We all have mornings when we wake up and the lover next to us seems like a stranger. Early hours when last nights actions hang heavy or fall flat in the room. Those kinds of mornings happen to me a lot, more than most people actually. It’s not because I don’t care deeply about my sexual partners, but because I have chosen a polyamorous lifestyle.
On those days, I look over at the pillow next to me and feel awkward, a bit too wild, a bit too unhinged. When I finally excuse myself, something we all try and maneuver gracefully, I return home. Not to an empty house but to a primary partner, my primary partner. And although we have an open relationship, one founded in trust and respect, I am torn between my performance in the moment and the one I embodied so fully the night before. I feel both entitled and taken apart by my experience with another lover.
These feelings and situations have been prevalent in my life since I began pondering/practicing/performing polyamory. While it’s becoming more common (they even have a polyamory awareness and acceptance ribbon campaign) it still remains an experimental and radical form of love.
While the term poly has now been appropriated by people for many different reasons, to me, it all boils down to an alternative view of partnerships, communication, and intimacy. More importantly, poly relationships kick open the door for social change as they question and often disintegrate the normative family mold. The act of choosing multiple partners is deliberate, non-mainstream, and in theory, freeing from a greater cycle of societal oppression.
Beyond the sexually liberating components of polyamory, it can also be a profoundly spiritual choice and identity. The idea of connecting to many different vessels of energy, and being open to a more universal art of love, and holistic embodiment of varying partners, is not something to be taken lightly. A part of liberal ideology, is the acceptance (whether this is truly enacted or not) of others, and dare I say, the ability to love them with our whole selves. Through polyamory, we open gateways to this type of wider spiritual care, one that could revolutionize the way we interact and build the foundations of not just individual relationships but entire communities.
While all the theoretical positives of polyamory are very clear, in praxis, like many things, they often fail miserably. For many polyamorous relationships, there is an imbalance of power as well as an inability to work within a monogamous cultural mindset. When the rest of the world has not caught up/on to your lifestyle, is it possible to live in a poly vacuum? Unforunately for many of the people I know who engage in polyamorous relationships they are still trapped in the same insecurities that they had with more standard partners such as: dependency and valuing others merely as possessions (a favorite trademark of our friend capitalism).
If performance is “making not faking” (as Victor Turner said) then how we create and perform relationships is essential to how we craft the narrative of our lives. And choosing a nonuniform act of love is something that must be examined carefully and continuously.
In fact, I see polyamorous practices in the most need of institutionalized listening. What I mean is that in order to understand our own deep complexity we must keep abreast of what is really going on in our hearts and bodies. The individual connections we create with our partners must not take a back seat to selfishness, but coexist with the intense desires and needs that we have.We have to keep redefining the rules, boundaries and limits of each relationship, every day AND be willing to change — even if that means leaning towards monogamy at times.
But, you can’t know unless you try, right? And as Dan Savage, activist and advice columnist, says to those pursuing a poly relationship: “good fucking luck, you’ll need it.”