This post first appeared on Sinclair Sexsmith’s blog. Sinclair has been interviewing different folks about their experiences with polyamory and open relationships. The series is definitely worth checking out.
1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?
My partner and I have been together for over 20 years and we’ve been poly the entire time. There have been a few times that we stepped back from having other lovers because we needed some space to focus on each other. I’ve had lovers & playmates, as well a few ongoing secondary relationships. So one thing I’d tell my younger self is that things will change, and then they’ll change again. Don’t expect otherwise- there will come times when you struggle against changes that will happen anyway, and fighting them only made it harder.
Something else I’ve learned from being poly is that it requires the ability to talk about and process feelings quickly and efficiently. Of course, that skill will benefit any relationship, but when there are multiple people, each with their own needs and desires, as well as their feelings about each other, there are a lot of moving parts. If I could, I’d tell my younger self that the best way to learn how to process well would be to build social networks full of people who are dedicated to open-hearted, honest communication. Yes, therapy helped. Yes, workshops and books helped. But getting to see how other people do it and getting to practice it with lots of friends made it much easier to develop those skills in sexual/romantic relationships.
It’s also really easy to get smug about it. Being poly doesn’t make you more evolved or better than anyone else. If you think it does, you’re being a jerk. Don’t let it happen.
2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?
Well, scheduling used to be one of the hardest, though google calendar is a big help.
Sometimes, the New Relationship Energy I feel with a new partner can make things tricky for my partner. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better at managing that initial crush phase, in part because I know that it doesn’t last more than a few months. Sometimes, it deepens into a new dynamic and other times, the connection ends when the NRE does. I’ve learned how to let it take its own shape and be present with it, without letting it spill out into my partner. Usually. And when it doesn’t, she knows that she can tell me to take a break from talking about it, which makes it easier to manage.
3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?
At this point in my life, I rarely have sex with people I don’t have a heart connection with. Having said that, I have a lot of people in my life who I love. Some of those people are lovers and some aren’t. Each of those relationships is unique and each offers different gifts, pleasures, and delights. For me, whether we have sex or not is really less important than whether we can be open with each other about what we think, feel, and want. Being poly has been a lifelong practice in how to love each of these wonderful people in the way that works for that dynamic. It’s like I get to have all of these different flavors of love, some of which have been in my life for years and others are more fleeting. And the more I practice it, the more kinds of love come my way. It’s really quite delightful.
Being poly is also a really great way to make room for different desires and interests. I don’t expect to be able to give my partner everything she might want, so I like to create the space for her to get it elsewhere, and vice versa. That has given us much more freedom to enjoy the many things we do offer each other because there’s no resentment forming as the result of unmet needs.
4. Anything else you’d like to add?
There isn’t any one way to be poly. That can be challenging because you have to figure out what works for you, which means making mistakes along the way. You’ll feel hurt sometimes, and you’ll hurt others. Learning how to apologize and reconnect with people is essential. Don’t expect perfection- plan for bobbles.
Don’t keep secrets. That doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone everything, but if you’re withholding something that you know someone would want to know about or that they deserve to know about, lean into the fear and do tell them. Withholding leads to secrecy and resentment, both of which kill relationships. There’s plenty of room for privacy within a relationship, but not for secrets. So if you can’t be honest about what you want or what you’re doing, either stop doing it or learn how to be honest.