I Loved Them Both: My Journey From Culturally Programmed Monogamy to Expansive Polyamory Part II

[Note: If you haven’t read Part I of this article, go back and check that out first. Otherwise, this shiz won’t make any sense. Smooches!]

A year and a half into my relationship with Mr. Band Leader, I started realizing he was a pretty crappy boyfriend. He was constantly trying to prove to the rest of the band that he wasn’t playing favorites with his girlfriend.

The effect was that even though I was one of the hardest working core members of the band, I was often the worst treated, not just by him, but by everyone, because he set the tone. Beyond that, his sex drive didn’t come close to matching mine, and he was one of those men who thinks his orgasm is the main event of sex. He never made me come; he never even tried until our relationship was fully on the rocks. I was so used to poor treatment in romantic relationships that it took me a year and a half to see this.

I scheduled a trip to visit my parents in Seoul for Christmas without him. I wanted out of the relationship, but I was broke and confused. I needed space to figure out what I could do next.

Of course, I saw Gabriel in Seoul. It had been a while since we’d been physically together. He had just started dating someone new who he was really excited about, but when we got together one night for drinks, words came out of him that I never expected to hear.

He told me I was God’s thumbprint on the universe. That being with me was like being near the sun. That it wasn’t fair I kept leaving him. He kissed me with the heat of the brightest stars. I melted, died a million deaths, went home with him, and nearly slept with him. The thing that stopped me? I didn’t want to be a cheater. Everyone knows that cheating means you’re a terrible person, and I wanted to be a good person.

But I’d never wanted someone more in my entire life. Not my boyfriend or anyone else.

HOLY SHIT! GABRIEL MUST BE THE ONE!

But crap, he lived in Korea and I lived in New York. And he had a new girlfriend. What to do?

I returned to New York and immediately asked my boyfriend for an open relationship. He reluctantly agreed. This was the first time I’d ever tried such an arrangement, and it was for all the wrong reasons. Nonmonogamy was a salve that I was trying to apply to a dying relationship, and anyone who’s done that can tell you it’s not a smart move.

We broke up six months later.

Gabriel continued dating that new woman – even moved in with her only three months after their first date – and continued writing me love letters and lamenting that his new relationship was wonderful in every way except one: there was no passion.

Ah, but he and I had passion in spades. So clearly, this meant we were Meant To Be, and everything would work out in the end. I held onto that idea for years.

With the idea of Gabriel being The One still firmly lodged in the back of my brain, but no signs that we’d ever live on the same continent, I tried to move on with my life.

That’s when I met Chris, a skinny lead guitarist with long curly hair and a hair metal band. He was an accountant by day and a rocker by night, as well as a prolific songwriter and a fierce defender of chivalry. Chris liked to do all the planning for dates, take care of every bill, open every door, and constantly tell me why I had been worse off before he came into my life.

I was two months out of my relationship with Band Leader, and I was wounded by it. It hadn’t been an easy break-up. I was vulnerable and nursing a broken heart.

On our third date, Chris said he wanted to be exclusive, and I knew wasn’t ready for that. I asked him to be a little more patient. Instead, he gave me an ultimatum, and I caved. I felt so lost and broken, and he seemed to be offering me the kind of love, affection, and stability I’d never gotten from anyone I’d dated.

The first six months were magical. He swept me off my feet. I started to think – you guessed it – he might be The One. I told Gabriel to stop writing me love letters. I said he was disrupting my life and making it impossible for me to have healthy relationships, because the specter of his epic, passionate (elusive, long-distance) love was impossible to compete with. Chastened, he apologized and stop writing. A piece of me felt very sad, but I thought it was the right thing to do.

After all, it’s not really love if you’re encouraging other lovers to contact you like that. Right?

The catch with Chris was that he had internalized our culture’s traditional values around monogamy and relationships, and on top of that, he was deeply insecure, controlling, jealous, and possessive.

He believed that True Love meant you would no longer need to maintain relationships, even friendships, with people you’d once been involved with, because now you had your One and they needed to go find theirs and stop bothering you. He didn’t like my friendship with a college friend of mine, because she and I used to make out at parties…in college. Years ago. Of course, it was fine that he was still friends with women he’d slept with or dated. He just had a huge problem when I did it.

He really didn’t like my friendship with Gabriel.

Some of you might be wondering why I’d even tell a new boyfriend about someone like Gabriel, and I understand that a lot of people don’t share details of past relationships with new partners for fear of making them feel less significant.

But for me, that information is part of what’s shaped and formed me as a human. Hiding it means hiding vast swaths of myself. I’ve always been candid and honest with my partners. I don’t see the point in hiding parts of yourself and your life to spare someone’s fragile ego – we should be able to see the wholeness of the people we are closest to, or why are we so close?

So of course I told him about Gabriel, and that led to Chris essentially asking me to never speak to him again.

For the next year, I cut Gabriel out of my life. I was miserable. He was miserable. It really, really sucked.

I also distanced myself from that college friend I used to make out with, and every other person I’d ever been involved with romantically or sexually, all to assuage Chris’s concerns that I wasn’t fully committed to him.

The relationship with Chris wasn’t healthy, as you might have gathered by now. Once he felt he had me secured, he wanted to put me in a little wifey-shaped box and leave me there while he attended to more pressing matters.

After those magical first six months, things degraded rapidly. Chris stopped looking at me, literally and metaphorically, and I felt abandoned in this relationship that I’d given up so many of my people for.

The night he left me, Gabriel was my first phone call. I cried and apologized over and over again. He immediately forgave me, told me how depressed he’d been the last year because of the silence between us, and took me back into his life with no hesitation.

That’s when the Big Epiphany hit.

What Chris had asked of me – to stop having close relationships with people I had a romantic connection to – is considered pretty normal in our relationship politics. A lot of people would agree that I’d done the right thing to comply.

But I knew in my heart that it had been all wrong. Cutting Gabriel off was a terribly unkind mistake that wounded someone I deeply love.

I swore I would never do that again. And I realized that, more than anything, I wanted to structure my life so that Gabriel and I could have our relationship be what it is – a passionate, romantic, highly sexual love story – and that meant no more monogamy for me.

For the first time, I realized that the way we handle our romantic relationships would be considered wildly toxic if applied to any other kind of relationship – friendship, family, whatever.

Think of it this way – if you made a new friend, and you guys really hit it off, like instant besties, and then that new friend started expressing major discomfort with you having other friends, how would you feel?

If your new friend was constantly jealous of your other friends, and encouraged you to abandon those friendships for the sake of strengthening your friendship with them, would you comply or would you balk?

Would you think that was totally fine and healthy, or would you immediately start distancing yourself from this person?

If a new friend had a problem hearing about your other friendships in conversation, would that be okay with you?

If a new friend felt entitled to the bulk of your free time, and wanted you exclusively to themselves, would you agree? Would you sacrifice all other friendships?

How about if you had more than one child, and one of them really felt that you couldn’t love them as much if you loved the others. Would you confirm that belief for them and give up the other kids to make the one feel more special?

If you have more than one sibling, and one of them was jealous of the others and wanted you to only be close to them, would you agree that that’s the healthiest way to proceed?

No, of course you wouldn’t. No one would. That’s fucking crazy.

But that’s exactly how most people handle their romantic relationships.

After Chris, I was done with trading in the important people in my life just because someone new came along. I have more respect for my love relationships than that, and I cherish them too dearly to routinely step away from them every time I date someone new.

As far as Gabriel being The One, over time, that certainty was transmuted into an infinitely more nuanced and subtle understanding of our particular dynamic.

Gabriel married the other woman he was seeing, and he and I are still passionate lovers. Their relationship never did develop passion, but they’ve made wonderful, loving partners to each other.

He and I never developed the kind of easy companionship that you need for a day-in, day-out partnership (and we still operate on opposite ends of the globe).

Instead, we’ve accepted and protected our places in each other’s lives. We are long-distance lovers and ardent supporters of each other’s hopes and dreams, and it works best with some distance between us. I don’t want to be Gabriel’s wife for a lot of great reasons, but I love being his lover. That’s his place in my life, and I like it that way.

The myth of that perfect someone, The One True Love To End All Other Loves, doesn’t really exist unless you decide to structure your life that way.

There are lots of Ones out there, and you can choose to only have one, or you can choose to allow all of your relationships to develop organically – to be what they are, no more and no less.

Either way is fine, as long as you know there is a choice. Too many people accept the concept that there is only one way to do romantic relationships, but there are infinite ways, and we should question and explore to find the right ones for us.

Since committing to a polyamorous lifestyle seven years ago, I’ve grown relationships with several other partners, all of which I cherish and which fulfill me in different ways.

I would never cut any of them out of my life for the sake of someone new. These relationships are as important to me as my family and friends, and they deserve to be respected and protected. And when my lovers have other lovers, I am happy for them – I want them all to have as much love, romance, and delicious, passionate sex as possible.

When you love someone, you want them to be happy. And I love them all.

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