This is fifteenth in a series of interviews with everyday people who are living a poly lifestyle (either polyamorous or polysexual) from their individual perspectives. They were each given a series of questions and asked to pick several questions that they would like to answer from their personal experience.
This fifteenth interview is with man in his 60s who lives in Maryland outside of the Washington, DC area. He is an accomplished author, university instructor and seminar leader. He needs to keep his identity discreet at this time. But I did have the lovely opportunity to him in person, and he is awesome (and definitely does NOT look 60+!)
A: After too many years of being single, I began to question my fundamental views about relationships. I realized that being highly focused on finding all the right qualities in one amazing person, some sort of ultimate soulmate, was the result of being a prisoner of the romantic fantasies I’d picked up from love songs on the radio during my teens. While I believe it’s possible to have that sort of relationship, I realized it was improbable, especially given I’m in my sixties.
My former perspective led to my not staying in a relationship with a number of women because they didn’t meet all the criteria I’d hoped to find in one woman even though I genuinely liked or even loved them. I realized then that ethical non-monogamy was a brilliant and more natural model for relationships. Idealized perfection was not required. One of the bedrock ideas in polyamory, that it’s tough to find everything we want in one person, became glaringly evident.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise to you about it?
A: The surprise was that it’s a great opportunity to expand the breadth of what the human heart can do. I think, in retrospect, that the old model in which the full bore of my heart, soul, and body was to be reserved for one woman led to what I’d call a stinginess of love. Relegating all the women who didn’t meet my criteria to “friend and therefore non-sexual” status was limiting the amount of love I could have in my life as a whole. It was cramping the rich possibilities in my own heart.
What I found over time was that this capacity to love more than one woman got extrapolated in a wide variety of ways to a wide variety of people. It went beyond my personal relationships into the “agape” form of love, extending to friends, people in the workplace, to bank tellers and baristas of any gender. Once I gave myself permission to love and to sex more freely, I found myself overall friendlier. I hadn’t expected that.
And since sex had become more available, I was able to allow myself to fully love my female friends with a depth of feeling even when sex was off the table (I don’t mean doing it on the floor). In other words, even for my female friends, married or not, I could feel more deeply and more loving toward them while not having to act on my feelings. In other words, I had a greater freedom to love fully and expansively even when sex wasn’t part of the picture.
Q: Have you “come out” to your family and friends and if so, how did that go? Do you recommend it?
A: I have shared my poly inclinations with only a select few friends. In the small conservative town where I live, the grapevine has severely distortive properties.
Q: If polyamorous, do you find it is more like a relationship choice, or more a statement about who you are inside? (like being gay for example)
I know of people who feel they were born polyamorous. For me personally, I’d say it’s a relationship choice that feels very natural, joyful, and liberating. I’m not wedded to polyamory, no pun intended, which means I’m not ideologically opposed to monogamy. At this point in my life, I’d say I’m open to adapting to what shows up in my life. I’m not pursuing any particular relationship form as much as I’m letting the relationships unfold naturally, trusting that there’s a greater wisdom operating in our lives at all times. By listening deeply to the messages from the heart and soul, I think we can often be guided to wonderful and surprising places.
Q: How do you handle when jealousy or insecurity issues come up (either with yourself or your partners)?
A: I work on taking full responsibility for those and other feelings. The experience of jealousy to me, while natural and normal, is also a great opportunity to strengthen our self-esteem. In fact, I think something as potentially heart-breaking as seeing your lover with someone else is one of the biggest opportunities to examine in greater depth the vulnerabilities that hold us back in our lives. We can feel competent at work, or on stage, or at the computer, but we often have difficulty with people messing with our heartstrings because it’s so deeply personal, reaching into the undefended realms of heart and soul, into the diaphanous places inside us that are so easily hurt. Finding the wisdom (I almost wrote “strength” but I think wisdom is one of the greatest strengths) to transcend jealousy is a real gift. I believe that developing the ability to do that represents a huge leap forward in our personal development.
While some people seem to fall effortlessly into what in the East is sometimes called “sympathetic joy” (compersion is most commonly used to describe that, and while I think it’s more accurate than “sympathetic joy,” I find the word to be linguistically awkward), it looks like most people will have to work at transcending jealousy.
I think it’s best to see jealousy as a call to greater ego-strength. But I think there’s maybe a risk that some people might revert to a degree of denial of their feelings of insecurity or inadequacy that underlies jealousy. In other words, people might say they aren’t jealous when in fact they are. As is understood in many forms of psychotherapy, getting in touch with the truth of how much we hurt is an important first step.
In that sense then, and given that the demand to deal with our insecurities may be even greater than in monogamous relationships, then the polyamorous lifestyle can be a tremendous growth opportunity.
To get back to the original question, I think the best thing I can do is to consider jealousy my own responsibility. As long as my partners are acting in accordance with our agreements, then I need to take full ownership for any emotional baggage that comes up. The questions that I think we would best default to in moments of jealousy are: How can I learn to love myself more fully? Why is her/his love for, or sex with, someone else casting aspersions on my worth? Isn’t it my opinion of myself, normally so dependent on what others think of me, that I get to bolster here? That’s my job, not anyone else’s.
I think the second question above, “why is her/his love or sex with someone else casting aspersions on my worth” may point to the crux of the matter. In fact, if we look at it in more detail, the thought is actually a non-sequitur. If the criterion for my self-worth is that she loves me and only me, it’s not only a weak foundation for a more expansive sort of love, it also doesn’t make any sense. Granted, emotions are not based in logic. But looking at these dynamics from a more cognitive, reasoned perspective can help guide the non-logical dynamics of the human heart. As long as the other partner is acting in accordance with our agreements, then anything else after that is completely my responsibility.
And then beyond that, learning to evoke the largesse to genuinely feel happy for the other’s happiness is to me a spiritual practice. This goes beyond the normalcies that govern contemporary psychology, where jealousy would not be questioned unless pathological. It speaks of some transcendent place that our spiritual traditions so often point to. It’s about going beyond normalcy, which is never the most exalted of states that human consciousness is capable of.
Q: What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of living an ethical non-monogamous lifestyle?
A: What I just wrote in the previous paragraph.
Q: Are there any other thoughts that you would like to share that I did not ask?
I believe that any great opportunity, knowledge, or practice also brings with it some risk. I have seen how taking on other lovers is not just an expansion of the heart’s boundaries, but a balm for unresolved conflict or tension in an existing relationship. There’s a fine line between A) recognizing the opportunity for developing the art of loving many and B) using other lovers to avoid the hard work, vulnerability, and bigness of soul required to have a relationship be whole and complete. By whole and complete, I mean that condition when two hearts are wholly open, undefended, and in an unfettered state of effusive love. For most of us, it’s hard to achieve, whether emotionally or situationally, and I think that having multiple lovers as an avoidance of honest, courageous conversations to heal relationships is a real risk. So a useful question to ask in this regard is whether or not I’m seeking other lovers to escape or avoid some hard work I need to do in myself, and in the context of existing relationships. At its worst, poly can be used for revenge, to evoke jealousy, to perpetrate the lack of courage to end a relationship that really ought to end.
And finally, on the upside, poly also provides an opportunity to transcend loneliness, especially when we are home alone while our partner is with another. The gift of being comfortable with aloneness, while natural to most introverts, is an acquired skill for most people, and when we are fully capable of feeling good and whole while alone, then our love for others is based less on need and more on generosity of the heart. And then we are freer to love others.
Thank you so much, my new friend! I really appreciate you taking the time to write this interview for our community. Conducting the interviews is so rewarding, and I think the poly community really enjoys hearing from different perspectives how this ethically non-monogamous lifestyle can work.
If anyone in the community who is currently in an ethically non-monogamous relationship of some sort would like to be interviewed by me for this blog or the podcast, please hit me up via the contact link here on Loving Without Boundaries.
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)