The first time I ever heard the term polyamory was in grad school while researching different relationship styles for a paper. Polyamory (polyam) is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”. The journey into ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is different for everyone and every ENM relationship is unique. While ENM is an umbrella term that encompasses many forms of non-monogamy; my journey has been specifically with polyamory.
I remember being intrigued and in awe there was a different way to approach relationships outside of traditional monogamy. At this point, I had been in a long-term monogamous marriage. I remember the excitement and a bit of judgment I felt for people who had thrown monogamy to the wind. I wrote the paper and filed the information away for a later date, unaware of what had been unleashed. Fast forward a year or so and I am in my internship program seeing clients. A family sought out therapy services for unrelated reasons and had embraced polyamory in a way I had never experienced before in my very limited exposure to it. I got lost down a rabbit hole of research on ways to best understand and support my clients – and also because it sparked something inside of me. I wasn’t unhappy in my marriage; in fact, quite the opposite, and yet here I was focused and intrigued by the idea that you can love more than one person at the same time. This struck a chord so deep within my soul; it’s all I could think and talk about for weeks. My thoughts went to many places: was this something I could do? Is this who I am? Could our monogamous relationship be adapted and changed?
The programming our society provides for monogamy ran so deep and was so ingrained in my being, I questioned whether I could handle polyam relationships. We are taught, through monogamy, that there is only one person for us – concepts like soulmates, and finding your other or better half insinuate you can only love one person. Because of this my mind expected to fail and became fear based. Questions like: what if my husband found someone he loved more and left me? What if I got really jealous? What if I couldn’t handle it? hindered me in a way I couldn’t move forward. I was viewing polyam through a monogamous lens, which is impossible. I was paralyzed in this fear based mindset instead of cultivating one of abundance and love. I just couldn’t see another way yet.
Deprogramming Monogamy and Societal Norms
Growing up, the narrative is traditionally the same for young girls, myself included – find prince charming and live happily ever after. In every advertisement, fairy tale, story line, movie, song; the plot is interchangeable. The programming of monogamy runs deep into the fiber of our culture as the only way to do relationships. I was also raised in a very traditional home where women need a man to “take care of them.” So when polyam was presented it seemed taboo and unattainable. I knew one person who was brave enough to be open about their relationship style outside of monogamy. I held on tightly to their example of how relationships could be different. Gradually with time and through a lot of reading books and blogs and long conversations, I got to a place where non-monogamy was the lens in which I was viewing relationships. This is an ongoing process; I still find myself getting stuck in monogamous thinking and challenging my thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions. I believe there are two types of people in ENM relationships: the type that can take it or leave it, and the type in which it has become an identity. For me, polyam is an identity.
There was a lot of work emotionally, mentally and logically that went into preparing for polyam relationships on my part. Admittedly, when push came to shove, my foray into putting my research into practice was not the healthiest, and I am able to recognize that now. It took about three years of exploration, conversations and deprogramming of monogamy to dive into the practice of polyam. At this point in time, my marriage was in trouble, and as a last ditch effort to see if it was salvageable we made the decision to try polyam. I know for a lot of people this won’t make sense, and it doesn’t have to. This was my journey and it made sense to me. Although to be honest, knowing what I know now, I don’t recommend this approach; however, we live and learn. I felt as though I did all the right things when beginning the process of opening up a relationship. We had long conversations about boundaries and comfort zones and what this would look like. When we finally opened up, I felt alive again for the first time in a long time, like a missing piece of me had been returned. I was able to develop relationships with people and explore deeper connections, I wouldn’t have been open to in monogamy. I was able to have needs met, that had gone unmet in my marriage – not by anyone’s fault but because it is unrealistic to expect one person to meet all of our needs for all of our life. And for a time, my marriage improved. Our connection began to deepen again and things were good. However, this was a bandaid and eventually my marriage ended – not because of polyam but because it was time for it to end. We were not meant to be together for a lifetime. And that’s okay. It’s okay to outgrow people and for them to be in your life for as long as they are meant to be. Letting go is hard; and there is beauty in breakups. I will never regret my marriage; we grew up together, overcame a ton of milestones and loved each other fiercely for a long time. My marriage was not a failure as our culture would have us believe, as longevity is not the only standard of a successful marriage.
A Different Relationship Dynamic
For me, Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no going back; no putting the genie back into the bottle, if you will. The realization that polyam is part of my identity – a puzzle piece that has clicked into place, cannot be reversed, nor would I want it to be. It has pushed me to grow and challenge destructive behaviors. Is jealousy a thing – yep! It’s a natural human emotion; it’s how you handle it that matters. I have learned so much about myself and my values over the past two years and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Around every turn I seem to create a framework for how polyam looks in my life and it is challenged and shifting constantly.
This past year has seen the biggest change for me, my identity and relationships thus far. Dating as a single monogamous person has its challenges – add in being polyam and things get a bit more complicated. My preference has been to date men who are already polyam and have done the work to dismantle monogamy for themselves. This often means they are in polyam marriages. Enter my current partner. Our connection was strong from the start and we seem to fit really well together. We have similar views on polyam in terms of what they call “kitchen table polyam” where all partners can sit around the kitchen table and share a cup of coffee or a meal. We dated for a few months and when we knew this could be a good thing; I met his wife, my metamour – or my partner’s partner. She and I hit it off really well and became friends, which let me tell you, when you have a good relationship with a metamour it makes things much easier and I was excited about this prospect. Over the next couple of months, I was spending time with both of them for dinners at their home or to hang out on Sunday afternoons. I began to notice I was starting to develop feelings for her in more than a friendship way. I have always believed sexuality exists on a continuum and questioned my sexuality for years; however, being monogamous was not conducive to exploring this part of my identity, so I suppressed it. Lucky for me, she was also developing feelings as well. So the three of us had a conversation about what this would look like. I had heard about “throuple” relationships in my readings and in the polyam community; however, it was not something I had ever been open to. This felt good – it developed organically and was wholly unexpected. Our non-traditional relationship has not always been easy – but to me, it’s always been worth it. It takes an immense amount of vulnerability, communication and emotional intimacy. We are continuing to develop our relationship as a whole, as well as each of our individual relationships. And for now, life is good.
This is my coming out story, my journey into polyamory. This is one of hopefully a series of blogs about polyamory and the different relationships styles within. There are very few positive representations of polyam and my hope in being open and vulnerable about my experiences will allow others an introduction to a different way of doing relationships. Polyam allows me to experience a deeper, emotional connection with more than one person – something my soul has always craved. It allows me to be true to who I am in an honest way. Love is boundless. We experience and express love in a lot of different ways – this is how I honor that for myself.
Stay tuned for future topics on polyam including:
- Relationship dynamics
- Things to consider before going polyam
- Common mistakes when starting the polyam journey
- Things to discuss in therapy
Blog written by Corie Rodeman, MA, LMFT
If you are looking for support regarding your relationship identity or your non-traditional relationship contact me here.