding any new person to a group can cause friction, Allena says, and polys are aware that ‘new relationship energy’ can leave existing partners feeling left out, at least in the beginning, but that this dissipates over time. Furthermore, the bonus of having more than one partner means you can turn to someone else for emotional support when it’s needed.
“It’s not so much about sex, it’s about love,” says Tatiana. “But sometimes it was also about sex, for me anyway. I wanted the excitement of being pursued, of having new lovers, but I also wanted to be able to go home to my husband. But the thing was I would get very jealous as soon as he met another woman. It wasn’t really fair – I fought with him a lot.”
Tatiana’s marriage fell apart when she fell in love with a man who would not accept being her lover as part of a polyamorous group. She had to make a decision and she went where her heart led her. “I think it made me realise my marriage was more about the practical things and friendship. It wasn’t about romance or sex anymore.”
While these other people’s experiences were very interesting, none of them seemed much help to me in making up my own mind. If you are careful to always have safe sex and keep the jealousy under control, multiple sexual partners has obvious attractions. Loving more than one person is easy too, but being in love with two or more people? I wasn’t sure I could do that. More importantly, I didn’t know if I could accept being one of the many in someone else’s life either.
“Are you blinded by love or just fucking crazy?” demands my sister when I explain the situation to her.
But no, that was not the case. If anything, I was trying to be rational, maybe too rational, the truth being that if you are attempting a polyamorous relationship, thinking with the head instead of the heart is probably a good idea.
“Don’t you get jealous?” she asks. No, I tell her, because strangely enough, I don’t – when I’m not around I don’t worry about who Aidan is with or what he’s doing. I never even think about it.
“I don’t believe you,” she says. “Would you have minded if Thomas had had a second girlfriend?”
Yes, I admit, but that was a different relationship.
“Well, of course it was!” she says. “The difference was that you were in love with him.”
In an instant I realise she’s right.
Yes, I could have a polyamorous relationship with Aidan, I realise, but it’s because I’m not particularly emotionally invested and that, in itself, is against the spirit of what polyamory is all about.
I admire Aidan’s intelligence, his creativity and his many talents. He’s attractive, amusing and he cares about me. I enjoy having sex with him and I like him very much; love him too, if the truth be told, but as a person, not as a man. I’m not in love with him – and therein lies the third problem, but also the answer to his question.