First principles, and a bombshell of a sentence:
I've been asked, and lately have had cause to ask myself, if I am really poly.
I'm reminded of a gay friend--my best man when I married Eva, actually--who moved to California so that he could FINALLY be "out"...only to discover he didn't fit anything like his community's definition of 'gay'. Silly me, I thought "gay" meant 'attracted to people of the same sex". Nope: as it turned out for my friend, being "gay" obligated him to rack up as much meaningless sex as humanly possible. Under no circumstances should he desire a monogamous marriage to a like-minded man: somehow, despite the two men in this scenario, it reeked of hetero cooties.
It drove him to the verge of suicide--isolation will do that--before he straightened up (pun definitely intended), found his like-minded monogamous man, and married him. Eva and I were two of three people present at the wedding in Toronto; he's been happily married longer than we have.
There are, in fact, many possible expressions of homosexuality. There are even more expressions of polyamory--because the "poly" itself means "many".
My polyamory cred has been questioned on several grounds. Let's see:
- I experience jealousy.
Very few people don't, you know: it just takes the right trigger. Stereotypically, the difference between "mono jealousy" and "poly jealousy" is that the first is blamed on others while the second is blamed on the self.
Jealousy is insecurity, and polyamory will throw every insecurity you have into sharp relief. The trigger I have most struggled with is the cowboy.
Polyamory, like any culture that has yet to hit the mainstream (it's getting there!), has a bewildering mess of terminology, not all of which has consistent meaning from person to person and polycule ("interwoven web of partners and partner's partners") to polycule. But the fear of "cowboys" (and "cowgirls") is almost universal. A cowboy is a monogamous man--they often pretend to be polyamorous or poly-curious--whose true desire is to "rope your partner off from the herd" and claim that partner all to himself.
There's no surefire preventative, just like there's no surefire way to ensure your monogamous partner will always and forever remain sexually exclusive with you. (I much prefer saying "sexually exclusive" to "faithful" -- there are other pertinent definitions of fidelity.) Fidelity, for me, is about honouring trust and keeping promises--not promises of exclusivity, but promises to respect and cherish each partner for who they are, to be there in times of trouble, to seek to build partners up and not tear them down.
Anyway, the appearance of a cowboy sets my teeth on edge. It shouldn't, but it does: fear of loss is potent.
Either I have enough trust in my partner to know she'll resist the cowboy's charms -- the same way you trust your husband not to cavort with floozies -- OR my partner will choose monogamy eventually and who am I to stand in her way?
Here's the thing though: I have also been accused of not being poly because, supposedly,
- I'm actually a cowboy myself.
Hearing that was like getting punched in the face with a small moon. But upon a lot of reflection, I think I know where this came from. Bear with me as I look like I'm talking my way out of a corner.
UNLIKE being gay, being polyamorous can be a choice. Many people see it that way; many others claim it as part of their identity. I've always believed myself to fall in the latter camp. And yet--
Despite claiming polyamory as a fundamental part of my identity for far longer than the word has existed...I have been sexually faithful to a single partner for the vast majority of my life. I must once again quote the Usenet alt.polyamory definition of the word, which I had a tiny hand in creating for the group:
"Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there." (bold mine.)
In the same way bisexuals don't have to constantly be dating both a male and a female partner, polyamorous people may, due to circumstance or even inclination, be monogamous or even celibate for a time. (Yeah, yeah, let's be honest: for most people sex is involved here.)
Again: I can be physically monogamous. I have been, for all but the tiniest fraction of my life, and that fraction is tinier than most of you would ever guess. I was happy that way.
Okay, my honesty compels me to remind all and sundry that I have cheated. On two different partners, in the distant, distant past. (Wow, that blog has more wisdom than I thought I knew in it.) But once I found a the right partner -- I married her -- I never cheated again. To those of you who insist that I have not followed the vows I made to my wife on October 14, 2000 -- or that she hasn't -- I would invite you to (re)read what those vows actually said:
I, Ken, do take you, Eva
to be the wife of my days
the companion of my journey
the friend to my life
and the mother of our children
to live with you in joy and
to grow with you in love.
With these words
and all the words of my heart
I marry you and I bind my life to yours.
If you want to be pedantic, the word "all" should never have appeared there for either of us. It should read "with these words, my heart's words, I marry you and I bind my life to yours." But we had talked about polyamory well before that ceremony; it was only circumstance that prevented us from opening up sooner than fourteen years in.
I refer to Eva as the "mother of my children" in those vows...and we don't have children. Does that invalidate the vows?
(Oh, yeah, Ken? If you were so happy with one partner, why'd you go looking for more?)
It wasn't because of something lacking, I assure you. I know how hard that is to grasp -- I can actually HEAR you saying "IT HAS TO BE! IT HAAAAAAASSSS TOOOO BEEEEEEEE!" -- but no. I'm going to quote Franklin Veaux at length here, because this is critically important:
Many people believe that a person who has multiple loves can’t give their “whole heart” to any person. The belief goes that if you love one person, you can express your love wholeheartedly, but if you love multiple people, your love is divided up and is therefore not as deep. This is based on the “starvation model” of love—that is, you only have a limited amount of love, and if you give your love to one person, there is none left to give to anyone else—so if you fall in love with another person, you have to “pay” for it by withdrawing your love from the first person.
Love is not the same thing as money. With money, you have only a limited amount to spend, and when you give it to one person you have less left to give to another. But love behaves in wonderful and unpredictable and counterintuitive ways. When you love more than one person, you soon realize that the more love you give away, the more love you have to give. Yes, you CAN give your whole heart to more than one person, and when you do, you realize it’s the most beautiful feeling in all the world.
Don’t think of the contents of your heart the way you think of the contents of your wallet; it doesn’t work like that.
Some people also seem to feel that it is not possible to love more than one person at a time, so if you’re in a position where you’re in a relationship with one person and you happen to fall for someone else, this “proves” you don’t really love the person you’re with, right? After all, the feeling goes, we are put here on this earth to love only one other person, our one true soulmate in a world of six billion people…the single person who is right for us, and who by some quite astounding coincidence happens to go to the same school, or work at the same place.
This is the “scarcity model” of love—the notion that love is rare, that we can only have one true love, and that once we meet that one true love, the part of our brains that take notice of other people suddenly and mysteriously shut off.
I'm meandering, as important as all of this is. The fact is I can be and have been happy in a physically monogamous relationship. That can make me look like I've got a big cowboy hat, chaps and boots on when I'm in one.
I don't. For two reasons.
One: I am absolutely incapable of EMOTIONAL monogamy.
There is not a period of my life in which I have only held one person in my heart. There have been periods in which I had no close relationships at all -- a particularly desolate chunk of time between '96 and '99 springs to mind -- but even throughout my school years, I had CRUSHES on multiple people.
My first love -- immature, to be sure -- was for a woman named Darlene. I dreamt of rosy futures with her, futures that could never have worked out because I grew out of my religious faith and she grew into hers. (Nevertheless, I still love her.)
Despite an ardent yearning for Darlene, there were also a couple of Lauras, a Nicole (whom my friend Craig ended up marrying!) and a Danielle. What were they doing there? Claiming their own pieces of my heart, that's what. None of these relationships were even remotely physical, including Darlene (never even kissed her, more's the pity!) ... but any of them could have been, if the woman involved had wanted it that way. Easily. More importantly, though--I can truthfully say I loved each of them, by my understanding of what love was at the time.
All of that has been true with each successive period of my life. It remains true today. If this is a phase I'm going through, as my stepdad once claimed....it's a HELL of a long phase.
Anybody who loves me, especially those who bind their lives to mine, must accept this about me, because it's not going to change. I love more than one person--and when I'm with each person I love, I love them with my whole heart.
And two, I will never put an arbitrary limit on a relationship simply because another relationship exists. I have respected and will respect YOUR limits, and those of your partner. I'm not a homewrecker. But where a relationship can deepen and grow, I would love for it to do so. Where physical expression can be welcomed...it will be.
That, by my lights, makes me polyamorous. My life's circumstances have recently changed, and will continue to change as time goes on -- there's a word for people who don't change, and that word is "dead" -- but I will always love as many as I can as deeply as I can.