Book Review: “The Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love” by Franklin Veaux

A year after releasing More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory (co-written with Eve Rickert), Franklin Veaux returns with a second book on the subject — a memoir about his unconventional love life called The Game Changer. Whereas More Than Two functions as a how-to guide, this new book is a story from Veaux’s own life, tracing his journey from sheltered childhood to marriage and eventually to having, as he puts it, “five girlfriends.”

Veaux is one of the most prominent writers on ethical non-mongamy, but that trajectory wasn’t inevitable. Raised in a conservative Christian family — and a computer nerd to boot — Veaux was “sheltered from the complicated world of human sexual interaction. I knew I didn’t understand monogamy. I knew I was attracted to things that most people called ‘kinky’…. But my understanding of all things romantic was entirely theoretical…..”

Hear this essay read aloud:

Veaux knew his ideas about love were outside of the norm, but his early attempts at polyamory seem almost accidental. When two girls asked him to prom, he said yes to both of them — and luckily, they didn’t mind.

“I felt disconnected from the approach that other people [took] for granted,” he writes. “I didn’t want to be someone’s one and only. Monogamy didn’t make sense to me. It never had, even when I was a young child. When … my middle-school teacher told us a story about a beautiful princess trying to choose between two handsome princes, I stared at her in utter bafflement. I didn’t know a lot about princes and princesses, but … if they both loved her, and she fancied both of them, where was the problem? Surely there was room for all three of them, right?”

During a break from college, while working at a fast food restaurant, Veaux met Celeste, who became his girlfriend. The only problem was, she wanted to find “The One.” She didn’t mind if Franklin had sex with other partners, but she made him promise he “would never, ever fall in love” with anyone else. “She wanted reassurances that I would never use the word ‘love’ with any other partner, nor permit anyone else to use that word with me….”

Veaux agreed to her demands. “I was afraid of being alone,” he writes. “Opportunities for love and connection seemed rare… it might be years — decades! — before I found anyone else.” Hoping to ease her concerns around monogamy, he suggested that Celeste hook up with his friend Jake — and before long, the three friends, and another co-worker, Lisa, developed a kind of four-way friends-with-benefits arrangement.

“That was the extent of our negotiation about non-monogamy,” he writes. “There were no other people we knew who were trying this. We lacked the language to describe what we wanted. We had no role models. For all four of us, sex was something we did, not something we talked about.”

During college, Veaux began dating women who were more open to non-monogamous relationships — including Ruby, who moved in with him and Celeste. Since he and Celeste were “primary” partners, he agreed to abide by the restrictions she placed on other relationships — such as always spending the night in bed with her. “At night, when [Ruby and I] curled up together on the bed in her room, I was always aware that there was a clock counting down to midnight, when I would have to get up and walk out, leaving her to sleep alone.”

The rules became too much for Ruby, and she broke up with Franklin and moved out, leaving him confused and devastated. He turned to online message boards and local discussion groups for advice: “Overnight, I’d gone from a life where I felt alone, trying to make up an entirely new way of relating all by myself, to a life where other people — many other people! — were building this new path for me.”

Soon, he and Celeste were married, and both seeing other partners. Most of their polyamorous friends were firmly in Celeste’s camp: they believed that the primary couple came first and that other relationships were secondary. Many of them agreed that a veto option — where one partner can step in and end another partner’s relationship — was integral to making polyamory work.

But when Celeste used a veto on one of Franklin’s partners, he began to have his doubts. “What did I do wrong?” Elaine asked. “I followed all the rules! … You let one person you love tell you to break up with another person you love?”

It was too late to save the relationship, but he realized she “was right. There was no consideration for the fact that we’d spent three years building intimacy and vulnerability, growing a romantic relationship…. The veto went off like a nuclear bomb.… It hurt to be ordered to give up a person I loved.”

His marriage grew strained, the veto hanging over his head, while Celeste still felt threatened by his other partners. “She woke up each day,” he writes, “believing, on some level, that it would be the day I left her for someone else.”

Finally, he began dating Amber, the “game changer” of the book’s title; unlike many of the couples at the local poly group, she didn’t believe in vetoes:

“It was amazing to meet someone else who had a vision that matched what had been gradually emerging in my own mind … an approach to relationships without a hierarchy, where all the people involved were allowed to express their needs and ask to have them met.”

Together, they crafted the “Secondary’s Bill of Rights,” which caused a heated debate in the poly community. It proposed that secondary partners should have a say in matters that affected them — that they should be treated as people, with their own needs, and not as accessories to a primary relationship.

“It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary that idea was,” he writes; he describes the hate mail he received after posting it. Many old-school polyamorists weren’t ready for it; they saw it as a threat to couple-centric poly relationships.

Ultimately, he and Celeste agreed to an amicable divorce, and he dated Amber for a few more years before they too went their separate ways.

“I was not choosing between Celeste and Amber,” he writes. “My choice was between two different ways of life: two different ethical systems, two different ways of thinking about relationships, two different sets of values….”

Today, non-hierarchical, multi-partner relationships are the norm among many poly communities, and Veaux’s writing has played a major role in that transition. Both The Game Changer and More Than Two make a case for approaching relationships of any kind from a place of empathy, not of fear, and of prioritizing clear communication over arbitrary rule-making.


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