MY POLY ADVENTURE: POLYAMORY, BISEXUALITY AND ME by Alexandra Caldwell
Forward from the Daily Loaf
While being bisexual, lesbian or gay seem to be slowly gaining acceptance in “mainstream” America, there is one part of my life that still begets misunderstanding or hostility from even those within the LGBT community. Yes, not only am I bisexual, I choose to be polyamorous as well.
Some people don’t understand it at all. Others mistake it for other lifestyles, like swinging. A band of bisexuals feel angry towards people like me because they think we perpetuate the idea that all bisexuals need both a man and a woman, that we’re easy, that we can’t be monogamous or other such fears.
I recently began talking with a beautiful woman (and my new crush) who poignantly wrote about why she chooses to be polyamorous. This inspired me to examine my own reasons for and perceptions of polyamory.
I had never even considered polyamory until last year but mostly because it had never occurred to me. I am extremely loyal in all of my relationships, and I would never want to cheat on someone or betray them. In our society, the only time I had heard of people dating more than one person were under such conditions. I hadn’t thought of people loving more than one person at the same time, everyone knowing about it and being okay with it. But when my husband mentioned it, it seemed both so natural and obvious that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.
Also, the timing seemed right. I had just figured out that I wanted to kiss girls. Initially, it had seemed I’d only had two choices: I could stay married and try to ignore this new, huge part of me or I could get divorced so I could exclusively pursue relationships with women. All of a sudden there was an appealing option three: I remain married AND I date girls — either together with my husband or separately. For me, the last choice was by far the best option.
Any one of those options is a valid, respected, good choice for people in varying circumstances. I do not think that polyamory is for everyone. It’s not. People have different tastes for music, food, and movies or whether they prefer men or women, outgoing or reserved people, adventurous types or homebodies — so it makes sense that not everyone would go for polyamory — or for monogamy. People make this choice for different reasons, but both can produce beautiful, loving relationships. People have already proven that it is possible to love similar beings at the same time. We have multiple children, pets and friends that all demand our attention and love at the same time, and we generally balance those loves well.
Polyamory comes in countless forms, but there is no “right” way as long as there is good communication, respect, honesty — crucial ingredients to any poly-relationship. Some people have a primary lover and then a number of secondary lovers, who are all separate relationships but who all know about each other. Sometimes the primary and secondary lovers are intimate and connected, too. Others are in poly family groups where there is a group of lovers and everyone is connected to each other and live together — sometimes that means everyone is intimate, other times there are various combinations of people who are intimate while sharing a close, platonic love with the others in the group. There are both open and closed relationships. In open relationships, everyone involved is allowed to see other people outside of the core relationship, whereas in closed relationships, people within a specific poly group are exclusive to one another. The terms and definitions seem end less.
Originally, my husband and I set out to find a closed triad, where we would hopefully find a female who happened to fall for both of us and we’d be a happy little loving trio. While this is an ideal and many people set out to find this, we are also realistic. As in any relationship, it is a bad idea to be too rigid in what you are looking for, because ultimately reality will never live up to your expectations, and you could end up missing an even better possibility by being blinded by your supposed ideal. Also, we have to realize that the person we could find to date may want to pursue relationships outside of us, and we need to be open to that possibility. And, perhaps most importantly, it is unlikely that all three people would be equally as emotionally-attracted to one another all at the same time all at the beginning of the relationship.
Expecting everyone to fall in love with each other at the same rate is only asking for heartbreak. (Been there, done that.) Love and attraction grow at their own pace, and setting expectations too high can lead to pressure, awkwardness and far greater challenges than are necessary. Better to give the relationship some room to grow naturally and just see what develops. Triads are possible, and many people make them work, but I didn’t want this to be our only option.
Nick still holds onto the dream of the triad, but I tend to prefer we keep open minds and see what kinds of relationships come along. I think I prefer to start with dating separately and then see what happens. Nick and I have different dating styles anyway, and we end up at odds with each other or feeling frustrated by the way the other wants to date. I like to go a step or two slower than he does, so he ends up feeling held back by me, and I end up feeling pushed or rushed by him, and neither is a good way to feel at the start of a relationship. That’s when things are supposed to be happy, exciting and new. Dating separately allows us to pursue relationships at our own speed, in our own styles, and let attraction take its natural course. If attraction later forms between her and the other half of the other half of the couple as well, then great. But if not, then that is okay too.
Each relationship — or relationship attempt — teaches us new and important lessons. The biggest lesson I learned from my last failed attempt is that it’s important that our lovers have at least a friendly relationship with the other half of the couple. If Nick or my girlfriend has another significant other, then the same thing would apply. Anyone I date will have to understand that Nick is a huge part of my life, and we can’t just go about dating and ignore the fact that he’s there. It’s not a long-distance relationship where he and I live in separate places, so we all will end up being in the same place at various points in our relationship, so it’s important that everyone respects each other and can at least be friends. It is not at all necessary for everyone to be intimate, but I want us all to be able to watch a movie, have dinner or just talk without there be any weirdness. A bonus of learning these lessons is how exciting it then is when I find these important traits in another potential partner, this time realizing how special and crucial these traits are.
What polyamory is not:
Polyamory is not spouse-swapping or about casual, fleeting sexual encounters. It is an actual relationship, just like any other romantic relationship, just with more than one person. These relationships take work and commitment, and you have to feed the relationship — all branches of it — just as you have to with any successful relationship. It is not about one-night stands or casual threesomes or swinging.
That I am polyamorous does not mean that I am easy. Although sex can be a wonderful and beautiful product of such a relationship, it really is not about the sex. For me, I can’t be sexual with anyone, man or woman, without a strong emotional connection first. I’ve always been that way. Some people may think I’m strange and argue that a kiss is just a kiss, but I don’t enjoy or desire to kiss anyone without that little voice in my head saying “Hmm, I’m really attracted to and intrigued by you, and I would like to kiss you now.” Never mind anything else. And that little voice does not kick in on physical attraction alone — nor does it kick in just because you happen to be either a man or a woman. I have had very few sexual partners in my life, and I am proud of that fact. Sex is special and wonderful and something I greatly enjoy, but I don’t want to do it with just anyone.
Polyamory does not threaten monogamous relationships — for either straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual relationships. We in the LGBT community validly argue that our homosexual relationships (and our desire for marriage) do not endanger heterosexual relationships and marriages. They are separate but the same — we all are just two people who love each other and want to share our lives together. The same goes for polyamory — we are just a group of people in various combinations who love each other and want to share our lives together. Just because two women love making love to one another does not mean that is the only way for all women. And just because I am a bisexual woman who desires both a man and a woman in my life does not mean that all bisexual women want or need that.
Okay, so why poly?
The happiest times in my life have been when I’ve had a small but close group of friends with whom I can share anything and go everywhere. This has happened four or five times in my life, but as I got older, sometimes it was harder for people to realize why friends meant so much to me. They were all so distracted with boyfriends that friends would get ditched or bumped down a few notches. They never understood why I would be so hurt by this or why I didn’t think of friends more casually like they did. I think the problem for me was that I didn’t want those relationships to be lesser than the others. I didn’t see why one couldn’t invest in more than one relationship at a time, and because I was capable of that, it was hard to understand that others weren’t.
I love the idea of having a group of people to love and who love me in return, and to have that wonderful feeling of intimacy that I have craved and sought my entire life. I have my little tribe of friends, and we are wonderfully close — they’re just as much of a family to me than my family of birth. But there’s just something unique and different about the thought of that kind of closeness taken to the next level.
I adore being intimate with a woman. And not even just the sexy parts (although I absolutely adore those parts, too. All of them.) I love the emotional closeness of having a girlfriend as well. Women are so different from men, and having a girlfriend is so different from having a husband. I love them both — individually, uniquely. I love the different ways I connect emotionally with women. We have shared experiences being of the same gender, and it’s just… different. And wonderful. And as for those sexier parts? Women are amazing. I love their sweet fragrance, their silky skin, their soft curves. I love how when we hold hands, they are near the same size. I love how their bodies mirror mine but have so many exciting differences that are treasures to discover.
And I adore my man as well. We fit so well together, from our mutual geekiness to the way we work so well together as a team. From our love of German board games to the way he knows me so well. From the way I feel protected and safe when he curls around me at night to the sweet and thoughtful gestures he does for me. From his solid, manly physique to how when we hold hands, his hands are bigger than mine.
One unique aspect about me is that at least right now in my life, my desire for men and for women is off balance. I think it’s probably because I only recently discovered the wonderful world of women and it’s like I’m going through a second adolescence. My desire for men kicks in and balances out when there’s at least the prospect of a woman in my life. I hate that it’s like that right now, but that’s just how it is for me. I think this will probably even out later, after I have had more female relationships, but at the moment, this is how it is for me. I know this is not the case for many bisexual women, but I also know that I am not alone.
No one is making me choose, so why should I? Because I was raised in a society that tries to tell people that if you are a woman then you should be with a man and only one man? No thank you. That can work for you, if you like, but I choose another way.
My parents are supportive, even if my mom doesn’t totally understand it. I wish I could make her a promise when she says, “Well, just as long as nobody gets hurt,” but I can’t. It’s a relationship, after all. Has there ever been a relationship where no one ever gets hurt? It is going to happen, and it has. Love and relationships always leave trails of broken hearts, bruises and scratches. Unfortunately, that’s normal as you stumble towards figuring out what you want, who you want, and what works for you. But with each hurt comes important lessons — lessons that are crucial for the next relationship that comes around, as well as important lessons for what how things need to be to work for me and Nick, too. Each time we get hurt prevents even more hurt in the future.
With good communication, love and compromise, we can take on this exciting poly adventure together.
POLYCON 2012: Sample and/or learn how to make polyamory and bisexuality work well at the annual Harbin Hot Springs California World Polyamory Association Conference, July 12 (Preconference: Tantra for Polys), July 13-15 (Create and Enhance Multiperson Loving, starring Kamala Devi, featuring Janet Kira Lessin and Jorel Ed Elkin on Bisexuality) and Post-Conference, led by Evalena Rose) 808 244-4103