by Kennedy Curse
*All names changed for privacy reasons.
When Marilyn and I were discussing writing this article together I wasn’t quite sure what my part of it would look like. This is because my part of the story is much more solitary, and that is not a bad thing; I still have a year of undergrad and she graduated already, so she can afford to do a large-scale dick tour of the East Coast. I was deeply afraid of openness and polyamory before I entered this relationship. I might start a bit further back than she did, and I’ll probably go a bit further than she did as well.
Marilyn is not the first partner to talk to me about polyamory; Caroline spent the majority of our relationship touting the virtues of multiple partners to me. As much as it interested me, I could not overcome the hang-ups I had about these kinds of things, namely that I had been cheated on about a year before that and was conflating that experienced betrayal with this uncharted territory of ethical non-monogamy. I don’t know if that contributed to that breakup, but it stuck in my mind; when Marilyn brought the concept up to me I was more open-minded, more prepared. She told me about some books and articles to read, and we decided to give it a try. I won’t talk too much about the early attempts since she covered those so well last month, but I will say that I quickly noticed a difference in our needs. Marilyn, by her own admittance, liked to have multiple partners, stating to me once that her limit was around three in addition to me. To me, that sounds like a whole lot of work, time, and mental energy that I often don’t have, I realized I only really needed one other long-term partner to hang out with when she wasn’t around. When I had that thought, I thought I was the saddest mother fucker on the planet; how dependent on this woman was I that needed a placeholder when she was with her other partner(s)? I had to reshape my own thinking, something I would become very comfortable doing in the coming months: I did not need somebody for when she was gone, I needed somebody for me. It couldn’t be about her.
I went back and forth about addressing the relationship between Marilyn and Gray, as it ultimately isn’t my relationship to talk about. But I can discuss my parts of it, and the feelings I had during it. I have to go way back for this part: Gray and I met in the 5th grade and were instantly connected; we orbited each other. I was short and wide, he was taller and thin like he had been stretched out too fast. As puberty took hold, it was kind to both of us: he got taller and thicker, and as my body stretched the fat reorganized itself into more manageable and attractive places in the era of the dad-bod (and I could grow a full beard from freshman year forward, which helped). Now, I looked good but he looked GREAT. And that’s where it gets complicated.
When you’re young, being queer is a confusing thing. Feelings that you do not know how to address or understand can manifest as a more convenient and understandable emotion. Latent sexual attraction can show up disguised as admiration and feelings of inferiority. I saw in him something that I wanted to be, an unattainable beauty, but deeper down it was simpler. I was too young to understand it; I never fantasized about him and I don’t think I ever could, but sometimes when you’re young and queer your best friend is accidentally your first crush, your first love. So, when Marilyn and Gray began seeing each other, I did not have the vocabulary to explain my feelings. These are feelings I didn’t even realize until I sat down to write this. At the time, I attributed my jealousy to an inferiority complex, but now I do not think that is the case. This is simple jealousy, for the part of my own bisexual identity I imprinted onto my best friend from a very young age.
This is a long way of saying that I was not emotionally prepared for their relationship because you cannot prepare for emotions you do not know you have. It was hard to watch them together, but it became easier. The issues that we discussed at the time were issues of perceived seriousness – me either not understanding or not being prepared for the level of dedication the two of them were feeling. I didn’t really know how to handle that in any poly situation, let alone when my best friend was involved. There were long conversations between her and I, and him and me, and we chose to use “aggressive communication” between all parties to ensure there were no more hurt feelings; we were all working in a “no secrets/no surprises” model. Then it all ended and it was hard on both of them, but he couldn’t really articulate it. I knew better than to pry; that was never how we worked. So I gave Marilyn comfort, helped her heal, and we move forward stronger and more knowledgeable.
Aside from that relationship, I learned about Marilyn’s life, times, and lovers through text messages and calls. It was not unlike dating my phone. I’d love to tell you stories of me engaging in debauchery on large-scale as she got to, but I was busy failing two classes and experiencing one of the worst manic episodes of my adult life. Managing my own mental health while in college is not an easy task, but this was the first time my bipolar disorder had fully overtaken a semester; the worst part was that I wasn’t even aware it was happening until it was over. I was expressly uninterested in finding other partners, and in those four months I only went on one date.
Marilyn, on the other hand, was able to find no shortage in people interested in fucking her, so my game became support. We were in constant communication about the ups and downs she was experiencing. We got into a rhythm together and even developed a code to make sure we were emotionally ready to talk about these things at the moment: Texting, “hey babe?” means “I want to talk about poly stuff, are you ok to hear this right now?” and replying, “yes babe?” is a way of saying, “yes, I am ready to hear and discuss your plans.” It seems innocuous as I type it here, but these small gestures of respect are the most important lesson I have learned about being in an open relationship. There were times in the midst of my personal turmoil that I was in fact too emotionally drained to talk about those things, so we adapted. I’d say, “give me 5” or, “how urgent is this,” and we would return to the discussion when we could. It was all very civil, both parties attempting to put the other’s happiness on par with their own as opposed to above it.
My psychiatrist really wanted me to get laid during this period of time. He said I wasn’t trying, that it wouldn’t feel fair unless it was even. He was right about me not trying, but every time he brought up fairness I would scoff at him. Me? A twenty-first-century man in a polyamorous relationship be concerned with fairness? Absolutely inconceivable. I often scoff at my psychiatrist; unfortunately, I am often wrong to scoff at him. As much as the support position I had written myself into suited me, as my health improved I also found my side of our situation lacking. It wasn’t jealousy as my doctor predicted, but it was boredom. It was the expulsion of contentment, no longer resolved to be alone on this coast and in love with my phone. Marilyn likes to say that it should be easy for me to meet people, being still in college and all that, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is when you are in small departments at a small liberal arts school you really only ever interact with the same 20 people that you are already far too comfortable with to pursue romantic relationships. With little success on tinder and one friend who would occasionally invite me over to fuck, I was just kind of waiting and seeing.
Then Jane appeared in my life, kind of randomly. She was a friend of my roommate’s girlfriend. One day as I was heading out to work, they told me they were going to have some people over to hang out and get trashed (as college kids often want to do). They said one of the people coming over, Jane, was cute and my type and that I should talk to her. Also, I was promised tequila, so it was a win-win. Marylin was excited for me to finally have someone I was interested in pursuing, and she gave me her blessing for the night.
When I returned home, it was clear this was going to be a late one. The combination of no AC and near-infinite booze made the night have a bit of a “last party in history” vibe. I… like my ancestors before me (read: my parents), have a bit of a weakness for tequila; it turns me into the most honest version of myself. After a shot with my roommate, I saw Jane smile for the first time. I’d like to say either of us was smooth, but that was not the mood. We danced around each other for hours until we found our hands wrapped up together, and for some reason I put on a dress. We attempted to have sex that night, but neither of us can remember how it went. The next day I asked her out to coffee and she said yes.
In the midst of this, Marilyn and I were having a new set of struggles. While I had had my fair share of practice managing and monitoring my feelings in regard to her additional partners, it was new territory for her, and she was struggling. It wasn’t just the act of sharing me or sharing my time that she was concerned with, it was also the sharing of spaces that she perceived as sacred and important to our relationship. She would say, “but that’s our bed/room,” referring to my bedroom where we first secretly removed our clothes and met. I am not a sentimental person, and that is where the friction came in; I said, “it may be our room, but it still has to be my room. It’s not fair of you to restrict me because of nostalgia,” and that was the wrong thing to say, I’ll admit. I understood her feelings as this was the site of the beginning of our relationship, but it was also the start of what she has described as a very revolutionary sexual experience for her. It wasn’t just where we had our first time, but it was the first bed she was ever tied to, the place where she experienced kink for the first time. While to me it was simply my bedroom, to her it was much more. It took a long time and many long conversations to understand that, and in turn, she tried to understand me. She compromised and said that as long as somebody else didn’t sleep on her side, she would be okay. Simple enough.
Unfortunately, Jane and I met in the last two weeks of the semester, and we agreed that it wouldn’t be exceptionally smart for us to start something serious before she went home for the summer, so we just hung out and got to know each other for the time we had. It was good, we had a good time, and when she returns for the next semester who knows what will happen. I remember the first time Marilyn said that she was going to see one of her partners, and I said that I was seeing somebody that night as well, it felt like a new step taken. We saw eye to eye. It felt fair. My psychiatrist was right and wrong; I did not need to get laid as much as Marilyn did, I just needed to know that I could.
I spent most of July in Rhode Island visiting Marilyn, and it was wonderful. After four months apart and so much growth, it felt less like a reunion and more like an introduction. She cried when she saw me, I saw it, but she insists that she did not. I met her partners and they are good guys; I trusted them quickly and easily. Marilyn and I spent two weeks having amazing sex and spending our rent money on fancy dinners. Though we both agree that we never really WANT to be long-distance again, we now know that we can. The most amazing part of all this is that no matter how hard it was, no matter how uncomfortable, I never once thought that being single or being monogamous would be easier or preferable. As much as the last six months have sucked, I have never been happier overall.
Being polyamorous is not as easy for us as for some people. Marilyn often comments that other poly partnerships seemingly struggle less than we do; I think there is some false equivalence in that. We don’t struggle publicly really, it is not rooted in drama or drawing attention to ourselves in the community. By my perception, others are probably struggling as much as us in private; it’s likely very different, but we will probably never see that because it is not for us. For two people to be happy in poly, it takes an enormous amount of work. Balancing what makes you happy against your various partners’ needs against the needs of your primary relationship is overwhelming conceptually, let alone in practice. All I can say is it’s worth it for us, because that’s all I really know.