On “Chosen Families”: A Polyamorous Perspective
“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. This is a phrase I have been thinking about for some time now, because it strongly relates to my life as a polyamorous person, both for good and bad. As someone who seeks out love in all of its forms, common narratives of family erase me (for more on that, see this post about poly/ace/bi/NB erasure) and I find myself having to blaze my own path to reach the type of life that fits me best. This can, of course, be quite difficult with most of the world around me fitting molds of family, even of chosen family, that are alien to me.
I suppose a reason why I am thinking about family structure in particular now is because I am starting to reach the age where some of my friends and loved ones are beginning the “coupling up” process, and taking the requisite steps on the Relationship Escalator. Now, I went to a university that has both a rather high LGBTQ population, as well as a high Orthodox Jewish population, and I have had friends and acquaintances in both communities get married in the past year since we have left school. In addition, I have been loyally following the noted bisexual YouTuber RJ Aguiar, whose entire journey on YouTube has been with his loving now-husband Will at his side. Seeing these relationships in action has made me think a lot about my future, and how I do not feel that this life is for me. My love, though it may come from a similar place, takes on a vastly different form, and not only has coming to terms with that been a struggle, but adding the social pressure to conform only makes it worse for me as a proud poly individual. Normally, I would not think too much about other people’s relationships and the forms they take, other than as a point of comparison in my poly activism, but lately, these thoughts have taken a much more personal turn, and it is a rather painful one at that.
As many of you know, I am currently in three committed relationships with three wonderful people. I love and cherish each one of my partners, and all in all, this is the most fulfilled and contented I have felt about my romantic life in years. Unfortunately, it is not all perfect, and a combination of outside factors and my own anxiety have put some insecure thoughts in my head about the status of my relationships.
You see, each of my partners (referred hereto as K, S, and B), in addition to their relationships with me, have relationships that are steeped in history, transitioning to lifelong commitment, or both, whereas I have never had anything remotely close to that. As I discussed above, I am not exactly a fan of “traditional” relationships, and I am not exactly keen on the idea of binding myself to someone(s) for life, but lately, there have been more doubts in my head about the future, and what it may hold for me.
These doubts are of course a product of insecurity and anxiety, and those are in this case derived from some recent (and some not-so-recent) developments in my partners’ lives. A few weeks ago, K got back together with her ex-fiancee of three years, and they are planning to move in together again in a few months. My initial reaction was one of total compersion; I was, and still am, legitimately happy for them, and I would love to have her as a metamour in my life. However, the next morning, I woke up to a big notification in my face that K and her new-old partner’s relationship was public, something my relationship with her never was in the same way. That, coupled with the knowledge that this woman is (mostly) monogamous and desires a slightly more “traditional” family setup, made me fear that K would eventually have to leave me and her third partner and be monogamous with her ex-ex. I talked with K about this the next time I saw her, and she was totally reassuring, and now I know that she does not plan on leaving me anytime soon. However, there is still this nagging voice in my head that because they have years of history, and they plan on living together, that that makes me a second-rate partner by comparison.
On the same token, B is very new to polyamory, and slow to form romantic connections (she is demisexual). She has been with her nesting partner for three years, and they have been engaged for over ten months at this point. Her fiance is a very lovely man, and he himself is in several other committed relationships, but it is B with whom he is transitioning into a lifelong commitment. Their relationship is not hierarchical, thankfully for me, but again, because of all of their history together, and the fact that they have only recently opened up their relationship, again makes me feel like I’m second-best in B’s heart. She has also told me that this is not the case, and that her relationship with her nesting partner is separate and distinct from her relationship with me, and that she has no intention of treating me like I am expendable. I suppose another thing that has made me insecure in this relationship is that B is not completely out of the closet, and therefore, our relationship must remain a secret in many spaces. Now, this is largely for her safety, and I have been assured that this is only a temporary situation, and that she hopes to be able to come out to her family sooner rather than later, so I am not worried in the long term. Again, I think a lot of it is just my insecurity talking, telling me that I will never be able to bask in the same kind of love that B and her nesting partner have because our relationship can’t be as public as hers with him.
I do not seem to have the same degree of fear and doubt in my relationship with S, though it is worth mentioning that S has both a primary and a life partner. Again, I have met both, and they both seem like great people, but there is something there in each of S’ relationships with their other partners that isn’t there in our relationship. I’m not saying that every polyamorous relationship must look the same, but what is making me anxious is the idea that each of my three partners, whom I love dearly, are beginning to enter chosen families with other partners in a way that they cannot with me.
These past few weeks have been rife with emotion, both positive and negative, but this insecurity is proving difficult to fight, despite my partners’ reassurance that I am important to them. It has also made me think critically about what I want in a chosen family structure. Now, the type of polyamory that I practice is somewhere between solo poly and relationship anarchy, which indicates that I highly value my independence, and do not like the idea of hierarchies or any sort of system that forces me to place a higher value on one person/type of love over any other. I have often said that the most romantic thing in the world to me is the fact that my partners are under no obligation to stay with me, and there is nothing legal or bureaucratic that binds us together. They can leave at any time they want, but they actively choose to stay with me solely because they want to. To me, that is more romantic than anything else, and yet for some reason, the fact that K, B, and S all have these other types of relationships that have more or less a tie that binds them together, makes me surprisingly jealous, an emotion that I am not used to feeling. All of that said, however, I am still immensely grateful to be in these three amazing relationships, and I would not trade this love for the world.
So, all of this is to elaborate on why I have been obsessing over the idea of a chosen family, and where I would like to go in that regard in the future. For that, I have to rewind back two years, to my senior year of college, which I consider the highlight of my queerplatonic relationships. That year, I lived in a six-person suite with several of my best friends, whom I still talk to today. We helped each other through academic crises, interpersonal struggles, romantic woes, and were generally there for each other when any of us needed love and support. Likewise, we shared in plenty of fun times, from eating meals together, to having movie nights in our common room, to cheering each other on at any of our respective performances or events. I was living with some of the best friends I have ever had, and I love each of them just as strongly as I love any of my three romantic partners. The non-romantic nature of our relationships does not diminish the closeness and love we felt/feel for each other, and in a lot of ways, it is a structure like that that I keep coming back to when I think of what my chosen family setup might look like down the road.
It is worth briefly mentioning that in my life as a tokusatsu fan, I love shows where I can headcanon the characters as being pansexual/romantic and polyamorous, often “shipping” characters in tangled poly webs. This is an important tool for illustrating how I view poly love and family structures in an ideal world, and helps shape my ultimate wants in this facet of my life.
There is no requirement for me (or anyone) that our chosen families be built with romantic partners, but I would very much like my chosen family to be made with people I do love and care about dearly, and whether that love is romantic or queerplatonic does not matter so much. Of course, I want my life to be continuously filled with both romantic and queerplatonic love, and I will continue to seek out relationships that can take either/any form, if I feel myself lacking in one category or another and I desire more intimacy.
Now that I have laid out my current struggles and future goals, it is time for me to think about what steps to take that would most likely lead to what I want. Right now, I think my principal goal is just to work on battling my fears and doubts actively every day, to make sure that irrational concerns do not ruin the good thing I have going right now. Barring that, I suppose I just keep an open mind, and face each new situation as they come. After all, I am still quite young, and have pretty much my whole life ahead of me yet.
The reason I am writing this is twofold: 1. I find getting my thoughts and feelings out there helpful for articulating what it is that I am battling with and figuring out ways to deal with the problems at hand, and 2. I want my experiences to have some sort of takeaway for other people who may be struggling with similar things. For any other poly folks out there who read this, know that you are not battling this alone. Our relationships break the script that has been set up by mono-centric society at large, and thus we are largely blazing our own paths to our happiness. That can be both incredibly liberating and scary at the same time, but know that there are others out there who are fighting that fight with you. Our families may look and function differently, but they are perfectly valid expressions of love and commitment, and ultimately, it is our own happiness that is most paramount.