Exploring the Limits of Love
How my polyamorous relationship changed my life
“I would like to try an open relationship.”
When I said these words to my partner, his face was expressionless. He didn’t speak for a while, and I didn’t push him.
During the last months of our three-year relationship, I started feeling attracted to other people. The exclusivity agreement I had subconsciously made with my partner was beginning to weigh on me, and some questions were beginning to surface:
“How can I fully be myself if I place restrictions on the love I can give to others? How can my affection for someone cause someone else a feeling of lack? What if we could separate love from attachment? What if I could be completely free to pursue the full potential of any human interaction I encounter?”
My feelings for my partner were unchanged, but love itself began to feel incomplete. When he finally replied to my proposal, he told me that he felt insecure, uneasy. Hearing my need to emotionally connect with others, he felt a deep fear of “not being enough” for me.
He soon realized, however, that his doubts were rooted a bit deeper than that first insecurity: “I consider myself to be a very open-minded person, but this just feels wrong,” he claimed. “There’s something about this idea that I deeply dislike.”
After we’d been in a fulfilling polyamorous relationship for more than a year, it became clear to both of us that many of our initial doubts were based on our preconceived ideas about this unconventional relationship model. When you hear about “polyamory” — or “open relationships,” or “nonmonogamy” — what comes to your mind? For many people, the first images include STDs, wild orgies, and old swinging couples with dubious sex toys. In my partner’s case, there was an inevitable resistance stemming from a strict Catholic upbringing and a lack of exposure to less-traditional versions of “normal relationships.”
Despite our fears and dogmas, we have since deconstructed our own prejudices by replacing them with personal experience. How? We didn’t try to “be polyamorous”; we just talked about our personal desires and goals, brainstormed solutions, experimented, and built an intentional relationship — which happens to fit within a label which we came to cherish.
Male or female. Single or married. Heterosexual or homosexual.
Have you ever felt that you don’t fit any of the boxes life provides you with?
Okay, let’s be fair: Boxes can be useful. It’s nice to belong in your cozy, familiar, comfortable box, together with other people who love it as much as you do, people who are like you. It feels safe.
Boxes also give us the comfort of knowing. If you belong a certain box that also happens to fit another 23 percent of the world’s population, that tells me something about you: If all of you fit in the same box, you must share some similarities. I can then use this knowledge to specify my connection with you: I can provide you with more targeted services, learn how to speak in your language, help you predict and prevent certain health conditions, categorize the idea of you and keep it inside one of my own private conceptual mental boxes.
When it comes to sexuality, the world is even making the effort of creating more boxes than ever so that more people can fit in:
Monogamous. Polyamorous. Relationship anarchist. Transgender. Asexual. Gray asexual. Pansexual. Bisexual. Demisexual.
And so on. Boxes have a role, no doubt about that. However, there’s a catch about them: Sometimes, when we get too comfortable — or when we lose our curiosity to learn about other people’s boxes and instead start imagining monsters inside them — we start believing that the boxes are real. We forget about the deepest truth about boxes, which is that they are not boxes: They are soap bubbles — transparent, impermanent, colorful bodies floating away at the slightest breeze.
Labels should be inspiring guidelines, not binding rules. They should open our mind to different realities, not shut our eyes in fear at the sight of something new. They should be fun, not scary. They should connect, not separate.
Human. Happy. Free. Female when I feel like it. Open to love under any shape or size.
It’s a cold evening in Edinburgh, and we are spending the evening at the house of my partner’s friend.
It’s the first time I’ve met her, but I know they are in love with each other and that they have been connecting intimately for a few months. There are seven or eight of us, playing games and drinking tea, but as I engage in conversation with different people, my attention keeps being drawn by the two of them:
“They seem so intimate. He is giving her more attention than he is giving me, and that hurts me.”
So far, nothing new: just plain old jealousy — perfectly understandable in that situation, you might even think.
However, as I paid closer attention, there was something more to this feeling:
“He is giving her more attention than he is giving me, and that hurts me because I am afraid it will make other people pity me.”
Wow. Where did that come from? This was life-changing, because it meant that what I previously understood as a generally accepted, universally recognized feeling called jealousy was, after all, only a generic disguise for a whole range of emotions surfacing at different times and situations in my life.
This time, it came up as vulnerability, as a victimizing fear of other people’s pity. One month earlier: an irrational wave of heat in my chest when I saw my friend’s article on Medium gain more applause than mine. As a teenager: the anger toward girls with long skinny legs and pretty boyfriends.
That night, though, I could finally see through it: a repeated pattern, a million feelings within one, my adult brain rejoicing in this discovery while my inner child revived painful old wounds, this time to heal them.
The first time I told my mom that my partner and I had opened up our relationship…well, I didn’t really tell her. And can you blame me? How do you tell something like that to your family? What are they going to think? Just trying to picture the awkwardness of that hypothetical conversation made me shiver.
No, I avoided the personal revelation and instead let my family find out by watching a video my partner and I published on our YouTube channel where we talk about relationships.
Don’t get me wrong: I was still anxious about it. On the one hand, I was super-excited to publish that video, because I knew my like-minded friends would love it. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop wondering:
“What will my mom think? Will she be ashamed and think her daughter is a slut? Worse — will she just be sad that I let her find out through YouTube instead of telling her in person? What if she wants to talk about it?”
So when my mom called me after the video was published, I was surprised to hear no mention of it during the first half-hour of our conversation, and after that, a totally unexpected reaction:
“Oh, about this polyamory thing…it sounds amazing, but where do I find a partner who would be up for that?”
This was not the first time in my life when I concluded that my fear of judgment from others was unfounded and their prejudice was a mere figment of my imagination. Whenever I share something I deeply believe in from a place of loving confidence, very rarely do I receive offended reactions. Instead, people’s curiosity seems to be spiked and their hearts open, and I realize that it is in our nature to be drawn to authenticity and to feel inspired by other people’s happiness.
My partner and I share most of our lives with each other. We live together (well, it’s more like we travel together, since we are constantly on the move); we own a business together (where we coach and inspire others to build their own unique relationships); we share our finances, our bed, our creative ideas, and our dreams. One day, we want to build a family and sail the world together.
Some people choose to limit their romantic relationships to a few stable partners: a husband, a girlfriend, a sex buddy — one family and a whole structured hierarchy behind it. Others prefer the fluidity of equal, unlabeled partnerships, and still others love the idea of solo explorations and falling in love with someone new every day. Polyamory can look different to every single person who chooses to identify with it — and that’s what I love about it.
To me, it means being completely free to fulfill the desires and needs of each present moment. It’s actually quite rare that I engage in sexual activity outside my relationship with my partner; however, I know that I can. Polyamory is the ultimate proof that love is not limited (unlike money or food or numbers) and it doesn’t run out when “used too much”; on the contrary — the more you give, the more you have to give. And therefore, being in love with more than one person is one of the most powerful and mind-expanding feelings I have ever experienced.
My relationship with my partner has no rules; however, we like to guide ourselves by the concept of mindful freedom: being free to be authentic with others (whatever it is that this encompasses) while remaining mindful of each other; staying emotionally aware, checking in, and holding space to share the pain and the joy; and always striving to be compassionate and empathetic.
It’s still a lovely evening, and I just left our friend’s flat. It’s late, I feel tired, and I want to process my recently discovered concept of jealousy on my own.
My partner stayed longer. This is causing me some anxiety. (“They will have sex. They will have sex and love each other while you sleep alone at home. Oh, you poor thing!”) Despite some dark thoughts, I enjoy walking home in the even darker night, and I am grateful that the cold air soothes my heart and clears my mind.
The next morning, I find my partner next to me in bed. In my mind there’s that one obvious, stinging question that I so desperately want to ask. I postpone it (because I don’t want him to know the nature of my dirty curiosity, but mostly because a part of me already knows the answer), but before I realize it, the question just slips out of my mouth:
“Did you have sex?”
As I hear the reply, my whole heart — no, better: my whole insides — seem to burn and then corrode into a heavy, liquid, sorrowful substance that comes up and out my eyes and fills my head with more questions.
But I don’t ask. Instead, I talk. I talk about this substance inside me, and how it makes me feel like a child. “I am in pain. I need a hug. I need your support.” He gives it to me — he holds me, he hears me, and while the pain doesn’t seem to go away, it changes into something understandable — and therefore bearable.
Our unspoken agreement is this: “I am hurt, but you didn’t hurt me. I am here to hold you in your pain, because exploring it together will make us grow. I don’t need you, but you make my life amazing and I want to walk this path with you.”
I love telling people that I am polyamorous. Part of it is because this label brings me an immense feeling of fulfillment, but part of it is also because my life is surrounded with people who will hear my joy and celebrate it with me.
One of my favorite things about life is the possibility to live it intentionally in a way that makes me thrive. To be in an environment that helps me grow while choosing the challenges that excite me and are adequate to each moment.
As each day goes by, I become more aware that I create my own rules: It is no longer “forbidden” to kiss my friends on the mouth, to declare my crush for a handsome stranger, or to call my friend and invite him for a cuddly afternoon.
The more I open my horizon and perspective, the more I realize how much more there is for my mind to open and grow. Why do we believe the things we believe? Where do our fears come from? I learned that tomorrow I might not believe in the things I do today, and that’s okay.
Today, I am happy.