Photo by Octavio Fossatti on Unsplash
This post was originally published in Polyamory Today. An opinion version focused on the nuances of multiple partners was published by Rappler.
She sat on the hotel bed where I made out with a different girl just a few hours ago. She was frozen. I tried to hold her and, for the first time, she pushed me away. The feeling that I made a terrible mistake crept on me like water slowly filling a tank.
“I knew this was coming eventually,” she whispered, tears forming on the sides of her eyes. “But I didn’t expect it would be this… real.”
During our earlier dates, I confessed to her that I might be polyamorous; It felt more natural for me to love and commit to several partners.
Over the next few months, we talked about it and figured that we wanted each other enough to see if it can work. So we agreed to occasionally date other people. And we always told each other everything. Honesty and communication were non-negotiable.
Until recently, we’ve both only had a few send-off kisses with other partners. We gauged our feelings. Were we both okay with it? The answer was a confident “yes!” Then I got farther with a certain girl. We gauged again. And things may not be as confident anymore.
Being Polyamorous, in my case, is like being deeply convinced you’re a fisherman — that you’re meant for ships, waves, swimming, and fishing — despite never having waded in the sea.
I’ve never been in a relationship with more than one person at a time. And I don’t personally know anyone who identifies as I do.
But I’d be lying to myself if I denied the innate way I felt.
I live in a country where the bible strictly reigns; where conformity to old customs prevails and romantic happiness is boxed in 18th-century-style nuclear marriages. Forget negative stigma. In my limited world, Polyamory is too alien to be discriminated upon. Even my closest friends could only give me confused looks, or jokes about converting to Islam when I tell them about my potentially polyamorous feelings.
Google was my only empathetic confidant. It was the only place I could turn to for advice and understanding. But sometimes, even Google doesn’t have all the answers.
My belief in my Polyamorous-ness became stronger when my 5-year relationship ended.
My 5-year ex and I talked about my “relationship-orientation” during our 3rd year together. She was unsure about the idea at first. But eventually, she agreed to try it out. Our friends were indignant about this.
“Why the hell did you allow him to do that?!” They screamed at her.
“She’s such a great woman! Isn’t she enough for you?!” They screamed, even louder, at me.
But how do I explain that Polyamory, to me, was never a matter of “enough”? It was never about having more.
We ignored our friends and went merrily on our way.
Slowly, I became more intimate with other girls; A shy, former schoolmate, and a friend from one of my activity clubs. As I grew closer to these two girls, I realized that my feelings for my girlfriend never changed.
It felt more like I was growing as a person. I was learning a lot from the other girls, and I could channel this growth to my existing relationship, which grew further as a result and fed it back to the cycle.
In comparison, my 5-year ex didn’t entertain other guys. “You are enough for me,” she said. I should’ve seen that as a red flag. I should’ve done something about it.
But I didn’t.
Then she met a guy at a bar, became intimate with him and, suddenly, all her feelings for me were gone. Like water transferred from one glass to another.
At a cafe, a close friend once asked me, “How do your feelings work?”
I showed him three empty glasses. I tell him I have three glasses inside me. I don’t know if I have more but, so far, I found three. I pour water on each glass. I tell him the water is kind of like my emotions, my love, whatever.
When I meet a very special girl, she is assigned a specific glass. And when I become intimate with another person, the glass assigned to her is untouched. That’s hers, alone. My feelings never transfer.
It took the pain of losing my 5-year ex to another guy for me to realize that not all people are like that with their feelings. “Physical-only” flings aside, most people can only transfer feelings from one glass to another.
Innately monogamous individuals can’t be intimate with several partners and retain feelings for all of them. They can only have The One.
“But, isn’t that tiring? Wouldn’t having multiple ‘genuine’ partners divide your attention and emotional investment too much?” My friend asked.
I agreed that it would divide my time and attention. “But managing time and attention to different girls is a whole other matter. That’s something we all have to work and agree on in the relationship,” I replied.
“As for emotional investment, no. I don’t feel tired at all. Instead, I feel more fulfilled. Because then, the other glasses in me aren’t left to stale away, unused.”
When my 5-year ex and I broke up, it wasn’t because of the guy at the bar. That was just a trigger. We had deeper cracks that gave way to the end.
I binged on gin, beer, and bad karaoke for self-reflection. I realized that our attempt at Polyamory was a disaster from the beginning. She was innately monogamous. Things wouldn’t have worked out if she had to change an innate part of herself just to accommodate me.
Years later, I would meet a very special girl in the middle of a Pandemic. We hit it off very well, and we date exclusively for some time.
We realize we like each other very much. And I might want a relationship with her. But first, I had to come clean.
I might be Polyamorous, I told her one night. I like what we have and I want it to work. But my experience taught me that we can only succeed if the involved parties are not innately monogamous. Otherwise, we’ll both end up in great and terrible pain.
She said she thought she was monogamous. But it’s mostly because she never considered that she can have a genuine, intimate relationship that isn’t monogamy.
She said she’s dated 11 guys and it’s her first time meeting someone who identified as I did.
But she really liked me, she said. She even rejected two “more stable” and more traditionally-inclined suitors, because she’d go for the person she wants, rather than settle.
“I’m willing to try it,” she said. The same words my 5-year ex uttered, years before.
I sat on the hotel bed, for three hours, thinking of how to tell her about the other girl.
We’ve previously agreed that we don’t have to tell each other immediately if we went out with someone else. It depends on our schedule. But since I’ve gone a bit farther than usual with a different partner, I figured I had to make a forthcoming disclosure now.
After all, she is now the closest person to me. She has first-to-know access to my life and most of my thoughts.
But what if she feels uncomfortable sitting on the same bed where I just made out with a different girl? We’ve previously agreed to the idea of being intimate with other people, but what happens when we face the actual reality of it?
If our roles were reversed, how would I feel?
I searched the deepest truths of my heart. And my heart said: If there wasn’t penetrative, fluids-everywhere, sex involved in that bed— then I’m okay.
So I called, asked her to come over, and spilled the beans. She cried, got angry, and cried some more. The idea that I hurt her pained me, so we ended up crying together. Then she said, “I didn’t expect it would be this… real.”
The binge drinking and the bad karaoke flashed in my mind. Have I stupidly made the same mistake? Was I subconsciously forcing another innately monogamous person to accommodate me?
“I’m not angry with what you did.” She said, after making me explain my thought-process behind calling her late at night to a hotel room I booked for a different girl. (She’s my closest confidant, and I simply couldn’t wait to tell her). “Just at the execution.”
I looked at her. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing it right. “I shouldn’t have told you about it here? That’s what you’re not okay with? You’re okay with me going farther with another girl?”
She sighed. “We have to lay some ground rules. First, don’t call me on the same day that you’re doing ANYTHING intimate with a different girl.”
I nodded eagerly, making a mental note to have more tact next time. “I understand. Any other rules? I’d be happy to do anything.”
She shook her head and smiled, “We’ll figure out the rest as we go.” Then we made love. It was super hot.
Later, as we basked in the afterglow, I thought about my 5-year ex. It took me more than a year and a half to move on from the breakup, and a large chunk of my soul was broken and rebuilt in the process. Am I willing to risk getting devastated like that again?
Should I just bury these feelings, and stick to a traditional setup? Should I just be “content”? Should I not have tried this with my 5-year ex then? Am I making the same mistake, trying it with this girl now?
If she sleeps with another guy she truly likes and connects with, would her feelings for me change? Transferred, like water from one glass to another?
Unfortunately, until it happens, we’ll never know.
But she’s willing to take the risks with me, and I with her. Maybe that’s something constant in relationships: There are always risks, monogamous, or not. It’s up to us to take it, and see if we can make it work.