This is seventeenth 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 seventeenth interview is with a polyamorous man in his early 50s living with a monogamous partner in Brooklyn. He runs a large data analytics team for a major corporation, and divides his time between NYC and a second home in the South where his children live with their mother.
Q: What lead you to ethical non-monogamy?
A: I came to ethical non-monogamy via the non-ethical variety. I was a serial cheater. I have a history of some very significant, highly valued, and long-term relationships (marriages included) that were ultimately disrupted by my getting involved with someone else. For the longest time I thought that was the only option … the idea of ethical non-monogamy was not around in my formative years, and it was a huge struggle to try to conform to the expectations of monogamy when a part of me was consistently rebelling against them.
What specifically triggered my decision to speak to my current long-term partner about opening up our relationship was the at-first-clandestine re-appearance of my high school girlfriend in my life. We re-engaged with each other at long distance for some time, and we would find opportunities to meet in person a couple times a year. Things came to a head when I realized that I couldn’t go down this road anymore. I didn’t want to be without my rekindled romance, but I didn’t want to deceive any more.
I had to decide between walking away from this relationship, or taking the tougher path of making my primary partner aware of it, and negotiating a way to make space for her in my life.
Q: What’s the most challenging thing in your relationship(s)?
A: My primary partner is monogamous by nature and chooses to remain monogamous, even though I am not. This is not at all unusual in the poly world, I have learned, but it does pose a very specific set of additional challenges. One thing I envy about couples who are both poly is that it just intuitively feels more FAIR that way. I have had frequent bouts of guilt over the change I was setting in motion because I was the only one who was asking for it, and at times it was hard to see how my primary partner would benefit. This remains a challenge in various ways, but it has gotten easier, as the benefits of non-monogamy to our primary partnership have become clearer. It has brought us much closer together … in fact this is probably the single greatest benefit of non-monogamy for me.
Q: What’s the one thing that you wish you’d known before you got into it?
A: Well for one thing, I wish I had known this was an option 25 years earlier. My life would have looked very different and I might have averted some of the damage I did along the way.
Now that I am in it, I realize that putting yourself out there as non-monogamous does not magically make wonderful things happen. Dating (online dating in particular) can be very discouraging and strange. I’ve learned that I was actually pretty lucky earlier in life, not having to date much before settling into some really great, strong relationships. It’s very hit or miss, and even the “hits” can go wrong in quite a variety of ways. It’s been exciting and fascinating and exhilarating, but also painful and exhausting at times.
Q: If you care to share, can you describe some of your relationship structures?
A: I use the world “polyamorous” most frequently (even though it offends the language geek in me … combining Latin and Greek roots? surely not …) What I mean by this word is that I have and seek multiple relationships that are as much about love as they are about sex, as opposed to being focused just on multiple sex partners. My experience has re-affirmed something I always thought I knew about myself … I have very little interest in casual sex.
Q: Have you “come out” to your family and friends and if so, how did that go? Do you recommend it?
A: I am VERY selective about it. My primary partner, as I said, is monogamous. And she has a large network of very old (even childhood era) friends, many of whom would NOT understand or approve. And frankly, she feels no need to tell many of them about it. Being part of a couple with her, I need to be similarly circumspect to respect her decisions on that. There are circumstances in which I’ve come out to specific friends or colleagues who seemed likely to be receptive or when it felt important to me to tell them. I certainly don’t need my family to hear all about it … I see no upside for me in that right now. In general I am content with the vast majority of people I intersect with not knowing this about me, because it’s not really relevant or their business anyway.
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)
A: This is a really great question, and for myself the answer is that it’s somewhere in between. My monogamous partner has come to understand my poly nature as if it were analogous to my being gay. Which means that even when things get hard for her, she doesn’t feel it would be right to ask me to stop being who I need to be. I greatly appreciate that, but if I’m honest I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. I definitely don’t feel it’s just a choice that I could easily walk away from – I take too much fulfillment from finally living authentically to do that. But the analogy to sexual orientation seems to me a bit disrespectful towards those that struggle with their orientation. When I was cheating on prior primary partners, it wasn’t like a closeted gay man pretending to love and desire women. Nor was I an unhappy man trapped in a loveless relationship. I had plenty of love and desire for those partners. I just wanted … more. So that’s what it’s like for me … I get much of what I need and want from my primary partner, but I also need and desire more.
Q: What one thing (or things) did you learn along your ethical non-monogamy journey that really helped you?
A: I learned relatively early on that I was going to have to develop a different way of listening, particularly in moments when things got painful or confrontational with my primary partner. Learning how to let go of any defensiveness or feelings of guilt, and just listen with an open mind and heart to what she needs to say, no matter how hard it is to hear. That act of simply listening without trying to fix anything or provide any answers … that’s been critically helpful at times.
Q: How do you handle when jealousy or insecurity issues come up (either with yourself or your partners)?
A: Communicate, communicate, communicate! If it’s my partner that is feeling this way, I create a space for them to express it. If it’s me, I need to take responsibility for expressing it rather than trying to manage it myself in silence.
Q: What do you find is the most rewarding aspect of living an ethical non-monogamous lifestyle?
A: It’s a fascinating way to live. You’re putting a multiplier on the learning and fulfillment and sheer happy experience that relationships can add to your life. You’re learning how to communicate well, and consistently. You’re learning how to be mindful of multiple people’s needs (I think of it sometimes as like playing 3-dimensional chess). It’s very challenging and very rewarding. It requires that I be the best version of myself that I can be, as often as possible.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone considering an alternative relationship?
A: There is no one model for how to make it work other than whatever you discover that works for you and your partners. So read up and see what kind of relationship structure (or lack thereof) works for you. I found the book “More Than Two” especially helpful.
Be aware that you will likely make mistakes, sometimes hurtful ones. It’s easy to get things wrong when you are trying something new, and there are emotional consequences to some of the more obvious mistakes one can make. So learn how to recognize when that happens and how to apologize sincerely and do better the next time.
And it is also likely that you will get hurt along the way. Human beings are flawed in myriad ways, and the more people you engage with, the greater the likelihood that one of those flaws might cause you heartache. No one has mastered this stuff, so be prepared to be on the receiving end of other people’s learning processes from time to time.
Thank you so much, my new friend and fellow Loving Without Boundaries member! 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. You are awesome, and thanks for your contribution here. It is highly valued.
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!)