I Loved Them Both: My Journey from Culturally Programmed Monogamy to Expansive Polyamory

I was always a sucker for romance. I still am, but it used to be a rather unhealthy fixation. When I was a blossoming preteen (please note, I’m using the word “blossoming” with a scalding degree of sarcasm—I was the definition of awkward), I bought into every cultural trope about meeting The One and finding True Love that the movies could throw at me.

I believed that you could only love one person at a time, and that maybe none of it was really love unless it turned out they were The One, meaning you were on a path to marriage.

I never wanted kids or fantasized about my wedding, so I guess I was weird that way. But I definitely believed there was One True Love for me out there in the world, and that I just had to be patient while life schemed to place that person in my path at the Exact. Right. Moment.

It would be magical. S/he would take my breath away, sweep me off my feet—or perhaps I’d do the sweeping—and we would live happily ever after, basking in the glow of our perfect love.

Unfortunately, The One was not making him/herself apparent quickly enough, so I started projecting my One True Love onto whoever was turning me on in that moment. I write this with the scathing clarity of hindsight. At the time, it all felt completely, woefully sincere.

My first serious boyfriend was a punk rocker who was furious with the world and had a tendency to treat strangers with more care and generosity than he would ever treat me. But he said those magic words: “I love you.” I believed him. I said them back. And then I fucking moved to Kaysville, Utah, to live with him in a filthy single-wide trailer for a full year of my young life. Fantastic decision-making, courtesy of the One True Love myth. Our relationship was tumultuous and abusive from the beginning, but I stuck it out as long as I could. I thought saying “I love you” meant you were committed to each other, and I envisioned us together forever, until it became obvious that that would be a very sad future for me.

Eventually, the severe emotional and mild physical abuse overrode the circuits in my brain screaming about ONE TRUE LOVE, and I got the hell out of there. I packed all my things plus three cats into my mostly broken Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove off into the sunset.

After that degrading experience, I justifiably identified as a lesbian for a couple of years. Once you’ve dealt with the genitals of a man who prides himself on rarely showering or wearing underwear, you’ll understand that my temporary distaste for dick was real. During that time, I met Brittany. Oh my God, Brittany. She was so beautiful. She was perfect. I was in love! I wanted to be with her forever.

That did not stop me from making out with a curvaceous hottie named Selena in the bathroom at a party that Brittany didn’t attend. I should’ve gotten an inkling of my future in nonmonogamous exploration then, but instead, I just assumed I was a dog. A total shit. I decided to be honest about my shittiness, and that was it for me and Brittany. You see, she also bought into the idea that if you really love someone, you’ll never want or love anyone else in a romantic or sexual way again. True Love is exclusive and monogamous. That’s just basic facts, right?

I was bouncing between the US and my hometown of Seoul, Korea—I’m not Korean, I’m a military brat, it’s a whole thing, don’t ever ask me where I’m from, it’s the worst—for a few years after that, and that’s when I met Gabriel. He lived, and still lives, in Seoul, a brilliant American expatriate whose writing, I am convinced, will one day deeply affect the world.

Full disclosure, I had actually already met Gabriel and promptly forgotten all about him. I was still gay when we initially met, and all I knew was that there was something extraordinary about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He was dating a friend of mine who was not being very cool to him, and I thought he was too special for that. I broke girl code and told him he should run away from her. He did, and I lost track of him. I didn’t sabotage their relationship to steal him for myself, I just wanted to protect him. I could see his tender heart, and I knew my friend had no intention of treating it gently.

Two years later, with me newly bisexual again, he reappeared in my life, still extraordinary, only now I saw why he’d affected me so.

I’d never been so attracted to another human being in my life. To this day, that statement stands. I thought I knew what it felt like to be really into someone, but I was wrong. This was different. It was magnetic, hypnotizing, intensely sexual. When he looked at me, my stomach did butterfly flips. When we touched, it was like being hooked up to a power generator. My body and soul vibrated just from his hand brushing mine.

Whooooa. This must be The One.

We made plans to go out on what seemed like a date but ended up being a group hang. His ex-girlfriend, a slim, curly-haired French Canadian woman, was there. She saw me all moony-eyed next to him and managed to get back together with him that night.

Ha! So much for True Love. Le sigh.

So we became friends—really, really close friends—for the next two years. And in that time, I moved to New York City. Bye, Gabriel!

Gabriel and the possessive French Canadian girl eventually broke up (PS: she HATED me), and I ended up back in Seoul for seven weeks one late spring. Gabriel and I finally slept together, and holy sparkle balls, it was magnificent! I was 25 at the time, and I’d been sexually active for eight solid years. I’d racked up some numbers, and I thought I knew what good sex was like.

I had no idea. This was different; this was everything! It was a reason to go on living! It was a direct connection to the divine! With him, everything was so easy, so natural, effortlessly passionate. Also, we’d already been saying we loved each other as friends for the better part of two years, so when we started saying it while fucking, it made the fucking feel like love-making… because that’s what it was. We loved each other deeply. We still do.

But the weird thing was, I didn’t think too much of it. You see, I’d been pursuing this guy back in New York so hard that I got myself into his band as a back-up singer. I thought he was just amazing. He was talented, a bit older than me and therefore more stable and worldly, and so damn elusive! It was intoxicating, and I was very focused on it, even while being with Gabriel on the trip back home.

At the end of the seven weeks in Seoul, I think Gabriel and I both realized that if we lived in the same place, we would try to be together. It was too good. It was kind of tragic that I had to leave. But shit, I had to leave, so I tried to brush it aside. I went back to New York and resumed my pursuit of the band leader. After ten months of practically begging for his attention, he finally came to his senses and realized I was awesome. We got together and stayed together for the next two years.

Those two years were very educational.

Let me be clear. I loved this bandleader boyfriend. I thought he was The One. I saw us building this band together and making it a huge thing and being a power couple. I saw us probably getting married. I had chased him for so long, and when I somehow finally got him, I was sure it was fate. It felt magical and sparkly and destined. It was obviously True Love. Gabriel was just a sad example of bad timing and circumstances, but he couldn’t be The One if this other guy was, right? I decided he was just someone I wanted to fuck.

About a year into my relationship with the band leader, Gabriel wrote to let me know he’d be visiting New York. Of course I’d love to see him! We made plans to roll on ecstasy together—that was something we both liked to do—and wanted to do together.

We didn’t so much as kiss that night, but sexual energy was thrumming between us like a snakes’ nest of live wires. We went to my band’s rehearsal space to have some privacy because I was living with my boyfriend and Gabriel was staying on a friend’s couch. We played Scrabble. I’m not kidding.

Here we are, two adults who want each other so powerfully it’s been transmuted into actual physical sensations with zero physical stimulation, playing fucking Scrabble in a rehearsal studio instead of fucking each other senseless. At one point, the tension was so hot I got up and start doing yoga stretches to calm down, which he later told me did nothing to help him hide the enthusiastic boner he’d been trying to suppress. (Cue: internal giggles of joy that I could affect him like that.)

When he was walking me back to my place, we held hands and congratulated ourselves on our “remarkable self-restraint.” I didn’t want to be a cheater and he didn’t want to be a home-wrecker. We were decent, honest people, playing by The Rules.

As we were saying goodbye, holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes, so much going unsaid but felt deeply by both of us, a sassy streetwalker passed by and cackled, “Kiss her, already!” in a smoke-ravaged voice before toddling off on wobbly heels. We laughed, a little embarrassed—it definitely broke the moment. But that moment felt like… wait for it… True Love.

I went home to my boyfriend and continued on with my life. He still felt like True Love too… for a while, anyway. We eventually broke up. That’s not the point.

That moment with Gabriel, and the subsequent return to my loving boyfriend at home, was the very first time that I became aware of my ability to love two people at once, for totally different reasons, in totally different ways, both of them deep and real and heartfelt and simultaneous, with neither relationship affecting the other. It was a revelation that went against all of my cultural programming.

But it didn’t sink in immediately. I had to learn a few more lessons before I was able to completely come into myself as a polyamorous woman.

Continue reading Part 2 by clicking here.

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